A busy day!
I began the morning on Sans Souci meeting with Perry Anderson, of http://www.cleanmarinesystems.com, a company that makes ultrasonic flow sensors. He wanted to show me a sensor actually working. We installed one on my engine and measured the raw water coming out of the wet exhaust (14 gallons per minute). It was a simple installation, and I have the option of interfacing it with my Simon monitoring system or having a separate monitor. The cost was high (around $2,000 a sensor), but the sensors seemed to work, and integration with my existing monitoring system should be easy. Now I need to decide what I want to sensor…
After the meeting I went to the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. Historically, it has been a show targeting the commercial fishing industry, but they renamed it in hopes of pulling in a broader audience. It wasn’t a boat show like the Miami or Fort Lauderdale boat show, in that it was strictly indoors with essentially no boats on display. However, it was perfect for my needs. When the boat leaves Seattle next May, it may not return to the US for a decade or more. This is my last chance to think of any upgrades to the boat, before it gets much tougher to get parts or supplies.
Along with me was Dean Heathcote, a Nordhavn 55 owner. Dean had heard of a couple Nordhavn owners swapping to Garmin chart plotters, and wanted to evaluate the system. To my surprise, they were using a touch screen! It was a cool concept, and a very slick looking interface. To drag around the chart, I just moved my finger along the screen. It felt very easy. I asked the salesman giving the demo about chart availability outside the US, and he said “We loaded the US charts.” I asked if he knew anything about coverage in other parts of the world, and he had no idea. I then asked if we could try entering a route, and that’s where the demo went less well. It took the salesman a good five minutes wandering through the menus to figure how to start a route. I tried to help him, but was as confused as he was. When we were finally able to enter a route, it was fairly simple, but the finger-dragging, and zooming in and out, felt awkward. When we finally finished our route, Dean asked: “Can I move a waypoint?“ and, the salesman said “Sure”, and Dean put his finger on the waypoint, and started dragging. The whole chart moved. We then discovered the “Edit” button, and clicked it, which stopped the chart dragging around, but we still couldn’t figure out how to move a waypoint. It’s not fair to judge a piece of software based on a 10 minute demo, so all I can really say is that after 15 minutes we were less impressed than after 5 minutes, and the salesman needed better training in the use of the software. I would say though that if a software engineer (me), a Garmin salesman, and a Nordhavn 55 owner, can’t figure out how to build and edit a route, in 15 minutes, there may be some usability issues.
I liked the Garmin instruments, for showing battery voltage, wind, course, etc. They are small, but very brightly backlit, and make great use of color. I asked if they could be used with my Furuno system, and the salesman said they were standard Nmea 0183 and Nmea 2000 compatible. I have a Furuno RD-30 wind gauge currently, which is horrible, and on my list for replacement. Furuno has since launched a decent wind gauge, so I might use it, but the Garmin gauges would be good alternatives.
We then shifted to a booth showing Furuno’s Navnet 3d system. I was sold even before I reached the booth. The user interface was powerful, and seemed intuitive. It had collected a crowd, and the demo in progress was for someone who had already ordered their system, so I didn’t want to interrupt beyond asking a few questions. Only a geek (like me) would understand this, but they are using 3-d hardware to control the screen, as does the iPhone. This gives the user interface a very polished and responsive feel. The demo underway when I first walked up was of the new digital radar. The salesman had the screen split, with the SAME radar at two different zoom levels simultaneously. Yes, you heard that right. On the left was a 6 mile zoom, and on the right was a ½ mile zoom, both being produced by the same radar. The radar array is sending out two different pulses, it’s not just zooming the image in the other window. Very handy. He then split the window again, and had live cameras in a couple different window, the charting in one window, and radar in another. I asked about charts, and the answer was acceptable. He said they are using MapMedia, which I am not very familiar with, but my recollection is that they are very strong in Europe, and “ok” in the US. I’m not sure what they have for the Pacific and Asia. I asked how Navnet 3d would be configured to work at both my wheelhouse, and on the fly bridge. The salesman suggested that I run two different control heads, but only one “brain box.” The video on the fly bridge would be the same as in the wheelhouse. This works for me, and is simpler than what I have now, which is two mostly independent Navnet 2 units. The screen resolution looked clunky, so I asked the salesman if it was at maximum resolution. He checked and there was one more option to run at higher resolution (1280×1024). I’m picky on screen resolution, and would like to have seen more, but it’s miles ahead of what Navnet 2 offers. Given my success with Navnet 2, and the short but impressive demo, I made the decision that I’d like to upgrade to Navnet 3d, and moved on. My salesman quickly tried to convince me that I need two “brain boxes,” and I asked “why?”. “For backup” he said. I told him to send a proposal with his recommendation but that my gut is that it would be a total waste of money. Navnet 3d will be my backup system to Nobeltec. Backing up my backup would be silly and a waste of money. Or, perhaps Navnet 3d will become my primary nav system. First impressions can be deceiving, but I think I’m going to be very happy.
My next stop was at the Stratos booth. Both Roberta and I are internet-centric. Most of the world’s marinas have ok internet, but many do not. And, few anchorages have internet. We need to “bring our own.” The most critical device on the boat for Internet is my Syrens system (wifi amplifier). It takes weak signals in marinas, and makes them strong. The next most important has been my Fleet 77. It is crazy-expensive, but I’ve found it reliable, and to work anywhere. Unfortunately though, the cost has caused us to limit our time on the internet to only a few minutes a day.
– We sign on to download message headers, and sign off.
– We then mark which messages we want to read, and then sign back onto the net.
– Then, We download the messages, and sign right back off.
– We respond to all our email, and sign on AGAIN, to send out mail.
All of this costs around $7 per minute, while we are actually connected. It has become a daily ritual, and not a particularly pleasant one. That said, if they tried to take away my Fleet 77, they’d have to fight me for it. The Fleet 77, both on this boat, and on my Nordhavn 62, has been rock solid, but the cost is definitely a problem (around $60 per megabyte downloaded).
I’ve been watching the emergence of Mini-Vsat. It’s also expensive, but cheaper and faster than the Fleet 77. And, important to Roberta and I: There are unlimited usage plans! These plans run from very expensive, to enormously expensive. But, as any addict will tell you, “All you need to do is give up food and wipe out your savings.” To quantify this, the unlimited packages run from $1,200 a month for a 256k connection, to $5,300 a month for a 2,000 mb connection.
Stratos provides the internet on my Fleet 77, so I asked them about mini Vsat, and discovered they don’t sell it. So, with a bit of nudging, my salesman told me where to go to get a demo. I felt disloyal asking him about the competition, but left the show for a quick demonstration of a mini vsat device in a neighboring hotel. They had a dish sitting on the hotel roof, running the 2 megabit (fastest) service. I did some surfing, and it was ok. Normal home DSL connections, at least in the Seattle area, run from 3 to 6 megabits, so it’s tough to get excited about 2 megabit service. Maximum speed on the Fleet 77 is 64k, which is many times slower, so I’m definitely not complaining. I asked how a subscription plan would work if I’m only on the boat six months a year, and happily they had some provision for that. I have the option to “roll over” three months of service each year into the following year. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it seems better than paying for 12 months and using 6 months.
The #1 issue for us is coverage. As of today, Mini Vsat is still not available in the Pacific. But, it is allegedly coming “next month.” I’m a cynical type of guy, and pushed the salesman hard on this topic. If I swap to mini Vsat I’ll have to remove the Fleet 77. If I make the swap, only to find out that mini Vsat is perpetually “coming next month, “ Roberta may leave me for the first man who can offer a decent internet connection. Not good. The salesman was very reassuring, but they always are.
Before leaving the Vsat salesman, I had to ask: “Is this really unlimited internet?” To my horror, he said, “Well yes. But, if you use it a lot we’ll kick you off the service.” Argh. “What’s a lot?” I asked. “At 5 to 10 gigabytes, we would start complaining. And, at 15 gigabytes you’d have our full attention.” “Is that per day or per week?” I had to ask. “Monthly,” he said. Double argh. Oh well, at least I’d have unlimited internet one day a month.
Back to the Stratos booth I went. They had a good solution for me: KVH has the KVH FB-250, which is also an allegedly global solution, and also allegedly going to work in the Pacific “next month.” It doesn’t offer an “unlimited” package, and the data cost is high ($13 a megabyte!). On the positive side, it’s materially cheaper than the Fleet 77, and much faster, and best of all – it’s a tiny dome, that would allow me to have the mini Vsat, and the FB-250.
I’m decisive, if not always right. Thus, decision made. As soon as the two devices have Pacific service, as promised, I’ll dump my Fleet 77 and install both.
Next up on my shopping expedition: safety equipment. We have survival suits on board, but I’m not sure what brand they are. As part of my careful research, I stopped at a booth selling survival suits, and asked the saleslady “What’s the best survival suit?” She said they didn’t carry the Best brand. I explained that I wanted the best suit made, and she again didn’t understand me. It was becoming a Marx brothers skit. I asked which suit had the most market share, and she had no idea. Thus, I looked at a few of the suits, and they looked like what I already had on board, and moved on.
My next stop was at a life raft company, where I asked if they knew how I could find safety training in the Seattle area. I’ve heard of courses that walk you through deploying a raft, and give you a chance to jump in the water wearing your survival suit. I’ve been told that half of all the people who abandon ship never make it into the life raft. Either the raft doesn’t open, is blown away immediately, or the swimmers can’t figure out how to get into the raft wearing their survival suit. I hope never to need my raft, but I want to make sure that if I ever do need it, it will be there for me. I was given a good lead, and moved on.
Related Note – I happened to see this quote in today’s newspaper here in Cabo: “…More than 80 workers and rescue personnel were forced to escape quickly, and most did so by diving into tiny lifeboats, which were quickly swamped by the storm’s 25 foot high waves. Some 22 people drowned, while others were rescued from the open sea. The commission found that the workers weren’t trained in how to use the lifeboats, which led to their demise. Everything was a result of human error …, said the commission’s president…”
Next up was to see if any of the booths had information on Alaska or the Aleutians. It was somewhat like trying to find a timeshare salesman in downtown Cabo. I didn’t have to look too hard. I ran immediately into the booth for Seward Alaska, complete with the Harbormaster, in the booth. I explained our semi-rally, and when we’d be arriving. She said “no problem,” and seemed happy to have us! Having never been to Alaska, and unsure what to expect, seeing a friendly face, speaking English, with pictures of a marina that had space for us, was a very good feeling.
A couple booths away was the booth for Dutch Harbor, and once again the Harbor Master was in attendance. He was a very friendly gentleman, who seemed happy to hear our group was coming, and said he should be able to accommodate us. Next up, Kodiak Island, once again with the harbor master in attendance. Same explanation, same great treatment! I repeated this at several other booths. Life don’t get much better.
Of course, I had to ask everyone I met how much trouble they thought we’d have going across the Aleutians. After explaining we were in 70 foot trawlers, they all said “You should be ok. You’re going at the right time.” No one said “You WILL be ok,” which was a step down from what I wanted them to say, but I was happy.
Speaking of friendly people: My last big stop of the day was at a coast guard booth. I was hoping to find someone who would sit down with me, and my charts, and talk specifically about the passes between the islands in the Aleutians. The officers working the booth (or, I assume they were officers) were very nice to me, and kept “kicking me upstairs.” After each time I would explain my story the officer before me would shake his head appreciatively and then go get a more senior officer. I guess after a whole day of talking to commercial fishermen, a recreational boater going to Japan was an amusing diversion. Finally I got to an officer, so senior he that had a patch of colors on his chest so large I could hardly see his shirt. I said I had a few questions, and he said he had a survey. “You want me to complete a survey?” I asked. “Yes. And, if you do, I’ll answer questions,” he said. He was grinning as he said it, so I knew he was in a good mood, but he was serious about the survey. He sweetened the pot by agreeing to throw in a free pen. It was a very cool pen, with a built in red-light flashlight, so of course I did my part to help.
We went through a long list of all the safety equipment I have on board the boat. After the first page of questions I asked “If you find something I don’t have, do I get a phone call, or do we go straight to jail?” He promised I was safe, and we kept going. After the questionnaire, he did give me the chance to ask any question I wanted. I asked about the passes between the Aleutian islands, and whether or not I’d have any trouble with them. He thought they were a non-issue, as long as I waited for high-slack. I asked what he thought about four 70 footers west bound in July. He said the coast guard had just had a little boat make the same run last month, without problem. I asked that the definition of a “little boat” is, and one of the other coast guard guys responded “Well, it was 378 feet, so that might not be relevant.”
We then spoke for a bit about communications. He said that I should be within VHF radio range at all times, and to call if we needed help. He thought we would have no problems, and that the route along the Aleutians, particularly on the north side is heavily traversed by commercial fisherman, and that the coast guard keeps good watch on the area.
And.. that finished my day at the boat show…
To all of you who posted questions and comments yesterday: My apologies. I will respond tomorrow. We were on a plane to Mexico all day today, and I was busy packing last night. I should be able to answer all comments tomorrow.
As always, thank you!