A Little Bit Here, A Little Bit There

September 18, 2022

It’s getting on in September and the world is changing. Really, just a little bit here and a little bit there, but it all adds up to a lot of change.

Jinhee is so very close to retirement now that we can almost taste the adventure that is coming at us. Perhaps it is a bit scary for Jinhee to think she will have to put up with me all the time. Perhaps frightening actually. Oh well, there it is.

We are at the boat for a health check, and everything is fine, but the beauty of being here when Jinhee isn’t totally overwhelmed by work is that boat projects are getting done. Beyond just checking on the status of the boat, this trip has been all about evaluating the boat’s navigation system for possible upgrades and clearing stuff off the boat that we probably won’t need and evaluating what we do need as we head south. The answers are all over the place, but let me start with some obvious winners.

To begin with an easy one, we have made the decision to put Starlink RV on the boat. One of the more detailed items we deal with as we have moved the boat through Europe, the USA and Bahamas, is how to stay connected. With Starlink, for one (pretty significant) fee, we will hopefully always be connected. Certainly when the boat is stopped, maybe less so when the boat is moving, but we will have one connection hopefully.

We have used Starlink on Amherst Island for almost two years (we will cancel that now) and it is a significant improvement over other rural services. We are hoping to get a similar boost aboard Home Free with the RV service. Typically we use an AT&T cell plan for $55/mo, but it often has poor service, poor connectivity and the uncertain/sporadic nature is troublesome. Switching to Starlink RV will run C$170/mo but the speeds should be 10x faster and connectivity should be much higher, particularly when the boat isn’t moving. The other comparison is that similar satellite services for boats cost about U$15-20,000 for the hardware and U$1,200-$2,000/mo for service. In those cases connection is almost guaranteed, but still the Starlink service will be a significantly better service than cellular at an acceptable price. It will be a nice change once we get it all in place (but that is our next trip down).

The big project for this trip was to look at our navigation/electronics and contemplate a path forward. Our current Raymarine system is from 2007, and I love it, but it is getting old. We have had one chartplotter fail and I would expect others to start giving up on us soon. With three aboard, one failure isn’t critical, but it is time to start planning.

An old friend manages a Fogh Marine supply store in Mississauga, and has provided me with a loaner Raymarine Axiom+ unit to see if I can mix the two systems on our network. After messing about for hours, buying some new cables and connectors, it appears that I can’t put the two together. When I do, the two most important bits, GPS location and charts get messed up. So that is off the table. Still, a big thank you to Karl at Fogh Marine (and Mike) for the support. Awesome support.

The second candidate is provided by Rob in Florida who helped me install a new VHF and antennae two years ago. After explaining my desire to upgrade my systems he provided me with an estimate for upgrading parts of the system to Furuno, but the cost ran close to six figures in Canadian dollars. Ouch. That isn’t on my calendar. I may still look at some bits of this system because, as the title says, “a little here, a little there” may be the best path.

Finally, I have turned to eBay and Kijiji to find old, used E120 chart plotters. They are selling for about $400 each so I will put a couple used ones on board and hopefully have three working plotters again and a backup. Maybe a couple more years of happy cruising with a working system . . . why change for no reason!

After coming to that conclusion, I have also made a change in the flybridge. I have a friend and sometimes crewmate, Bob who provided me with his old autopilot and control head. That control head fits perfectly on the flybridge (I took out the rudder angle display) so now I can control my autopilot from the flybridge without a handheld remote. I also have a backup autopilot computer to stow away, although I am not sure it will work on Home Free, but it is still worth testing.

Because I have the boat ripped apart, I am starting to make changes to the nest of wires and networking on the boat. As mentioned above, with Starlink coming aboard, the necessity for television cabling has gone to zero. I haven’t used cable TV at home for 20 years, and Home Free has a satellite dish and distributed cabling running through the boat so people can watch traditional TV from that dish. It hasn’t been used since I bought the boat. With modern televisions working through wifi, and cell phones with wifi calling, and bluetooth connections and wireless speakers, etc., all of that cabling is unnecessary.

I am not about to rip all of the cabling out, but I have started taking the easy ones out, the ones that are easily traceable and easy to access. That should make some room for future cabling as well.

One of the biggest extractions is the Single Side Band (SSB) radio which is useless. Not just because I don’t have a clue how to make it work, but also because with satellite commuications, it becomes an antiquated system. (For the purists, I do get the difference between the ‘point-point’ nature of phone calls, vs. the ‘broadcast’ nature of radio). That box took up a lot of room and wasn’t doing anything for me. Perhaps I will turn it into a land/base station on the island.

So wires are everywhere and space is improving behind all of those pretty dashboards, but I am also increasing the understanding of the boat. I still haven’t figured out where all the RJ45 (internet wires) are coming and going to, but I will in time. (The picture below shows how the wires are bundled on Home Free. The wiring aboard a Nordhavn is generally amazingly well done, with lots of labels and a beautiful and accurate wiring diagram in the owner’s manual.)

I have also finally connected my JCU-3 control for my nightvision camera. It’s still not possible to connect the camera output to the older chart plotters, but it is easily viewable on the ipad (or any browser), so all is well there too. A little here, a little there. It’s all getting better!

Beyond that there have been a lot of little changes being made on this trip. A couple of minor changes in the engine room, in the galley (no more Greek labels on spices!) and a nice new chair in the stern cockpit.

We have gone through a number of cycles on the chairs in the stern cockpit, with the last iteration being home made (by me) fabric on director’s chairs. Apparently the material I used was not great in the sun, and the hardware on the chairs was not great in salt water. We finally gave up on those and tossed them on our last trip. We now have the first of two, much nicer chairs awaiting a relaxing moment with a good book or a cup of coffee. The second chair will be here next week.

One of the other lessons you learn about boating fairly quickly, is that a boat left alone doesn’t survive long. In past posts, there are many photos of boats sunken at docks or on balls or anchors. These boats have been left too long. What isn’t clear in the pictures is the effects on surfaces. We have a lot of ‘pleather’ cushions outside and when they are not cleaned and dried regularly they get mould and mildew spots. So we have some work to do to clean things and much of this stuff will be replaced in the next few months, starting with the leather on the Todd helm chairs on the flybridge. The cushions for relaxing on the bow have been in a storage bag for a couple of years, pretty much untouched, and they are beyond saving, but I will still devote ridiculous amounts of time to improving their look so they can be used to relax on the bow.

Which brings up another interesting observation. One of the beautiful things about having two of us on the boat all the time again will be that I have time to engage in these projects. Just having Jinhee around to jiggle a wire while I try to find the other end of it through some bulkhead is a wonderful thing. But she is also a much better cook than I will ever be and all of these things mean more time to do the multitude of things retired people should be doing. (That includes a LOT of card playing).

While riding my bike in Virginia is not my favourite place, I have been doing a bit of it on the one good road with a shoulder here. Yesterday I put in a short 40km ride at what is, I think, the fastest pace I have ridden in at least a decade. This may be another delusion, because most of my rides are significantly longer, but it was a nice feeling to be getting ‘stronger’ after being so lazy for a while.

That’s enough killing time today. It’s Jinhee’s birthday (and Andrew’s) so I must prepare some coffee or cook some breakfast. The blogging will get better in October, I’m sure of that.

4 thoughts on “A Little Bit Here, A Little Bit There

  1. Happy Birthday Jinhee and Andrew! You’ve made progress and I can’t imagine all the little projects, let alone all the wires, yikes! Best wishes. Keep writing, love your blog.

  2. Happy Birthday Jinhee. It’s my birthday too!!!

    Enjoy all the projects Don. Sounds like life is good!

  3. Happy birthday Jinhee! Any good beverage science experiments lately? We’ve switched to Fever Tree tonic after our last study 🤪

    Don, it sounds like you are in your glory with all the electronics ripped open. Enjoy the progress!

  4. Micheline Montreuil September 18, 2022 — 8:57 am

    Happy birthday Jinhee.

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