Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Planning the New Nav Setup

I'll be heading out to the boat next on Sept 3rd and staying until Sept 8th, when I fly to Atlanta for recurrent training. Dawn will be staying at home with the PiperDog this time, though. My #1 priority is to get the fuel problem fixed; Mark emailed a few days ago with a couple of ideas. Otherwise I'll be putting the staysail back up, changing transmission oil and changing alternator belts, doing general boat maintenance and cleaning, and knocking some of the putzier items off of the refit list. My parents may be joining me for part of it, and a sailing friend possibly for part of it as well. If I have extra crew I'd like to get off the dock for at least a night, maybe two, though this requires reasonable confidence that none of my intended projects will require a last-minute West Marine run!

I have the claim paperwork off to the insurance company, and am waiting for a local repairman to complete his estimate & then for the insurance to send out an adjuster. I can't really fix anything until they see it, which means I'll still be without AirCon for the next visit (additional motivation to get off the dock). In the meantime I've been doing a fair amount of research on what we'll be replacing the fried electronics with. In the case of the navigation setup, I already had a pretty good idea of what we'd be doing but the loss of the GPS has pushed the timeline up a bit.

The Handley's navigation setup consisted of a laptop computer running MaxSea, a repeater monitor that could be mounted in the cockpit (in a fairly protected location under the dodger), and a Garmin 76Cx handheld GPS mounted on the pedestal guard with a power/data cable. They planned their routes on the laptop and fed them to the Garmin via the data cable; the Garmin also fed position, speed and direction information to their Raymarine ST60 instruments.

When I first looked at Windbird I thought we'd replace the 76Cx with a large Garmin chartplotter like the 7610 or 7612 and use it for planning as well as plotting. But the more I thought about the Handleys system the more I liked it. I know from experience that even the big plotters aren't ideal for planning; a computer is far handier for scanning the route at a sufficiently detailed zoom level, comparing various chart sources for discrepancies, and downloading GRIB files for weather routing. And once you've planned the route, a small GPS is just as effective as a large plotter for navigation. Besides, a big glass plotter would look a bit gauche in the cockpit of a traditional-looking cruiser like Windbird. So I decided to use a dedicated mini-computer plus LCD monitor for planning in the nav station, keep the 76Cx for the time being and eventually replace it with a modest Garmin 741 chartplotter, and use the cockpit monitor connected to the mini-computer as a backup for navigation. My MacBook would be the backup for the mini-computer, and both Dawn's iPad and mine running Garmin BlueChart Mobile software would be the backup to the backup.

Well, now the 76Cx is toast from the lightning strike, so I'll be putting in the Garmin 741 sooner rather than later (was kinda hoping to wait until October, so I could at least wait for the Annapolis boat show to try to score a deal). I've also changed my mind on the mini-computer, and am going to instead go with a Windows tablet for our dedicated navigation, SSB communication, and boat recordkeeping station. I'll normally keep it mounted (and plugged in) at the nav station, but its portability opens up the possibility of planning at the saloon table and as a backup it could also be mounted (in a waterproof pouch) at the helm or behind the dodger, in lieu of the heavy, power-hungry, and somewhat clunky remote monitor. I'm currently vacillating between a Lenovo Miix 310 or an Asus Transformer Book T100HA. Both reportedly do a good job of running OpenCPN, the feature-packed open source chartplotter software that I've been messing around with on my Mac for the last few months. I've downloaded NOAA raster and vector charts for the east coast as well as worldwide CM93 (CMAP) charts and OpenCPN makes it easy to switch between them as appropriate.

Another thing that will now be getting replaced sooner rather than later is the ancient Raytheon RL-9 radar. Before the lightning strike it worked ok so I didn't mind sticking with it for the time being and replacing it a year down the road if we ran out of time before heading to the Bahamas, but considering the number of night passages we're likely to do on our way south I'd rather not go entirely without radar. So I'm likely to pick up a Garmin 18xHD in Annapolis and install it while the mast is still off the boat in Charleston. Open CPN is able to display Garmin radar, as does the 741, so I won't be replacing the dedicated radar display at the nav station (that'll be where the tablet is normally mounted).

Another planned Annapolis buy is the Vesper XB-8000. This amazing little $700 black box is an AIS transceiver (not just receiver) as well as a GPS antenna and NMEA multiplexer...and best yet, it streams AIS, GPS and NMEA data wirelessly to up to five chartplotters, computers, and iDevices! Too cool. Anything that cuts down on nav station wire spaghetti (and the amount of wiring I have to do) is a good thing.

As far as the autopilot is concerned, the only part I'm pretty sure is fried is the brain box; the linear drive, control head, remote, and flux gate compass might be ok (and are all fairly recent). So that along with Raymarine's reputation for building quality autopilots means we'll probably stick with Raymarine. That'll mean less integration with the Garmin chartplotter but I'm ok with that...I don't think it's a very wise practice to have your autopilot synced up to your chartplotter route anyways, especially on sailboats.

And that leaves instrumentation. We have Raymarine ST60 speed, wind and depth instruments in the cockpit plus a ST60 multi at the nav station. The lightning only knocked out the wind speed & direction unit (plus the masthead sender, as the multi unit can't find it anymore). The instruments are a little older but perfectly functional; both the Garmin and the Vesper black box can handle NMEA0183 (an older marine electronics standard protocol, the new one is NMEA 2000) so I'll just replace the wind instrument & masthead transducer, sticking with Raymarine. The question is whether to get secondhand ST60 stuff or upgrade to the new i60 system. The new one isn't really any more expensive, it'll just look goofy next to the older instruments and require more work to well as possibly requiring a NMEA2000 backbone. Maybe not, it also works with SeaTalk (Raymarine's own protocol) and I'm pretty sure Mark already had some SeaTalk stuff connected. Obviously I need to think about this a bit more, and find out exactly how it's networked right now.

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