25 May, 2012

AIS Vesper Watchmate Transponder WMX850

When I built Malua I set-out to select the very best equipment on the world market.  That was around 2000 to 2004.  I took hours looking at catalogues, reading reviews in hard copy magazines and talking to many, many people.  I had been sailing all my life so I knew roughly what I wanted.  I definitely knew the brands I would not touch with a barge pole both hardware and electronics.  Malua was finally launched with the best equipment to suit my sailing requirements.  I have added extras over time as the requirement is needed.
At one time I would not put a wind generator on Malua but with the technological advances in blade design the noise that the new ones make is quite acceptable so it is now time to install a modern designed wind generator – more on that later.

One item that was missing on the original list is an AIS (Automatic Identification System) Transponder.  It has taken a number of years for the technology to mature and the airwaves to be cleared of non-AIS traffic but today there are a number of units that reach my look-at list.

The requirements are simple: a stand alone unit – not connected to a computer (if the computer does not work your AIS wont help you and having seen too many blue screens of death I wont depend on a windows PC). 
The second is a transponder.  It is all very well to see another vessel but why not put the obligation on them to take action to avoid you.  If you don't transmit your position then it is all up to you.  Remember COLREGS Rule 5 …..proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means.  The last phrase is the key one.  Therefore the AIS must broadcast your position and course.
The third criteria was low power usage because it will be on all the time while making a ocean crossing and one doesn't want to drain the battery just for the unit to wait for a passing ship.
The fourth was the features which had to include all the normal CPA (Closest Point of Approach) etc. but more importantly if the vessel will pass ahead or astern of you if you maintain your course.  This element is missing in many brands of AIS – why I don't know.

Having studied the market and followed the blogs and discussion groups it came down to two units: the Simrad A150 because all the other electronic equipment on Malua is Simrad.  However I rejected this unit because it was 1st generation and their service record for old equipment is very poor.

General Display
The second unit from Vesper Marine has been developing over the years with very good reviews.  I chose the Watchmate WMX850 as the best in line prior to the launch of a touch screen model.  I then set about sourcing the unit.  These days of the Internet it is only a click away no matter who sells the unit.  To my surprise I discovered the manufacturer Vesper Marine is a New Zealand company.  The local Australian distributor, a company I have had an issue with in the past, has as its manager an old acquaintance who has moved around a bit but now sells these units.  One phone call and two days latter the new Watchmate was in my hands.  A great price, good service and I know a great support mind if I ever need it.

Vessel Info
As with all previous equipment I set it up on a makeshift panel and switched it on in the front room of my coast house.  Bingo two tankers passing up the coast 38nm miles away.  Well that is very good because that is well over the horizon and I would have thought out of VHF range.  I was able to track them as the passed abeam of my signal on the cliff top.  I wonder what they though of this yacht about 200m inland!

The display is simple to read and indicates if a vessel will come within your target range.  It has an option of excluding a vessel which may be accompanying you on the same path and you don't want it to set off an alarm all the time.  This is an issue in a rally and especially annoying with most radars.
CPA Screen
The unit lets you easily change the range from harbour, coastal and ocean and also exclude vessels at anchor.  It has all the normal features regarding the target vessel's details, course, speed and direction so that is not exceptional.
It captures weather reports and can send a AIS Mayday message from the transponder which will supplement the DSC distress message.  Hope I never have to use this or even receive one.
I also like the USB and RS323 port outputs so you can integrate the system into my current chart plotter or computer tracking systems.  I have added a loud alarm which should wake the dead.
I purchased a stand alone GPS receiver unit and an additional ¼ wave length antenna so it will not directly interfere with the other VHF antennas transmissions.  Both units will be mounted next to the solar panels on the aft structure.
Now all that is required is Malua and some water.
I installed the device and attached the GPS to the stern stainless steel structure - it also hold the two solar panels.  The metal of the GPS is grounded to the stainless steel.
After using the Watchmate three times it would not switch on.  Removing it from the bulkhead I could see that a component in the Watchmate had burnt out. 
I contacted the Oz agent who put me in touch with the designer who after a few questions analysed the problem.  It seems that the GPS should be totally stand alone with no contact with the ships negative.  The exchange of emails with Vespermarine was the most impressive service I have ever received from any supplier.  Immediate, direct and with the knowledge of their product and how it works on a vessel.  They have dispatched a new unit for me and will wait to take mine apart  when it finds it's way out of the French postal system - now there is a story.

18 May, 2012

2012 To-Do List

Design of new wind generator installation

Cruising it is said is doing maintenance in exotic locations.  Having spent almost three years fitting Malua out in the yard when I went sailing in the Pacific I made a rule that I would only do work on the boat on Sunday – my day off.  That strategy worked well even when Malua reached the Mediterranean.  It is based on the premise that when I set out each year on a cruise Malua is in tip top condition with all the systems working.  However through time some items on the To-Do list just don't get ticked off or new items added.
With the pending Atlantic crossing I have decided to add a few extra items to Malua which were not necessary for coastal trips or I had removed after the Pacific cruise – the windvane self steering, wind generator  are examples.
Here is this years To-do list – in no particular order:

  • Create a stainless steel wind generator installation pole
  • Wire and install wind generator including regulator and power dump
  • Fit AIS Vesper system including loud alarm
  • Purchase Satellite Phone and hook up to computer system
  • Fix marks in keel
  • Anti-foul the bottom
  • Reinstall the wind self steering
  • Install second VHF antenna on top of mast as backup
  • Clean Generator water system and renew anti-freeze/boil
  • Re-install water maker membrane and test systems
  • Replace mast head light with LED
  • Replace broken steaming lights
  • Make grey water and bilge water collection tank and hook up pumps
  • Reinstall high volume engine driven bilge pump
  • Have life raft serviced and replace ERIRP with 406
  • Service electric winches
  • Grease windlass and rudder shaft bearing
  • Replace engine water impeller
  • Regaz/test deep freeze and test new control unit
  • Update C-map charts and clear last ten year tracks
  • Secure books in self
  • Fit extra safety catches to all cupboards and floor hatches

I think that will do for the time being.  It excludes the main items of putting the sails, halyards and lines on Malua and the general getting ready to go to sea but that has its own to-do list developed over the years.  It takes three days of work to accomplish those tasks.

06 May, 2012

Time to fly north again 2012

The leaves are turning a wonderful red and the nights are getting cold so it is time to plan to leave the Southern Hemisphere and return to the summer of the north.  The birds left a few weeks ago but I have to wait because this year is going to be long but late in starting – I'm crossing the Atlantic.

I fly out of Sydney on 3 July via Dubai to Paris France.  Our family always make that distinction of France because we once visited Parys pronounced the same as the one in France but this Parys is on the Vaal River in Northern Free State province of South Africa. It may have a replica of the Eiffel tower and have a river running through it BUT it does not have the vibrant culture, people or surroundings of France.  I will not be returning to Parys but Paris ...yes.

After a few days in Paris I travel by TGV to Arles and then take the bus to Port St Louis du Rhone and Navy Service where Malua has spent the winter.  Hopefully I winterised the boat well and I wont find any freeze burst pipes.  The winter has been cold this year.  A friend had sheet ice round his boat in one of the canals.  The task of getting Malua ready for the Atlantic crossing will start and last about three weeks.

The To-Do list is not dissimilar to last year although I am going to add a few extras pieces of essential/safety equipment.  I started purchasing these items at the start of the year and have now assembled them here or have arrange to have some items sent to France or the UK.

The major items will be discussed over the next few weeks but just to wet your appetite they are: stand alone AIS, wind generator, intelligent regulator, excess voltage heatsink, new osmosis membrane for watermaler, EPIRB, underwater camera and many other items.

Of the major jobs on the To-Do list is to patch up the keel, install the wind generator on a stainless steel pole, anti-foul the bottom , reinstall the Fleming windvane, replace a few parts in the refrigerator/freezer, get the SSB sailmail working and finally secure all the items around the saloon which may fly about under robust sailing conditions.

This work list should keep me busy if the s/s pole can be made according to my design but one knows the French tradesmen – “I am too busy to take on more work.”  but I have been waiting four months for you to complete my job!  “Sorry come back in a month”.  It has started already but I cant wait to get back on the boat.