Monday, 17 June 2019

Summer Maintenance in London #1

Hi everyone,
Yes we should be sailing in summer but instead we're filling the cruising kitty (aka working) and working on the to-do list.

In May we spent two weeks home in Perth.  That 787 Dreamliner certainly does go to windward like a dream.  We had a fantastic holiday spending time with family and at our home club - Fremantle Sailing Club.

Back in London we got started on our major project for the summer - refurbishing the head compartment.  During the winter we replaced the old electric toilet with a Blake's Lavac toilet.  Now we're refurbishing the compartment as a whole.  It's still in its original form - circa 1986.  The moulded GRP "shell" had started life cream in colour but became brownish over the decades.

This post describes the first three weekends of the project.

Ready for a make-over
We started with removal of the teak trim.  There was trim around the GRP headliner, a fiddle along the worktop edge, a grab handle, and the four teak locker surrounds.  The trim and fiddle were secured by "buried" screws.  We removed them by drilling out the teak plug then unscrewing.

Old deck-head GRP panel stripped of teak, light and dorade vent surround

The next step was removal of the moulded sink which we've never liked - too shallow and the flow-coat was badly cracked.  Our trusty Dremel did the hard work with ease.

Cutting out the old sink
The moulding of the old sink extended up the wall by about 25mm, so we knew we'd need a "splashback" to cover it.

Old sink gone
Next we removed the Blake's Lavac and got to work sanding.  That was dusty work!  We sanded by hand using 150 grade paper.  We did a lot of filling to hide 30 years of holes for old fixtures.  Our Dyson vacuum did a great job cleaning up after the sanding.

Ready to sand

We then applied Epifanes epoxy primer overall.  750ml gave us 2 coats over most of the compartment with the dregs used to paint the locker below the sink.  We used left-over rollers which "shed" so we'll be using foam rollers for the next coats.

The next step was to cut out a new GRP panel to cover the holes used over the years for hoses to and from several toilets.  The panels we used are about 2.5mm thick with one side having a painted finish.  A tenant saw did a nice job on the linear cuts and a hole saw likewise for the hose penetrations.  We made a paper template of the panel first!

Painted GRP panel
In keeping with the "bling" style we've adopted in the saloon the panel was screwed in using cup washers.

GRP panel fitted (screwed and glued)
While working on the compartment we were also working on the teak trim.  They were sanded back to bare wood and then 4 coats of varnish applied.

Revarnished teak trim
While waiting for additional primer paint we got to work on the new "worktop".  A paper template was used, and the first panel layer was screwed and glued in place using counter-sunk screws.  This gave a good level surface when supported from below by a marine ply board mounted to the wall.

First layer of GRP panel worktop
A second GRP panel was fitted to give a more rigid surface.  It was glued in place without screws to leave a clean surface.  It needed compression...

Second layer of GRP panel under compression
Next we needed to create the cut-out for the new s/s sink.  The Dremel with its radius arm did the job easily.

Hole cutting with the Dremel
Finally (for this episode) we fitted two GRP panels as "splashbacks".  Each is screwed and glued in place with the necessary "bling" look.

Splashbacks in place
Over the next few weekends we hope to complete the job.  The remaining work includes more coats of primer, several coats of topcoat, and refitting old and new fixtures.  We're happy with how it's coming along.

Trust all's well where you are!


Monday, 29 April 2019

WinLink Setup with Icom IC-7300

Hi everyone,
This is a technical post.  First one for a while!

Icom IC-7300 on WinLink
In January we installed a new Icom IC-7300 HF/SSB radio.  Previously we have had an Icom M802 and before that an Icom IC-7000.  Since January we've tested voice operation.  We've talked with ham operators from the Faeroe Islands to the north and Italy to the south, and clearly heard operators as far afield as the mid-west USA.  Pretty amazing from inside a marina.

Our success with voice communication made us keen to setup and test email communication.  As a licenced ham/amateur operator I can use the Winlink system.  Winlink provides global radio email via a network of shore stations.

Winlink Global Network
During our voyage from Australia to the UK we used Winlink while crossing the South Atlantic.  At that time we had an Icom M802 with an external Signalink USB sound card box.  We used the South Africa and Brazil stations, both of which worked well.  Their operators were very helpful via email.

The Winlink network is accessed using the Winlink Express software on Windows.  It supports communication via external Pactor Modem and Iridium Go.  It also supports software-only communication using its Winmor, Ardop and Vara SDR (software-defined radio) protocols.  Ardop can achieve throughputs similar to Pactor 3.

Unlike our previous HF/SSB radios the IC-7300 integrates a USB sound card.  Like the previous radios it provides a serial port for remote control.  These connect to an external computer - in our case a MacBook running Mac OS.  We run Windows in a virtual machine using Parallels to support Winlink Express and other programs.

In addition to connection to shore stations Winlink Express supports "peer-to-peer" connection.  So IRC-style "chat" sessions are possible at sea.

Here's how we setup and tested our system.

Cables

All cables required for our setup are included with the IC-7300.  The single USB cable connects both the CI-V serial port and the sound card in the IC-7300 to the computer.

Importantly, the latest drivers for the USB cables should be installed in Windows BEFORE connecting to the IC-7300.  The drivers can be downloaded here.

IC-7300 Settings

Setup of the radio involves Connectors settings, CI-V settings and Filter setup.

Here are the "set & forget" Connectors settings we use...





Here are the "set & forget" CI-V settings we use...



Filter setup is a little more interesting.  It isn't necessary but is an interesting insight into IC-7300 features.

Winlink's Ardop protocol uses two different bandwidths - 2000Hz and 500Hz.  The IC-7300 has three filters FIL1, FIL2 and FIL3 which, by default, provide wide, medium and narrow bandwidths.

When using a 500Hz Ardop channel it's interesting to select FIL3 on the IC-7300.  This needs to be done _after_ selecting the channel in the Winlink Express software.  The effect of using the filter is shown in a later section below.

To change the IC-7300 filter characteristics push and hold over the FILn symbol on the touch screen.  You'd then get a display similar to that below.  You can then select and change the BW (bandwidth).

Changing FIL2 Characteristics

Windows Drivers

The first stage of Windows setup involves installation of drivers for the CI-V serial port and the Sound Card.  These should be installed BEFORE connecting to the IC-7300.  The driver can be downloaded here.

With the drivers installed the IC-7300 can be connected and powered-up.  The two images below show the two devices in Windows 8's Device Manager.



Make a note of the COM port the CI-V serial port is connected to.

Windows Sound

Windows sound settings affect the volume of the IC-7300's transmit and receive audio power.  Microphone volume adjusts the volume transferred from the IC-7300 to the Winlink Express software.  Speaker volume adjusts the audio transferred from the Winlink Express software to the IC-7300.  So the latter is one of several controls of the SSB power transmitted.

The two images below show microphone setup in Windows 8.  For our installation 80% microphone volume worked nicely.  Later, when testing the Winlink Express software you can see the received audio volume and may need to return to adjust this setting.




The two images below show speaker setup in Windows 8.  For our installation 75% speaker volume worked nicely. 



Winlink Express Setup

This Windows program can be downloaded here.  Don't bother if you're not a licensed amateur operator!  Installation is straight-forward.  Setup is system and HF radio dependent.  You'll need to do some initial setup to define your callsign etc.

Here's how we setup for Ardop with the IC-7300, starting with an image showing the main window...

Main Winlink Express window
The IC-7300 needs to be powered-up and connected at this point.  At the top of the main window select "Ardop Winlink" in the Open Session box.  Then click on "Open Session".  A new window should appear after a few seconds, try to connect to the radio, and may report errors.

Ardop Winlink Session window - Successful Start
From the session window we now need to setup Ardop.  This is done using the Settings => Ardop TNC Settings command which opens the window below.  Configure the IC-7300's USB sound card for use.

Next, and also from the Ardop Winlink Session window, we use the Settings => Radio Setup command which opens the window below.  We configured as shown.  The COM port number was identified in Windows Device Manager.  It took some experimentation to find a combination of settings which worked for us.


When either of the above windows is modified and "Update" clicked Winlink Express restarts the Ardop session.  It tries to establish contact with the IC-7300.

Winlink Express Testing

With the Ardop Winlink Session initialising happily we can start tests of Winlink Express.  The program includes Channel Selection and Forecast windows, each opened using the command at the top of the Session window.

The Channel Selection window shows which channels are best at the current time.

Channel Selection window
 The Forecast window shows expected performance of the currently selected station over 24 hours.
Channel Forecast window
Armed with the above information a channel can be selected by double-clicking on it in the Channel Selection window, or by simply clicking on Best Chan and Next Chan commands in the Session window.  Listen before trying to connect to the selected station!

A second window is started along with the Ardop Winlink Session window - it may be minimised initially,   This is the ARDOP_Win Virtual TNC window shown below in several images.  All show its behaviour while listening to an Ardop channel being used by other stations...

Idle Channel
Start of Contact

Busy Channel
Busy Channel
In all the images above the received audio volume from the IC-7300 is shown above the blue "waterfall" display.  Ensure the volume is "in the green".  If not use the Windows Microphone settings to adjust the volume.  Note that the IC-7300 volume knob is irrelevant here!

The central display can be changed from the "waterfall" display above to the "spectrum" display below...
2000 Hz channel
2000Hz channel


500Hz channel
500 Hz channel
Using the IC-7300's Filters

The two images below show the effect of applying the IC-7300's FIL3 filter (set at 800Hz bandwidth).  The difference is clear, with the dark area outside the pass-band showing the filter's attenuation of out-of-band signals.  The vertical magenta bars show the extent of the Ardop channel, which in this case is 500Hz.



Use of the filters certainly isn't necessary but it's fun to see their effect so clearly in the waterfall.


RF Chokes

During testing we found that high IC-7300 power outputs caused interference which "confused" the CI-V port, leaving the IC-7300 transmitting.  When this happens the IC-7300's TX button or the handset's PTT switch can be pressed and released to stop transmission.  If that doesn't work the radio has to be power-cycled.  Sometimes the USB cable has to be unplugged and plugged back in to restore operation.

We added RF chokes on various cables to avoid these problems.  We normally use only 50W output power from the IC-7300 since additional power beyond this rarely improves the result.  This may be due to battery voltage "sag" at high current.  We needed quite a few RF chokes on all cables on our USB hub connecting IC-7300 and other USB devices to the MacBook.


Tune It!

Tuning is vital in all HF/SSB operation.  Tune the IC-7300 to the band you'll be using.  Don't tune on a station frequency!


Conclusion

We successfully connected to a Winlink station and sent an email.  It works!

We expect to use an Iridium Go (or similar) device for email comms, as we have to date.  Winlink provides a useful backup to satellite comms.  It is free and getting it working is a great way of learning more about your HF/SSB.

The more we use our IC-7300 the more we like it.



Sunday, 3 March 2019

Winter Maintenance in London #5

Hi everyone,
This month we've attended to an array of small tasks.
  • Cabin & Cockpit Lights
  • Liferaft Mount
  • Breather tubes
  • HF/SSB Tests

Liferaft and Cockpit Lights
Cabin and Cockpit Lights

Our cabin lights are about 10 years old and some of them are fading away.  We found a nickel-finish light we liked and so set to work buying and fitting them.  We ended up with one over each saloon berth, one in the nav station, one in the quarter berth and two in the galley.  They're a big improvement.

One of the galley lights was fitted over a hole vacated by an old speaker.  We also wanted to fit cockpit lights where speakers previously lived.  All three needed circular panels cut to cover the holes.  The Dremel did a great job cutting them using a radius arm.  We used a drill with hole-cutter for smaller panels for some of the lights.

Cutting circular panel with the Dremel
Galley Light
Saloon Light
NavStation Light
The cockpit lights are from NaviSafe.  They mount magnetically and have various settings.  The housing glows dimly in the dark which may be helpful.

Cockpit Light in place of Speaker
Breather Tubes

This was a long overdue task.  The breather tubes from the water tanks and the fuel tanks run up to the deck where a s/s fitting connects through the deck and up into a stanchion.  They allow air into the tanks as their contents are used.  The old hoses from the water tank were black with mould, so they definitely needed changing!

New Breather Hoses
Liferaft Mounting

We had been thinking of mounting the liferaft on the transom.  In the end we decided to leave it in the cockpit to keep the option of fitting a wind vane open.  We purchased a s/s liferaft cradle and fitted it so the liferaft is a few inches above the cockpit sole.


HF/SSB Tests

We are gradually experimenting with our new Icom IC7300 transceiver.

We tested our transmit power using an RF Current Meter.  The meter clamps around the antenna feed line and measures the actual transmit current.  While transmitting a 100W tone we measured 30A at 3.5MHz, 45A at 7 MHz and 90A at 14MHz.  I need to do some research to turn that into power at the antenna.

In actual usage the radio is performing very well, especially considering we're in a marina and surrounded by apartment blocks.  So far we've spoken with amateur stations in Orkney (450nm north) and Southern Italy (900nm south).  Both were loud and clear and reported we were too - "5 by 9" in amateur-speak.