Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Admiral Marina

Hi everyone,
We arrived at Admiral Marina in Port Dickson at 1240 today, exactly 24 hours after departing Pangkor Marina.  We logged 115nm through the water but 143nm over the ground, so we got 28nm "free" from current!  We had expected to arrive late afternoon but the current got us here for lunch.

Zen Again Track
Detail of part of track showing traffic separation lanes
We motor-sailed all but one hour of the passage since the following winds were too light to give us a reasonable speed.  The one hour of sailing was when a thunderstorm came through just before dawn this morning, delivering 25knot+ gusts and rain, and a very nice little sail under one reef and the staysail.

The procession of large cargo vessels using the traffic separation lanes is impressive.  We also saw quite a few tugs and barges, but relatively few fishing vessels.  No encounters with nets this time.

The currents were interesting.  There appeared to be a southerly current flowing down the strait, overlaid on the tidal current pattern.  So when the tide charts said we'd get 1.0knot with us we found 2.5 knots with us, and when it said we should have 1.0 knot against us we found 0.5 knot with us.  Nice!
Motor sailing
The motor performed flawlessly.  After two short passages it is time for its first oil change!  I'll probably do that tomorrow.

Zen Again will remain here at Admiral Marina until next year.

Trust all's well where you are!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Pangkor Marina

Hi everyone,
At 1000 on Friday (13th!) we departed Rebak Island towards Pangkor Island.  My father Alan was aboard as crew.  On Saturday at 1445 we were in a pen at Pangkor marina after a fairly tedious passage.  Unfortunately we only had 5 hours of engine-free sailing, but the new engine is now well "run-in".  We covered 131nm through the water and 138nm over the ground.

Zen Again Track
We had to motor-sail out of the lee of Langkawi, but once clear we had a very nice beam reach for most of Friday afternoon.  While motor-sailing we found the engine was losing RPM every 10-20 minutes, just for a few seconds before picking up again.  It seemed like a fuel supply problem but I left it for a while to see if the engine managed to bleed itself.

Late in the afternoon when we were again motor-sailing I manually bled the engine fuel system and from there on the engine performed faultlessly.  We motor-sailed until we reached the lee of Penang Island, where the wind died entirely.  There certainly seems to be more wind in the area between Penang and Langkawi.

We motored all night, gently cruising along at about 4.5 knots.  We'd occasionally get a brief puff of wind as a cloud moved over us, but otherwise the sea was glassed out.  We encountered several tugs towing barges, most of which had AIS transmitters.  There were also quite a few trawlers and some big ships.  The latter were mostly well out to sea.  We were in about 40m of water for most of the trip.

Our biggest adventure of the night was running into a fishing net south of Penang island, in about 30m of water.  We passed between two static red lights separated by at least 250m.  There was a fishing net between the two, with its top rope only 1m below the surface.  As we approached a fishing boat was buzzing around and so I was ready in case we snagged anything.  When we did I cut the throttle, our speed reduced to zero rapidly, I could see the rope/net with a torch, and then the tension in the rope pushed us backwards.  We motored astern ourselves and then motored around the outer mark.  It's unusual for nets to be so close to the surface up here.

Motorsailing SE shortly after dawn.
On Tuesday we continued motoring south with only occasional puffs of wind.  As soon as one rolled out the jib the wind died.

We entered the western passage at the north end of Pangkor Island at about 1300 on Tuesday, and suddenly the engine cut altogether.  I had forgotten to open the valve between the two fuel tanks!  It was a good exercise - pumped through fuel, bled the system and got the engine going again in a few minutes with a sandbank 100m to leeward to maintain our focus!

In the pen at Pangkor Marina Island
The rest of the passage to the marina was uneventful, apart from having a tug and huge barge alongside us as we proceeded down the main channel.

Today we topped up the main fuel tanks from our jerry can supplies, our water tanks from the dock, and gave the deck a good hose-down.  Since arriving we've also shown our transformed boat to friends Graham and Anne who are refitting their yacht Kakadu here at Pangkor.

Pangkor seems much cooler in the evening and overnight than Langkawi.  A very slight chill in the breeze which is very pleasant.

Tomorrow we intend to depart Pangkor and head towards Port Dickson.  We'll have to wait until early afternoon for the tide to rise enough for us to escape the marina.  The passage is 140nm so we should arrive late afternoon on Tuesday.

Trust all's well where you are!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Vetus Exhaust System Installed

Hi everyone,
On Sunday I returned to Rebak Island Marina to replace our engine exhaust system.  The old 50mm system did not suit the new engine since it has a 40mm exhaust outlet and the outlet is lower then that on the old engine.

On Monday morning it only took a couple of hours to remove the old system, with much of that spend battling to release the hose from the transom fitting.  It had been sikaflexed in place and was a pain to remove.

Installing the new system took about 4 hours on Monday afternoon.  The system comprises a Vetus NLP waterlock close to the engine and a Vetus NLPG gooseneck in the lazarette.  The gooseneck is good because it acts as a vented loop, reducing how much water runs back into the waterlock when the engine stops.  New hose was used to connect the components.  A mixture of old and new hose clamps was used, with the old ones carefully checked for signs of rust.

Vetus NLP Waterlock installed
Vetus NLPG Gooseneck installed in the lazarette
On Tuesday I carefully checked the system from end to end and then fired up the engine.  Everything was fine, with the smaller (4 litre) waterlock producing a more consistent water flow at the transom.  I ran the engine up to 3000rpm in neutral, then ran it in gear for half an hour at 2000rpm.  No leaks anywhere and no problems.

After shutting down the engine I used one of the two drains in the NLP waterlock to check the water level.  There was about 2.8 litres in the unit so it appears to have plenty of capacity for the system.

At last Zen Again is ready for sea!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Craftsman Marine Diesel Commissioned

Hi everyone,
Yesterday we fired up our new CM3.27 engine for the first time.  Alan the dealer and Frank from Kokomo were on hand to witness the event.  The engine started immediately and ran well.  It took a while for water to appear at the transom but that was due to the 10 litre muffler/waterlock taking a while to partially fill before throwing out water.

The only issue found was that I had assumed the gear lever moving forward on the ZF10M gearbox was "forward" gear.  It isn't.  We ignored that minor issue and gave the engine a workout in gear in forward and astern, and briefly up to max RPM in neutral.


This morning I topped up the engine oil and coolant, and configured the engine morse controller to select the correct gears.  I then took the ferry in to Langkawi and bought a Dremel power tool.  Back at the boat I used it to cut out a mounting plate for the engine control panel.  The tool made the job far, far easier than using a saw, particularly given the surround was made from 3mm laminex only 40mm wide.    It would almost certainly have split if I had used a saw.  The panel is now mounted in the cockpit and looks good.

The panel has voltage, coolant temperature and oil pressure gauges, as well as RPM and engine hours.  The temperature gauge isn't working yet since it is necessary to remove the thermostat housing to fit the optional temperature sensor.  I didn't want to do that before initial trials of the engine.

Engine Control Panel mounted in the cockpit
This afternoon I ran the engine for an hour at various revs in both forward and astern.  The correct gear is now selected.  The engine certainly pushed a lot of water around the marina.  The engine mounts appear to be working well.  To check alignment I rested a pencil on the propellor shaft both horizontally and vertically and there's no sign of vibration.  So all seems good.

Trying to push Rebak to Thailand!
So that's Zen Again's engine replacement done.  The only work remaining is the replacement of the exhaust system which will take a day or so when we have all the necessary parts and return to Rebak.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Craftsman Marine Diesel Installation

Hi everyone,
Our new engine is now installed and commissioning nearly complete.  Later today we plan to fire her up for the first time.

On Sunday, and with the aft mounting nuts turned down to half-height and fitted, I was able to align the engine to the old shaft coupling.  Amazing.  I remembered to check the coupling was placed with the shaft centred in the stern tube.  This was with the engine sitting about 1cm forward of its correct position - where the correct position would compress the PSS shaft seal as required.  Finally I moved the engine back the required 1cm and checked all around the coupling with my feeler gauge's thinnest feeler - no gaps!

On Monday the Zainol the mechanic arrived and took a close look at the engine, the mounts and the shaft position.  He declared everything good and gave me the go-ahead to mark and drill the holes required for the mounting bolts.  He also suggested I cut back the engine bed sides adjacent to the engine bell housing which had only 2mm clearance each side.

On Tuesday I moved the engine out of the engine compartment onto the cabin sole.  I did it alone, which shows I just might be getting the hang of this stuff!  I drilled the required mounting holes and then got to work cutting back the engine bed sides.  Luckily I'd been discussing this job with Duncan of Sea Topaz and he loaned me his burrs, which made the job far, far easier.  I then fitted the mounts, happily finding that the bolts, with 4cm washers, could be fitted from below.  They passed up through the engine beds and the mounts and so I could easily fit washers and nuts above.  That made the job of finally tightening the nuts with the engine in place much, much easier.

Engine mounts in place
On Tuesday afternoon Zainol arrived and set to work removing the old shaft coupling.  It came out quite easily and revealed that the shaft end was tapered.  That caused momentary alarm until we lay the new coupling alongside and realised the taper was forward of where the new coupling would touch the shaft.  Phew!  Zainol then fitted the new coupling to the shaft and the flexible coupling to the gearbox.

Old shaft coupling off - note tapered shaft
Next we lifted the engine onto its mounts, which was made very much easier by the slings I'd rigged inside the compartment.  Zainol then aligned the engine and we finally tightened the engine mount bolts.  The shaft rotated easily with the only noises being the "clonk" of the propellor blades opening/closing.  Finally Zainol connected the exhaust system.  This was only possible with the old muffler/waterlock at an angle, but which he assures me is OK for tests in the pen.  We connected the 40mm engine exhaust outlet to the 50mm muffler by fitting a 50mm length of 40mm hose inside the 50mm hose to the muffler, which was a perfect fit!

New shaft coupling and flexible coupling
On Wednesday I connected up the electrics, water and fuel.  The electrics included ground to the lower starter motor mounting bolt, +12V to the starter motor and the control electrics to the instrument panel.  The water included raw water in, raw water out to vented loop and raw water from vented loop to mixing elbow.  Each of these hoses needed a tight 90 degree bend, and happily I managed to find suitable hoses at MultiQuip in Kuah.  The fuel included supply and return which was very simple.

Later in the day on Wednesday I filled the engine with oil and coolant, and filled the gearbox with automatic transmission fluid.  I discovered several errors in Craftsman Marine's Engine Manual, which I have advised them of, and may list in a future post.  One was an incorrect oil quantity in the Commissioning section, which resulted in my having to try out my engine oil extractor.

On Thursday I bled the fuel system and attached the control (morse) cables.  The gearshift cable was a challenge since the old Yanmar fitting is "welded" to the end fitting.  I tried releasing fluid and freezer spray to no avail, so kept the fitting on and managed to fit it.  Not ideal but appears to be functioning fine.  Lastly I lubricated the engine control cables, working them the ensure they're free, no to mention that the throttle has the correct sense (ie idle = idle, not full power) and forward lever selects forward gear!

Ready to run!
So the engine is now ready for final inspection and then start up!  Looking forward to that.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Craftsman Marine Diesel Trial Fit

Hi everyone,
Our engine replacement is continuing slowly but steadily.  Coping with the inevitable problems and cheered by finding solutions - often with the help of other yachties here at Rebak.

The second half of last week was spent completing the refurbishment of the engine compartment.  It now has three coats of two-pack polyurethane topcoat over two coats of undercoat.  Looks good.

Ready for new engine
On Saturday Barry from Nefertiti and John from Sea Mist assisted with the lift of the engine from the cockpit sole into the cabin, and from there into place for a trial fit.  Looks better!

New engine in place for trial fit
The trial fit showed that we really do need the special low-profile PolyFlex mounts I brought with me from Perth.  In fact we thought even they would not be low enough.  On Sunday I was contemplating cutting the tops off the engine beds to lower them.

Yesterday (Monday) I received good advice from shipwrights Alan and Martin.  Both thought the low profile mounts should work if the standard nuts were replaced with half-thickness nuts and an obstruction taken care of.  If the half-height nuts don't work then the engine can rest on washers instead of the adjusting nuts, but then we'd need to use shims under each mount to align the engine.

So today I took the ferry to the main island and eventually found a metalwork shop which could take four nylock nuts and turn them down as required.  Best of all the work only cost RM20 (A$7).  A little more metalwork to do, and then we'll offer up the engine again to see if it lines up with the propellor shaft.

By the way, photos have been added to the preceding post (below).

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Craftsman Marine Diesel Aboard

Hi everyone,
Our new engine is now aboard Zen Again, and the old Yanmar has departed. Out with the old, in with the new as they say. The new engine looks as good as the marketing photos. One or two issues with the supplied documentation which may be the subject of a separate post.

New engine enroute to Rebak

Please note this is a fairly detailed description of how we removed the old engine and got the new on aboard. Intended audience is those considering or planning a similar job.

I arrived in Langkawi on Monday afternoon last week. On Tuesday I disconnected the engine from its instrument panel, from its high-current 12V power and ground cables, from its fuel supply and return, from its raw water supply, from its raw water outlet vented loop and from its exhaust muffler/water-lift box. I drained the oil and coolant, then removed the alternator, starter motor and exhaust mixing elbow.

On Wednesday I was laid low by a dehydration-induced headache from the above work! In the tropics one needs to pace one's self. Particularly when not yet aclimatised. Painful lesson learned (yet again).

On Thursday I removed the instrument panel from its recess in the cockpit and the exhaust manifold from the engine. Removing the engine subsystems lightened the engine and also greatly improved access to the engine mounts and mounting bracket bolts, which I gradually managed to loosen. Used a lot of Releasing Agent. Requires a variety of sockets and spanners, including extended sockets and offset ring spanners. Loosening bolts which haven't moved for 22 years, some of which were very rusty, was the hardest part of removing the engine.

On Friday I removed the last of the four bolts securing the shaft half-coupling to the gearbox - with a hacksaw. That was the only bolt I had to remove "unconventionally". Of the four main engine mounts I managed to remove all four 24mm nuts, although one was very rusty. I also tried to remove the smaller bolts securing the mounting brackets to the engine itself, but one of those was so rusty a ring-spanner turned the hex head of the bolt into a nice circle! Sadly that one was inaccessible to a hacksaw (but an angle grinder might have done it). Small lesson there is that a similar depth or rust does less damage to a larger nut or bolt - pretty obvious on reflection.

On Thursday and Friday I also installed four through-bolted deadeyes, one forward and one aft, high up on each side of the engine compartment. To these I attached 4:1 tackles across the compartment, one under the forward part of the engine and the other under the aft part. I proved these by using them to lift the engine a few mm, and left it hanging on the tackle.
Old engine in the slings

On Saturday morning I removed the mainsail and its boombag from the boom, and rolled up the boom tent. I rigged two heavy 2:1 tackles kindly leant by Diana from The Doctor (actually their running backstay tackles) down from the boom. One was rigged over the companionway and other aft of our mainsheet arch. Barry from Nefertiti II and Alan from Langkawi BSS assisted the actual engine removal, with Alan supplying his fibreglass dinghy into which we lowered the engine alongside. ie We did this entire preparation and removal in our pen. We have a PSS shaft seal which is coping with the work all around it very well, but needs to be watched carefully nonetheless.

The actual engine removal was very easy, proving once again the pilot's "5P's" (Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance). The tackle in the engine compartment allowed us to lift the engine the ~30mm to clear the top of the mounting bolts, and then to swing the engine forward. We then attached the forward boom tackle to the front engine hoist point and moved the forward engine compartment tackle under the rear of the engine, and swung the engine further forward. We could then take a strop from the rear engine hoist point to the boom tackle and then the engine could be hoisted up and out of the companionway.

From the companionway it was easy to attach the rear boom tackle, swing the engine aft, remove the forward tackle, hoist the engine higher to clear the s/s lifeline and then outboard and down into the dinghy. From there Alan took the motor away. 15 minutes later the rain started - good timing!

Vacant engine compartment - ready for cleaning up
On Sunday I got to work cleaning the engine bay. First I removed the old mounts, which proved to be simple but hot, sweaty work.  Then I used a scraper on the walls and deckhead to remove the sooty remains of the contact cement which once secured insulation panels. Lastly for the day I sanded the floors which are an "interesting" landscape of frames, stringers and engine beds.

On Monday (this week) I finished sanding the compartment floor, and sanded the lower parts of the side walls which I intend to paint. The rest of the walls and the deckhead will eventually have insulation panels so I've left them alone.

On Tuesday the motor was booked to be trucked from the airport to the Langkasuka ferry terminal and from there by cargo boat to Rebak Island Marina. The truck arrived only 30 minutes late, and the boat about 20 minutes later. Manhandling the 150kg palette holding the engine onto the boat was an adventure. No crane or gantry of any kind, so 8 of us had to lift it down the ramp, onto the boat and position it aboard. Pity only 2 of the work party understood the concept of balance and centre of gravity, but ultimately we got the palette aboard the fishing boat without incident. Once aboard the crew showed no interest in tying the package down, so I found a rope and lashed the engine down (as the photos illustrate).

The trip over to Rebak Island was uneventful. We arrived during lunch hour so had to wait 45 minutes for the forklift. In the meantime I returned to Zen Again and readied everything to lift the new engine aboard. The forklift drivers appeared on time and we lifted the engine from the fishing boat to Alan's dinghy and motored around to Zen Again. Lifting the engine aboard was straight-forward and we lowered it onto a plywood board on the cockpit sole, where it will stay for the time being.

New engine in the cockpit

On Wednesday I continued cleaning. Used copious amounts of degreaser to remove 22 years of oily, sooty grime from the floor, particularly those parts one just couldn't reach with an engine present. Finally I washed down the floor with acetone.

Today I applied a first coat of two-part polyurethane undercoat to the floor. I'll apply a second coat this afternoon, then several coats of topcoat tomorrow.

All in all the removal process took about as much long as I'd estimated - 5 days, only working 5 hours a day in the heat. The process would have been quicker if I'd had all the right tools at the start - perhaps 3 days. No doubt a mechanic would have got it out in a single day, but it was a useful learning experience.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Craftsman Marine Diesel Ordered

Hi everyone,
We've now selected a new engine for Zen Again.  We have ordered a Craftsman CM3.27 (3 cylinder, 27HP) and will keep the existing propellor.

Craftsman Marine is a quite new supplier of marine diesels.  They marinise Mitsubishi industrial engines in the Netherlands.  I've read plenty of positive comments about them and can only hope we'll be equally pleased.  Here's why we chose the Craftsman:

  • Fits in our engine compartment (and is smaller overall than existing engine)
  • Lighter (113kg compared to 123kg new Yanmar and 138kg existing engine)
  • 430mm mount spacing which matches our mounting beds.  It turns out our existing Yanmar has custom mounting brackets which extend their standard 370mm spacing.
  • Regular service items (dip-stick, filters, impeller etc) all on starboard and forward sides
  • Nice IP67-sealed instrument panel with hour, temperature, oil pressure, voltage and RPM gauges
  • Preheater (just in case we ever go anywhere cold!)
  • Nice looking engine with hoses NOT painted!

Craftsman Marine CM3.27
We expect to fit non-standard engine mounts since our engine beds are quite high.  We selected PolyFlex mounts which allow a minimum height of 65mm vice the standard mount minimum height of 85mm.

PolyFlex Engine Mount

We also plan to install a flexible coupling to provide a little "elastic" in the drive train.  We've chosen a PolyFlex...

PolyFlex Flexible Coupling

Our existing shaft half-coupling is rusty and its bolt hole pattern doesn't match modern gearbox couplings.  Again PolyFlex offers these, and drilling out to match your shaft diameter is included in the price.  So we'll get one of these...

PolyFlex Half-Coupling

We looked into the possibility of a smaller engine with a new propellor but that proved difficult due to issues matching available gearbox ratios to new propellors, and also a possible clearance problem between the P-bracket and an AutoProp propellor.

It will be interesting to see whether the new engine can drive our 16" Varifold propellor up to the engine's full rated RPM of 3600rpm.  The existing engine can only get to 2500rpm, but we suspect that's because it is producing less than its rated 27HP.

We used Nigel Calder's excellent book "Marine Diesel Engines - Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair" to calculate engine and propellor parameters for Zen Again.  Section 9 "Selection and Installation" provides all the necessary information.

For a yacht with the following characteristics:
  • 6,800kg (15,000lb) displacement;
  • 8.65m (28.4ft) waterline length;
  • 3600rpm maximum engine revolutions; and
  • 2.72 gearbox ratio
the calculations showed:
  • 15HP needed for a "racer", but 30HP recommended for a "cruiser"; 
  • Recommended propellor size of 16.5" (ours is 16"); and
  • Recommended propellor pitch of 14" (ours is 12").
So, if anything the boat should be slightly "under-propped" rather than "over-propped" with a new 27HP engine.  And so the new engine should work well.  Time will tell!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Inescapable Rebak

Hi everyone,
We're now back in Perth, and Zen Again is once again in a pen at Rebak Resort Marina.  So much for returning our lovely boat to WA this year!

We spent several stormy days at Telaga Marina after deciding it really wasn't wise to risk the passage around Sumatra to Cocos Island.  In the end we decided we had too little faith in our 20+ year old engine.  So back to Rebak we went during a brief break in the weather.

At Telaga Harbour

We're now looking at a range of options to return Zen Again to Fremantle.  Step one however will be to replace our engine.  We came very, very close to doing so in Darwin, and have regretted not doing so ever since.

Zen Again once more at Rebak Resort Marina

We are considering replacing our current 27hp Yanmar with a smaller engine, and not necessarily a Yanmar.  The 27hp easily drives the boat at lower RPM than it should be running at, so we haven't been working the engine as hard as it should be.  Hence the huge carbon build-ups we discovered in Darwin.

We would like to also replace the propellor since we know the current fixed pitch, 2-blade, folding prop is over-pitched (that is, it takes too big a "bite" at the water and the engine can't get up to the RPM it is supposed to be running at).  If we replace the prop the new one will be a Bruntons Autoprop which sets its pitch automagically.  We had one on our previous boat and it was excellent.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Telaga Harbour Marina for Fuel

Hi everyone,
This morning we motor-sailed the 6nm from Rebak Resort Marina to Telaga Harbour Marina, still on the Malaysian island of Langkawi.  In pen A26 at 06 22.00N 99 41.12E.  We were originally booked to stay here for two nights and had planned to depart for the Cocos-Keeling Islands today.

We had a great send-off from Rebak.  Diana from The Doctor, Mike & Jan from Asterie, Frank & Karen from Kokomo V, Barry & Sue from Nefertiti 1, John & Cheryl from Sea Mist, and Steve & Anne from Recluse all came down to wave us off.
Heading out of Rebak Marina
photo by sv The Doctor
Motoring out of Rebak Marina
photo by sv Kokomo V
We flew back to Langkawi from Perth last Sunday.  From Monday to Thursday we worked on the boat, doing lots of pre-departure jobs and replenishing supplies.  On Friday and Saturday we rewarded our hard work with a couple of days at the resort.  The rooms are very nice and well air-conditioned.  On Saturday night we watched the Australian election coverage on BBCworld.
View from our very nice cool room
Company for a walk around the resort - 2m monitor lizard

Our plan had been to sail for Cocos leaving Sumatra to port, and from there to Fremantle.  Eventually however, and at the eleventh hour, we decided not to proceed.  We'll return to Rebak later this week and consider Plan B.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Hello Again Rebak

Hi everyone,
Zen Again is now back at Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia. We had a great passage from Phuket, logging 121nm in 24 hours. The nice westerley breeze (10-15 knots) and fine conditions lasted until 0300 this morning. Then we had a brief rain shower with 20-25knot winds. A good opportunity to try out the new reefing arrangements.

Zen Again's track
After the rain the wind was light but still westerly. We continued sailing at 2-3knots until about an hour away from Rebak. We motored in from there, with the only drama being when the motor stopped when just 100m from the entrance (and on a lee shore). We unrolled the jib, turned around and beat off under autopilot while I bled the fuel system. With the engine running again we entered the marina and tied up at pen B30.

There are several yachts here which took part in Sail Indonesia with us last year - good to see them. Some of the boats have had major "makeovers" as we have. An hour after we arrived a violent storm arrived and it blew 30+knots and poured rain for nearly two hours. Glad we arrived before that!

Moored at Rebak shortly after arrival
Rainstorm a short time later!

The direct passage from Phuket certainly exposed us to far fewer fishing boats and fishing nets. We passed half a dozen pair trawlers near Phuket but after that only saw individual trawlers occasionally, and stationary squid boats overnight. We passed through one big field of net floats in 50m of water west of Ko Rok Nok. Just after dawn we narrowly avoided a large tree trunk - just as well we weren't further ahead!
Zen Again at Rebak Marina

For those interested in single-handed short passage watchkeeping, I used the ten minute scheme. So day and night I set a 10 minute alarm, rested until it went off, looked out all round for traffic, checked sails, wind etc, and then set the alarm again. It worked well for me and it seemed it would be OK for up to perhaps 48 hours. Could be used when watch keeping on crewed passages too.

All in all, twas a great sail!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Farewell to Boat Lagoon

Hi everyone,
Zen Again departed Boat Lagoon, Phuket this morning after nearly 6 months of repair and refit. We fuelled up and then were guided out of the creek by one of the marina men. After clearing the creek I hoisted the main but had to motor for an hour until we excaped the lee of the island. We are now romping along in a great 10-14 knot WSW breeze, heading directly for Langkawi with the wind on the beam. No 2 and full main, logging 6.5 knots and about 7 over the ground. Dry bilge too!

About to depart Boat Lagoon
The weather has been improving as we sail south. In Boat Lagoon it was overcast with drizzle. Once away from the island there's been about 6/8 cloud cover and no rain so far.

Sailing out of Thai waters

It was a little sad leaving Boat Lagoon. They're a friendly crowd. Most importantly Precision Shipwrights did a great job on the repairs and refit, and everything appears to be not only looking good but working very well too. The dual mainsheet system atop the new s/s arch is working very well. The new cockpit teak is wonderful - no more sitting on a bed of nails!

New Sail Number - back to our old FSC 88
Note - not a bendy mast, rather a wide angle lens!

Right now we're in position 07 38.9N 098 39.5E, doing 7.2 knots over the ground. But you can see all that on our new PredictWind tracker page (on the right hand side of the blog home page).

Still charging mid-afternoon (speed or amps? Both!)
Trust all's well where you are.

Friday, 12 July 2013

GRIBs on PredictWind Satellite Communicator

Hi everyone,
An update on progress in obtaining GRIB files from our PredictWind Satellite Communicator.  Another geeky post!

SailDocs GRIB file received on our Satellite Communicator
At present PredictWind doesn't support the supply of GRIB files to the Satellite Communicator.  This is ostensibly because the Iridium Short Burst Data (SBD) service doesn't support email attachments.  However there is a way around this, as the above image shows!

By placing the email attachment (the GRIB file) into the body of the email the GRIB data can be communicated.  This isn't cheating in any way - you still pay for the data you transfer.  The overall email still has to fit within the 2KB Iridium SBD limit after compression.  The actual limit is about 4KB before compression.  This is about the size of GRIB file we normally downloaded via HF, and provides very useful data.

Unfortunately the GRIB files available via email from PredictWind appear to contain a minimum of 5 forecasts.  This means the area covered can only be about 5degrees*5degrees, with only a single variable (one of wind, rain, atmospheric pressure etc) in the file.  Anything bigger creates an oversize email.

SailDocs and zyGrib allow the user to define the GRIB file required with more freedom.  For example SailDocs allows a single forecast 10degree*10degree GRIB with two variables or a dual forecast 5degree*5degree with 4 variables are both well within size limits.

After researching all this we've designed and tested a system which allows us to get GRIBs on our Satellite Communicator.  At present we can get them from PredictWind, SailDocs or zyGrib.  We create request emails aboard in the format required by each service, but send them to one of our shoreside email addresses.  The email is automatically redirected to query(at)saildocs.com or grib(at)predictwind.com.  This results in the response email being sent to the ashore email address, where the GRIB attachment is reformatted to lie in the email body.  The modified response email is then sent to the Satellite Communicator.  All automatically.

The extra processing adds a only minute or two to the overall process, and as soon as the response is available it shows up in the Satellite Communicator email inbox.  No connecting twice as is the case with HF email!

Below is an example response email.  The dense block of text is the GRIB file encoded and placed in the body of the email.  It provides two wind data forecasts, each covering a 5degrees by 5degrees area. The block of text is about 700 bytes in size, yielding a GRIB file of about 500 bytes.  This is the GRIB file displayed in the image above.
Example response received aboard
Getting from the text block to the GRIB file involves running a simple script (program) to decode the text into the binary data which forms the GRIB file.

If anyone's interested in accessing our system for their Satellite Communicator let us know!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Email Systems for Blue-Water Cruisers

Hi everyone,
For some time we've been considering whether HF is the most cost-effective means of sending and receiving email from Zen Again.  We don't need to browse the internet, but we do need to be able to download weather information in the form of GRIB (or similar) files.  Apart from GRIB files we only need plain text email.

We've used HF email for many years and it has worked well for us.  But it does have some disadvantages:
  • Purchase cost of Pactor-3 modem ($1500) or Pactor-4 modem ($2000+)
  • Purchase cost of modem is on top of cost of the HF transceiver ($1500-$3000)
  • Running cost $250 per annum using SailMail, or $0 for Licensed Amateurs using Winlink
  • Limited number of coast stations in the Australasian area
  • Variable propagation conditions depending on time of day and other factors
  • Non-trivial learning curve to optimise HF system and its use for email
  • Requires planning, effort and sometimes luck to successfully send/receive emails
  • Need to actively connect to a coast station to check for emails - maybe twice a day max - with each connection taking more than 15 minutes in marginal propagation or busy conditions
We've looked at satellite phones several times over the years, but for our email needs they too have disadvantages:
  • Purchase cost $1000-$1500
  • Running costs (voice or data) around $1 per minute
  • Data rate limited to 2400bps
  • Data connections prone to drop-out
  • Often requires external antenna to make data connections workable
  • SMS/texting cheaper but size limit too small, and no GRIBs of course
Recently we found an alternative.  At last!  We discovered the PredictWind Satellite Communicator.

Satellite Communicator (at home)
The Satellite Communicator uses the Iridium Short Burst Data network and integrates a GPS and ZigBee wireless link to a PC or Mac running PredictWind's email software.  The advantages of the unit from our perspective are:
  • Cost-effective (similar or cheaper purchase and running costs to the alternatives)
  • Always on
  • Low power (0.05Amps in standby, 0.2A transmitting)
  • Very simple to install
  • Very simple to use
  • Tracker function transmits position hourly to PredictWind regardless of PC/Mac connection
  • Plain text email transmit & receive
  • Any plain text (weather, news & more) such as from SailDocs is retrievable
  • Weather routing service from PredictWind (requires Professional package)
The Satellite Communicator needs further development to maximise its cost-effectiveness.  The most important is provision of GRIB files (subject to Iridium SBD size limits).  Here are the features we'd like to see:
  • Provision of GRIB forecast and GPX route files instead of current text-based routing
  • Email client very basic (eg can only add/delete contacts but not modify, can't create folders etc)
  • Iridium and GPS signal strengths not available on PC/Mac
  • GPS data not available on the PC/Mac
  • Tracker messages not copied to PC/Mac (would confirm they're really happening)
PredictWind costs may seem a little high at first glance, but it's worth noting you can move between the Basic, Standard and Professional packages as often as desired.  This should make the running costs similar to SailMail for many cruisers since one only needs Professional when on passage.  Normal email works regardless of whether you have a PredictWind subscription or not.

So far we've only been testing the unit at home here in Perth but are very pleased with what we see so far.  The unit is far easier to use than HF email.  In our opinion it's worth a look if you want email aboard your blue-water cruiser.

As soon as GRIB and GPX files can be retrieved the Satellite Communicator will be a far better solution than HF email.  In the mean time I have a workaround which delivers PredictWind GRIBs and GPXs to our unit after a little intermediate processing!

ps - We have no association with PredictWind save being a satisfied customer!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Relaunch and Refit Week 15

Hi everyone,
She floats!  On Tuesday morning Zen Again returned to her natural element.  Since then Precision has just about completed all refit work items.  A new forestay base fitting was made and fitted, a boom sheaves pin modified to allow fitting of new (dual) mainsheet blocks, and the new mainsheet arch fitted.  The only items still to be fitted are two pushpit-mounted gas bottle holders.

Prior to launch the propellor and shaft were painted with PropGold.  'Twill be interesting to see how it performs.  We also fitted Kleenhull anodes which are very small and should last many years.  Kleenhull is a Western Australian product and it will be very interesting to see how they perform.  These anodes are intended to work well with Coppercoat antifoul.

Propellor and shaft painted with PropGold
New Kleenhull anode - tiny isn't it!
Ready to go!
Forestay fitted
Anchor roller is a big improvement and the stemhead much simpler 
Fully rigged, but with messengers replacing second main & jib halyards
Double-decker organisers to handle added reef tack lines and mainsheets
Below decks we have a new cabin sole.  The oiled teak with sikaflex stripes is much better non-slip than varnished teak and holly, and the new boards latch, rather than screw, down.

New cabin sole - nice but highlights the poor varnish!
Today the new mainsheet arch was fitted.  It has a large base plate with dual backing plates port & starboard, and feels very strong.  It needs to be!  We now have dual mainsheets which lead forward along the boom, down to the deck and aft to clutches.  Exactly what we had on Degrees of Freedom and the system worked very well for us.  Best of all there's no traveller or mainsheet in the cockpit which is a big safety improvement.

Mainsheet arch - note large base plate on coaming
Mainsheet arch - note one sheet each side
Zen Again is now at home in a pen in Boat Lagoon Marina, where she'll stay for at least a month.  We hope to return in late July for sea trials and perhaps to move to Krabi or Rebak.
Zen Again at rest
The refit carried out by Precision Shipwright Services has exceeded our expectations.  We recommend Scott and his team without reservation.  We had expected to need to stay in Phuket to oversee the work but the first couple of weeks showed that simply wasn't necessary.  The work has been carried out to a very high standard.  We're now confident our yacht is better than ever structurally, and looks good as new!

Blogs will be less frequent now our refit is complete, until we go sailing of course!