Monday, 29 September 2014

Pig Trough

Hi everyone,
We had a great day sail today.  We had hoped to sail to Hillarys and Rottnest over the long weekend with the FSC Cruising Section but they cancelled due to the bad weather on Saturday.  Pity they didn't arrange anything for the rest of the long weekend but a few of us got together yesterday and decided on a day sail to Pig Trough Bay today.

On the beach
We had a great sail over to the anchorage which is the northernmost bay on the east coast of Garden Island.  The wind was 15-20 knots from the WSW.  Some cloud but no rain.  We sailed in company with Beluga, Divided Sky and Aqua Vitae.  Kayden had left FSC a little earlier and was first to the anchorage.

Zen Again track
Zen Again speed (FSC to Pig Trough)
Pig Trough was a perfect sheltered spot for the WSW wind.  We picked up one of the FSC moorings in the bay.  The mooring was in 3-4m of water and in good condition.

Kayden, Beluga and Aqua Vitae at Pig Trough
Zen Again at Pig Trough
View from the beach
We joined everyone ashore for lunch at the BBQ area just off the beach.  First time we've used the dinghy since Dampier and first use of the outboard motor since its recent service.  The motor ran very well.

The sail back was in light winds and a couple of light rain showers.  Looking forward to getting out on the water more frequently as the weather improves!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

George Law Foundation Race

Hi everyone,
Yesterday we did our first ever offshore race in Zen Again.  The last offshore we did was in our previous boat Degrees of Freedom in 2004.  10 years ago!  This was our first ever double-handed (2 crew) offshore race.

Zen Again track
Zen Again speed
There was plenty of wind for the start, about 20-25 knots from the NE.  We had a few turns in our No 2 yankee headsail and one reef but were severely over-powered.  Should have gone for two reefs and many more turns in the headsail despite the first leg being only a mile or so to windward.  Our start was late and we trailed the other three boats in the double-handed division to the first mark.

From the first mark we had a long beam reach to Kingston Reef (NE of Rottnest Island), during which we unrolled the headsail and shook out the reef in the main.  The wind gradually decreased.  Shortly after Kingston Reef we hoisted our asymetric which helped us keep up with the class 3 boats which had caught up with us during the reach.  The class 2 and 1 boats had passed us about half way to Rottnest.

As we sailed along the north coast of Rottnest the wind decreased to 12-15 knots.  Once around Cape Vlamingh the wind increased back up to 18-20 knots and we overtook one bigger boat.  Then the wind gradually died out to 4-6 knots and they overtook us again.  They were under spinnaker but we didn't hoist ours.  As we approached Challenger Passage a new wind from the WNW came in which had us gybing downwind to and through the passage.  The other boat did a very spectacular broach which was fun to watch.

From there the course was up the Cockburn Sound channel and the wind veered to the NW and died to almost nothing.  By that time all but three boats had finished and we were unlikely to finish for at least another 90 minutes.  We decided to let the finishing team off the hook and retired.  That way the results announcement could happen an hour later.  We'd had a great sail and got back to the bar in time to hear the end of the results.

Overall it was a great day on the water.  Next time we'll reef down more in strong winds to keep the boat manageable.  That's what we do when cruising and clearly it's what we need to do when racing short-handed too!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

HF Email using Winmor

Hi everyone,
Zen Again now has her Cat 2 safety certificate and so is ready to race for the 2014-2015 season.  With that job done we have now moved on to other tasks, one of which was to try out the HF Winmor system.

Winmor is a relatively new radio transmission protocol which forms part of the Winlink system used by amateur radio operators.  It is an alternative to the Pactor transmission protocol used in both Winlink and Sailmail.  Winmor has the significant advantage that instead of an expensive Pactor modem one only needs a sound card.

We started looking into Winmor after fitting our satellite email system.  With satellite email becoming our primary means of communication we were interested in selling our Pactor modem and replacing it with a cheaper system.  Winmor will be slower than Pactor but hopefully still effective as a backup system.

The sound card most people appear to use is the Tigertronics SignaLinkUSB.  This "sound card" sits between the computer and the HF transceiver.  It detects audio being output from the computer and activates the radio's "push-to-talk" (PTT) switch to transmit the audio.  It costs about $150.

SignaLink USB sound card
Winmor uses the software RMS Express instead of Airmail.  Different software is required since it does a lot more work.  With Pactor the modem hardware does the work but with Winmor those functions move into the software.  From a user perspective it's quite easy to adapt from Airmail to RMS Express since the complex work happens automatically.

RMS Express has a main window in which one composes emails for transmission and reads received emails.  Two additional windows are used for sessions with a coast station - the session and TNC windows.

The session window is similar to Airmail's terminal window.  It gives an overview of what's happening during a session.

RMS Express Session window
The TNC window shows exactly what's going on while monitoring a channel prior to initiating a session and during a session.  The blue "waterfall" display is helpful in identifying what's on the channel, while the black/white constellation diagram shows the quality of the connection.

RMS Express TNC window
Our tests were carried out last Saturday evening while we were on a mooring off Rockingham.  Over the preceding 36 hours there had been a major solar flare which didn't help propagation.  Propagation was poor but improving as we tried out the system.

Happily we managed to connect to a Winlink station in Victoria - VK3DPW.  We were very happy with that given the propagation conditions.  Winmor and RMS Express proved just as easy to use as Pactor, albeit with slower data transfer.

Now to sell our SCS PTCIIusb pactor modem (with Pactor3 license and cables for connection to Icom transceiver)!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Preparation for Cat 2/3 Offshore Safety Inspection

Hi everyone,
The last few weeks have been busy, fitting boat work into gaps in real work.  The focus has been on preparing the boat for offshore racing in the upcoming season.  Exactly how many races we'll do remains to be seen, but we like to prepare the boat well.  After all, the main difference between racing rules and cruising guidelines at FSC is that the former say "shall" and the latter say "should".

Both autopilots now mounted in the quarterberth
Like our earlier preparation for Cat 6 inshore racing this exercise hasn't been trivial.  The work done included:

  • Labelling countless items from boxes to cushions to floorboards
  • Buying more flares
  • Buying a new GPS-equipped EPIRB (since the battery on one of ours had expired)
  • Arranging for service of our Great Circle liferaft
  • Upgrading our manual bilge pumps
  • Replacing our danbuoy and lifering with an automatic inflating unit
  • Setting up new jackstays
  • Having our sail number sewn onto our side dodger panels
  • Further renewing and upgrading our first aid kit
  • Rearranging the area behind our instrument panel to make room for an AIS transceiver
  • Installing and configuring an AIS transceiver
The AIS transceiver is something we've done without until now.  We have had an AIS receiver for several years but a transceiver is recommended for offshore racing and far more effective than the radar reflector it notionally replaces.

The unit we chose is a Vesper Marine XB-8000.  This unit supports both NMEA0183 and NMEA2000 interfaces and has a WiFi access point.  We haven't used NMEA2000 on Zen Again previously but decided to try it out between the AIS, the VHF and one of our chart plotters.  We also feed our NMEA0183 instrument data into the AIS to make it accesssable via WiFi.

Vesper Marine XB-8000
The installation process was straight-forward.  Initially I tried connecting the NMEA2000 devices together without power applied to the NMEA2000 backbone.  This didn't work, so even if the devices on the bus don't need power from it the power is still necessary.  With that sorted out everything talked to each-other nicely.

We installed the AIS's GPS antenna behind the instrument panel, close under the side deck.  This is giving good signal strength and avoids yet another external antenna and long cable run.  The AIS's VHF antenna is dedicated to the AIS and is mounted on the pushpit.  The AIS receiver built into the VHF radio uses the masthead antenna so it will be interesting to compare their performance.

Connecting to the XB-8000 via either USB or WiFi is simple and effective.  We'll use USB for the laptop and WiFi for our iPads/iPhones.

XB-8000 AIS data overlaid in OpenCPN
OpenCPN showing data on one AIS target
On the iPad we run Vesper's WatchMate app which shows AIS information and allows configuration of the XB-8000.  We also use the iNavX chartplotter which supports AIS overlay.

WatchMate app on iPad (outer range ring is 8nm)
iNavX app on iPad with Navionics charts and XB-8000 AIS data overlay 
iNavX app on iPad showing instrument data from XB-8000 via WiFi
A consequence of installing the AIS was the relocation of our primary autopilot course computer from behind the instrument panel to the quarterberth.  That puts it above the backup course computer, so both are readily accessible.  Seemed to me that easy access to the autopilots is a good thing!