Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Denham to Broadhurst Bight

Hi everyone,
Today we sailed from Denham to Broadhurst Bight.  We are anchored at 25 32.2s 113 29.4e in 5m over sand.  We are immediately offshore from a conspic dirt track cutting through the sand dunes.  The coastline here at Cape Peron is spectacular with a mixture of sandhills and red rocky outcrops.

We logged 48nm today.  We started in a 6-8 knot E breeze which back NE then NNE and built to around 18 knots.  In the afternoon it gradually died out until we only had 2 knots of boat speed so motored for the last 2 miles.  The sea was glassy as we anchored.  Here are out track and speed plots...

Zen Again track
Zen Again speed

Perfect sailing conditions
We spent much of yesterday ashore exploring Denham.  It is a very nice little town.  The foreshore is being "done up" with a new recreational jetty to be built over the next year or two.  We took a (cool) shower at the public facilities between the two main jetties.  Had a coffee at one of the cafes, explored the well stocked Caltex servo, had lunch at another cafe then did the shopping at the IGA.  Twas nice to stretch our legs and do a little exploring.

Denham southern foreshore
Dredger at work near site of future recreational jetty
We arrived at Broadhurst Bight about 20 minutes before sunset.  Cape Peron was quite spectacular in the late afternoon light and some cirrus clouds added to the scene.  We had started the passage with a great beam reach NW from Denham.  By the time we had to turn north the wind had backed and we were close-hauled for the rest of the day.  It was a great sail.

View of Cape Peron from anchorage
Just another sunset
Slightly amazingly there is good mobile phone coverage here.  Hence this blog with photos.

Tomorrow we expect to round Cape Peron and head south to Monkey Mia.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Meade Island to Denham

Hi everyone,
Contrary to our earlier plan we decided to move on to Denham today.  This was partly due to our finding a potential issue with our HF radio, but more on that later.

We are currently anchored at 25 56.0s 113 34.4e in 2.6m (reduced to datum) over weedy sand.  We are about a cable (~200m) N of the first port channel marker which marks the outer end of the dredged channel into Denham.  It is flat calm.  Here is our track from Meade Island...

Zen Again track
We sailed off the anchor at Meade Island in a 4-6 knot SE breeze at 0830 this morning.  We had a slow but very enjoyable sail to the marked channel through the flats N of Cape Bellefin.  We sailed through the channel finding depths as charted on the WA DoT and current Garmin Bluechart G2 charts.  Navionics Gold, CM93 and an older Garmin chart set were less accurate.  Here's some detail from the WA DoT chart (rendered in Memory-Map software).

Zen Again track detail shown on WA DoT charts in Memory-Map
By the way, for those who like raster (vice vector) electronic charts Memory-Map is great value.  All AUS charts and most state charts for under $300.  See their web site here.  The software runs on Windows, iOS and Android (but sadly not Mac OS).

We had to motor through the flats north of Cape Heiresson (on the right above) since wind was then 2-4 knots ESE and we couldn't keep the boat moving.

Approaching first flats
Channel marker
From the second flats we motored the rest of the way.  It was a great opportunity to give the engine a workout.  At our normal cruising revs of 2000rpm we do 5.5knots.  At 2500rpm we do 6.8knots which felt scary-fast after sailing along at 2 knots all morning!  Over 3000rpm we exceed our hull speed a little but burn fuel at a prodigious rate.

Denham outer port mark
We anchored off Denham at 1315 this afternoon after a very pleasant passage.  For a while we watched the world go by and enjoyed 5 bars of mobile signal strength.

Then we did some HF radio tests to try to figure out why we are not being heard when using the radio for voice transmissions.  We have a radio frequency power meter which clamps around the antenna feed, directly measuring transmitted power.  It showed that our antenna tuner needs a lot of signal to trigger its tuning process.  So if my voice isn't _very_ loud the antenna isn't tuned, so the poor signal strength is further degraded by poor tuning.

The solution we came up with was to enlist our recorder (the music instrument kind).  It easily generates a tone which triggers the tuner.  This solves our problem!  The tuner should not need such a high level signal but at least we have a work-around for the issue.  Transmitting DSC messages or other digital formats (eg to send/receive email over HF) isn't a problem since they easily trigger the antenna tuner.

Tomorrow we plan to explore Denham.  We're told there may be a shower we can use.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Meade Island

Hi everyone,
We've had a pleasant day here at Meade Island, anchored off the Dirk Hartog Island station homestead.

Zen Again at anchor
The homestead operates as an eco-resort (their web site is here) with several rooms and a camping area.  We met the manager this morning and she was kind enough to let us use their facilities.  Today was the family's only day off between groups of paying visitors so we stayed out of their way.  The resort has an impressive solar panel array (visible in one of the photos below) and a largish wind generator atop the nearby hill.

We had a good walk inland and another along the beach.  The weather is perfect here at the moment - light breezes, clear skies and mild to warm temperatures.

Dirk Hartog Island Resort
View of homestead/resort from adjacent hill
Meade Island on the right and Zen Again on the left.
This afternoon we did a few boat jobs in a leisurely manner.  Replaced a worn boom vang line with a longer line in better shape.  Replaced the (new) staysail furling line which was just a little too short.  Aired out the cockpit lockers.
Yesterday's Sunset
Tomorrow we plan to sail north a few miles to Quoin Bluff South.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Shelter Bay to Meade Island

Hi everyone,
Yesterday we had a lazy day anchored at Shelter Bay.  Winds were light for most of the day.  Although it was sunny the air was quite cool.  Last night was a little uncomfortable due to a wind over tide situation putting the boat beam-on to a slight swell.  Rolly.

It was interesting watching the 2m swell breaking on the SW side of Dirk Hartog island.  Despite the relatively low swell the spume was thrown high in the air and there was a distinct hazy area which extended several hundred meters aloft.

Low swell breaking on Dirk Hartog
We made some friends during the day.  A pair of swallows perched on the boat several times during the day.  Perhaps they know we're heading north as they are.  They certainly had a lot to say for themselves.

Friendly swallows
Today we hoisted the anchor and motor-sailed to Meade Island via the Inner Bar.  The motoring gave the batteries a good charge.  The wind was light SE.  The inner bar had about 0.5m more water on the leads than charted.  The lead marker ashore appear to be absent, as do two of the three green lateral marks.

Approaching Meade Island we stayed well offshore until ENE of the island.  Even then we went across shallows of about 2.2m (reduced to chart datum).  Once over the shallows the bay E of the island had about 2.5m, allowing us to anchor in 3m of actual water depth.

We are at anchor at Meade Island at 25 59.9s 113 11.9e in 3m over sand/rock.  Here's today's track...

Zen Again Track
Meade Island is quite small - perhaps 150m from end to end - and covered with many types of birds.  The small peak on the island is a sea eagle's nest.

Meade Island
The Dirk Hartog station homestead is close to the beach.  Apparently it caters for tourists so we plan to go ashore in search of beer, probably tomorrow.

Dirk Hartog station homestead
Happily we have mobile coverage here - just.  One bar of signal strength on the phone and it is discharging fast since it's having to transmit at max power to bring this to you!

Shelter Bay

Hi everyone,
At 1530 on Wednesday we anchored in Shelter Bay at 26 10.3s 113 12.1e.  That's at the southern end of Shark Bay.  There is only one other yacht here - catamaran Sam which left Geraldton shortly before us, arrived at the same time as us.  She looks fast so we're happy to have kept up with him!

sv Sam
We logged 191nm for the 31 hour passage, for an average of 6 knots. By GPS we covered 182nm over the ground, so lost 9nm to currents. There were certainly currents aound Port Gregory and Bluff Point - around 1.5 knots.  Here are our track and speed plots...

Zen Again Track
Zen Again Speed
 We had a great sail yesterday with wind varying from 8 to 20 knots, all from the east. Throughout the day we saw whales, mostly at a distance. Saw them tail-slapping a couple of times. Early in the evening one whale blew only a couple of boat-lengths off our port side - a bit too close for comfort. I saw the whale clearly in silhouette as he dived. I think he/she was as surprised as me!

Over night the wind increased, and at about 0200 this morning was over 30 knots. That wasn't in the brochure! It stayed at 30-35 for several hours which we spent under staysail and double-reefed main. Our second reef gives us a trisail sized main. The boat handled it all very well.

We copped a few nice waves!
This morning the wind gradually decreased and we had a great sail past the spectacular cliffs south of Steep Point.

View of Steep Point from SW
View south from W of Steep Point
Detail of our path through South Passage to Shelter Bay
Our anchorage is open to the east so we'll be on the lookout for strong winds tonight. They are not forecast.

View towards South Passage from Shelter Bay

Geraldton Departure

Hi everyone,
We departed Geraldton marina at 0830 on Tuesday morning.  For most of the day we were doing about 6 knots in a very nice ENE breeze of 10-15 knots. Champagne sailing with a nice view of the coast.
Passing ships anchored north of Geraldton
We had a very pleasant time in Geraldton. We let two good blows come through before leaving today. One was from the north and the other from the south. Both packed winds gusting to 50 knots. While in Geraldton we caught up with friends, did a few boat jobs and added a little to the cruising kitty.

The main boat job was replacing the engine start battery. The old one was rated at 800CCA but when tested was delivering only 200! That's after 5 years including many days alongside a hot engine in windless SE Asia. The new one is a great improvement.

Heading north at noon!
We aim to reach Shark Bay tomorrow, hopefully going through South Passage (at Steep Point). We've already seen several groups of whales. Spotted a few cray pots north of Geraldton but they seem to be behind us now.

Trust all's well where you are!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Geraldton Arrival

Hi everyone,
We arrived in Geraldton at first light (0630) this morning, lying alongside the service jetty in the marina.  We motored down the channel into the harbour in the dark in a very light SE wind.  The engine was just idling to give the sun time to shed some light.  We had been in "slow mode" for several hours as we approached the harbour.

We logged 244nm during the 38 hour passage giving an average speed of over 6 knots.  That's pretty good for us.  During the first 24 hours we logged 165nm for an average of over 6.8 knots.  That's not far off hull speed and without any current assistance - not our best run ever but quite close.  Here are our track and speed profiles...

Zen Again track
Zen Again speed
On Saturday we experimented with various main and headsail combinations.  The conditions (broad reaching in 18-25 knots with a cross-swell) were somewhat similar to those we expect while crossing the Indian Ocean so it was a good opportunity to try sail combinations.  Most of the yankee headsail with the trisail-sized double-reefed main worked well and allowed us to sail a lower course.  The messing around slowed us down but was good sail handling practice.

Along the way we saw whales on several occasions.  Happily they are heading north too so little risk of "head on" encounters.  At dawn on Saturday we saw many cray pots off Cervantes.  Goodness knows how many we just missed in the dark but actually seeing them scooting past in the half-light was a worry.

Zen Again in Geraldton
We expect to stay here for a while since the weather outlook features a very large low approaching the west coast.  We expect to move into a pen tomorrow.  Geraldton is a nice place to spend a few days.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Fremantle Departure

Hi everyone,
We departed Fremantle at 1600 yesterday afternoon. The crew of Vulcan Spirit saw us off. The weather forecast seemed excellent for a passage to Geraldton, and so it has been so far.
Our current position is 30 25S 114 53E. We are doing about 6 knots broad reaching in a 12 knot SE breeze. Very pleasant.

Last night the wind was 15-20 SW on departure. During the night it gradually backed to S and in the early hours to SE. We were sitting on 7 knots plus all night, sometime hitting 9s on waves. Great sailing albeit somewhat rolly. Happily our stomachs were up to the task!

We saw one whale only an hour north of Gage Roads. He/she blew about 30 metres away abeam us. Last night we did a HF radio sked with US yacht Apogee which is also sailing to Geraldton. This morning we passed a spacesailor 24 or 27 also heading north. He gave us a wave.
Today is turning into a very nice day out here. Trust all's well where you are!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

HF/SSB DSC Routine Calling with Icom M801E/M802

Hi everyone,
For some years we've been using DSC routine calling on VHF.  It is useful for contacting ships at sea (to arrange separation) and also for meeting another yacht directly on a working channel without having everyone in range follow you there from channel 16.

In 2012 we started looking into using DSC on our HF/SSB.  This blog describes how we configure and use DSC on our Icom.

!!WARNING!!  This is just how we use our radio.  Your needs may differ from ours.  !!WARNING!!

What is HF DSC?

DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling.  It uses digital transmissions so has better propagation characteristics than voice.  DSC is best known for its use in sending distress calls, but it supports a broad range of uses.

DSC calls have various characteristics:
  • Purpose:
    • to negotiate a traffic frequency for voice communication
    • to communicate GPS position (requires NMEA0183 GGA sentence input to radio)
    • both of the above (eg in a safety/mayday situation)
  • Addressing:
    • Individual
    • Group
    • Area (geographical)
    • All Ships (broadcast)
  • Categories:
    • Distress (Mayday)
    • Urgency (PanPan)
    • Safety (Securite)
    • Routine
Unfortunately routine calling is made difficult by Icom's default configuration.  By default they are configured only with emergency channels.  Using emergency HF DSC channels for routine traffic is not permitted.  Happily reconfiguring the radio isn't difficult (tedious perhaps but not difficult).

Note that Icom M801E and M802 units have two antenna connections.  One is to the main transceiver and the other is to a second receiver.  The latter continuously scans the six main emergency DSC frequencies - regardless of what the main transceiver is doing.  The second antenna can be a piece of insulated wire, 4-8 metres long, run around inside the boat (unless the hull is metal).


Way back in 2007 US-based KA7WJA of sv Annie Laurie posted a suggested reprogramming of the M802 to support routine calling.  See that posting here.  More recently Commander T L Sparks published a book "Icom IC-M802 Made Simple for Cruisers".  The book describes the same method in detail.  The book only appears to be available via eBay.

Configuration Overview

All DSC-related configuration can be done manually on either M801E or M802.  It is possible to purchase Icom's CS-M802 configuration software for the M802.  I'll describe manual configuration here but first here is a screenshot from the software showing the DSC Rx/Tx Frequencies table...

The table lists three types of frequencies...
  • Call = DSC data frequency
  • Scan = Up to six DSC call frequencies to be scanned for incoming calls in DSC Watch
  • Traffic = voice frequencies the radio can switch to after the DSC call completes
The scan frequencies are all routine DSC call channels which suits boats with the second antenna connected.  If you don't have the second antenna you may wish to configure three emergency channels and three routine channels - for example pairs in the 4, 8 and 12 MHz bands.

MMSI Check

DSC won't work at all without your MMSI configured.  Here is the procedure to check it...

1.  Click DSC key to enter DSC Watch the click MODE button
2.  Scroll (using CH dial) to Setup and click ENT button
3. Scroll to MMSI Check and click ENT button
4.  Check your MMSI is correct then click ENT to exit MMSI Check or/then MODE to exit to DSC Watch
The above procedure also serves as an introduction to navigating the DSC menus.  The text at the bottom of the screen should show you your options with reverse-video showing the button to use and the normal video showing the action which results.  However this isn't always intuitive.  For example at step 3 clicking CH should select but actually moves you back one level in the menus.

If you don't have an MMSI it's "game over" until you do.  If you but it is not configured then follow the instructions in the manual to configure it - very carefully!  With that done, read on!

Scan Frequency Configuration

Next we will replace the existing scan frequencies with frequencies intended for routine calling.  We can do this since our second antenna keeps on listening to the emergency frequencies regardless.  The scan frequencies should be configured as illustrated in the table in the Configuration Overview section above.  Note that all frequencies are simplex so Tx=Rx.  Here's the procedure, starting from the DSC Setup menu...

1.  Scroll to Scan Frequency and click ENT button
2a.  Scroll to each tx/rx frequency in turn and click ENT button
2b.  Push and hold CE button until beep to delete the frequency
2c.  goto 2a and repeat until all 6 frequencies deleted
(Note - the image above shows a configuration for a radio with only one antenna)
3a.  Scroll to <add> and click ENT button
3b. Enter the Comment, TX and RX fields, with a leading zero in frequency fields if necessary
3c.  Click the ENT button when fields correct
3d.  goto 3a and repeat until all 6 frequencies added
At the end of this procedure you should have six new scan frequencies.  Your radio can now receive and respond to incoming DSC calls.  To confirm correct configuration return to the DSC Watch screen and you should see the newly configured frequencies being scanned.

Expect to see the screen cycling through the six routine frequencies configured
Call Frequency Configuration

Next we will replace the existing call frequencies with frequencies intended for routine calling.  The call frequencies include the six scan frequencies plus others we don't scan.  This is to ensure we have them somewhere in case we wish to change the scan.  The call frequencies should be configured as illustrated in the table in the Configuration Overview section above.  Note that all frequencies are simplex so Tx=Rx.  Here's the procedure, starting from the DSC Setup menu...

1.  Scroll to Call Frequency and click ENT button.
2a.  Scroll to each tx/rx frequency in turn and click ENT button
2b.  Push and hold CE button until beep to delete the frequency
2c.  goto 2a and repeat until all frequencies deleted
3a.  Scroll to <add> and click ENT button
3b. Enter the Comment, TX and RX fields, with a leading zero in frequency fields if necessary
3c.  Click the ENT button when fields correct
3d.  goto 3a and repeat until all frequencies added
Traffic Frequency Configuration

Next you will replace the existing traffic frequencies with the voice frequencies you frequently use for talking with other stations.  These can be any marine band ship to ship channel.  Our list copies the User Channels we have configured in the radio.  Your traffic frequencies can be configured as illustrated in the table in the Configuration Overview section above, or with whatever traffic channels you prefer to use.  It is logical to include at least one traffic frequency in each band having a call frequency configured.  Here's the procedure, starting from the DSC Setup menu...

1.  Scroll to Traffic Frequency and click ENT button.
2a.  Scroll to each tx/rx frequency in turn and click ENT button
2b.  Push and hold CE button until beep to delete the frequency
2c.  goto 2a and repeat until all unwanted frequencies deleted
3a.  Scroll to <add> and click ENT button
3b. Enter the Comment, TX and RX fields, with a leading zero in frequency fields if necessary
3c.  Click the ENT button when fields correct
3d.  goto 3a and repeat until all frequencies added
Your radio is now configured to send as well as receive DSC calls!

Configuring Address IDs

It is convenient to configure a set of stations in the radio's "Address Book".  This causes the radio to show their name instead of their MMSI which is much easier to work with.  We configure boats we are sailing with and also RCCs (Rescue Coordination Centres) in our cruising area.  Here is the procedure to add a single entry from the DSC Setup menu...

1.  Scroll to Address ID and click ENT button.
2.  Scroll to <add> and click ENT button
3.  Enter Name, ID, TX and RX fields then click ENT
Note that the TX and RX fields should match one of your calling frequencies

Configuring Group IDs

Group IDs allow the transmission of DSC calls which do not require acknowledgement.  All stations in the group ring an alarm and the operator can accept the call to have the radio change to the nominated traffic frequency - a nice way to start a sked!

Group IDs (ie MMSIs) are normally a simple juggle of the ship's MMSI.  Shift all the numbers right by one digit and add a zero at the front.  That's your vessel's Group ID.  So Zen Again's MMSI of 503433900 translates into our Group ID of 050343390.  Join us now!

Making a DSC Call

There are a number of menus to step through to make a DSC call.  Fear not - they are mostly self-explanatory!  Here's the procedure to make an individual, routine call to Vulcan Spirit from Zen Again...

1.  Scroll to Individual and click ENT button.
2.  Scroll to Routine and click ENT button
3. Scroll to Vulcan Spirit and click ENT button
4.  Scroll to the traffic (ie voice) frequency you wish to talk to them on and click ENT button
5.  Scroll to the call frequency you wish to call them on and click ENT button
6.  The call is now setup and read to go.
6a.  Push and hold CALL until the radio beeps and starts transmitting; or
6b.  Click ENT button to add this call into one of 10 Transmit Memories
7.  Presuming you CALLed, you should see a screen like this for several seconds
8a.  Then the radio waits for an acknowledgement from the recipient.
Note - the recipients radio must be on, in DSC Watch and they need to check the radio screen regularly!
8b.  When acknowledgement received click FREQ to change to the traffic frequency
8c.  Use the radio as normal to communicate with the other vessel


I hope the information presented here is useful.  This blog will be expanded over time as I manage to capture screenshots showing acknowledgements etc.  Comments welcome!