Hurry Up, Everybody!

I know it is unrealistic to expect everyone (anyone?) to care about our timelines.  But sometimes it seems like some vendors are in business just to drive us nuts. Our target date to get out of here and start our path to the Bahamas has been December 18th.  All of our planning has been working to that end.  It seems others are working hard to mess with us.

This is what a $133 bearing looks like. Must be made of something very special.

Today we had schedule frustrations from three directions.  The first is nobody’s fault, except maybe ours for expectations that were too high.  We are rebuilding and powder-coating our jib furler gearbox.  A pretty simple task.  The shop doing the powder-coating took the unit apart, and this morning we picked up the seals and bearings to source replacements. Aside from the sticker shock that the two main bearings for part cost $133–EACH, they are not expected to arrive until Friday. That’s just the way it is, everybody is working as hard as they can to make it work.

The other two issues… not so much.

We ordered some specialized line from West Marine’s website, and at a very good price.  It was promised to be delivered to our local store a week ago from the west coast warehouse. A few days ago, we get an email.  It has been delayed–arriving Dec 18.  Argh. Having been down this road before, I predicted that the special price stock had gone, and the order would be cancelled.  Karen, believing the best, called customer service and was assured that it would arrive Dec 18, at the latest. Today, we were in the local store, and Karen, on a whim, decides to check to see if our order might have arrived ahead of schedule.  The store staff checks on it, and says, “That order has been cancelled.”

Four hours later, and three phone calls… Karen is still on the phone trying to straighten it out. I would get to say, “I told you so,” if I was that kind of person that would say such a thing, but I am not that kind of person, so I won’t. Say such a thing.  Nope. But I do know Karen, and she will get us the stuff we need, when we need it at a great price.

If you are going to ship me a motor that weighs 40 pounds, please pack it better than this!  And as an extra, special  bonus, please send me the right one!

The 24 Volt motor that runs our reverse osmosis water mater got a salt water shower some time ago when we had a leak in the system.  Now a bit rusty and corroded, we figured getting a replacement now was a good idea instead of waiting for it to fail in a remote place.  We ordered one last week. A box arrived today, beaten and battered, and containing the WRONG MOTOR. Now we have to deal with return authorizations, and reshipments, and shipping damage claims…  

UPDATE:  MROSupply has stepped up and is really doing everything they can to help fix this.  A new motor has already shipped, even before they issued the Return Authorization for the old one.  Hopefully this is one we can check off as a success!

We don’t hate Fort Lauderdale, in fact we rather like it.  We can get every part and service we need here. We know where the good food is, and there are lots of great boat people around to socialize with. But it really is time to go exploring further afield!

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Party like it is 2099!

Hey, my GPS THINKS it is 2099, it must be time to PARTY!

To understand this problem, you have to follow along for just a little bit on how the GPS system works.  Don’t worry, it won’t get TOO tech-y on you! If you already really know how this thing works, please forgive me for more than a few gross simplifications in the interests of clarity.

Every GPS receiver needs to know EXACTLY where the satellites are that it is using to report your position. It does this by knowing the exact time and date to a very tiny fraction of a millisecond.  It collects this time information from the satellites themselves, each of which has an extremely accurate atomic clock onboard. 

The GPS satellites broadcast time in a two part code, the first is an integer that counts the weeks since the start of the last “GPS epoch”, and the second is the number of milliseconds since the start of the week. Because it is encoded in a 10 digit binary number, a GPS epoch is 1024 weeks long. The first GPS epoch started on January 5, 1980, and ended on August 22, 1999 when the system started over from “Week Zero.”  All that is highly confusing to us poor humans, but makes it easy for the computers.  This whole problem starts because we insist that the computers tell us what the time and date are in a format WE understand.

Now, nobody who really knows is talking about EXACTLY what has gone wrong, so the rest of this is a bit of guesswork on my part.  Here is what I know, built from anecdotal reports on various internet forums, and official US Coast Guard Navigation Center reports, and more of what I do not know, but guess to be true based on the best information available to me. It affects many different brands of GPS devices, and I have not seen a comprehensive list of those affected.  I suspect, but do not know, that they all used the same manufacturer’s GPS engine in their device.

It started on just after midnight, GMT, October 22, 2018 when the GPS week code cycled from 999 to 1000. Suddenly, all of the affected devices were unable to report to their human masters what the correct date was.  Some of them reported no date at all, some of them reported a date in 1999, and others in 2099. This is apparently a flaw in the internal program of the chip that calculates the human readable date from the binary number. “Somebody” did not allow enough memory space for a 4 digit, decimal week number to do the calculations with.  And then a whole, long, list of more “somebodies” did not adequately test the resulting code.

Fortunately, the internal clock of the GPS seems unaffected since they are still able to track satellites and report correct positions.  In some cases however, the incorrect date causes other issues ranging from simply annoying, to seriously dangerous.

In my case, the malfunctioning device is a B&G Zeus Touch, T12, the main navigation computer on Harmonie and up until now our primary source of GPS position data. Since it no longer knows what the correct date and time are, it can no longer correctly report the tides and currents for my local area. This could be catastrophic for someone who did not know there was a problem and just followed the data that has always been right displayed on his screen.

The Zeus T12 is also the source of the time and date for all of the other devices connected to the data network on the boat.  Some of these devices use the time stamp from the GPS to help them sort the sequence of the incoming data.  If those devices can not understand the date, they can not sort the data.  I was able to partially fix the issue by installing a ZG100 standalone GPS on my NMEA2000 network and set the “GPS Source” to that device.

Unfortunately, the T12 still insists on sending out what it thinks is the correct time on the network. Today (Dec 4, 2018) it is broadcasting the date as April 21, 99. Some devices on the network interpret this as “1999,” some as “2099,” and others recognize it as invalid and ignore it. I have managed to work around this issue by carefully managing the sequence in which the various devices get turned on.  Not exactly a confidence inspiring solution.

I did call Navico/B&G Tech Support today. As I expected, “Engineering is working on it.” But what I really wanted to do was find a way to turn off the GPS engine inside the T12 so it would stop contaminating the network with invalid dates and confusing the other devices. Unfortunately, that can not be done. The support tech did say that Navico would tell me when they had a solution.  Unfortunately, he did not have an answer about how–exactly–they were going to tell me that, short of me actually going to the support website every day and look for a software update. Since this affects mostly devices that are outside of their normal software support cycle, I am not holding my breath…

There is another one of these vulnerabilities to poor coding practices coming up in April 2019 when the 10 digit binary code for the date goes from 1024 to 0000. That one actually is more widely anticipated, as an issue so MAYBE has been better addressed…

One of the disappointing things for me has been the relative stealth that this problem has had. I am pretty plugged in to the information circulating in the world of sailing, and this has not been broadcast to the general community. I have not seen ANY mention of the issue on a device maker’s website. You have to actively go looking for it, and there are very few real explanations for what has happened, and what devices are affected.  

We were lucky–this time. The software error did not affect the reported position–only the date output. Another kind of mistake could easily be waiting for us that will disable some, most or all of our GPS devices.

If you are one of those who thinks that paper charts and traditional navigation skills are archaic and irrelevant, maybe you should think again.

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It Really is True!

We have commented from time to time about how visiting this boatyard in Fort Lauderdale sometimes makes us feel like a really small boat.  I know that some people (you know who you are!) have thought I might be guilty of a little hyperbole when I said that there were boats here in the yard with tenders bigger than our boat.  

Well, Karen has frequently said to me, “Photo or it didn’t happen!” So here it is…  a 54 foot Bertram Sportfisher, marked as a tender to (T/T) My Iris. The motoryacht My Iris is a 150 foot, 446 ton vessel built in 2003, and is available for charter, at an undisclosed price. If you have to ask…

This modest little dinghy has its own dinghy stored on it forward deck with a crane to launch it.

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Anchors, New, Newer, Newest

I have written before about anchoring techniques, now a bit more about the equipment involved. In the last 30 years anchors for cruising boats have undergone a huge generational shift.  The “go-to” anchor in 1990 was the CQR Plow, or the Bruce.  Both of these are now considered to be decidedly second rate. The development of new anchor designs has not gone in a straight line, and this is not a comprehensive review of anchor designs, just a quick summary so our selection process makes sense.

One of the first of the “new generation” of anchors was the Bügel out of Germany.  It was simple to manufacture, it set quickly, and it had a new feature,  a “roll bar” to ensure that it would orient correctly to the bottom.

The Wasi Bügel anchor

The Bügel was a great success, even though to the eyes of a yachtsman in 1990 it certainly would have looked very odd.  Stainless steel Bügels weighing 30kgs were the standard anchor that Amel chose to equip new Super Maramus with.

It was simple and robust design.  Two flat, cut plates, a bent tube, and three welds.  The fact that it was SO simple meant that anyone with the ability to cut and weld steel plate could make one in their garage.  The designer/manufacturer was mostly reduced to selling to the higher value added market and soon offered their anchor mostly in very expensive stainless steel versions. This left room in the market for incremental improvements. 

Our 40kg Rocna

One of the next major iterations in anchor design to find wide market acceptance was the Rocna, designed by Peter Smith out of New Zealand.  It was more sophisticated and more complex to manufacture, but the galvanized steel versions were still much cheaper than a stainless steel Bügel.  The Rocna was well marketed, and well designed.  It quickly became the most common anchor seen on serious cruising boats around the world.

Superficially similar to a Bügel, it has a number of subtle design features that added to its effectiveness.  Instead of being flat, the main fluke of the anchor was decidedly scoop shaped, encouraging it to bury deeper in the seabed, and better engage with the sand or mud.  Small changes in the geometric relationship and weight distribution between the shank, the fluke and the tip also encouraged more rapid and deeper burying of the anchor. The shorter, stouter shank also meant that for the same weight, the surface area of the fluke could be larger, allowing it to engage more of the bottom, and that is what holds the boat.

When we bought Harmonie she came to us with a 40kg (88lb) Rocna anchor. Among Amel owners who have changed from the stainless steel Bügel, this has been pretty much the standard choice. After a trip around the world, and then some, most of our Ronca’s galvanizing has worn off, and she was starting to rust.  The same was true of our chain. It used to be that re-galvanizing was something available in most ports. Our research here indicated that it was no longer economical for small jobs like ours, it was going to actually be cheaper to go with a new anchor and chain. We needed a spare anchor anyway, so some of that was already calculated into our budget for this season.

A 105lb Mantus

Innovation doesn’t stop. Once the idea that anchors could be better was accepted, many people looked at Bügels and Rocnas and thought they could do one better. Many people tried, and a few have had commercial success. One of these design iterations comes from Mantus Anchors in Texas. Mantus took the basic design of a convex fluke with a roll bar, and tweaked the geometry and weight distribution to improve the anchors ability to bury in the bottom. They also designed the anchor to bolt together instead of welding.  This allows them to ship the anchor in a flat box, and allows the user to dismantle and store what is other wise a very awkward shape.

Our “old boat”, the original Fetchin Ketch had a Mantus anchor that served us very well. After much thought and evaluation, we decided to upgrade Harmonie from the 88lb Rocna to a 105lb Mantus. Outside of design changes, that will give us about 10% more fluke area to dig into the bottom. The larger size also gives us an anchor rated  for any conditions we might find ourselves in.  I am very much NOT a fan of extra weight on the bow, but 17lbs (less than 8kg) didn’t seem a significant penalty.  You can learn more about Mantus anchors, or buy one, HERE

Whenever changing the style and size of anchor, in addition to the functionality of the anchor for holding the boat, consideration has to be given to the fit of the anchor on the bow.  Will the existing configuration of roller and other parts allow the new anchor to be stowed and secured safely when sailing? If not, can minor modifications be made to accommodate the changes? To help with this part of the decision process, the Mantus website has files available that can be printed and then taped together to make a full-sized 2-dimensional model of the anchor for testing.

The 88lb Rocna on the Amel Super Maramu Bow Roller.

Our Rocna’s fit on the Amel bow roller was good enough, but not perfect. Not surprising, because the roller system had been designed for a significantly smaller Bügel anchor.

Even pulled up tight, the Rocna tended to wobble a bit.  Not enough to cause difficulties, but not perfect. The rollbar touched the vertical rollers on the second anchor position. The shank sat up well proud of the deck always in the way of good footing. When weighing anchor, care was required as the Rocna came onto the roller to be sure that set correctly.  If not, it was too easy to get a ding in the gelcoat of the bow. These minor problems improved significantly with the addition of a Mantus Anchor Mate and a modified roller, but still not completely resolved.  Our initial testing with the Mantus anchor template seemed to show that the larger anchor, with its different shape, was going to work at least as well.

The old warhorse on the left, the new thoroughbred on the right.

After assembly of the new ground tackle, we swapped the chain and loaded the new anchor on the roller.  The fit was perfect.  We couldn’t be happier with the way it pulled up on the roller like they were made for each other. It touches only in places where it is supposed to, and the shank fits down low and parallel to the deck.  One less thing to trip over where footing is limited.  We haven’t looked at this in detail yet, but it looks like there might even be room to fit a Fortress or other Danforth style anchor on the second roller.

Overall, we are excited about the new addition. Nobody ever woke up at 2AM as a squall blows through the anchorage worrying their anchor was too big, or stuck to the bottom to tightly.  

Our new 105lb Mantus, snugged up and secure. No contact with the bow pulpit or the hull.  It fits without a wiggle.

We are going to be keeping the Rocna as our spare anchor.  Our challenge now is figuring out the best place to stow it secure, safe, and reasonably accessible. 

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It Must be Florida When…

Florida has become the closest thing we have to a home base, and we have spent a fair amount of time here over the past few years.  It seems only natural that we share our observations about how you know you are in Florida.

Pontoon Boat + Shipping Container == Floating Tiki Roach Coach!

We don’t know exactly where the “Sand Bar” was headed, but they looked like they were pretty self-contained and ready to set up shop anywhere they could drop anchor.

There is a chance of rain every day. 

This appears to be a well kept secret that the professional weather forecasters do not understand. In the last four days the forecast has been for “0%” chance of rain.  It rained–at least a little–every day.

Parrot fly-bys.

Every afternoon at the boatyard a large flock of feral parrots comes flying noisily by.  I am not sure exactly where they are going, but if you have to have an exotic species, there are many less pretty.  Most of the time the parrot flocks are smaller conures, but Karen did spot a flock of huge green and gold macaws.

Local election officials who can not count–or recount.

It really seems they need to take off their shoes for any numbers bigger than 10. If the trail of incompetence wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.  My favorite story was the former election supervisor who was fired, and then–somehow–needed up with a plum job as a teacher–with only a temporary certificate.  She failed the Math test to get her permanent teaching certificate.  Sigh.  Yes, the person counting votes for Broward County couldn’t pass a standard math test that EVERY teacher in the state has to pass.  

Iguanas everywhere.

This large lizard with three eyes (Really!) could be as much a symbol of South Florida as the alligator, even though it is not native.  There are actually a lot fewer of them around than last year.  Last winter’s cold snap thinned their ranks considerably.  Apparently, when the temperature drops low enough, torpid iguanas come raining down from their hiding places in the trees.  Witnessing such an event is on Karen’s bucket list.

Bad Drivers.

In our opinion, the worst in the USA.  Seriously.  A combination of older drivers who drive at 40 in a 65 zone, mixed with a large cadre of Latin men who just don’t feel manly unless they are driving at least 30 MPH faster than anyone else they can see makes for freeways that are especially hazardous.  The closer you get to Miami, the worse it gets.

Other exotic birds

An American White Ibis

So… what is the plural of “Ibis”???  “Ibi”?  Ibises?  Ibis? Ibee?

Everybody likes the beaches

Including an 8 foot crocodile (Yes, a real American Crocodile, NOT an alligator!).  It was captured last year while we were here.  Peacefully sunning itself on the beach like any other tourist.  It was tagged and relocated, but it has returned again.  Apparently the living is good for a croc here.

Florida’s Hollywood beach has its own celebrity.  As far as I know it has not yet been named…

American Crocodiles are rather rare, but widespread through the Caribbean. They get very large (20 feet!).  In Central America they have been known to attack people, and animals as large as deer and cattle and are considered dangerous. They are known to be predators of several species of sharks.  Although not as aggressive as their Australian cousins, I wouldn’t be swimming in areas where large ones are know to live.

Florida is a nice place to visit, and we enjoy our time here, but we are also looking forward to leaving and exploring the islands more.  

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He Said…

“Come sail away with me,” he said.  

“It will be great fun and very romantic,” he said.

“We will travel to exciting and exotic places,” he said.

“We will travel in high style on our yacht,” he said.

“The world will be our oyster,” he said.

He did not mention the bilge cleaning…

She is way cuter than Ed Norton…

On an Amel the bilge doubles as a gray water sump.  All of the sink and shower drains flow into it to be pumped overboard. So soap scum, kitchen grease, and other assorted debris accumulate over time and need to be cleaned out.  It is a totally yucky job.  And that is how we spent our day today!

A Global Positioning System Mystery

Yesterday, we solved a mystery.  Our main navigation computer has had an odd problem since before we left the Chesapeake. It no longer knew what the date was.  It was reporting that the date was in March, 2099. Position, and the time of day were right, just the date was wrong.

This confused me to no end, because the time and date come from the systems internal GPS chip.  I know that to accurately determine position the GPS needs to know exactly (to the microsecond) what the time is, so I thought that MUST be correct. I was convinced that the problem was that one of the several new devices we added to our system was confusing things. Turns out, I was wrong.  After struggling with this for several days trying to fix it, I turned to Google and ran a search for this particular problem.  It seems I am not alone…

The GPS satellites report the date with a counter that increments every week. In early October that week counter reached 1000.  The manufacturer of the GPS chip that is used in our system apparently did not allow memory space for a three digit week, and they all stopped reporting the correct time and date on that same day. This type of chip is used in many different devices, all of which lost track of the date at the same moment. Ooops.

Many of our electronic navigation systems need to know the correct time and date to work properly.  We solved most of the issue by adding a standalone GPS to our system.  Mostly.  There are still some funky issues that I have managed to find workarounds for. 

There is a lesson here.  In this case, a software bug only affected the date, not the time of day, or the reported position.  The next time we might not be so lucky.  A similar kind of failure could totally disable the electronic systems we rely on for telling us exactly where we are.  Knowing how to use a paper chart and traditional navigation tools IS still important.

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Busy!

We have been sitting with to boat out of the water for a couple days now. This is an always busy time, so our posting has been a bit slow while we have been running projects fast and furious.

Pulling the propeller hub prior to changing seals on the drive shaft.

Some of the projects are routine, some are repairs that need to be done. Right now, with the boat out of the water, we have been focusing on the things that require the boat to be out of the water to do.  We have replaced seals, changed lubricating oil, and just generally taking care of business under the boat. A number of contractors are working on a few upgrades.  

We tend to divide up the management of the various projects.  Since Bill is usually busy with mechanical things, Karen does the bulk of the project management with the vendors.  Right now she is juggling the canvas guy doing cockpit cushions and dodger repairs, North Sails for sail repairs, Island Planet Sails for a new mainsail, and in the meantime she is offloading some surplus “stuff” on eBay.

Bill has finished with the seals on the propeller shaft, and the bow thruster. We have various parts of the rigging disassembled waiting for vendors to show up to help fabricate some new parts. So far, things have been mostly routine with no unpleasant surprises.  Next major work is on the bow, where we will be reworking things a bit to seal them up, the better to keep water out of the boat, and to ready it for a new, bigger, and better, anchor.

In the meantime, we are really looking forward to getting back into the water where we belong!  Schedule is to splash first thing on Wednsday morning.

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