Helm Station

This was our old helm arrangement. 

The white box on the left is the “chart plotter”. GPS receiver with charts that shows exactly where we are. It’s integrated with the radio and receives AIS positions from other ships and shows them relative to us. It’s on a big, black arm that you can climb on. We covered 3,000 miles of ICW, Oceans and Bays using it. It worked great.

However.  There are issues. Big Issues.

This unit could — in a limited way — control the autopilot system. It would require some serious hackery. But it could be done on the cheap. It could also accept some radar inputs, which would be nice if we ever added radar.

In the picture, there’s a wooden hatch cover. Behind it is a line of blue tape. That’s where the other instruments went. They showed wind speed and direction, as well as depth. A third instrument could sometimes show miles covered or speed through water if it was cleaned properly (See Cleaning the Sensor, below.) The LED displays had faded to be almost invisible.

Also. CA noted that the difference in focal length between close-up instrument and compass and far-away depth sounder makes the ICW a huge headache. Literally. The squinting for distance to see depth followed by squinting for close-up reading of position was awful.

Most important? The depth instrument’s sensor had stopped doing anything useful. That’s a show-stopper right there. Especially in the Bay where the median depth seems to be less than 12′. The average is 21′, but that includes a deep spot that’s 174′, bringing the mean up.

Choices.

  1. New Depth Sensor. DMI still has some parts for these 1980’s-vintage devices. That means keeping the annoying wind sensor (It whines.) Also. The night-lights suck majorly. 
  2. New Depth Instrument. After all, the depth indicator and sensor is a stand-alone unit: all it requires is DC power. We could buy just a display and sensor and do that. Here’s the iBoats list. Many sensors fit more-or-less the same hole. In some cases, new sensors can be glued to the hull, limiting the amount of hole-cutting.
  3. New Instruments. Yay! New digital instruments with displays that use less power, don’t whine, and can be configured to show different useful things. That would be nice. Also. A better “night mode” than what we have now. New sensors. In particular, a new depth/speed sensor that can be cleaned safely from inside the boat. Check out this site for B&G.

Okay. That was sort-of easy. It’s a pile of money. But we have day jobs that require pants. That’s the reason for working: to buy better boat stuff.

Cleaning the Sensor. The sensor has a little paddle-wheel. With too much algae, it stops spinning. To clean it, you have to pull the large, metal fitting out of the hull, leaving a 1½″ hole through which a fountain of water will erupt. There’s a plug you jam in that hole to stop the fountain. It’s not hard. But. It’s scarifying.  

Everyone says that it’s easy, just be prepared and remain calm. Right.

New sensors have a flapper that slows the fountain to a trickle. It’s not water-tight. But it makes it easier to jam the plug in place. Indeed, the best practice is to keep the sensor sitting inside the boat, near the hole. Only put it in the water as part of departure preparation. Take it out and clean it when you arrive.

Decisions Have Consequences

The next issue is how to lay out the new instruments. Here’s the old arrangement.

From left-to-right, it’s depth, wind, useless speed/distance. The third one on the bottom? Empty. Don’t know what used to be there, but it’s a big old nothing-burger. We kept a little one-armed Lego man we found there as our mascot. 

Here’s the mock-up panel that they’re working with to show how a piece of teak that will fit over the four holes. 

This will provide a nice place to mount the new instruments and cover the old holes. And it will (more-or-less) match the other wood in the cockpit. And it would not require a ton of fiberglass and gelcoat and paint to match the previous surface.

Which leads to further issues. How to arrange things.

IMG 2922

Option 1. Four items from B&G.

Wait.

They don’t fit!

This is the benefit of working with skilled installers. I’d be stuck with stuff that I couldn’t easily return or reuse. I’d be trying to force-fit stuff into holes where they didn’t belong. 

IMG 2924

Option 2. Here’s an alternative Simrad AP-44 that has similar functionality, but is narrower than the B&G display and control side-by-side.

This looks workable to me.

The fancy chart plotter can mirror the information on these displays. They’re extras. 

I’m a software person. I don’t completely the value in having the redundant displays. The installer, however, considers these secondary displays as mandatory. They’re backup in case the super-complex main chart plotter fails. 

Also, the autopilot controller has a super-simple control with a knobby thing that guests can use to avoid hazards without having to learn the features of the main chart plotter display.

Sensors (a/k/a Transducers)

The astute student of all things boaty will be bothered by the glib avoidance of the sensor issue. This is the benefit of paying skilled technicians. 

There’s a depth/speed/temperature sensor that must be installed. This will (generally) fit through the existing speed transducer’s through-hull fitting. If it doesn’t fit, they’ll have to tap out a new hole (or fill in around the sensor). A nasty bit of fiberglass work because the Whitby hull is so thick.

And. There’s the mast-head transducer.

Here’s a picture of the top of Red Ranger’s mainmast. Normally, this is 56′ in the air, and rather difficult to get to. The wires run down inside the mast. This means that someone has to climb up there and drop a wire down through the mast to their partner who’s waiting down in the main saloon for the wire to appear near a small hole that’s hidden behind a panel in the forward head. 

The wires have to be free from tangling with any of the four halyards that run up through the mast. Plus there are wires for the masthead light and running light inside there, too. 

More new to come on the new electronics. For now, the work seems to be proceeding nicely.

  © Steven Lott 2017