Travel 2017-2018


Sporty Conditions

We invited our neighbors, Dan and Jen, to the boat. The weather was deep into the realm we call “sporty” — wind was about 15 kn, gusting into the low 20’s. It was supposed to slack down to 10 kn later in the day. Summary: 15g20>10. 

Sporty conditions aren’t for newbie boaters. Dan and Jen have some boating experience. Since it includes whitewater kayak, SUPaddleboard, they’re unlikely to be put off by some waves and splashing around.

Sporty conditions aren’t really our thing, either. That’s why we took so few pictures.

We dawdled: a lengthy tour of the boat; a tour of our end of the marina. 

We anchored sort of near the Calvert Cliffs. The chart shows a sudden shoaling from 10’ to 3’. We stayed well out in the 10’ area. The bottom there seems to be harder than other places in the bay. Perhaps it's scoured by the current from Tracey’s creek and Rockhold creek. On short (5:1) scope, we dragged a bit. 

At first, I was thinking of trying single-reefed main. But. At the last minute, I decided that might be too much, and went for mizzen and stays’l. We poked our way along for an hour or so, a little under-canvassed, but happy to be sailing relatively flat.

We tried to tack. I thought we might be able to swing from a beam reach all the way around to the other reach. I’m now sure that Red Ranger can’t make that big a change in direction. The right thing to do is to grind the mizzen all the way in to get as close-hauled as we can. 

It might even be possible to push the mizzen to windward to force the bow around. If I had two more people comfortable pulling ropes, I may try that some day.

After stalling out entirely, we gybed around. It’s easy to do under “jib and jigger” because the mizzen is so (relatively) small. I can pass it from side to side while standing on the after deck. 

Later in the afternoon — 15:00 ish — the wind finally started to slack off. We pulled out the Yankee.

CA pushed the boat speed to 7.1 kn on a regular basis and 7.2 kn when the residual 20+ kn gust hit us.

This is about the fastest we’ve ever sailed. It’s getting close to hull speed (~8.2 kn) Since high tide was 3:30, I don’t think we had much current added in to our speed. 

Trimming the yankee under those conditions is difficult. It’s almost impossible to turn the winch. I found an on-line sail power calculator. I plugged in the P, E, I, and J measurements for a Whitby (13m, 4.5m, 15m, 5.6m). LP for our yankee is 90%. This nets out to 1100 pounds of force (510 Kg). Half a ton. That seems to model what I was observing.

I think it’s CA’s skill at the wheel made it possible. She says the new B&G instruments are a huge help. Specifically, the rudder position indicator. Previously, she’d fight the wheel, presuming that it was somehow her fault Red Ranger kept pointing up into the wind. Now she can see how much rudder she’s got: this means she can have me adjust sail trim to better balance the helm. Less fighting means more forward motion. It’s like getting a new boat. Seriously.

Sun Shades and Awnings

After a great afternoon with friends, sailing. CA made the sunshade-windscoop for the bow.

The idea is to keep direct sun off the V-berth as well as catch the breeze when we’re at anchor. It rigs quickly and wraps up into a tiny bundle of fabric when not in use. We think this will be very handy when the conditions are too sporty to sail.


We used to carry two spare anchors on deck. We have two on the bowsprit, ready for use.

Yes, that’s four anchors. If we need to stay put, we can.

On the left is a CQR. (“Secure”, get it?) 

We kind of like it, but other people curse it out roundly. So we replaced it with a Rocna. 

On the right is a Danforth. We’ve used these on other boats. They weigh nothing, and are kind of fun in that respect. But… There are places where Danforths are supposed to be ideal. As it is, it’s just spare. We’d use it if nothing else seemed to grab. 

There’s CA, stowing them

Yes, she’s standing in the lazarette. It’s that deep.

Clearing the anchors off the deck reduces the visual clutter on deck. It’s probably safer to have them below. It certainly makes it easier to move the mizzen running backstays without anchors underfoot.


There were things at the bottom of the lazarette that needed to come out and see the light of day for a moment. Perhaps get washed off. And also, discussed. “Do we really need this?” And “When would we ever need this?” Most things in there passed the test, and went back in.

A Million Things to Do

She’s a boat — there are always things to do. We have enumerated the jobs using Trello. There are 51 things on the backlog. Okay. It’s not a million. Some are really complex. Others are a trip to Home Depot to find the right gasket for the faucets.

Instead of work, we practiced our boat handling skills. Which is code for “took a trip.” Specifically, we went up to West River Sail Club to eat crabs and visit with the folks there. And dodged weather.

There will be other weekends to tackle the jobs.

Winds were light when we started. When. We. Started

Below 4 kn, we don’t really move. But a 5 kn breeze will push us along, slowly. It’s a 16 nm trip. Anything better than 3 kn and we’ll get there in time to eat crabs.

Here’s the autopilot display when sailing. The “W” means we’re sailing by the wind. The 109 is the current angle to the wind. the 106 is the desired angle.

Yes. The display says “Simrad”. The B&G unit that performs essentially the same function didn’t look right. (The existing holes were evenly spaced. The narrower-than-everything-else B&G Autopilot control didn’t look right.)

It’s summer on the Chesapeake. The clouds were big and getting bigger. 

Then. The dreaded VHF WX alert. Severe thunderstorms in central Maryland, headed east at 40 miles per hour. Gusts to 60. Seek shelter.

It’s central Maryland. Storms tend to drift northeast. Why worry?

On the other hand. We’ve been through this on the Bay. And it’s not a lot of fun. We got hit at the mouth of the Patuxent River by one of these “seek shelter immediately, small-craft advisory, you’re all going to die” storms. Red Ranger can handle it. 

We got hit by a waterspout in the Neuse River. It was an amazing amount of wind and rain. It was not anything we care to repeat.

Mr. Lehman to the rescue. We brought in the sails, aimed the new B&G chart plotter to West River Green “1” (38° 51.84′N, 076°27′W.) After that, it’s a little hand-steering for about five more miles to the WRSC. And a chain of WX alerts on the VHF radio. Different locations. But the same devastating wind and rain.

Then the alerts to mariners started. Because CA suggested we get under cover when the first alert come over the radio, we were only 3 miles from the WRSC when the marine alerts started. 

We had about a half-hour to go. And the clouds were low, dark, and getting darker.

We passed boats heading out into the bay. Did they not have radios? Were they not looking at the clouds?

Skill #1 — Watching the Weather.  We read the forecast for late afternoon thundershowers. This wasn’t a surprise.

And more important than that.

Skill #0 — Cooperative Decision-Making. By which I mean, when someone says we’re seeking shelter, we went in.

We picked up the mooring ball on the first try. We got to be pretty good at it when we lived in Coconut Grove in the Dinner Key mooring field. We missed the ball a few times. Once we lost two boat hooks trying to get the ball when it was breezy.

It’s essential to approach the ball to windward. That sometimes means threading a path through the mooring field. For WRSC, there are only five balls and no one was using them. So the only tricky part is aligning with the wind. The B&G computer calculates the true wind by factoring boat speed and current into he apparent wind, making it easier to judge the approach in general.

From the helm, I can’t see the ball below the bowsprit. But, I can see Queequeg on the bow with the harpoon. She points the boathook at the ball, and I steer to keep it to starboard. When the hook goes down: hard reverse to stop at the ball. Then run forward to help. The boat’s massive. The balls often have a heavy pile of chain on them. 

Skill #2 — Steering.

Skill #3 — Mooring. Which has a long list of skills that coalesce around securing the boat.

Since we don’t have a good sail cover for the main, I tied it to the boom. This is one of those sailorly things. As with securing the boat to a mooring, all of the sails need to be secure. We tighten the furling drums on the headsails. Tie down the main and zip the cover on the mizzen.

We can see the tent were the crabs are cooking. We can see people. And the wind is starting to pick up. As we’re standing on the foredeck, getting ready to launch Scout (the dinghy,) the wind starts to shift. 

That’s enough of that. Tie Scout back down, grab everything loose and throw it into the cockpit. 

Here’s the strip-chart recorder.

Up until about 10 minutes before I took the picture, we had wind below 8 kn, from about 180°. Then the wind switch to about 350° and jumped to a peak of almost 30 kn. 

The 30 kn gust, BTW, almost knocked me down. I was scrambling across the foredeck. Pow! 

Skill #4 — One hand for yourself, one hand for the boat.

Skill #5 — Patience.

The blow lasted less than 30 minutes. The wind stayed about 350°, but dropped to a sensible speed. We deployed Scout, dinghied in, ate crab, drank beer, schmoozed with sailors, helped clean up, and went back to Red Ranger. Great sail. Great party.

The next morning was a glorious, calm, quiet creek. Coffee. Oatmeal. 

We took on 60 gallons of fuel, and worked our way back to Deale. The storm pattern was the same as Saturday. We pottered around in the light air. Then we started the engine and powered into Herring Bay watching the clouds build. We got into the slip without breaking anything. Tied up the sails, and hunkered down in the cockpit just as the first guts of the thunderstorm hit.

By 16:00 the skies and cleared, and we could pat ourselves on the back for escaping two nasty squalls in two days and eat plenty of crab at the Sail Club.

Sea Trials — Did Everything Work?

The bottom line on boat maintenance is the sea trial. It may look like things are working when you’re in the slip. Getting out into the open water is where — metaphors fail me. The rubber doesn’t hit the road. There’s no pudding to be proven.

There were several momentous things this weekend. I’ll enumerate them. There were two collisions, but so many things were perfect, that it’s a joy to review the good parts.

What’s at stake here?

First — a metric ton of new electronics. The electronics don’t way a ton. The containers of money weighed a ton. A metaphorical ton. ("a ton of dollar bills would be worth $908,000”) We spent a lot. Think of a small car.

It’s all new. The masthead wind instrument. Water speed. Depth. Temperature. GPS. A computer to integrate them. Remote displays to emphasize key data elements. A navigation computer to control the hydraulics. A class B AIS Transponder. 

Saturday, we backed out of the slip. Momentous.

Let me emphasize the extreme difficulty we’ve had with this simple-sounding maneuver. The fairway between the slips is barely 60’ wide. The boat is 42’ plus a bowsprit. It’s a tight fit. And mistakes are easy to make.

Each attempt last year involved a fair amount of random jockeying around to get Red Ranger pointed in a useful direction. She doesn’t operate in a very controlled manner in reverse. Think of throwing you car in reverse and telling someone else where to turn the wheel to back up.

One (of many) crucial features of the new electronics was a “Rudder Position Indicator.” The technicians installed a sensor near the rudder to collect the data. Integrated it with the computers. And — hey! presto! — we can now tell where the rudder is.

10°-15° of rudder is what it takes to turn Red Ranger in reverse. More doesn’t make her turn faster: at some point the rudder is so far sideways that it simply stops the boat. I now know where 10°-15° of rudder is because I can see a display of the rudder’s position.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Saturday had about 15kt of wind from the NW. The course to the West River and the Rhode river is NE, so we could beat at a comfortable angle under main and yankee. Speeds were over 6 kt at times. For Red Ranger, the theoretical top speed is 8.2 kt. We have our doubts about ever seeing this under sail. Seeing 6 kt was a delight.

It got better.

We went up past the Thomas Point lighthouse. Too enthralled with the sailing to lift up a phone and take a picture.

(This picture is from 2011. It hasn’t changed much. Except this weekend the sun was out, there were boats everywhere.)

The sailing was comparable to the British Virgin Islands. Seriously. The steady wind from a consistent direction meant that we could tack into the West River.

I’ll repeat that because it’s momentous.

We Tacked Into The River.

Yes. We actually beat to weather. All the fancy electronics in the world don’t change the inherent shabby performance of a Whitby. As sail boats go, Red Ranger is appalling. As vacation homes go, however, she rocks.

For non-sailors, the problem is that racing sail boats can point no closer than about 45° toward the wind. Big cruising boats can point no closer than 55° or 60° to the wind. When you need to get to a place that’s more-or-less upwind of where you are now, you go 60° one way, tack, and go 60° the other way, zig-zagging your way toward your goal. The secant of 60° is 2.0 (What?) In Red Ranger, we sail twice as far to use zero fuel.

As we were sailing around, CA spotted a tug pushing a barge. The rules of the road give us some precedence, but it’s kind of rude to use that privilege when we’re just out playing the tug captain is working. As she’s discussing falling off the wind to go behind it...

The tug hailed us by name on the VHF radio. 

That’s momentous. The tug captain asked for Red Ranger. On the radio.

How did that happen? AIS class B transceiver. The tug shows up as a triangle on our chart plotter. And we show up as a converging triangle on theirs. I grabbed the radio, answered the hail. Switched to channel 13 (the working channel for commercial traffic.) The tug captain informed me that we would pass “on the two”: the two-whistle side: starboard-to-starboard.

We dropped the anchor in the Rhode River. I’d picked a spot up Sellman Creek, near Camp Letts, but we were unfamiliar with the area. There are two unmarked shoals with misleading names like “Flat Island” and “High Island” in the river. They’re on the chart, but there’s no official aids to navigation. Locals have rigged some marks. We dropped the hook by Locust Point and called it a day.  24.0 nm, mostly under sail.°53'00.5%22N+76°31'30.1%22W/@38.8834742,-76.5425348,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d38.88347!4d-76.52502

The houses in Mayo are spectacular.

Sunday, winds were light. We motored out to the green “1A” mark and raised the yankee and mizzen. We intended to drift in the 5 kt of breeze, slowly working our way S. In gusts we might get to 3 kt down wind, which makes the 8 nm trip take close to 3 hrs. It’s not like we had anything else to do.

Then the wind more-or-less died.

Which meant we could now perform the Auto Tune for the new B&G+ Simrad autopilot. 

Stabilize the vessel on a heading and set the speed as close to cruising speed as possible, then activate the Autotune function. - The autopilot will now switch to AUTO mode and take control of the vessel.

The first time we tried it we had the wheel’s hydraulics engaged. This appears to make the rudder unresponsive. Or anyway, it seems unresponsive the the computer. We suspect that the hydraulic fluid is split between wheel and rudder, making the rudder move half as far.

The second time we tried it, we turned the two valves to disengage the wheel. The autotune drove the boat in “lazy S” turns for three minutes and was happy ever after.


Here’s the momentous part.

I picked the Herrington Harbour Entrance Waypoint. Clicked “Nav” on the chart plotter. The Autopilot took over, turned Red Ranger, and took us home.

Mr. Benmar can now be operated with no guess work. 

Point at something, and away we go. We tried the No Drift steering mode and the Auto mode, too. We strongly suspect we’ll make the most use of the basic Auto mode because the knob on the AP44 controller turns the boat. It couldn’t be simpler to dodge a crab pot.

Previously, we had to squint at the sun-blasted, crazed Benmar dial and tweak it for a while to settle on a course that seemed appropriate. It meant checking chart plotter and dial until things looked close to right. Always fun at night, shining a flashlight on the damned thing trying to see what number was displayed.

Then the wind picked up from the ESE. At 7 kts of true wind, we killed the engine and sail some more. Mr. Lehman, BTW, behaved flawlessly, also.

I can now drop the phrase “True Wind Speed” with aplomb. Previously, we could only measure apparent wind speed. You’d have to do some vector math to compute the true wind speed from the combination of boat speed, boat direction, apparent wind speed and apparent wind direction.  

If you’re driving S at 6kt, and the wind seems to be blowing N at 5kt, the true wind is actually from N at 1kt. Don’t get me started on the angles and vector math. It’s not pretty. It involves cosines. And we now have a B&G chart plotter with “Sail Steer” that does the math for us. (The video shows an older look to the display.)

We Know True Wind Speed. And True Wind Direction. Momentous

It gets better. (How can it get better? Just wait.)

We decided to potter about in Herring Bay. It was early afternoon, sunny, warm. The weather was ideal. The wind was light, and we had (perhaps) too little sail up for the conditions, but we didn’t feel like pulling up the main. We weren’t going far, and the mizzen is slightly easier to work than the full main. Most of our power comes from the yankee, anyway.

Earlier, I put our tack angle information into the nav computer. The chart plotter shows red and green wedges for port tack and starboard tack. In addition to the wind speed and direction, the boat speed and direction, it also shows rudder angle. (I mentioned that above. It was momentous.)

CA figured out how to use the green and wedges during a tack to finish the tack below her intended course. I can trim in the yankee and she can then creep up the the new course maintaining a good bit of boat speed. 

While the racing ideal is to overtrim the main to force the boat around with minimal rudder. It’s hard with two people. But with wind vector wedges and the rudder angle information, she was able to bring us about in relatively light air really consistently. 

While Saturday had a few good tacks, Sunday had tacks that were intentionally good. CA could manage boat speed, rudder angle, rate of turn, and wind up on a new course smoothly and predictably.

The return trip didn’t involve quite so much sailing. I think I wrote down 16 nm in the log, perhaps half under sail.

Full Disclosure: I ran into a buoy and the dock. These weren't momentous. The buoy was a situation where CA asked if we could still steer at under 2 kts.  About the time I said “no”, we were too close to green “1A" to do more than brace for impact. It was a glancing blow, scuffing the gelcoat badly. 

She said it was profound because she’d just reasoned out the consequences of dying wind and low boat speed and how movement of water across the rudder was crucial for steering. She said it was an “Aha!” moment of understanding what’s really going on: deeper than the simplistic “turn the wheel and the boat turns” superficial level.

The dock collision was just a poorly-executed turn. Very embarrassing; little real damage, and no injuries. It was supremely embarrassing after exploring all the wonderful new equipment on Red Ranger.

She’s a new boat. Really. Rudder Position to make her much easier to control. Very detailed wind information to make tacking practical and reliable. Autopilot for the long runs. AIS Transceiver to make us visible. and the new chart plotter to integrate all of it into a tidy, usable package.

Water Tanks

When we lived aboard, we didn’t think much about the water tanks. Correction. We thought about how full they were, but that was the limit. In the Bahamas we got water periodically in two 5-gallon jerry jugs. This kept the tank levels steady. In the US, we had a 30 gallon bladder we used. Fill it up at a dock. Pump it into the tanks. Worked out really well. 

We churned through a lot of water. Something like 10 gallons per day.


We went back to shore life and water sat in the tanks. 

CA has been trying to find a way to clean them. They don’t leak. The paint is reasonably intact (a rarity in boats this old.)

We’d like to replace the two big tanks with four 35-gallon Polyethylene tanks. We give up about 20 gallons of volume by doing that. But the installation seems to be simple. 

(Tank Mart seems to have a tank that’s 33″×28″×9″. We think that can be fit through the openings.)

What we did was this.

1. Drain them. The sink pumps work to a point. Then the water’s too low for the pickup tube. The pump we use to transfer fresh water from the bladder to the tanks works well to pump water out. It’s a lot of water. Patience helps.

2. The last few inches have to be pumped out with the shop-vac. This works out well because it gets the sand, grit, and general yuck out of the tank.

3. Scrub the parts the can be reached. A long-handled scrub brush and yoga help.

4. Rinse with the high-powered dock hose. Vacuum out the grit.

5. Rinse with the high-powered dock hose. Vacuum out what remains. This water tends to be pretty clean, actually.

This year, we’re also going to “shock” the tanks. Clorox at a concentration of ½ oz per gallon (a quart per tank, more-or-less.) Run that through everything for a while, pump it out, and replace it with ordinary dock water.

The rinse with the deck hose and pump with the shop-vac seems to be a very workable way to clean the tanks. When we haul out in the fall, we intend to try that again.

Next up? More cleaning. 

And the deep bilge pickup hose seems to be clogged. I replaced the float switch. Tested it. And it didn’t suck. The upper-end pump works. The lower end is decidedly not working. 

We do need to get out of the slip. Maybe Tuesday, 4th of July? Depends on how complex the pump issue is.

Engine Maintenance

There’s a love-and-care gap exposed by visiting the Red Ranger only on weekends. This leads to weirdness. 

Once upon a time, we covered so many miles in one year (something like 2,000) that oil changes happened pretty often. It’s about 200 hours, which (at 6 knots) is about 1,200 miles.  Down to Florida. Change the oil. Back to Norfolk. Change the oil.

Now. It’s once a year just after launch. Beautiful June weekend? Sail? No. Change the oil instead.

There’s a little bit of a problem there. With infrequent oil changes there’s infrequent love and care for Mr. Lehman. 


Example. There’s a hose running from the “emission valve” on the top of the valve cover to the air cleaner. I’m guessing it’s supposed to recycle exhaust gasses that somehow bypass the ordinary exhaust manifold and accumulate in the engine block. In the parts diagram it’s a “vent tube” and there are notes about a “smoke control valve” on the rocker cover.

The hose has cracked clean off the emission valve. Rubber hose. Cracked. Clean. Off. Cracked. Like it’s brittle.

How long has that been like that? Things rarely simply “break”. Almost everything evidences signs of impending failure. It will crack or leak or something. 

What size is it?

Grab the broken end. It’s ½″ ID.  

I have a lot of old hose. A lot of it is ⅝″ ID. None of it is ½″. 

But that’s not a real problem. I live in a swanky apartment. I’ll order 6′ of ½″ ID automative hose. It will be delivered. The concierge will notify me. Sweet. I’ll install it this weekend, right?

Here’s where it gets weird.

The fitting at the air-cleaner end of the hose won’t accept the ½″ ID hose. It’s not like it’s tight. It Will. Not. Fit.

Break out the calipers. From this I learn the air cleaner fitting is ⅝″. Clearly. The parts diagram says ½″ The emission value fitting is ½″. The air cleaner isn’t. Huh.

While that’s bizarre and frustrating. However, I have a lot of ⅝″ hose. The job’s done.

Oil’s changed. Engine runs. 

New Electronics Package

All of the old Waypoints and Routes have been moved from the old Standard Horizon char plotter to the new B&G plotter.

  1. I wired a NMEA-0183 to USB interface to the old chart plotter. It’s mounted in the nav station. It runs independently with it’s own GPS. I could connect it via a NMEA-0183 gateway so that it can repeat instrument data from the B&G instruments. I still like the idea of independence. 
  2. I wrote some software to capture the waypoints and routes.
  3. I wrote some more software to translate NMEA sentences to GPX documents.
  4. I copied the GPX details to a MicroSD card and plugged it into the new plotter.

Damn! I have *all* of my old data.

I also have a rudder position indicator. I’m hoping this will help me get out of the slip expeditiously.

There are some other BIG jobs we need to tackle sooner rather than later.

  • Water Tanks need to be cleaned and shock-treated. When we lived aboard, we used a lot of water. It rarely sat in the tanks. Now, we need to use water at a senseless volume to keep it moving through the system. Long showers daily on each day of the weekend.
  • Sail covers need to be reworked. We have a design. Parts are on order.
  • The ground tackle snubber need to be reorganized. This is quick, but awkward.
  • Figure out of the dinghy outboard still works. (Odds are good that it does, but, it hasn’t been in the water in two years.)

None of these are show-stoppers. Once the engine and electronics work, we’re ready to party on the bay. The big jobs are for rainy days.

That Leaky Hatch & Chartplotter Issues

First, and most important, the main saloon hatch leaked. But, there’s also this issue of preserving data from the old chart plotter. You know how some projects just spin out of control? Those are the projects that tend to dredge up historical artifacts.

Here’s the lens, carefully cut out of the hatch.

The residual Silicone adhesive/sealant needs to be ruthlessly cleaned from the lens and the aluminum frame. 

What you find when you scrape the goo is places like this.

The goo is thin and crackly here. It has dried out, allowing water to intrude. A few freeze-thaw cycles and you’ve got a right big place for water to intrude.

The water brings dirt. The silicone at the place of the intrusion is clearly thinner and dirtier. And stiffer.

It’s hard to tell by looking at the top of the lens. It’s more than hard, it’s nearly impossible. You might be able to carefully probe the rubber for crispiness, but I tried this a few weeks ago, and it seemed good and rubbery.

Memorial Day weekend, however, it rained like hell. CA stood under the hatch and watched it drip. This provided ample evidence that it was weeping through the silicone edge and then dripping down onto the aluminum frame and from there wandering to the low point (usually forward port corner) to drip.

Historical Detour

How does this repair spin out of control? It didn't. What spins out of control is the things I was doing while CA was working.

Back in 2010, I installed a Standard Horizon CP300i chart plotter. It’s the little black screen with a row of gray buttons to the port side of the helm. 

It’s an elegant unit. It can stand alone, doing everything from it’s internal GPS antenna. Almost no wiring to speak of.

I added a Standard Horizon GX2150 radio. It receives AIS message and forwards the details to the chart plotter to draw little pictures of approaching boats.

Do not leave home without it. It took us to the Bahamas and back.

That means it’s packed full of routes and waypoints from the past six years of sailing.

I want that data.

An tangential question about preserving data is this: What was there before the Standard Horizon plotter? And What did I do to preserve it?

When we bought Red Ranger she came with an 90’s vintage laptop running Windows 3 and some chartplotting software. There was a DB-9 cable that connected the computer’s serial port to an ancient Garmin GPS receiver (with an LCD display of coordinates.)

The laptop had a few routes and waypoints. This is use information. How to preserve it?

What I did then was take the hard drive out of the laptop, mount it as an external drive, and copy the files for the chart-plotter application. It was easy to reverse engineer the data points, and convert the files to GPX. I loaded the points and routes into GPSNavX. I reformatted the hard drive and sold the computer as scrap on eBay. The Garmin went to Nauti Nell's to be sold on consignment. Or thrown away. Whatever. Hardware: Gone. Data: Captured.

Today’s Problem

How do we get the data off this chart plotter and onto the new B&G Zeus2 9″ chart plotter? And the GPSNavX on my laptop, too?

Option 1. An NMEA-0183 to NMEA-2000 bridge of some kind. The Actisense NGW-1 seems to be the product of choice. This allows the SH to repeat the B&G instruments. That’s kind of cool. In the long run, $179 seems like a low price to pay for this.

Option 2. One-time-only extract. This involves a $60 adapter I already had in a pile of parts. It gets data onto the laptop, which is step 1. From there to the chart plotter is an easier step 2.

The interesting problem is that you can’t just “upload” or “download” waypoints. The NMEA-0183 protocol is old and simplistic. It involves wiring up a harness, installing a generic USB driver, and then using Python and the pyserial package to see what data traffic is flowing over the wire.

The details are — perhaps — interesting. They’re not really suitable for a blog post here, because it wanders far from boats and boating and Red Ranger. It’s better covered in my other blog, S.Lott-Software Architect. That other blog is about software and Python and stuff.

It’s a lot of code. Too much for one blog post. That means it needs to be posted someplace like Git Hub. See slott56/NMEA-Tools

Wait. What?

Yes. I captured the data points from the old chart plotter.

Then I wanted to write a blog post here. But it’s too big and software-y.

To write a blog post, I had to put the code on Git Hub. 

To put the code on Git Hub, I had to create a properly finished product with documentation and installation information and everything.

Just to save the waypoints and load them onto the new chart plotter.

That’s how a project spins out of control.

Rigging and Cleaning

We’re getting Red Ranger ready for the summer. This means a thorough cleaning. It also means answering the questions like “What’s this?” and “Why do we have it?"


It also means looking at the work done (and not done) over the winter.

First. The duck.

Yes. That’s a duck.

She appears to have taken up nesting on our afterdeck.


Being a duck, she left us gifts. 

As in eggs. 

What are we supposed to do?

I guess we could eat them.


How long have they been laying on the deck?

What if they have ducklings?

Too many eww factors for us. 

We chucked them into the creek. The fish (and crabs) will any anything. 

Then there’s this.

That’s CA standing in the port-size lazarette. The locker really is about 5 feet deep. Handy for stowing a lot of large, heavy things. 

The original boat design was for this locker to be shallower and there’s room for a 75-gallon fuel tank down at the bottom. Our previous owner declined that tank. (Unwisely, it turns out.)

Here’s what’s at the bottom of the locker. 

Those are Cindy Ann’s feet. In about a foot of water. 

This is a known problem with winter storage. If Red Ranger isn’t floating, rainwater doesn’t drain properly through the cockpit. Instead, it runs over the hinge of the lazarette and collects down there. (Sigh.)

Of course, everything in there was soaked.

Here’s the work that got done. 

This is wonderful. Starting with the new chart-plotter.

That’s a B&G plotter in a big pod thing attached to the arch on the binnacle. It’s showing our location in the marina. 

Here are the new instrument displays. 

The two on the left are sort of generic B&G display devices.

The one on the right is the new autopilot control. It can drive the hydraulic steering pumps to keep course on long passages. 

The old chart-plotter was easy to install at the nav station (pictures to follow later.)

We also have an AIS class B transponder. You can see us (when everything’s turned on) 

Here’s the link: Red Ranger.

The device is wired directly to the batteries (for safety reasons) and is almost always on. It draws about 0.4 A to run, so there’s a cost, but we have big solar panels and it seems manageable.

The boat’s unplugged from shore power during the week. We’ll see what the battery state is like when we get back.

Also. We now have a WiFi base station that allows a mobile device (iPad for example) to repeat the displays of the chart plotter. This is too cool. 

Other Things

We’re re-working the red sail covers. We’ve made some changes we don’t like and we’ll make some more changes that might work out better. Photos to follow.

The soaked stuff involved some spare parts we don’t need. So we (finally) threw them away. Lived on the boat for two years. Never really noticed that we had no earthly use for the parts. Most of the things were small and we never really worried about them. But we’re cleaning everything.

And the question “What’s this?” and “Why do we have it?” are profound. We were surprised that we could continued to throw things away. We thought we’d pared life down to the minimal essentials. But we still had things we didn’t really need.

Race Day

Two things are essential for racing on sailboats.

I have some ideas about this. Years ago I did a little racing in our first boat, a Buccaneer. It’s an 18’ dinghy, designed for comfy, reasonably safe two-person racing. I crewed a bit. I did really badly. I had a vague idea what was going on, and I had fun. I learned a few things.

The first thing you need for racing is another boat. You can’t race by yourself. That’s dumb. You need competition. I can’t find the source for this, but the adage is 

“Two boats in the same bit of water, heading in the same direction, is a race.”

It doesn’t matter if both skippers agree to it. Because they do, implicitly. Everyone does. You have to assess your progress relative to fixed objects on the shore and moving objects in the water. Therefore. It’s a race. Better if the boats are similar. Best if they’re identical.


To make it fair, you need to have a race course. And that requires a committee.

The jobs are these (sort of).

  • Set the marks that define the course. (A “W4” in our case.)
  • Signal the start of each race.
  • Identify the order (and maybe the time) for the finishes.

That’s almost it. There’s safety, of course.

Also, a clear head for what the rules are. And patience. And the ability to make a decision quickly. I lack all of these, but there are many wiser and more experienced folks at the West River Sailing Club. Tons of folks who’d probably forgotten more about racing than I’ll ever know.

A regatta’s generally five races. Often, they try for three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Depends, of course, on wind and weather. Saturday went well. Sunday, the wind was light, so we tried to head back early. Boats had to be towed. 

Here’s some video.

In addition to the folks on the committee boat, we had two other boats in the water. At the windward mark, we had our race support boat “Osprey”. And at the “gates” we had Elsie’s boat, which I called “LC”. The other club boats had problems. The steering had seized on one and the oil pressure alarm was sounding on the other. The third wouldn’t start. Sigh.

Volunteers stepped up at the last instant. Boats appeared. I didn’t overhear any heated complaints from the racers. So I guess we did okay.

If you want to learn to sail: Here are the Learn to Sail program details.

Formal Season Opening

This is different.

It looks a bit like a church event. Multiple generations. Folks congregating, socializing, forming and strengthening their connections. There’s a strong sense of thanksgiving. Not so much worship and praise.

This is West River Sailing Club.

Worship and praise was not entirely absent. A local priest blessed us and the fleet. Specific mention was made of our commitment share and support the waterways for everyone to enjoy. 

We sang Eternal Father Strong to Save. (a/k/a The Navy Hymn.) Really. A cappella. It’s a difficult tune to attempt without accompaniment. I’m bringing a ukulele next year. It's more-or-less in C major. Except for the tricky chromatic parts in Em. (Is it in Lydian mode? Not simply C major?)

We honored the departed. There was a formal distribution of official flags for the various officers. We raised raised flags and fired the club’s 10 gauge brass cannon.

There was excellent food, but not an organized meal.

It overlaps with a church. May it’s not all that different.

There’s a kid’s sailing program. An adult Learn-To-Sail program that meets throughout the summer. A pretty thorough race schedule for the various fleets that call the club home. 

Next weekend is the 2017 Spring Regatta. It’s surprisingly important. In September, the Internal 505 World Championships will be in Annapolis. As preparation for this race, some of the serious 505 competitors are looking forward to racing in the Bay as often as they can to understand winds and currents. And that means next weekend in Galesville, MD. 

World. Championships. I get all tingly. We’re just hosting a season warm-up race. But. The idea that folks would be traveling to this little sailing club to tune up for the World Championships is enthralling.

The race committee needs volunteers. While I haven’t raced since the 90’s (and that was in a Buccaneer) I have a pretty good idea of how this all works. A day on the water managing a race is still a day on the water. 

  © Steven Lott 2016