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.
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.