To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Yoga Teachers and Software Upgrades

We took CA's Yoga Teachers cohort sailing on Saturday. Winds 10-ish (and dropping) from about 090°. Sunny and 25°C air temp, so it was — perhaps — one of the most perfect possible days for sailing. Can I say perfect without invoking Poseidon's wrath? It was essentially perfect.

There was two problems and they were tiny. Interestingly, the two problems were not the things we were even worried about. Shows you how useless worry is.

CA with trash from the creek
CA grabbed someone's trash from the creek

We took the crew through a bunch of common maneuvers. Depart the dock. Drop the anchor. Eat lunch. Swim in the bay. Raise the anchor. Sail around. We tacked once. We adjusted the trim of the sails. All kinds of ordinary sailorly stuff. (No gybing, though, so we missed one of the big kinds of maneuvers.) We chatted. We took pictures of the bay and boats.

The return to the dock was less than stellar, but we didn't break anything, so it wasn't really a problem. Not like the two tiny problems that we found, later.

We saw a schooner, and a yawl. Red Ranger is a ketch, so we got to point out the deep variety of boats on the Chesapeake Bay. Fun for boat nerds like me. Maybe not so much for them.

CA likes to do the 5-F's of safety briefing for first-timers:

  • Falling Overboard. Hold the wire ropes and wooden handles. One hand for yourself, one hand for the boat. Keep your hips below the lifelines and your head below the boom when the boat's in motion — squat as you walk.

  • Flooding. There are big through-hulls with handles and foam plugs. There are two electric pumps and two manual pumps.

  • Fire. There are extinguishers all over the place. Note the ladders used for exit.

  • First-Aid. Kit hanging under the ladder. Also. "Ladder": don't treat the ladders as stairs. Descend ass-first.

  • Famine. Be sure you have enough water at all times. There are snackies in jars in the galley.

  • Fatigue. Don't over-exert yourself. Stay hydrated. Rest when you're tired, bad judgement and problems come from fatigue.

Okay. It's six. But Famine and Fatigue are almost the same thing.

The Worry Factor

We had a lot of concerns in the backs of our minds as we welcomed guests. And the two tiny thing that went wrong weren't even one of the concerns. Which is how these things surface, isn't it? The real problems aren't something on your worry list.

Folks visiting Red Ranger

We worried about Mr. Lehman starting. Back in November, "Winterizing and The Pink Stuff", we had trouble getting the engine started. Then it was COLD and the batteries (and fuel) were not having any part of it. Today it was perfect and Mr. Lehman fired on the first crank. Bam! Running!

We worried about the fuel system. In May, "The Drain Hose", we found fuel everywhere in the bilge. It wasn't clear if the leak is related to the good (port) tank or the decommissioned center tank. It wasn't clear if the fuel was leaking from the engine itself.

From yesterday's operation, it's clear that the diesel really was from rain water filling the center tank. Everything else went flawlessly. The slow drip from the fuel pump is something I have to address, but it's S… L… O… W… It can't produce a quart of diesel in an hour of operation.

We worried about the newly-greased through hulls, and the new batteries. There are a lot of potential problems things that could be less than perfect.

But they weren't less than perfect. They were all perfect. (Pardon us, Poseidon, for sounding like we're filled with hubris.)

Software Upgrades

Early Saturday morning — before guests arrived — I fired up the B&G Zeus2 chart plotter, connected it to the marina wi-fi and downloaded software upgrades. This was fun. The Zeus checks ALL of the system components for upgrades. It does the downloads and installs where it can.

Let me repeat the amazing thing:

The B&G Zeus2 identifies all of the components — with version numbers — and handled the software upgrades for me.

This was amazeballs. The. List. Of. Components. No chasing down notes on the components (which I keep separately.) No following wires around. No checklist in my maintenance log book.

I had to remind myself this is a sailorly job, it turns out. It doesn't feel like it, though. This thought bugged me the whole time I was doing it. "Aren't I supposed to be taking apart something dirty or greasy or tangled up with corroded parts? Aren't I supposed to be lifting heavy, awkward pieces of equipment like sails or booms or something?"

Nope. Software upgrades. Just like my day job. Except on the boat.

There are two things the Zeus2 was reluctant to do:

  • Upgrade the charts. These are a HUGE download that takes hours. It seems easier to buy the complete package from I suspect the B&G may be able to handle the download after I pay for the charts on that site. Also, is a good source for charts.

  • Upgrade the Simrad autopilot. It balked at the AP-44 upgrade. This turns out to be one of the tiny problems.

I've bought a fresh set of chips with marine charts for US East Coast, Bahamas, and Caribbean for the old Standard Horizon backup chart plotter. This was through Jeppesen Light Marine. It seems like they're struggling in the competitive (i.e., Garmin-dominated) industry.

I've also ordered (but haven't received) another copy of the charts for the B&G. They use different kinds of chips, so, I buy the charts twice. And I bought these from Fugawi. I think I may try GoFree Marine next year.

I also download charts for phone and iPad, but those are backups to the backup chart plotter, so I don't obsess about them so much. However, they are easy to refresh, and — in some cases — are more current than the "official" expensive copies.

The NAC-3 autopilot upgrade is moderately complicated. When it shuts down, the other units all panic because they stop getting GPS waypoints. The first few times, I didn't know what the problem was and reset the autopilot, interrupting the upgrade. Then I figured out what was going on, silenced the B&G displays, and the upgrade finished nicely.

One Tiny Problem

The one tiny problem with the upgrade surfaced via the VHF radio later on Saturday.

The Standard Horizon radio really wants to know where it is in the world. It needs to be integrated with an NMEA-0183 data bus that will provide it position and time information. Having the information means we can push the MOB (Man Over Board) button and have the radio broadcast an accurate distress signal with the exact location of the problem.


With guests on board, we noticed the radio wasn't getting a position report. Periodically, it would beep an alarm to announce it's displeasure. We silenced it, but. Hmm. Why is the radio not getting its positions?

In the olden days, I had a wiring block that provided the data from chart plotter to radio.

This has been replaced by the NMEA-0183 gateway in the Zeus2. So. Of course, I blamed the wiring. After the guests left, I poked around at the wonderful installation job MTS did, and realized it wasn't wiring.

Also. CA asked the standard question: "What did you change?"

Ah. Software.

I poked around on the Zeus2. There's a dialog box under System > Network > NMEA0183 that has a check-box for Serial Output. This would be the serial output that the radio needs. Check that. Radio Happy.

It appears the default configuration changed with the software upgrade. And now it's fixed. And the radio knows our location.

A cool feature of the radio is it displays the coordinates on the microphone. On. The. Microphone. I've heard too many distress calls (some mayday, some pan-pan) where there's this awkward complexity in reporting the GPS location because the radio and the chart-plotter aren't near each other. Or they're working from paper charts (like we used to in the old days) and don't have any idea where they are. Our location is displayed On. The. Microphone.

The Other Tiny Problem

The Simrad AP-44 Autopilot Control wouldn't update automatically from the Zeus2. My pet theory is that the software has a little "brand affinity" check. The B&G Zeus2 isn't happy with the Simrad AP-44. This is likely nonsense, since they're both made by Navico.

The Zeus2 was able to gather the AP-44's running version and check on-line for the available version. That part worked seamlessly. It simply couldn't stage the upgrade.

On Sunday, I tackled the final upgrade. The software change to the AP-44 means downloading a .upd file to a USB device, putting the device into the maintenance port, and then restarting it.

Sounds simple enough. Hah.

Step 1. Download. Using Safari to download is a problem. Safari won't preserve the original file name. It adds a goofy ‘.dms' suffix to the filaneme.

Okay. Switch to Chrome to download the .upd file.

Step 2. Find a USB stick to upgrade the AP-44. Got that.

Missing Step. Take the furniture apart to expose the maintenance port. It's not complex, but the displays are behind some galley woodwork. So there's that.

Step 3. Power the instruments on with the USB stick.




It appears that the following is important: "the USB stick be formatted first to Windows FAT 32". (This was HARD to find. Navico, B&G, and Simrad need to make this super-explicit.)

This, it turns out, isn't easy on Mac OS X.

The Disk Utility will format FAT and exFAT. After the FAT format is complete, the utility reports the device as being FAT16. (Not FAT32.)

Tried FAT, and exFAT. Neither worked.

Fail Repeatedly. Coffee. Google.

Found the following bit of magic. This will format a thumb drive as FAT32 on a Macintosh. It must be done from the command line.

diskutil partitionDisk /dev/disk2 MBRFormat "MS-DOS FAT32" "UPGRADES" 100%

Seriously. From the command line, not the Mac OS X Disk Utility. Once the .upd file is placed on this newly-formatted "Windows FAT-32" volume, the AP-44 upgrade happened like it's supposed to.

Now I have an "UPGRADES" USB stick that needs to be kept with boat hardware, including old chart chips and the like. It's like that special block-and-tackle used only for lifting the dinghy motor and nothing else. Or that special wrench used only for the bleed screws on the diesel injector pump. Or that special wrench used only to take the engine zinc out of the heat exchanger.

This is such an odd thing to be tinkering with USB stick formatting. Shouldn't I be bending on sails or tying fancy knots or something? What about changing engine oil? Or cleaning the sand out of the bilge? or cleaning the dirt out of the engine pan?

Nope. Software runs the chart-plotter and autopilot. It's as important as the hydraulic fluid.