Sunday, September 29, 2013

Indian Leap

We were rewarded this weekend with cool, dry weather and a nice warm sun.  We should have planned a cruise, but the weather is never certain at this time of the year and frankly, we didn't know how nice it was going to be until Saturday morning arrived.

The whole gang on A-Dock was there and everyone wanted to just sit on the dock and enjoy what could be some of the last great days of our boating season. Our marina was putting on an "OctoberFest" event on Saturday night and everyone was looking forward to it.

Everyone headed up to the big tent at 6 PM, but we elected to have dinner on board instead. Frances cooked fish and one of our favorite vegetable concoctions and we had a fine time.  After dinner, yours truly elected to hit the sack and read a book.  Frances joined our dock neighbors and had quite a good time dancing, we understand.  We also heard that she eventually joined the band to play the bongos.

On Sunday morning, we decided to take a walk up the Yantic River to the falls, also known as "Indian Leap." It's a long walk but the City of Norwich maintains a beautiful walking path along the river and it is well worth doing, especially at this time of year. You can walk north as far as the falls (pictured above). The history of that odd name is described on a sign just as you near the falls. Hopefully, you'll be able to read it here.

We haven't visited the falls in several years but every time we do, we marvel at how beautiful it is, all right within the confines of the City of Norwich.

Our Navigation Table
For some time, we've wanted to augment our marginally effective Standard Horizon chartplotter with computer-based navigation. We have a small Acer Aspire Netbook that we bought several years ago for less than $200 (thanks for Frances for always finding the best deal on anything). It doesn't have a hell of a lot of computing power but is it small and light. Frances has used one with an air card as her home PC on the boat for least two summers without any issues.

The problem was, where would be put a small computer like this on our bridge? Our helm has no room for anything more than what is there now. Even our chartplotter is mounted on the side of the helm on a bracket we made. To mount our radar display, we had to use a helm seat mount. We know it looks odd but it gives us a great view of the radar whether we are standing or seated.

We began to think about making the plywood base under the radar display big enough to also hold the Netbook computer. That would work but it would also be nice if the computer platform was removable. After more than a few measurements and sketches, we designed an extension that would nest against and mount to the 3/4" plywood base under the radar display.

Here's what we came up with: The supports are 1/4" aluminum bar stock that we had on hand. The ends are shaped to fit up against the spider on the radar mount.  The table itself is made out of 3/4" plywood and treated with CPES and several coats of black paint. Since had everything in our garage, our cost for this was zero.

We put two 1/4-20 bolts through the bottom of the radar base. The new platform (also 3/4" plywood) is attached to them using two wing nuts.

The Acer Netbook only weights 1 lb. so the new platform handles the weight easily.

We considered adding edges to keep the computer from sliding off  but Frances came up with some of that plastic matting that keeps the computer from moving anywhere.

We didn't want to trust the Acer to run on its own battery. It came with a cigarette lighter power cable so we cut that end off and wired it into the boat's DC electrical system. We also added a switch so we could turn that power on and off.

The computer also needed a GPS signal and we used a small USB puck antenna (made in China, unfortunately) that plugs in and is recognized immediately. I think we paid $15 for it. It seems to give us better accuracy than the external marine GPS antenna used by the Standard Horizon chartplotter.

The only drawback to our little GPS puck is that it has a magnet on the back meaning that it has to be kept away from the compass. We slipped it out under our bridge enclosure and it worked perfectly without affecting the compass.

Here's the computer showing us at the marina in Norwich, exactly where we should be.

The software running on the Acer is Polar View from Polar Navy. Google it if you are interested in this type of application or just cruise planning (  It is far ahead of our Standard Horizon chartplotter and unlike Standard Horizon, it doesn't boot with a message warning me that our charts are outdated and that we need to buy new ones from them. Of course, there's no way to update the charts without getting them on a SIM card from them.

With Polar Navy, you buy the Polar View software (around $50 if I remember correctly) and then from within Polar View, download any and all the charts you need. No extra charges apply for the charts. You even get three seats (installations) so you can plan at home and on your boat.

Polar View knits the charts together perfectly and you can turn on or off as much chart information as you like. Even on the little Acer Netbook, it allows very fast scrolling and changes of scale.

To use this for navigation underway, you load Polar Com, which is included. Polar Com handles the communications between the GPS receiver and the software and it even comes with a neat little dashboard that shows data such as COG, SOG and heading.

Thanks to Jeffery Siegal and his wife Karen from Active Captain for the tip on Polar Navy. Jeff is one of the most knowledgeable marine software developers on the planet and to make it even better, he lives on and runs a trawler with his wife Karen and his two dogs.

We wondered how visible the charts would be in bright sunlight and we tested at several times of day. We could see the charts quite easily although when we were taking pictures, we did get some annoying screen reflections. We don't think that will be a problem when we are underway.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Blue Mass

Each year at this time, a committee of law enforcement personnel volunteer their time to organize a Blue Mass at The Cathedral of Saint Patrick in Norwich. Active duty officers and retired officers from all around Connecticut attend this Mass and it is certainly moving.

We're not law enforcement folks but we appreciate those who are. We have a dock neighbor at our marina who is a law enforcement professional as are his sons. We've gotten to know his family and all the grandchildren, so when the time for the Blue Mass rolls around, we forget boating and attend this very special Sunday morning Mass.

As we're sure you know, this Mass and every Mass is open to everyone. If you are in Norwich next September, ask anyone when the Blue Mass is being held or better yet, walk into the Cathedral and ask. You don't have to be Catholic to help honor the men and women who take on the responsibility for our public safety.

Even if you can't attend the Blue Mass, stop into the cathedral anyway. You will be amazed. It is one of the most beautiful churches in New England.

We shot some video of the Mass, although we tried to do that with some restraint. This is a religious service, after all.

This is a boating blog but a number of the people at this Mass are our boating friends. We shot his video for them.

Besides, the video is only four minutes long. We'll bet it takes you longer than that to set your anchor.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Early September Weekend

The weather was cool and clear, perfect for puttering around the boat with the air conditioning off, for a change.

We've still got a week or two of "official" summer left, but already the days have suddenly grown much shorter. We love weather like this and so does Pooka, our boat cat, who is growing ever more bold about getting off the boat. Have to watch that cat every minute!

About the only excitement (and we mean that in a good way) was our dockmate Bob's problem with his starboard engine's exhaust system. No, engine problems aren't fun but as in most marinas, when the engine hatches are open, the guys gather.  This is our friend John T. and yours truly looking down at Bob, deep into the problem.

Bob was down there, somewhere, we think.

The problem was a familiar one to many powerboat owners: a failed exhaust riser coupled with a very confined workspace and then bolts breaking off when the manifold was removed. With no space the work, the head (engine head, not the marine toilet) had to come off so that the broken bolts could be removed.

Bob did the head removal himself, with some coaching from some of the guys on the dock and some very high quality tools that also were made available.

As we left on Sunday afternoon, the head was being readied to be taken to a machine shop where a couple of broken bolts and a broken spark plug could be removed.

Boaters a great people. You rarely even have to ask and help is there.

As Bob's head was being coaxed off, we took a walk around the marina and shot some video. It is such a great place to visit or keep a boat.  We wish there would be even more transient visitors.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A minor milestone...

...That, we might add, will be boring to most people, but that's never stopped us in the past.

Today, we noticed that there have been a little over 15,000 page views to our blog. That's nothing compared to a commercial website that might log that many page views in a few minutes, but for a do-it-yourself blog by two people who like their boat, it's a lot.

We've written 197 blog posts since October 22, 2009 and to illustrate all the fun we were having, we've taken about 800 photographs of which only 150 or so have actually been posted in the blog.

To be fair, many of the photos were for us to document what we have done to the boat. If you are going to plan some work on your exhaust elbows for instance, it's nice to have good photos of the job site when you are putting together your parts list at home.

Our workhorse camera for all that time has been an Olympus D-360 clam shell point-and-shoot camera that Frances bought for us years ago. It records whatever we point it at, at a now-feeble 2 megapixels. That old camera is scratched and worn, but it still works perfectly and has never failed us.

There is something to be said for a camera that you can simply hold under your engine (or other difficult space to see) and get a great picture of what you are dealing with.

If you run a Google blog, you get access to Google's great record keeping. It enables us to drill down in the stats to see where and when the page views came from, but not who they actually are.

When you think about the fact that Google charges nothing for the server space or the information, it's a great deal.

To document our adventures, we've tried to adhere to posting on Sunday or Monday, when things are fresh in our mind. Sometimes, we update later in the week but we notice that most page views are early in the week, so we try to avoid that.

Our workspace for writing the blog is the one we use for our business. Nothing special here,

unless the left screen is blank and needs to be filled with blog copy. Somehow, that's not been a problem so far.

We get to the Internet via a Comcast Business connection and it works just fine. When we started the blog, we were using an ancient Windows XP computer. Last fall, we built a new 64 bit, Quad core,  Windows 7 computer but that didn't make much difference. Everything works just as it did before.

With all of that out of the way, we'll start on the blog posts that just might stimulate another 15,000 page views.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Watch Hill over Labor Day

If you have a boat in Southern New England, you have probably been to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. For those of us in eastern Connecticut it isn't far (28 miles from our marina) and pretty easy to find.

Napatree is the spit of land that extends out from Watch Hill and forms a big, mostly-protected, harbor of relatively shallow water that lots of people visit with their boats.  From there, you can use a small boat, like an inflatable, to visit Watch Hill, a summer community that has a big beach on the ocean side and a row of the usual beach-oriented stores that sell overpriced stuff and just-okay food.

A couple of folks at our dock go to Watch Hill every Labor Day and we, along with some others, decided to join them. It would be a seven boat flotilla and we were the last to leave.

When we arrived the first half of our contingent was already in place with a nice secure anchor courtesy of John T. in Miss Nicky.

We rafted up just behind them, attaching ourselves to our friends Frank and Barbara's 35 ft. Silverton. We were the last to arrive and it certainly was a good place to spend the weekend.

Soon after arrival, some of the ladies took off to check out Watch Hill. They didn't come back and we soon got a call that their outboard had quit.  Frank, our closest neighbor, headed out to rescue them in a really reliable outboard and brought them back.

They had valuable purchases and needed some help getting back to the stability of a real boat.

 We were among guys who can fix anything and before long, the failed outboard was being inspected. After a partial disassembly, the cause was found to be a clogged fuel filter.

On Sunday, we tried to head out in our inflatable, but as usual, our 2 HP Honda engine didn't want to start. We got good advice from our buddies, Frank and John, and once we let the piece of crap sit for a while, it started immediately. Frances and I jumped in. Who knows if we'd ever get back?  Off we went to the Asbury Park of Rhode Island. If we didn't have a boat in the harbor, it wouldn't have been worth the visit.

Nice boats to see as we went in, though.

These beautiful sailboats have sails marked "WH," which we assume stands for Watch Hill. This area has a very long tradition of sailing and we have to assume that these boats are a design unique to this area.

On Saturday night, Frances made an great dinner on her new favorite boating appliance, a Butane-fired stove that works perfectly. She wanted us to show a picture of this $20 must-have device.

Electricity is also a problem on a modern boat at anchor and we had planned to use our Yamaha generator on this trip. It wouldn't run so we bought an Ryobi generator at Home Depot for $549 and it worked fine. It was a little loud, but it powered what we needed, provided we turned things on selectively. Next time, we'll put it on the swim platform to keep it quiet.

Monday (Labor Day) dawned damp and foggy. Perhaps a little too foggy to go back home right then.

We waited until the fog lifted a little and then broke up the rafts. Ron and Sue were the first to leave.

 And then Salute headed off into the rain.

We followed soon thereafter and all seemed fine as we went through the narrow channel to Fischer's  Island Sound. As we turned at the park in Stonington, the skies opened up with a serious rain storm.

The rain beat down on us, he radar showed only rain clutter and we were completely drenched.

New London harbor was completely fogged in but we has a good GPS track and we know this area pretty well so we didn't have any trouble finding the channel and heading up towards the Gold Star bridge, which we couldn't see until we were within 300 yards of it.

Once up river past the bridge, the skies cleared and it became very hot and humid.  The skies behind us were as black as we have ever seen them.

Frances took the helm for a photo op. We should get her to run the boat more often.

The cruise the rest of the way up the river was uneventful and we docked without incident.  The chairs were out on the dock and we all compared experiences, some very funny and some a little scary.