Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Robinetta does tech

The last bits of 1970s technology have been retired for this season. I repaired the Seafarer 3 echo sounder twice last summer and finally decided to replace it. The old VHF radio works fine but prompted by the surveyor Alison wanted a modern DSC unit.

The Seafarer 3's transducer died a few years ago and Nasa Marine still sell a compatible single frequency 150 kHz unit. It is embedded in the foot-thick oak keel so I didn't want to change it again. I could have installed one of the current equivalent Nasa head units but I wanted the chance to remote the depth indication. The Actisense DST-2 can drive the transducer and a log and temperature sensors and outputs NMEA 0183. It can also be connected to a PC. For now I've put it in a visible spot but once I know what I want to do with it I'll hide it. I wired it to the Garmin GPSMAP 450 chart plotter in the cockpit and now we get depth in metres without having to peer into the cabin. The new ICOM M323 needs latitude, longitude and time to do its DSC mayday magic and that comes from the Garmin. It can also send the position of other ships obtained by DSC position requests to the plotter, but I don't expect to use that so I haven't wired it up. Finally the plotter is also connected to the Simrad tiller pilot so in theory it will steer to way-points. I'll try that sometime. The tiller pilot can steer to wind with the right input. I might do that at some point, but we don't have a windex yet. The cabling will get a bit tidier.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Perfect day sail

Tobermory in April means COLD nights, and sleeping in woolly hats, but the sunshine was glorious in the morning, and Julian did some work on the rigging in his teeshirt!

After that we went sailing, or at least motoring in still air to have a look at Ardnamurchan Point with the thought that we would then head for Muck. We saw some thing that was probably a pod of whales in the distance, heading into the Sound of Mull. We were too far away to see much, but they looked bigger than dolphins!

Ardnamurchan light
As we got close to Ardnamurchan a breeze sprang up, so we raised the sails. The forecast had promised some wind, 3-4 from the East or North East, and as it came in and strengthened nicely we decided not to beat towards Muck, and instead turned onto a broad reach for Coll. Much better! A seal popped up to have a look at us , but was really more interested in the sea weed it was holding!

There were quite a lot of guillemots about, and a couple of cormorants fishing, plus some gulls too distant to identify. Plenty of birds really, but not a hint of a sea eagle! 
North end of Coll

At Coll we gybed round and reached back towards the sound of Mull, romping along at 4-5 knots, and touching 6 for a moment. This sort of day is what sailing is about, a good breeze, hardly any swell, and wonderful scenery; the sort that photographs are too small to convey!

The wind disappeared as we got back into the shelter of Ardnamurchan point, and we motored into Tobermory and picked up the buoy where Robinetta is going to spend the next five weeks while Julian and I go back to work.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sailing north?

Weather reports are essential when planning a day's sailing, so we turned on our brand new radio to get the 2210 weather update last night. The problem was, we could not hear anything! We called up the coast guard for a radio check, nothing! So now we needed to work out why.

We have a brand new radio (which we had never tried before), and newly connected antenna up the mast, but we also had our spare radio antenna inside the cabin, which we knew worked from that position with our old radio. The old radio had been left in the car at Cairnbaan. The first question we asked ourselves was why neither of us had thought to do a radio check at Cairnbaan! No answer to that one!

We hooked up the old antenna to the new radio, and had no luck with that set up either. Refitting the old radio seemed the best idea, but it was in the car four miles away, and it was almost certain that its power lead had made its way into the bin by accident.

Julian got up early and walked back to Cairnbaan along the tow path, which since it was a bright (but chilly) morning along a scenic bit of countryside was not a hardship. He drove back, bringing the radio with him. The missing power lead did not turn up, but the manager at Crinan boatyard found an old spare for a nominal fee. He also told us that the Crinan basin was a well known radio hole, and offered to do us a radio check on his hand held. It worked. The new radio picked his call up on both antennas.

Panic over. We retrieved Worm from behind the lock master's office and locked out of the Crinan basin at 0930 into a flat sea, with bright sun overhead, and no wind.We did bend on the jib and raise the main mid morning, but there was not enough wind to sail, and we soon took them down. We carried the tide nearly all the way, taking full advantage of the favourable flow through the Dorus Mor and the Sound of Luing. By 1800 we were moored up at Tobermory, having motored all the way.  Not a bad first day of the season at all.
Photo by Stu and Sue from Esseness

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


We are afloat at Crinan!

Robinetta was craned into the canal yesterday morning and the mast dropped in around noon. It was a horrid soaking wet day. As we untangled the rigging I realised I had managed to get three separate ropes the wrong side of the VHF antenna cable.

The only untangled halyard suitable for hauling Alison up to fix it was the one we call "spare" which has no purchase. Luckily the yard people were there to help haul.

The next problem was the batteries. As expected they didn't start the engine so we drove up to the chandlers at Crinan and bought one. So we now have one good battery. The remaining old one will start the engine a few minutes after a charge from the engine, but not reliably. We will make do with one until I can get another, cheaper one. We took Worm with us on the roof of the car. The staff at Crinan basin were happy for us to leave her beside their office overnight, and coming through the locks will be easier without a dinghy in tow.

lunch stop just before Bellanoch Bridge
This morning we bent the mainsail on and headed through the locks with two other boats. One was single handing and had booked an assisted passage so we had the benefit of Scottish Canals staff to take our lines and work the gates and sluices. I helped with the gates.

The canal has now formalised the working day, so that the assisted passage had to pause at lunchtime. We were given the choice of staying in the lock, or leaving it to tie up just downstream. The rest of the group stayed in the lock, but it was too noisy for us, so we took our lines back on board and went on a little further to tie up at a rather pleasant pontoon for lunch.

We got to Crinan about 3 pm, having missed the north going tide through the Dorus Mor so we are staying the night in the Crinan Basin.

We used the time to fill the water tanks and get the new echo sounder working.

Our venerable Seafarer 3 became very unreliable last year and I decided it was time to retire it. I didn't want to fit a new transducer - that's a major job on Robinetta. Actisense make a 150 kHz compatible version of their DST-2 box. This is a microcontroller which has sensor inputs for a depth transducer, log and thermometer and outputs NMEA. I've hooked it up to the chart plotter so we finally have a depth display in the cockpit. I need to calibrate it but for now it seems to be working.

I could do all of this in theory with an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi but the depth sensor needs a high current pulse and non-trivial intepretation of the response. The Actisense has been around for a while so it seemed worth trying. We now have four NMEA compatible devices on the boat. The depth sensor feeds the chart plotter and the chart plotter feeds the DSC radio and the tiller pilot. In theory the radio can send DSC position data to the chart plotter but I haven't wired that up. I wired the chart plotter to the tiller pilot last year but it didn't seem to work. I'll try it again.
In the Crinan Basin

Friday, 10 April 2015

Work goes on

We did not get much done today compared to yesterday. But that was mostly because we took the afternoon off!

Alex finished off the anti fouling, and patched the above waterline paint where it needed it. Unfortunately the new tin of Lauderdale Blue looks a lot darker than the old, and the patches stand out. Knowing that the fresh paint will soon fade to the same shade as the old does not help at this point!
( The next day Alex stirred the paint better, and repainted. The hull is now all one colour!)

Julian checked the thru-hulls and fettled them. They did not need a lot of work, but we don't want them getting back in the state they were last year!

The inside of the hull is now as mould free as an old wooden boat ever gets, so it's time to get things out of the car and into the boat! I fitted the new radio, but we can't check it out until we have the batteries back in Robinetta. One of them seems to be coming back from the dead, but it won't fully charge and we are investigating replacing both.

Adam Way, who runs the boat yard, helped free Robinetta's mast from its cramped and inaccessible storage rack, so this evening Julian is looking over the rigging, ready to start dressing the mast tomorrow.

The weather is supposed to break this evening, and although we got another layer of varnish on the top of the mast and the bowsprit, the varnish on Robinetta herself was still tacky this morning, and certainly not ready for another coat by the time we left the yard, when it was beginning to spit with rain.

On Wednesday I said I would be happy if we got three good days in a row. We have, and I am feeling really good about our progress! Three people working on one small boat can do a lot in two and a half days!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Another great day

The weather is holding so far, and outside work is well advanced. We got a complete layer of tie coat on before lunch, and grey metallic primer where it was needed on the topsides, then after lunch it was time for varnish on the mast and bowsprit. The first coat of anti-foul went on mid-afternoon, then the varnish on the foredeck and cabin sides got a second coat.

I'm happy so far, since Robinetta could be craned in now, even if the weather broke this evening. There is still plenty of work to do, including checking the thru-hulls, before I'd want her launched, but the vital, weather dependent stuff is done.

Meanwhile work inside the cabin continued with only one aim, to get rid of the black mould that is growing on all the paint work. I bought some spray anti-fungal wash from Screwfix, and we took it in turns to spray and wipe throughout the day. There is still more of this wonderful task to complete tomorrow...

In between all this work we had a drink on the terrace at the Cairnbaan Hotel, and walked up the hill to show Alex the neolithic stone carvings. We ate our lunchtime sandwiches there, staring at the view down towards the canal. I am sure there are better places to keep a boat over winter, and get it prepared for launch, but on a warm sunny April day it's difficult to think of one.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rushing to get ready

Julian, Alex, and I got to Cairnbaan at ten this morning, and Robinetta's covers came off to reveal her looking pretty much as she did back when I last saw her in November. The surveyor had taken off a little paint to examine the wood, but not so much that it would slow painting down. The bilges were pretty full, but still below the level of the floor boards and the inside did not feel too damp, although the walls are covered with black mould as normal!

The electric pump would not work as the batteries were flat, so Julian took the batteries out so we could charge them overnight. If they won't take a charge we will have to buy new ones, but they have already outlasted our expectations. They are only cheap caravan batteries and we bought them the first year we owned Robinetta, so they owe us nothing.

The weather was bright, dry, and warm; a little too windy for perfection, but excellent for getting on with the outside tasks. All the varnished wood on the foredeck and cabin sides got a coat of varnish, as did the bowsprit and top third of the mast. Alex touched up all the bare wood below the water line, so the hull is nearly ready for a complete layer of tie coat. We just need to get some epoxy to fill the holes the surveyor made. There is a chandlers between the cottage we are staying in and Cairnbaan, so we'll buy it in the morning.

Two more days like this, and I'll be happy. I just hope the weather gods keep smiling!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

All the videos, and prepping the rigging

I uploaded the final moving map videos from last year's sailing trip today, so why not visit the new "video" page and see what's available!

This means I have no more excuses for not getting on with the preparation for this year, which is just as well given how close we are to the launch date. Worm has had a coat of Woodskin, both inside and out, and since she is outside it has dried well, despite the low temperature. I hope to get another coat on before she is put on the roof for the trip north on Tuesday.

One of the shroud deadeyes got damaged somehow, and I spotted this when going over the rigging. Julian took a break from his O.U work to repair it with epoxy, so my next task is to sand it down to make it match the others. There is more sanding to do on the mast hoops, so that is today's task.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

What's next?

Robinetta is due to go into the water at Cairnbaan on the 14th. We have a ton of things to do first of course.

Then, all being well we will sail her to the Isle of Skye. If we have to stop short of our destination it isn't a big problem, their are places to leave her at Tobermory, Mallaig and elsewhere.

Then it's back to work until the last week in May when we will come back to sail around the Highlands and Islands for three weeks. We'll keep the rest a secret for a while.

Movies of last year's trip now on YouTube

We took a lot of pictures last year, and the best went up on the blog, but our Olympus Tough camera can also take movies. I've spent a while over the winter turning them (plus some of the pictures) into a set of videos with moving maps created by Julian, that show where we went.

I uploaded the first set today.

Includes Robinetta being craned in, and a bird landing on my head off Southwold.

We stopped off at Wells-next-the-Sea, Grimsby, and Scarborough

This is the leg where we saw dolphins, and got video! Not bad footage from a compact stills camera on a boat under sail (though I say it myself...)

Includes a trip up the Tyne, and a visit to the Farne Islands in nesting season

The East coast of Scotland in a week and a half, stopping at Anstruther, Peterhead, Fraseburgh, Banff, and Lossiemouth.

Julian has created a new page on the blog where you can view all the videos as they are posted. Please have a look!