Who doesn’t love a gadget?
Well i definitely do!, some of them Helen loves, others she just laughs at me in that “what on earth do you want that for” sort of way!
As mentioned elsewhere on the site, were not sailors, were cruisers, this coupled with me being a gadget freak, our boat is bound to have a few more extras or niceties than other boats nearby, in fact i’m often the subject of hilarity on our pontoon, where you can often hear people saying “whats he fitting now?” or “if he puts much on that boat its going to sink!”
I like to think i’m a reasonably practical bloke and the bits of kit i install have a very valid and necessary purpose. But being that kind of nurdy-geeky-freaky gadget collecting sort of guy, i read all the mags, surf the net and suck up the latest innovations as they coming along, this means that, generally i’m pretty good at getting the right piece of kit for the job, so much so that although the amused crowd is still of a reasonable size, i also now have a an ever-growing team of followers, particularly other cruisers.
So what are we exactly talking about?
Well I’ve always played about with computers, right from the days of the early 8008 (1974) eventually onto the 80286, 80386, 80486 then finally the Pentium (super-speed ) 2,3 and 4
Then in 2005, i bought Helen a white fifth generation iPod for christmas, unbeknown to me she had bought me a black one. We were so impressed with the product that when Helens home PC packed up in early 2006, I convinced her she should think about a iMac. Well that was that! Overnight we abandoned Bill and moved our faith to the God Jobbs, we went Mac and never went back. We have a complete Apple set up at home, so it followed we should have the same on the boat.
Ok so, what happens when you’re on the boat and it rains and rains and rains, you could read, you could get on with a few jobs that need doing, you could exercise (if you know what i mean) or after you’ve done with that you could watch TV?
So I put a TV onboard, then I thought what happens when we go to the Med? You could try satellite, although once you wander much further than Italy to get SKY the dish would have to be as big as your mainsail, not practical unless it doubles up as a communal paella dish for those crazy sundowner parties, and a bugger once the wind gets hold of it. You could try BBC iplayer, but you will need a good wifi connection for that and in some of the quieter remote places, theres not a lot of it about. (more about wifi later) So i plumped for a Drobo (and a mac mini)
A Drobo what the hell is that i hear you ask? No its not a small creature from Harry Potter or a left over from George Lucas film. Its a very clever storage device that always backs up itself on itself, which means that your data is always protected even if a hard drive crashes. So I’ve connected the Drobo to a Mac Mini and this is in turn plugged into the TV, I’ve digitised my movie collection (Handbrake) and some box sets of TV shows, my Entire music collection and a vast amount of kindle books etc all store on the Drobo to be used at my leisure.
As mentioned about wifi isn’t everywhere, but its getting much better, most marinas have access to the internet somewhere about and if not theres always a internet cafe in town. but what if you want internet on your boat whilst in the marina or even at anchor?
A long range wifi antenna is what you need, theres quite a few on the market now, someare simple USB jobbies that just plug into your port with a rubber antenna sticking out, or the larger ones that bolt onto your aft rail, mast or a arch, slightly more expensive but much more effective.
These come in various different types a omni, panel or grid type are the most common, but all have a amp in line to boost the signal.
Then theres the hybrid, which is a external antenna with a built in amp or comes with an amp inline, these are a whole lot better, these can drag a weak shore-based signal quite some distance.
My toy of choice the Wifi Bat, I’ve had mine for just over a year now, taking into consideration, that were marina based and there are a few hundred masts between me and the shore, i can on most days pick up 20-25 AP’s, find one thats unlocked and away you go. I liked it because its usb powered and the amps built into the base of the antenna.
Red-Box WIFI Router
Oh and then theres Red box, another great toy form the same stable as the wifi Bat. The RedBox is a smart, compact wireless router integrating satellite communications, 3G cellular and WiFi connectivity, plus a NMEA interface so you can use your iPhone, iPad or other wifi connected gadget to view all your instrument data including AIS and GPS fix, allowing your guests to have access to all your onboard data. As well as wifi when in range, either 3g or wifi.
One more option thats is getting better and faster, all over the world is 3G, we have a 3g dongle on the boat, to ensure we always have a connection for email, but care has to be taken not to stream iplayer or to much YouTube as the data allowance soon disappears! We have ours plugged into a adapter that creates a Wifi hotspot so everyone onboard can use it at the same time.
Wifi Dongle Adapter
(Click on any of the blue links to take you to the makers site.)
I know what you are thinking, another toy/gadget, but seriously, you can struggle to make do without a slice of lemon or lime in your G&T, but can you really do without ICE!
One of the benefits of having friends already starting to live your dream in front of you is the information about things they wish they had known about or taken the time to get before they left.
Our Friends April & Cain on Spirit of Argo are currently anchored off St Lucia, temperatures each day reaching 30+, a couple of things they say are difficult to deal with is that the water in your cold water tanks reaches 25 degs C and that the freezer has ice trays constantly filled to cool their drinks.
This got me thinking do you want your freezer filled with ice cubes or is there an easier alternative, so i set about thinking about an ice maker, too costly i thought, uses to much energy, to big.
Well how wrong i was!, as you can see i’ve just purchased the Polar worktop ice maker, it makes 10kgs of ice over 24hrs and can make a ice bucket of ice in approx. 15mins of being switched on
So to see just how much energy it uses, i killed my mains supply so i was running on inverter only, even with the inverter losses it draws less than 2 amps, yippee.
I removed the rubber feet from the bottom an bolted it from beneath into the feet bolt holes so its now secured in our locker room.
Cruisers, Seriously think about it, you only need to turn it on when you need ice, but what a godsend when you have people over for sundowners! (click on the amazon link on the right)
I’m sure all of us are aware of the importance of monitoring our engines performance and behaviour whilst its running. So if like me your engine is Volvo Penta Pre-EDC/EVC, (in simple terms non-electronic monitoring), you will be used to having a simple tacho (rev counter) and a set of 4 alarm lights and a buzzer.
As in the picture of the simple panel to the above left, unless you or the previous owner specified the deluxe version on the above right.
With the newer engines you have an option that allows you to monitor some of your engines behaviour straight onto your plotter. If not monitoring your engine means you have to either wait until you get an alarm or in the case of the deluxe panel keep checking (often at ankle or knee height) to monitor water and oil pressure and most importantly revs.
This is where the Actisense EMU-1 comes in, you simply connect, the outputs from your water temp and oil pressure sensors (which it appears that Volvo fit as duel sender units on most of their engines whether you had the gauges package or not?) (you don’t even need to have gauges fitted) into the gauge inputs on the Emu-1
You then connect the EMU-1 to your NMEA 2000 network and with a little configuration you can view the essential parameters on your plotter.
It works with any NMEA 2000 Network, but i created a new one with Actisense’s Own starter kit.
Overall a very satisfying and worthwhile project, total cost just short of £500 including all required components, if you already have a NMEA 2000 network obviously cheaper.