Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2017 & 2108: 7 Electronic Wizards, Perhaps Not...

EPIRB Purchase.  I already have two EPIRBS – one PLB and a GME EPIRB, which had a battery that tested okey, but it was past the recommended change date.  So, I thought I should purchase a new one and decided to get an Australian one which would be automatically accepted by the Australian Maritime Authority (AMSA).  The GME was purchased in Oz and brought overseas with me years ago.  I only found that its battery was out of date when I arrived at the boat in Portugal.  

Anyway, I thought that importing a bit of safety gear into Portugal wouldn't be too much of a challenge.  I also understood that courier/shipment companies generally handled customs etc.  As things turned out my purchase was posted via the Oz Post Office which created all sorts of issues.  Firstly, although quickly despatched, it took almost two months to arrive at the boatyard, required a substantial customs payment, and the company that I ordered it from really didn’t show much interest.  I could not trace the item’s whereabouts on route.  The Oz Post Office I assume just send it on its way with no further interest, unlike UPS, DHL, FEDEX that I'd dealt with before.  The company even suggested that I follow up through the Portuguese Customs, which I eventually did once they contacted the boatyard to advise that the package had arrived in town nearby.  Any action beforehand would have been quite fruitless on my part due to being a foreigner, English speaking only, etc.

Once it finally arrived it should have been easy to register it with AMSA via the net but my registration was rejected because an EPIRB with my serial number had already been registered, believe it or not.  It took several phone calls to try to get AMSA to follow up.  Once again the company who sold me the EPIRB showed little interest and just referred me to the EPIRB manufacturer - kti.  By sending emails to both AMSA and kti the situation was eventually sorted.  My serial number WAS the correct one as it turned out and the other registered owner was contacted and provided the right serial number of their EPIRB.

In future if I am overseas and need to purchase another EPIRB, I'm likely to just purchase it where I can pick it up myself; although that has inherent registration issues.  Well, perhaps if my 10 year guarantee remains valid I might not need to.  (I doubt it as I anticipate that some new rule will be introduced soon requiring all current EPIRBS to be replaced in the next 2 years, although perhaps I am being a bit cynical in my old age).   Meanwhile, I have now have 3 EPIRBS, which all test okey.

VHF Handheld Radio.  The old one wouldn’t hold a charge so we purchased another while in the Canaries.

Sky Mate Antenna.  SkyMate is a satphone type comms gear which we installed 10 years ago.   It still operates so we decided that we would just renew our subscription as they advised that our old equipment is still okey but would be better if we upgraded with new equipment costing around 1000 USD or so.  We decided not to and subscribed so that we could use it and get used to using it again.  

Firstly, we had a number of problems with reception, and sending messages.  We contacted tech support, who it must be said worked very hard to solve our issues.  Things dramatically improved when I cleaned the antenna terminals and then moved the antenna away from other antennas and mounted it up on the framing that holds our solar panels above and behind the cockpit arch.  This was a major improvement and we thought it had solved all our problems.

Not quite!  As we were now using the equipment to get used to it but Microsoft (Windows 10) had other ideas.  It would not let us properly send and receive.  Microsoft would say indicate a problem and closed the Skymate.  We devised various ways to bypass and act quicker than Microsoft could hinder us so we got by with being able to send emails, mainly to report our position via message.  Eventually we exceeded our monthly allocation and our emails were rejected but this was fixed, again by tech support, who simply allowed the mails to be forwarded and billed us accordingly.    The fact that there was no notice to warn us we were approaching our limit is a major shortcoming of this equipment.  We were mid-Atlantic at the time and sending regular position reports to our blog.  We will certainly be considering alternate systems for future "blue water" use.

iPad.  My eldest son had given me an iPad and I love it.  Aside from the Kimble application (I do read a lot when sailing) it also takes Navionics charts, so I can have it in the cockpit with me.  The charts are especially useful when entering/leaving harbour.  With further use on the open ocean I found that I would not even bother to go down below to view the CMap chart on our laptop on the chart table.  The iPad Navionics is connected to a small Garmin Bluetooth GPS so that sits below sending signals to the iPad and I just turn it on every now and again to check progress.  So simple and easy to use.

I have even put together a small stand for it: a bamboo cutting board from a Chinese shop, and a clamp fitting that I screwed it to so that I could attach it to a handrail on the steering pedestal.  The iPad is held in place with a couple of small bungee cords.  It has been especially helpful while motoring along the US Intracoastal Waterway and far exceeds the CMap charts usability.  With Navionics you can zoom in and out to infinite settings – whatever is comfortable but zooming in is very important when navigating around channel markers in shallow shoaling waters.  CMap is extremely limited in this capacity; at least using it with the chart program Software on Board.

A couple of drawbacks, however.  While crossing the Atlantic - Cape Verde Islands to Antigua - a message came up from Apple that I needed to re-register and that I could do it from any place that I could access the web.  It locked up the iPad until I did and this all happened mid Atlantic.  Luckily we still had CMap which worked fine.  I wasn’t able to use Navionics again until I reached Antigua.  This is a very REAL safety issue.

Secondly, my iPad is in a waterproof plastic wallet so it is protected in the rain.  If the screen does get wet it will not function as a touch screen, just won’t do anything or will do very strange things so that it becomes unusable.  On one occasion on the ICW the rain was so fierce that I could not use the iPad (and I could hardly see to look for oncoming traffic) so I pulled over just out of the channel and dropped the anchor.  I’m sure there is a techie answer and I’ll put it in here when I find it.

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