Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sarah at the helm

A following wind, Radio 3 on the cockpit speakers and Sarah at the helm. NE coast of England last summer

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Sneaky autumn sail

It is warm and calm even though  it is October. We motored up to the Tyne.  No wind. Poor viz. But strangle also bright sun. A clear shadow on the compass let me do some calibration.

Checking the compass deviation using the Sun

Our Plastimo steering compas has a pointer to cast a shadow to check for compass deviation.

It is 11:35 UTC  on 10/10/2015 and we are at around 54 deg 10 N 1 deg 10 W so the LHA of the sun is 178 deg.  Variation is 3 deg W, so the compass bearing of the sun should be 181 deg and the shadow 001 deg. We can't read the compass to that accuracy but it looks about bang on.  It is a pity Plastimo did not make a longer pointer.  Repeating the exercise turning the boat around we can swing the compass and make a deviation card. Not however while the First Mate is passing a cup of soup up the companionway.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Yaddnet helps me with MF DSC configuration

I fitted an active watch antenna for my M801e SSB radio (thanks to Bob at sailcom for supplying this. As Bob suggested I wired the power supply for the active antenna off the power supply to the ATU. So now to test it! From NE England Lyngby radio in Denmark is accessible and automatically replies to DSC test message on MF (2187.5kHz). HM coastguard does not reply automatically, they have to notice the message and have not be too busy to click on it. It is not clear if the different MMSI numbers for CG stations are really any different, or if they are really all centralised. At first I was getting no reply so I checked on YadNet. This first showed up I had got a digit wrong in the MMSI. When I got it right I was being heard by Yadd monitoring stations (amateur radio monitoring experts) from Shetland to The next morning I got an ACK from Humber CG.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Do you need an SSB?

A fellow member on the Oyster Owners forum asked this.  Here is part of   my reply

I just upgraded the Icom M710 to an M801e before they become
unavailable (I got mine Radio Exchange in Australia).
However in many ways this is unnecessary. I mainly use HF
radio for email (including position reports) and getting grib files
and other weather info using sail docs. Of course this also needs a PACTOR modem if
you want to do it at reasonable speed.

Form a cost point of view a ham radio costing a fraction of the price,
or at least a rugged non-marine Icom radio like a IC-7200 would do the

That said a modern DSC equipped HF/MF radio has an important
advantage. If you are out of VHF range of shore or other ships and you
are in trouble sending a DSC urgency or distress message on MF will
find another ship. All ships have their SSB radios. They do the
compulsory test of them once a month and they have them switched on.
If you send a DSC distress message it will make them "ring" loadly on
the bridge! They will not however monitor 2182kHz (the MF equivalent
of ch 16). Pretty much no one does. Not even Lyngby Radio or HMCG. So
a non DSC SSB  radio does not do that job.

I agonized over that for a while. I even wrote a small program that
made a DSC message over my old non DSC M710 radio (that bit was easy,
it is the decoding that is hard). But in the end I decided to get the
proper kit. In any case the M801e is waterproof and fits in much more

You can still make link calls to phones. It is expensive - I am not
sure if it is more expensive than a sat phone. Here is a nice YoutUbe how to use ShipCom/WLO
to call a phone. You dont need DSC for this i just makes it a bit
easier. It certainly makes it easier for a phone to call you as it
"rings" rather than having to wait for traffic lists. Compared to a Sat phone though one down side is
that long distance it will only work at certain times of day depending  as it has to skip off the ionosphere.

If you want to get an SSB radio and a UK license Bob Smith is the
person to help . I did the Long Range
Certificate course with him.  On the
other hand if the yacht is registered in the US it seems you don't need
to do a course, you just apply for a ships radio license!

By the way I have an Icom 710 for sale.

See also my post on various ways for position reporting/tracking

How to make a phone call on your SSB

A nice instructional video on using the US commercial coast station WLO to make a phone call through your ICOM 802 radio. It is about the same on an 801

As for costs as far as i can tell from this post it is about a US dollar per minute

Thursday, 6 August 2015

On the way to Amble

Blogging from the fordeck is new to me .  On passage Sunderland to Amble ..  maybe going up to Farne for a look too

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Shakedown cruise

First trip of the year, with work travel causing a late start to the season. With Mike and Sarah we set off from Hull on the ebb, heading to Grimsby.

Reflecting on Hull Marina there are some good things. Kilsdale Marine, the Chandlers, are well stocked, very helpful, and ultra convenient. Richard the boss is especially helpful and is the Cruising Association honorary local representative and a mine of information.  The people who operate the lock and hoist are all experienced and helpful too. The main draw back is that it is run by British Waterways, who run mainly inland waterways and seem rather clueless. I have never met a boatyard that does not operate the hoist at   weekend for example. It is also fairly expensive both in the marina and the yard, and a long way to the sea!

Off then to Grimsby which is closer to the sea and the marina, rather more like a Danish one, is run by a sailing club, the Humber Cruising Association.

Leaving on the ebb the plan was to not fight the tide, go past Grimsby and anchor then come back in n the rising tide. It is in principle possible to do the trip in one tide, but the stream runs at about 4 knots at springs so initial progress would be slow. Grimsby opens the lock for free flow 2 hours either side of HW, but penning in other times depends on the amount of commercial traffic as they have priority.

The Humber is a busy port and one requests permission to enter the estuary from Humber VTS, a bit like air traffic control. Near  Immingham  they asked us to tack out of the channel as a large ship was leaving that port. Our AIS transponder meant they called us by name (not they don't bother with AIS - basically too fiddly!) which is very handy. The boat behind us a nice Elizabethan ketch of about 32 feet didn't have an AIS transponder and I don't think had announced their departure from Hull. I think they got the hint when they saw us tack and perhaps heard VTS talking about them to the ship.

We anchored near Spurn Point which was pleasant and sheltered. Actually this is where VTS is based, as well as the lifeboat. We had a early dinner and saw a seal. The forecast was for brief torrential rain, which lasted half an hour and the visibility closed in. Then it cleared nicely for us to head back over to Grimsby on the flood.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Finally launched

Tui was launched in Hull Marina yesterday.  The engine started straight away after I bled the fuel system. Once launched I checked the seacocks and the stern gland and there were no leaks. The cooling water was happily coming out of the exhaust and I set off.  Before I got far the engine overheated, and the cooling water was not coming out any more. Barry, who is in charge of the boatyard operations towed me to the harbour wall in his launch. I checked the impeller and it was fine. I couldn't see anything wrong. Barry in the launch and Richard in a Rib towed me round to the berth. Eventually I worked it out. One of the hose clips on the suction side of the sea water circuit was loose. This means the pump was sucking in air and couldn't self prime. That tightened up it worked fine. One more fault I now know how to diagnose!

I just signed up to a new nice simple boat tracking site I saw on SV Delos's web site Here is  Tui

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Max prop and stuffing box

The engine back in and we are nearly ready to go back in the water. The stern gland needs repacking. The propeller needs greasing and the anodes fitting

Picking the gland packing out of the stuffing box using an engineer's scribe

Here is the packing material picked out. It was in fairly good condition

Prop shaft anode. This model has a copper protrusion to improve electrical contact

These are the grease screws on the Max Prop Classic. You take them out with an Allen wrench to fit the Zerk grease nipple. This grub screw was damaged so I took it out with a screw extractor

Prop Protector rope cutter and anode fitted

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Practicing with a litter grabber

Thanks to many boating friends who suggested ways of retrieving  lost phones and other precious things from bilges and other places I might float - test them (after the phone bilge float test incident last weekend) . A litter grabber from a pound shop looks like a winning option! Indeed fellow Oyster owners report that they are standard equipment. Here I am practising with it at home.  A child's fishing net sounds like a good thing to carry too.
My daughter suggested I fit an auto inflating key buoy  to it too.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Fishing for my phone in the bottomless pit of bilge

I wanted to clean the engine bilge before putting back the engine, now its oil leaks are cured.
Belts and belts and braces. Well strapped down on trailer with ratchet straps fore and aft as well. The engine is screwed to he wooden engine barers too.
For some reason I don't understand an Oyster 39 has a 4 foot deep hole under the engine to drop things down. The rest of the bilge is shallow but this goes right down in to the keel. The hole is triangular in cross section and has a confusion of pipes over it including grey water in and out. The grey water tank occupies the bilge forward of the bottomless pit. I was leaning in to it to reach down to get out the much when I heard a plop. My Samsung S4 phone had fallen in the hole. It was waterpoof ad I could still hear it beep but it did not float. Moreover the water at the bottom was to dirty to see it. As I couldn't reach it I thought I would continue pumping and washing in the hope of seeing it. My bilge pump did not manange to get up the last bit of water and now I had foam obscuring it instead of oil.

Retrieved... look its still alive
It began to feel like one of those cave rescue sagas where you could still hear the victim wedged in the cave but the rescuers could not reach them.  The clock was ticking as we had to go home and the engine is being craned in tomorrow. I was wondering if I was going to have to abandon the phone even though it was still alive. I imagined if we inverted in the open ocean and the boat came up with gear everywhere fallen out of lockers the rig damaged but my phone appeared shaken from the bilge.

Several helpful suggestions (and some unhelpful ones) arrived via Facebook and email. The phone pinging from the depths. They also appeared on my work phone and from America Simon suggested duck tape, sticky side out, on the end of he bilge pump.

Sarah, frustrated that she wanted to ge home now joined the fishing expedition. She caught an old screwdriver, the strainer end of the pipe for the manual bilge pump, and eventually she eased he phone up at the narrow end until I could grab it.

The case is a Red Pepper waterproof case for Samsung S4.  I bought it for about £20 in a phone shop in Cardiff. It is rated at 2m for 45 mins. It survived several hours in several tens of cm of oily water and was subjected to a high pressure jet of water too. It dropped about 1.3m into shallow water.  There was a very slight ingress of oil on one of the seals. As a case it is of course a little bulky and the screen does not respond as well as without but it is manageable and I leave the case on most of the time. I usually have big pockets and the case makes it easier to get hold of if anything. There is a special waterproof adapter if you want to use the ear phone jack (I don't). It has a simple flip down lid for the charging socket which is not waterproof. Some micro USB so plugs, not the official Samsung ones, are too fat to go in.  The phone does not float in the case in water.

Lessons learnt include putting some kind of grill over this hole, and fitting a landyard to the phone case (it has a hole). Certainly that would make it easier to fish out!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Engine out for major service

Time to fix the oil leaks that plagued us last year. The beast is a Thornycroft 154, a 2.5L marinized BMC diesel engine. Mine was originally supplied in 1981 by ARS in Norfolk when Tui was made. The mechanic at Dekanian Yachts (who finished the hull bought from Oyster) ,  moved there when MacWester went bust. Older gaskets were made of cork, and I have a fairly complete set that came with the boat and we carry as spares. However they have a limited life and modern gasket material is much more long lasting.

The cockpit sole and "dinghy locker" removed its a long way down to the engine!

Finally its free

Flying engine

In the trailer and partly strapped down.

I had the engine craned out at Hull Marina, using the jib on their Wise hoist. I needed to remove the service alternator, the water pump and one of the legs  (the engine's mounting legs  not mine) to get it out and then it required some careful tilting and manoeuvring. The team at Hull Marina were very experienced, calm and helpful. For me it was somewhat stressful. Especially when we realised I had not disconnect everything (engine stop cable was one I missed).

 I had borrowed a small trailer (from Shipshape) and had wedged in large bits of wood so the engine mounts could sit on them and then held it down with ratchet straps and covered with a plastic tarp.

 The sump and two other gaskets were leaking and there was a hairline crack in the sump as well, that only leaked when the engine got up to working temperature. Rodney from Shipshape Marine Engineering in Hazel Grove has it all done now, and a coat of battle ship grey heat resistant paint. The lighter colour paint should make it easy to see any further oil leaks in the future.

I am going to call it Gandalf. Next time I will paint it white. We held it on to the wood using big wood screws and coach bolts but still used lots of ratchet straps.  This type of box trailer is not ideal - it has no suspension or brakes and while it is rated to take the weight I had to make sure the load was taken by the chassis not the flimsy box. I even reinforced the base of the load space with some hefty plywood.

Rodney suspected that we had used the wrong grade of oil. We use 20/50 multigrade mineral oil generally which agrees with the engine service manual.  In Tyboron we couldn't get that so used one with a lower SAE. Rodney recommends single grade SAE 30 oil (the older owners manual say SAE 20 or 30 depending on ambient temperature).

I painted the Bowman heat exchanger, oil coolers and associated pipes in blue Hammerite. Here it is ready to go back to Hull. I might have used an excessive number of ratchet straps but I am nervous about heavy things on trailers.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

There must be 50 ways to track your sailboat...

Well I am not sure there are 50, but there are a lot of ways to do it now. Of course there are Satellite based services you pay for with a subscription. These use the same Satellite networks that sat phones use (with the same coverage) Yellow Brick and Spot are best known, also inReach from DeLorme, some Sat phones also have a built in ability to send position reports. What I am interested in is ways to do it without a subscription.


If you have an AIS transmitter on your boat then web sites like MarineTraffic will display your position when you are within line of sight range of one of their receivers on the coast.  If you have a class A AIS transmitter Marine traffic may be able to track you away from the coast by picking your AIS signal fro a Satellite. But class A AIS systems are more expensive and you need to pay for a subscription to Marine Traffic to see satellite reports. Here are some of the AIS monitoring web sites with (hopefully) a link to Tui.

    • PortMaps this is a German site but has a nice feature of showing the position on a Navionics Marine Chart
    • APRS.FI This Finnish site is not for profit and run by radio amateurs but it does show you the AIS position for any date, however it does not yet have an extensive receiver network. It also tracks Amateur Radio call signs


The Hf (high frequency) radio, is usually called SSB by boaty types, but it does not just use Single Side Band (a type of modulation for voice) but can also send digital signals.  On Tui we use a PACTOR modem connected to the ships ICOM 710 marine radio, or my Ham radio.
  • Winlink (email etc over amateur HF radio) may have a position report associated with my ham radio call sign M0WLH. Usually a position report is sent when we connect to send or receive email or download a GRIB weather map. 
  • We may be able to send position reports to Yotreps over HF radio  as well. On that site we use the call sign MRGV9.  It will show "No Reports" if there is no recent position report.
  • Yachttrack is another web site that gathers position data. It currently says we (M0WLH) are hanging out near Panama with a lot of other happy yachts having a winter party. This is because I was testing the PACTOR modem at home and that must be the default location for OpenCPN/Navigatrix when there is no GPS connected. Oops. A link there for M0WLH goes to where you can see our amazing transatlantic virtual voyage.
  • APRS.FI also picks up ham radio call sign reports, but see APRS below 


APRS (Automatic packet reporting system), is an Amateur radio tracking service.  Mostly radio hams send position reports using 2m (VHF) radio including small (cheapish about £100) portable beacons, or a thing called a TNC (Terminal Node Controller basically a modem) connected to a 2m ham radio (which could be a hand portable or vehicle type).  There are Android apps that work as a TNC when connected to a radio using the sound output, and they can also send position reports over mobile internet.  APRS.FI picks up  most of these reports associated with the amateur call sign. There is an extra character that is meant to indicate the type of station (which comes up as an icon on maps). Eg Y is a yacht.  My PACTOR modem can also work as an APRS position beacon. You can just connect a modem to terminals on the back, type a few commands over the serial line and away it goes. If it is connected to an HF radio it will need to be able to get to an APRS gateway and I suspect that there are not many of those around in Europe but lots in N America. Also as HF goes so far it wouldn't take many stations putting out regular position reports to swamp them. APSRS can also be used with amateur radio satellites using VHF (but right now there are not that many working ham radio satellites).

Edit: I have just found a video of a yacht using APRS over HF to track its voyage in the N Atlantic.
Ultimate3 on a breadboa


WSPR ("Whisper") is a ham radio digital protocol used to study the propagation of radio waves. With HF the signal bounces off the ionosphere and different frequency bands will go a different distance at different times of day. When using Airmail to send your email using a PACTOR there is a nice tool that tells you what the probability is of reaching each of the nearby relay stations on each band. WSPR typically uses very low power HF radio beacons which transmit a simple message with the position, call sign and power used using a very robust protocol. The position is given using a 4 character Maidenhead locator. A grid square in Lat and Long. Fortunately an extension of WSPR gives the 6 digit locator, this gives an accuracy of 2.5' of latitude by 5' of longitude.although the message takes longer to transmit. This is accurate to within about 5 or 6 nautical miles. Inspired by Robert Kraowski's success, transmitting his position from a yacht off Fiji and having it picked up in Finland and Greece I bought a kit for the same beacon. The Ultimate3 beacon by QRPlabs. This little kit costs $29US and uses about 200mA.
I tried to assemble mine over Christmas but it was just on the limit of my soldering ability. All the surface mounted parts are pre assembled but I managed to fry a couple of tracks. It is currently working but on a breadboard. The user community, and Hans Summers who designed the kit are incredibly helpful and the instructions are comprehensive. Just make sure you practice with a fine soldering iron first.

The map shows stations that received my signal from home the first time I got it working. The range from about 700 to 2000km away, and this is using the 20m band, 14.097MHz. For a nice tool that gives what to expect on propagation see voacap.

[I will update this when I have it soldered on a PCB and in a box!]

Here is my Ultiamte3S all nicely soldered on a PCB

Thanks to Jim Fairhurst, fellow member of Buxton Radio Amateurs, for an evening teaching me to solder better in which we made the kit up.  It is currently being tested on a 5m fishing pole whip antenna in the garden.  It has been heard up to 2100km away, furthest so far is Haifa in Israel.

The U3S and an old MFJ manual antenna tuner are in a waterproof laptop bag (that I got from a fishing tackle shop). There are three 5m wires laid out as "radials".  On the boat I am planning a smaller manual antenna tuner and a Kevlar reinforced wire to the spreaders.   To set it up I used a Sark antenna analyser.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tui goes through the Swellies

This is a slide show of Tui Launching at Dinas boat yard at Y Felinheli in March 2013 and going through "The Swellies", a notorious narrow rocky part of the Menai Straits (between Anglesey and North Wales).

For sailing directions I recommend The Caernarfon Harbour Trust's excellent pilotage guide . The main trick is the timing of leaving with respect to slack water, and memorizing the leading marks
We were nervous as this was Tui's first voyage after I bought her.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Replacing the prop anode

Tui has a Maxprop folding three bladed propeller with an anode on the hub as well as on the shaft to corrode before the propeller does.  The holes tend to corrode first  then the anode can fall off. To discourage that I painted the holes on the new one, hopefully it stays on longer.

This is the prop at Dinas boatyard both anodes corroded.
This is what one looks like with the anode fitted from the PY website (they make max props)

Photos by Katie Lionheart of me diving in Taarbaek to fit a new anode.  It is not exactly Cousteau!

I found it quite hard to work with both hands while staying in the same place, also not dropping the four screws.  I found a youtube video of a diver doing the same job, except he starts with the anode and the screws removed and only carries one screw at a time. 

Here it is underwater. No anode.

Thanks to suppliers

In a trip like our Inverse Viking Expedition to Denmark there were lots of suppliers of chandlery and services who contributed, especially those who made an extra effort to et things done in time to set off. Here are some of them (I haven't mentioned all the harbour and marina staff here but most of them get a thankyou in the log).

The Boatshed sail makers  a Port Donorwic did a great job on the new spray hood and cockpit cover. The nice clear windows and good fit made us especially happy.

The spray hood and cockpit  enclosure at Taarbaek

Tui goes amphibious with Graham driving the wise hoist.
The previous year we were at Dinas Boat Yard  at Y Felinheli on the Manai Strait  and Graham and Paul there are extremely helpful. Graham is highly skilled at driving the Wise Hoist and his calm proficiency was most reassuring when we first launched. When we got to Hull we had move the cradle they had looked after in N Wales and both Paul and Graham were very helpful with a picture of how it goes together and marks so I knew what joined what, and finding an igneous way to get me the Acro prop we forgot.

Steve Owen at PD Riggers checked our rigging, serviced winches and got the mast down and up.

Thanks to Richard at Yacht Systems in North Wales for getting the holding tank fitted in time. It was a difficult task to work out how to fit one in especially from parts available within the time frame.

As well as the many on line retailers bricks-and-mortar chandlers have been especially helpful notably Craig at Yacht Chandlers Conwy, Rondney at Shipshape Marine in Hazel Grove, and Richard and others at Kildale Marine in Hull 
The cradle loaded on a trailer at Y Felinheli on the way to Hull.

The replacement prop anode was from Invicta Anodes who were efficient in shipping it to Denmark. The scuba gear was hired from Scuba Gear in Copenhagen.

Thanks to Bob Smith from YachtCom/SailCom for training on the Long Range Certificate and supplying advice and  hardware to sort out the SSB antenna. We bought our PACTOR from Paul Richards excellent prompt and efficient service. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


Highland cow, Caledonian Canal Scotland
Dolphin, near entrance to River Ness.
Jægersborg Dyrehave deer park

Gulls in a row, Taarbaek

Llamas, Ven, Sweden

Starfish, Aalborg Marina

Red Admiral Butterfly, somewhere near Dogger Bank


A gallery of bridges

Britannia Bridge, Menai Strait, North Wales

Conwy, Castle and bridge, Wales

Kessock Bridge, Inverness Scotland

Aggersund lifting bridge, Limfjord, Denmark

Monday, 5 January 2015

Raymarine autopilot remote control

Tui has two Raymarine Autopilots. Autopilot A is a Raymarine 6001 which has a motor bellow driving the steering directly, the older Autopilot B is an ST4000 and requires a drive unit to be fitted to the wheel using some clamps and is there as an emergency back up. Tui does not have a wind vane steering system so having this redundancy is welcome.

Both have their own compass.

The way they were installed lead something to be desired to say the least. They could not be connected on the same bus as they would both be transmitting the same Seatalk commands, and so they were on separate circuits. As neither was connected to the wind instruments they could only be used on a compass heading and could not steer on the wind.

Also a major irritation was that one could not engage the autopilot from the helm. Both control units were above the companion way long way from the wheel. I was all for getting a long stick but Russell Talbot, my regular crew and boat fixing buddy, pointed out that it would be a bit like playing snooker with the table moving. Raymarine sell a remote control bit it was way too expensive even second hand.

Fortunately Thomas Knauf has reverse engineered the Sea Talk protocol, and this had lead Jon  Fick to develop a remote control using a PIC microcontroller. Now Russell has some experience with PIC projects, and had the necessary kit to program one and we were able to use Jon's c-code. Russell designed and made his own circuit board.

We only need to send two commands, to engage the autopilot and to switch it back to standby. As a side effect the unit also has a serial output which puts out the Seatalk sentences to a PC, which was handy for debugging some of our other Seatalk problems. More on that later perhaps.

Here is the unit Russell made

One of the relays switches the Seatalk bus so that whichever autopilot is in use is connected to the bus. The other one disconnects the echosounder from the bus when it is powered down. When you are in water over about 100m teh echo sounder does not work but it uses power and presumably annoys whales. You can't just power it down and leave it connected as Seatalk fails if it is connected to an unpowered instrument even at the end of  the chain. It is in a watertight enclosure which is mounted behind the instrument panel

Here are the two waterproof buttons (Auto and Standby) mounted by the wheel.  The switches are waterproof from the top, but one of them gave up after a season due to water ingress from below. Fortunately we bought a packet of 10 switch and they are now sealed from below.  We also didnt use screened cable running from the control unit to the buttons. This is a mistake as stray RF from the SSB can trigger the remote on or off.