Monthly Archives: September 2010

Raymarine ST 60 Wind Instruments

I added a new instrument display to the boat recently — a repeater for the existing wind instruments.  The master display is outside at the helm station, and I wanted to be able to see this information inside.  There is also a ST 60 CH Wind (close hauled) repeater at the helm that displays the forward wind directions on a larger scale.

It should have been as simple as plugging the new display into the instrument network, and it was, except the analog direction needle was off by about 150 degrees.  Through the course of getting this solved, I learned a few things about these instruments.

The first thing I did was get out the book.  The book talked about “linearising” the instrument to the transducer (wind vane), and then calibrating it to the wind direction, but does not go into a lot of detail about what either of these things mean.  And it says nothing about repeaters.  

I did play with the calibration and noticed that when I changed it, it was changed on all the instruments, not just the one I was calibrating.  So I could make one right, but then the other two would be wrong.  I reset them all to factory defaults, which essentially removes any calibration factor, but that didn’t help.

Since linearizing requires taking the boat out and turning it in circles, and since I couldn’t understand how this would help, I called Raymarine Technical Support.  They confirmed that I really did need to go do the circles without elaborating on what that would actually do.  But since I was at their mercy, I went ahead and did it.  

It was both easy and hard, and utterly useless.  The book says you’re supposed to turn two circles.  In the middle of my first one, the instrument started beeping which is an indication of successful linearization.  How has that not happened before by accident?  Okay, great.  We’re done, right?  Wrong.  Now my master display was wrong, but not the same wrong as the new repeater.  The close hauled repeater, which is not actually connected to the vane, was still right.  Bizarre.  Further attempts to linearize failed.  I turned the instruments off and back on, did lots of circles, thought about it awhile, did more circles.  Nothing.

So I took the boat back in and called Raymarine again.  This time I talked to someone else, who apparently knew more about their products.  Linearizing is nice, but useless in this case.  What this does, I’ve figured out, is synchronize the needle to the vane.  The vane must send a signal when it is straight ahead and linearization must be the process of synchronizing the display to that signal.  Because there is no guarantee that the vane is actually straight relative to the boat, the calibration process allows the user to configure the master instrument to compensate for any physical difference.

None of this was the problem, however.  The tech support guy knew it wasn’t the problem, but he didn’t seem to know what the problem was.  He punted and sent me an internal technical document about how to put the instruments in self-test mode.  He was thinking I’d use the document to determine if the units were defective, but the document contained the solution.  

One of the self-test modes for the ST 60 Wind instrument allows a technician to adjust the display needle for each of the major graduations.  Basically the display says “I’m pointing at X degrees,” and the technician can adjust the needle direction until it actually points there.  

I did this for both the master display and the new repeater and now we’re all set.  It seems the vane was sending the correct direction, and the master was interpreting it correctly and putting the correct signals on the network (since the close hauled display was correct).  The new repeater was somehow “off” internally, and through the course of testing my master display got confused too.  Even though the displays had correct inputs, they had lost track of their needles and could not show it correctly.  

I did some Googling while trying to figure out this problem and did not find much information about “linearising” the wind transducer beyond what is mentioned in the book.  I also don’t see that the ST 60 Analog Instruments Service Manual is available anywhere publicly.  Maybe this will make it easier for others.


If you have spent any time at all reading cruising magazines or looking at other boating family blogs, you by now realize that Lego bricks are the ultimate toy for children on boats. They are among the best toys for any child anywhere, but because of their compact size and endless creative possibilities, they provide hours of entertainment and exercise for small brains in the confining space of a boat. For rainy days and weekends they are indispensible. Our kids, if they had to pick one thing to take with them to a desert island, probably even before food, would pack the Lego bin.

My brother loved his Lego toys as a kid, too. Actually, he still loves his Lego collection, which is much improved and expanded. He sometimes even shares it with his four boys. Our boys’ collection, seen below, is quite small compared to the cousins,’ and it exists in a state of chaos. With a collection the size of my brother’s, a bin and a pile would be preposterous. Plus, they have two smaller kids that would be forever eating or choking on them. So they came up with this ingenious solution for organizing Lego and making playtime more productive and less frustrating. It worked so well, my brother decided to build and sell his sorting cabinet/building tables through a terrific website,

Lego Room

He generously offered to build our boys a crate to mount in their cabin, but upon further reflection our boys looked at the trade-offs and decided against it. The two options are: find all your pieces easily and build quickly, then re-sort to clean up, which can be slow and laborious; or build slowly, searching for pieces in a pile, and clean up quickly with a dustpan for a shovel. Because our boys’ play space is also their sleeping space (they inflate/deflate their air bed depending on how they want to use the space), they opted for quick cleanup. This choice is not without cost. They are forever losing pieces; sometimes they fall out of the bed and roll into the bilge. And it can take all day to plan a project, search for the right pieces and build something. At least the collection is out of the way, either locked in the bin or up in their berth out of the reach of small children. But for other boat families, a BrikCrate might make a Lego collection easier to manage.

For families with a large or sprawling collection, a BrikCrate is an ideal solution. Each cabinet is hand-made of solid wood in my brother’s workshop and comes with drawers and customized labels. The cabinet has a hinged cover that folds down to become a table top with a locking support leg. The stools for sitting at the table also serve as storage for road plates or large pieces that don’t fit in the cabinet. While the crate may seem expensive, considering the price of electronic toys that turn kids’ brains to oatmeal, and how much more valuable an organized Lego collection is made, the price is well worth it. And for families with small siblings, the crate protects pieces and projects from grabby toddlers as well as protecting crawling infants from choking hazards.

This may seem a shameless bit of nepotism, but it’s actually a fantastic product, and considering how long Lego has been around, I can’t believe no one has thought of it before. In any case, you might like the website. In his “links” link he’s got a great stop-action film he made with Lego bricks and a web cam. Check it out at

The Jims

Aaron loves outboards, and he knows them all.  If he's seen a boat before, he can tell you what it has hanging on the back before you can see it.  He can tell you who is going past in the dark by the sound of the motor.  We first noticed this trait when he was a little guy.  He was into monster trucks then, and could identify all the pickup trucks he saw on the road.  And he loved tools.

We see our jobs as parents as helping the kids follow their natural interests.  We have no expectations that they will grow up to go to college to be doctors and lawyers.  No offense to anyone intended, but we think the world has enough doctors and lawyers.  What we really want for them is to be happy in whatever they choose to do.  And no matter what they do, we want the boys to learn a trade, to have a marketable skill and learn the value of hard work.

There is a father and son team of mechanics here in the anchorage.  We call them The Jims.  They buy broken outboards by the lot, tear them all down, fix what they can and resell them.  They do all this work in the cockpit of their boat.  They very graciously offered to let Aaron come by and watch sometime.  I wanted to go too, and took him over there.   It's something different every day over at the Jims'.  On his first day, Aaron rebuilt his first carburetor.

We go over there most days now.  When Aaron has finished his schoolwork, and I've done enough work to take some time off.  I'm learning, too.  Some days are slower than others and sometimes Aaron loses sight of the big picture.  He was not impressed one day to find them working on a small generator.  That motor had a broken connecting rod and they took the block completely apart to get to it.  It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.  After just a few weeks over at the Jims' I've learned more about motors than I ever learned from a book.

When our 25 turned up sick, what I'd seen at The Jims' gave me confidence to haul the motor into our cockpit and work on it myself.   I ended up not putting the carburetor back together quite the right way, and I had to limp over to the Jims' for help.  Through the course of tuning the carb and telling them what I'd found elsewhere, we determined that the motor had serious issues.  They thought the problems justified buying a new motor if I could afford it, or they'd help me fix it.  Of course I can afford a new motor.  The dinghy motor is one of our most critical pieces of equipment.  But there are no guarantees that a new motor isn't going to strand you somewhere, either.  In the end, Tanya and I decided that even if with money out of the equation, it is better to have a motor you know than one you don't.  So we're going to try to fix it.  If we can't, or it gets too messy, or it dies on us later, then we'll get a new one.  Probably in a different country where they still sell the good ones.

The Jims are clearly providing a valuable service to us and to Aaron, but it doesn't seem to be a one-way relationship.  They appear to truly appreciate having Aaron around.  Partially I think they enjoy passing on their knowledge and hard-earned experience.  It is rare these days to find a child who respects adults, and is interested in anything but video games.  Sure, he slows them down, but they don't mind.  Every day when we leave they invite us back.  And every morning when Aaron's finishes his schoolwork, he comes to tell me he's ready to go.

Scrubbing Bubbles

I've discovered a product to help keep my head clean. 

That would be the toilet on the boat, of course.  We flush with salt water and there are some unpleasant downsides to that.  We get scale buildup in the bowl and the hoses, and there is an odor which isn't directly attributable to the use of the device.  The scale problem we address periodically with couple good doses of muriatic acid.  That's my type of cleaning, but one must always be aware that what he's flushing is not actually leaving the boat right away.  Pete used to joke that I was going to turn my 50 gallon holding tank into a 50 foot holding tank.  The rest of the problem fell on the housekeeper, which wasn't fair.  It wasn't a clean problem, it was a water problem.

The solution came to me on the magic box during a business trip.  Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Cleaner Gel.  It is a little gel turd that sticks to the side of the bowl.  The rinse water runs over the gel and carries the scrubby guys all over the inside.  I haven't seen the scrubby guys myself, but they were on the magic box so it must be true.  The gel lasts for about a week and then you put in another one.  We've been using it for about three weeks and the results so far are good.  Toilet looks cleaner, and smells MUCH cleaner.  In actuality it probably isn't, but who cares?  I'm willing to pretend.

Two things have to be considered when using chemicals like these.  First is how they'll react with our plumbing, and our plumbing isn't just pumps and hoses.  We have a septic tank after all, and there are little critters that live in there.  Those critters work on breaking down all the stuff we send them.  If they're alive and well and have lots of air (ironically) there shouldn't be much odor from the tank.  But if we kill them with the wrong chemicals, then its like living with a septic tank in the house.  Having used the Scrubbing Bubbles for three weeks with no apparent change to the tank, we're considering it a success. 

The second concern is what impact the chemicals will have if flushed overboard.  Considering all the other cleaners and detergents we routinely send overboard in our graywater, there probably isn't much additional impact, but it is still a good thing to think about.

Amazon Kindle

We finally bought a Kindle.  Tanya is a book snob a traditionalist, so it was an uphill battle for sure.  She could admit the merits, but refused to believe she could survive reading on a screen instead of paper.

But I'd been watching Eli read Lord of the Rings, his first big book, and boy is it a big one.  Being a young reader, he does better with larger type, but the print in this book was necessarily small.  And partially due to its size and age, the book was not surviving being handled by a 9-year-old — the pages were falling out about as fast as he was reading them.

I saw the Kindle as a solution to this problem and ordered one.  Because you're buying books in a proprietary format it feels like a bigger commitment than just the cost of the device, which is relatively inexpensive.  We also don't have room for stuff we don't use, so every purchase carries the potential repsponsibility of having to store or dispose of the thing.  I'm also an inveterate shopper, especially for gadgets, and try to make double sure that I need a thing before I buy it.  Double again if it's shiny.

We had friends over the day it arrived.  Everyone had heard of the Kindle, but nobody had actaully seen one.  All were amazed by the screen.

Eli took to it like duck on a junebug.  That big paper book went in the trash the next day.  The boat was already lighter.

A few days later, Tanya requested that book she is reading to the kids be acquired in Kindle format.  Another one in the trash.  Kindle wins!

When I converted our music from CDs to MP3s there was no additional cost, so I'm not looking forward to re-buying all of our books on the Kindle.  But if it means getting them off the boat, it will be worth it.  Unfortunately, we have lots of books that aren't available on the Kindle, so it isn't a 100% solution at this point.  But there are a lot of old classics that we don't have and are FREE (as in beer) on the Kindle.

There may yet be another benefit in the works.  Aaron is our techno kid, but doesn't read for pleasure yet, and it is driving him insane that he doesn't get to play with the new toy.

Right now we have seperate books being read by three people on the same device without conflict, but I'm sure eventually we'll be ready for one or two more.

Breeze Booster

Spending the summer at anchor in Florida is only possible with good ventilation.  When the boat is free to swing, it usually orients itself to any available breeze, but that breeze still needs to be captured and forced down into the boat.  This is the role of the ubiquitous windscoop, which is essentially a little spinnaker positioned over a hatch and held up by a halyard.

Some are chambered to capture the breeze from any direction.  This would be ideal if you were tied to a dock or the current were influencing the boat’s heading more than the breeze, which sometimes happens.  My objection to this type is how to close the hatch for rain.  This type has to extend down inside the hatch, or otherwise obstruct the hatch opening, making it impossible to close up without taking down the scoop.    Taking down a windscoop is normally not a big deal.  But doing it in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and naked, on a wet deck in a strong breeze and cold rain is no fun at all.  And that’s the way it happens.  Every.  Damn.  Time.

So we don’t use that kind.  Instead, we’ve been using the more common single sided variety.  Our hatches face backwards, and these scoops still recommend attachment inside the front edge of the hatch, but we quickly abandoned that for the above reasons.  Instead, we broke down and installed attachment points on the deck outside the hatch so we could simply close the hatch from inside, leaving the scoop in place.  With aft-facing hatches, we can often stay dry with the hatch cracked.  

Our complaints about these type of scoop are that they still require a halyard, the material is quickly destroyed by UV, and they’re too big.  The breezes we frequently get at night are too strong for these big scoops.  And I’m not sure the bigger scoop results in more ventilation anyway.  So I sewed reef points into a pair of them so to make them smaller, and that worked better, but was too much effort.  We considered designing our own out of more durable material, but don’t have that kind of skill or energy.

We chewed through a few Davis brand scoops before trying the West Marine brand, which we like better.  It has sewn loops instead of grommets and feels like sturdier material.  The West scoop hasn’t died yet, but it is still too big, and still needs a halyard.  Poor Sarah doesn’t have a halyard over her hatch.

Then we saw another boat with a small self-supporting scoop over its hatch.  Upon investigation we learned it was called a Breeze Booster.  We ordered one and like it very much.  A little more expensive, but it came with a note recommending 303 Aerospace Protectant to reduce UV damage, so hopefully it will last a little longer.  It still wants to go inside the front edge of the hatch, but it will work fine with our existing deck attachments.  We’ve now ordered a few more and hope this will be a good solution.

New Crew Member

Jay and I are pleased to announce that we will be adding a new crew member at the end of April/beginning of May 2011. That’s right. A very small, but significant, crew member.

People with whom we share this news often have interesting reactions.. I wish I could say that it is all congratulatory, but, sadly, that is not the case. I have no idea if you are frowning right now as you read this, or laughing your socks off.  If you know our family personally, I would like to think that you are saying, “hey, they have four cute, smart, mostly well-behaved children—more power to ‘em!”  Some people actually have the audacity to ask us if we know what causes this condition. To those of you who might wonder, we say, “Yes, and we’re very good at it.” (That smart response I owe to my sister-in-law who just gave birth to a very beautiful baby girl—the sixth little one in her family.)

The things that we say are often put to the test. This keeps us from becoming hypocritical. A good example of this is, “We believe that children are a blessing, not a burden.” Of course, we do not deny that parenting is the hardest job entrusted to humanity, or that it presents curious and difficult challenges (like, “how do we get that lego out of his nostril?”) We simply believe that child-bearing and hand-rearing are the most significant and lasting contributions we can make here on earth. If we do a good job, the legacy we leave may last generations after we are gone. Spiritually speaking, it is a job that has eternal value.

Because we believe this so strongly, we made a decision awhile ago not to do anything permanent to prevent children. That’s a tough one, since the boat was built comfortably for eight, and we can’t seem to swear off the activity that causes babies. We have gotten pretty good at timing, but it seems that one always seems to slip through the lines of defense. And thank goodness!!! If we had had our selfish way about things, we would have two boys, perfectly spaced. And that’s it. And how can we even imagine a life without Sarah? Or Sam, who always brightens our day?

We don’t regret a moment of the roller coaster ride of pregnancy and parenting that have been our life for the last ten years. (Well, maybe a few moments, but on the whole, we wouldn’t trade it for another life.) Were they all planned?  Of course! But not by us. We timed the first child and the others just showed up at the right time.  And this is yet another case where I would say that God’s plan is better than mine.

So, as we contemplate trying to cruise for a few months before we need to settle down to prepare for a new baby, and as we begin to make all the needed adjustments to our plans, we recognize that this is a gift. We don’t know what this person will add to our family, but as we have seen time and time (and time) again, it will be something wonderful. Challenging, of course, but wonderful all the same. A guaranteed adventure.

And to add some extra spice to the adventure, we are thinking about heading to Panama in time for the blessed event, to give the child citizenship in that country. We’re having trouble figuring out what that will be like (since I really like to go the non-medical route), so if anyone out there has a tip or a lead or a good birth story about natural childbirth or midwives in Panama, please email us!  Plan A is to play it safe and go back to Tampa Bay, but Panama is not off the table. Whatever happens, it will certainly make a good story someday.

No Place Like Home

We recently took a road trip. We had several errands to run—family to see, shopping to do in our storage unit and at Costco, friends to visit, cars to take care of, a life raft to pick up, and so on. It was a lovely trip; all the things we have missed were present in spades, and after having done without, were more appreciated than ever. The air conditioning was colder than we remembered, the date night was more pleasant and the French food more delicious, the family more precious, the friends more dear, and the Costco full of more things than we could fit in the back of our vehicle.

In short, we crammed a lot of enjoyment into four days. We were not, however, without concern or thought for Take Two and the two cats aboard. We had left the generator in an automatic-run state, secured hatches so they let in air but not rain, left extra food and water for the cats, and had asked a few friends to keep an eye on things. We were not sure what, if anything, would happen while we were away, though we could easily imagine a few worst-case scenarios.

We returned on a sunny afternoon, bailed out the dinghy, which had filled with rainwater, and unloaded the truck, heading back to our mooring ball at a brisk pace. We cautiously peered around inside the boat, looked at the battery monitor and checked on the cats (who meowed ceaselessly, “where have you been???”) but everything appeared in order. What a relief!

We all found ourselves a cool drink and stood around on deck, surveying our small domain. It was so good to be home, surrounded by the water, the sky, and the wind. They all felt like familiar friends welcoming us back. After being so comfortable in air conditioned rooms and fed so well at restaurants, I thought the readjustment to life afloat would be difficult.

Instead, I realized how happy I feel here, how cozy and comfortable our floating home, and how much we belong out on the water. It was a comforting confirmation that we are still on the right path.  Though this life costs something, it is worth every sacrifice. In the words of the old song, be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.

Winslow Life Raft

We bought Take Two a new life raft and decided to pick it up at the factory rather than have them ship it to us.  We think it is a good policy for everyone who owns a life raft to see it inflated and have a basic familiarity with it in case it is ever needed in an emergency.  

We applied that logic when we took the whole family to see our previous raft serviced.  Unfortunately it was going to be more expensive to recertify than it would be to buy a new one, so we had it condemned.  That was, of course, before we started shopping and realized that while a life raft could be purchased for less, we wanted the best and that was going to cost a lot more.

We placed the order for our new one at a boat show where several brands of rafts were being displayed.  Our selection of the Winslow was influenced by several factors.  We felt it had the best features and construction, an opinion seconded by Practical Sailor during a test of several competitors.  They were the only rafts at the show that are made to order and constructed entirely in Florida.  And they are unapologetically expensive.

We also liked that the raft’s standard equipment includes a Bible.  While this may seem like a sentimental and irrational reason to like a raft, we saw it as an indication that the company really thinks about what it is like to use their product in a survival situation.  

“Picking up the raft” actually evolved into a 2-hour visit during which we toured different stations where other rafts were in various stages of assembly.  Our raft had already been completed and was waiting in a rack for almost a month while we got all our ducks in a row to make the trip.  They knew we were coming, so it was inflated and ready to be packed when we arrived.  We were given an orientation of the raft’s features, we saw the survival pack assembled, and we watched as the raft was packed.  Each step was explained.



The packing process includes many quality assurance steps.  While it is mostly done by a single person, at various points the pack is checked by another person, and at certain stages photographs are taken.  Witnessing the process gives confidence that Winslow is serious about the quality of their product, and understands that a defect could have life-or-death consequences.

Rolling Up


They’re also really nice people.  We were told that they ship about 15 rafts a day, but only 1-2 customers a month come in to see the operation.  We were glad to see it, and also glad that they could see our family.  I think if I were making life rafts, I would appreciate the reminder of who uses them.