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Top Ten Transatlantic Sailing Gear Review

Crossing the Atlantic ocean is a real test of both crew and gear. This year we have done two Atlantic crossings and tested the gear quite a lot!! Here is a round-up of the gear aboard Distant Shores II that contributed the most to our passages… comfort, safety, performance etc…

1 - Downwind pole

Our Selden downwind pole was great. It's made of carbon fibre so its light and easy to set. We used it for almost the whole passage. Having a strategy for going dead downwind is essential for a successful trade wind passage. (Blog Here)
dw-pole - 1

2 - Raymarine Plotter with Lighthouse software

I've written before about the ability to upgrade the Raymarine Plotters. In this upgrade the AIS display is much improved with icons showing the type of vessel (note the ship's boxy icon below). Nice! This is our custom display set up for the helmsman. Course-up plotter with radar overlay on the left, and nice big wind display on the right showing both true and apparent wind.

3 - Autopilot steering with "relative wind" heading

We hand steered for less than 1 day total of the 11 days on this crossing. "Auto" steered perfectly for the rest. We used the Raymarine "Wind" relative setting and it was excellent. When steering nearly dead downwind, even a wind shift of 20 degrees could mean you might jibe. The relative wind setting on the autopilot means the system will keep adjusting the heading so that isn't a danger. It worked very well! Note we are sailing nearly dead downwind!
transat_SL - 11

4 - Solar Panels

Our new solar arch provided a lot of the power for the crossing. We still ran the generator 1-3 hours per day, but we were not trying to conserve power either. We ran radar whenever we wanted to check on squalls, everyone ran their devices etc. The solar power was also a reassuring backup in case we had a problem with our generator.
solar-panel-arch-at-sea - 1

5 - Pressure Cooker

Sheryl cooked up some quite amazing meals and made a fair bit of use of the pressure cooker. Quick and easy. Our model is a very tough stainless unit we bought in France while travelling the canals. Great for one-pot meals! With its locking lid it's safe to use in rough conditions. It reduces cooking time and reduces heat in the boat.
pressure-cooker - 1

6 - Headlight

Actually my headlight is terrible - but our crew Anthony had this Navisafe headlamp and it was by far the best I've seen - powerful, waterproof with both a spot and wide beam.

7 - IridiumGO

Communications were the best we have ever had for a passage. Email, weather, texts, phone calls, weather routing etc… Predictwind review to follow! Check out our IridiumGO review here.
iridiumgo - 1

8 - Life-raft

Thankfully not used but it is the peace-of-mind knowing you have the best safety gear, especially when going so far offshore. Check them out on Ocean Safety.com
oceansafety-raft - 1

9 - Lifeproof case for my iPhone

While everyone else worried about their phones on the crossing, I didn't since my new case is waterproof! Works great!! Waterproof to 6 feet/2 meters but we didn't test this :-) Here it is on Amazon

10 - Cabin fans

Our Caframo fans have been great - especially on a passage when we don't want to open hatches. Its hot sailing the trade wind route and the fans helped us keep cool…

Raymarine Plotter Upgrade

Is it time to upgrade your plotter? Sounds too expensive?

How about doing an upgrade that is absolutely free and just takes a few minute? Many of the new Multifunction displays (MFDs) allow you to upgrade them with new versions and new functionality as it becomes available. Our Raymarine MFDs e95 + e125 9 and 12 inch units respectively have just had an upgrade and I am very impressed. There is a big jump in functionality, especially if you sail in US waters and we are heading there in the next few weeks. Apparently the NOAA charts are now available to run on the plotters, and even better they are free - both as raster and vector versions.

The process is quite simple these days. No visiting a dealer, rewiring, or anything. You just need a reasonable internet connection as you will be downloading the files. In this case the main file is 700MB or so. However I also will want to download the new charts for the US waters. These are also free but are larger at 2GB for the whole shebang! So far I have just done the software upgrade - not the charts. Perhaps I’ll try it out at dinner tonight at Saba Rock :-) with their excellent free wifi?

Raymarine Lighthouse upgrade

Once downloaded, you can follow along with a simple procedure (here) . Basically put the files on a blank microSD chip, backup your user data from the MFD, and then boot with the microSD in the slot. The boot / upgrade process went quickly and had no hiccups. Clear the cache, then reinstall my user data (waypoints and tracks) and "Bob's your uncle" the new "Lighthouse" software is up and running. Repeat for additional plotters.

I'll be testing the new software the next few days before we head off on our passage to the Bahamas in the next couple of days.

And as soon as I get a decent internet connection I will download all those free US charts that now work on my Ray MFDs. Cool!

Whichever system you use, it might be worth checking if there is an upgrade available. The modern systems offer these upgrades but if you don't check you might be missing out on a sweet deal!

Have you updated your plotter software recently?

The Miracle of Radar

On passage from St Martin to the British Virgin Islands…
SXM Radar2
We are up in the dark and raising anchor before dawn. It is a Caribbean morning with a salt tang blowing a flukey breeze off the beach and St Martin's distinctive lagoon behind. The high bulk of the island to the east hides the orange glow of sunrise and shades us from the trade-winds. Five large cruise ships are approaching from the southwest, steaming past us toward Philipsburg. It will be busy in St Martin today. But I am looking forward to a day at sea after our time in this bustling island.
SXM Radar1
Morning reveals a grey sky, a high grey dome of clouds with isolated heavier clouds and showers marching out of the east. Perhaps we won't have our normal trade-winds today. I flip on the radar to take a look at the approaching weather. I normally use the chart mode to see showers with the radar overlaid on the plotter in purple. Zooming out to see the surrounding islands I put the radar on its 48 mile range and there are the showers, a nice soft purple splotch coming up past St Barths . Over the next few minutes I plot the shower putting waypoints on it's centre until I see its approximate path. Looks like it will skim past us to the north, so I adjust course a bit further south to see if we can avoid it altogether.

What a miracle that we can have this technology of Radar on our boats! Radar is a system that uses transmitted radio waves to determine the range and direction of objects. Radar (from RAdio Detection And Ranging) sprung from 1900's technology and came into effective use in World War II, where it was influential in the outcome of some major battles. German aircraft were detected approaching for the Battle of Britain in 1940, and at sea the first ships with Radar had a huge advantage against those without. Imagine opposing fleets on a dark mediterranean night, one with radar picking out the opposition, and the other essentially blind!

Today's modern radars benefit from dramatic improvements on this technology. Our current unit (an 18 inch Raymarine 418HD radome) uses a miserly 60 watts. A detailed image of reflected targets up to 48 miles away but using just the power of a 60 watt lightbulb! By concentrating that power into short bursts we can shine a 4000 watt pulse and catch the reflection as far away at 48 miles!

Reduced visibility and working in the dark is another big advantage of Radar. With flukey winds we have a slow passage from St Martin 80 nm across the Anegada Passage and our planned arrival in Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands slips to 9 o'clock. We know the channel having done it several times, most recently just a few months earlier, otherwise we wouldn't attempt a night approach. But even with local knowledge and the weather clearing as we near Virgin Gorda it is very nice to have the radar on again, picking up small craft, and confirming the chart as you can see the island overlaid nicely in purple.

Note also the target showing as a purple dot on the top right of the screen above. The radar shows this boat is nearly a mile north of us, so we can keep an eye on him even though he is not properly lit and would otherwise be a bit of a worry. Another nice use of the radar!

Here are a few other uses for radar…

  • Foggy conditions - extremely good in this situation it is a huge stress-reliever.
  • Picking up buoys on approach in the dark or fog (set the radar to close range for this (our Raymarine radar has a "buoy mode" with tuning set for this)
  • Confirming chart data for new areas we haven't visited - you can see the chart lines up with the "real world" as shown by the radar.
  • Confirming AIS targets as the two will overlay revealing other non-AIS targets

Radar is an extremely powerful tool for the cruising sailor.

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A Plug for all your "devices"

Yes I have to put in a plug for all those iDevices we have on board! iPods, iPad and 2 iPhones, plus 4-5 other things that charge using a USB cable at 5Volts. I realized they were taking up most of our normal 230Volt outlets, some plugged in with adapters.

Then I saw this excellent small 12Volt plug that has 2 USB outlets built in. Its for sale at one of the local super-chandleries Budget Marine! Its made by Blue Seas who make many high quality electrical systems for boats.

USB Plug

It’s nice that it connects right into 12Volt so you don’t have to run an inverter and double-convert to run the special chargers. And its better than the typical cigarette charger since it has 2 outlets in one. It was just $29, so we bought 2!!

Blue Seas even lists on the specification that it has a small "parasitic" draw of 15ma. Parasitic draw is what it will use when plugged in but not in use. I am impressed that they list this since it is important - and nice and low compared to leaving a normal charger plugged in.

Now I’m going to go around the boat and count the number of devices we have on board that charges with a USB connection...

How many USB charged things do you have onboard??


Downwind Sailing - Preparation

For anyone planning a tradewind crossing of the Atlantic - Canary Islands to the Caribbean - planning for downwind sailing is important. Heading east to west in the tropics generally means the wind at your back, and this will also be the case on passages across the Pacific. So we have to prepare for 3000 miles of (hopefully) downwind sailing, and we haven’t done that with this boat. In the next few weeks I will be setting her up to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.

The Downwind Rig

Prevailing winds on the standard transatlantic route will be almost dead astern. Sailing with the wind this far aft means we need to pole out a headsail. While bigger crews might try to fly a spinnaker, we use a jib or genoa. Some boats even have two poles allowing them to put out two headsails. The twizzle rig is another alternative... google it ;-)

Here is our basic setup - main well out (with a preventer) and genoa poled out opposite.

Pole Setup

In this picture you can see our pole downhaul running up to the pole end from near the shrouds. This has worked well enough for occasional use but it is better to have a foreguy. This will be a line running from the foredeck back to the pole end. That’s a project I am working on now, putting a block on the foredeck and running the rigging for it back to the cockpit. I figure $200-300 for this. We already have a nice pole topping lift and a very nice system controlling the pole inboard end on its track.


Genoa sheet

In our case we have an inboard genoa track, so the sheet rubs on the lifeline when it is poled out. This won’t be good for a long crossing so I set it up running out the gate. This isn’t a very good long term solution so I plan to run the sheet aft t a block on the aft corner. This will reduce stress and friction as well.

Balance the helm

For many long downwind miles, the autopilot will be steering and we want to be sure we have the boat as well balanced as possible for easy steering (actually we would want this also if we were hand steering). Today wasn’t a bad day to test since tide against the swell was producing a bit of a roll. The transatlantic will be rolly since you are generally running in 15-20 knots with seas astern. In our experience these can be 2-3 meters. I find our very deep keel steadies the roll quite a bit. We draw over 10 feet with the keel down and that does seem to help. Also the twin rudders seem to make her track very well downwind. For our previous boat Two-Step (which was a full keeler info here) it was tougher to balance downwind. I found we had to reduce the mainsail to double reef so she didn’t slew around. This effectively moved the centre of effort forward so she didn’t want to round up.

Autopilot Setting

Reduce the autopilot settings to match the seas and use minimum power. We have a Raymarine Autopilot system tat has a "response" setting. By default this is set at 5 every time you turn on the breaker. I generally reduce that number (making it less sensitive) and have been using a setting of 3. For rougher water the boat will naturally weave bit around her set course, so a higher setting just means the autopiot is doing more work correcting when the boat would come back anyway. I have been trying settings of 1 and 2 and they seem to work very well. You might try adjusting the settings on your autopilot to see what you can get.


With our swept spreader rig we will need to watch chafe on the spreader ends. I will be adding chafe patches to the sail where it rubs on the spreaders. I will do this for the 1st and second reefs since we are likely to use these on the breezier days. Discs of the adhesive sailcl;oth about 20 cm in diameter work well and are easy to apply.

I also take a very close look at reefing lines, sheets and blocks etc to check for any small chafe. Over a long passage this can add up quickly to a bigger problem. This one passage will be more downwind miles than we have done so far in the 8000 miles we have sailed Distant Shores II.


The tradewind passage across to the Caribbean should be an enjoyable crossing. It will take between 2-3 weeks so time spent preparing for it is well worth it. And will help make it fun!

Season 2 - Equipment Roundup

Well it’s been a great sailing season! We have never been so far north! We sailed almost 4 thousand miles and had a chance to fine-tune the new boat! Here is a round-up of new gear that stood out from this season of sailing!

Feathering Prop - Autoprop - Last year I lamented the lack of a feathering or folding prop since I felt we lost too much speed with the big fixed 3-blade prop. So this year we changed to an Autoprop. What a difference! Getting rid of a fixed prop has to be the first thing to do to improve performance. It’s like towing around a bucket. Dollar for dollar it must be the best way to get more speed. The Autoprop automatically adjusts its pitch depending on speed through the water and seems to work quite well.

Downwind Pole - Selden Carbon Pole - We have always had a downwind pole and use it to pole out one of the headsails when sailing right downwind. We hadn’t got around to installing it when the boat was new so we added it this spring. It’s a carbon pole and even though it is quite large it is easy to lift with one hand! We used it 6-7 times this summer. Mostly it was in quite light air when we might otherwise have had to motor. Nice to have it back!

Anchor tackle - Rocna 33KG + 80 meters chain - Norway this summer meant some very deep anchorages. We anchored in 12-18 meters of water a few times. Yikes! It was great having long chain and knowing we would be fine. And as usual the Rocna set beautifully. It is a great all around anchor.

Autopilot Remote - Raymarine Smart Remote - This is a little wireless remote to control the autopilot. It also includes a repeater for all the basic data (speed, depth, wind, heading, VMG etc). On cold or rainy days it is nice to stand up under the dodger (sprayhood) and steer with the remote. Sheryl can take it up to the bow when we are anchoring and check the depth before she drops the hook.

Electronic Charts - Navionics Charts + Apps - Electronic charting has come a long way in a few years. The newest charts are amazingly accurate, and now include lots of other data. Aerial photos of harbours we are approaching are a very nice addition. All tide data is also included so when we sailed in the Brittany coast and the tide exceeded 8 meters we could quickly find a tide station to check where we stood. Much quicker and easier than using printed tide table. Plus I have to recommend the Navionics App!! We have this on our iPhone and it’s amazing. All chart data, plus tides for the British Isles is included in an app for around $20!! How could you NOT buy this. It works for iPhone and there is a HiRes version for iPad. It also comes for Android devices. It’s great for planning (and even serves as a back-up for our chartplotter.)

Fogbound! Crossing the Channel

The passage began with a beautiful afternoon departure. Passing the castle guarding the entrance to Falmouth harbour we pointed the bows towards France. There was a light southerly breeze and a forecast for a quiet night.

The channel crossing is around 100 miles from Falmouth to the Rade de Brest and we needed to reach the strong tides of the Chenal du Four (at the corner of France near Brest) near dawn when they would be in our favour. This means crossing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world in the dark. Then the fog rolled in!

I don’t think we have ever seen a thicker fog! We could just see the bow of the boat 40 feet away, but nothing more. Our navigation lights created pools of light in the fog and mist settled on everything. For the next 8 hours we could see nothing past our own decks.

I have written before about AIS and how much we like having it. WELL!! If ever a device paid its keep it was that night. We could see every ship out there and they could see us as well. We did not have to worry about the shipping lanes.
We were crossing before the start of the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) which directs shipping around the corner of France so were not obligated to cross at a direct right angle. However our course was at right angles anyway. And when shipping is so nice and organized it is best to cross it quickly and be away from the area as soon as possible.

Of course not all boats have an AIS transponder. So our biggest worry in the thick fog is smaller boats such as fishing boats and other yachts. As we were leaving the coast there was another sailboat in sight and he DID have an AIS. But naturally there might be others. We have used the radar often in broad daylight to check how it works at picking up smaller boats. It is good to practice with the equipment. I find that we usually see a reasonable echo for small sailboats around 3 miles away. Over here in Europe most boats have a radar reflector mounted up on the mast - the most popular by far is the ones that look like a white 6 inch diameter fender. But even when I can’t see a reflector in their rigging, we usually pick up sailboats 3 miles away. Certainly 1-2 miles even small day-boats show up as a nice target. Sheryl is particularly good at reading the radar, noticing a faint target that only appears occasionally will then reappear in the same spot after a couple more rotations of the scanner.

The fog lay like a heavy wool blanket over the sea. There was no moon but during Sheryl’s watch from 2200 to 0100 the fog would occasionally clear above the mast head to reveal a few stars. But still at deck level we were rolling along in a thick air, cut into precise sector slices by our nav lights. We were not yet in the shipping lanes so there were no ships during this watch. Sheryl saw two targets on radar, one crossing our bow at two miles distance. With worrying radar targets, we set a few waypoints on it’s position to mark their track. One of the targets must have been a fishing boat nearly stationary as the waypoints showed it almost still.

There were also a number of larger fishing boats, thankfully all running AIS. In one case, I was just altering course to avoid it when it turned directly towards us just 2 miles away.

"Distant Shores Distant Shores, This is fishing vessel Eruva. We are fishing and are just about to alter course and I will be travelling at 045 degrees. Could you give me four cables searoom astern."

"Eruva, Distant Shores, roger we will alter course to pass your stern by half a mile"

What a great recommendation for the AIS technology. In fog we both could see each other clearly, and he knew our boat name to give us a call.

The fog cleared by dawn and we arrived in France at Camaret!

AIS Transponders by Raymarine

Navigating - Raymarine, iPod & iPad

Navigating safely has been getting better and easier. Recently we got an iPad with GPS and Navionics charts and I’m looking forward to trying it out on the upcoming cruise.

Last year’s cruise with the new boat we had two new instruments to make navigation easier. The Raymarine E90Wide plotters were great! We have one right at the helm in a pod, and the other up under the dodger (sprayhood) as we use that position at sea. These plotters are a hybrid using touch screen but also have buttons. I loved the buttons and used them most of the time but on rainiest days sometimes switched to the buttons. Often we found ourselves using both. Buttons are convenient for zooming, and then dragging the screen to a new position. Nice!

The plotter at the helm is often right in the sun and this highlights one of the biggest advantages in my mind about a proper marine MFD (multifunction display). The E90W is completely readable in even bright sun. Try that with your laptop! It is also dimmable right down to almost nothing for use at night. It won’t ruin your night vision but you can still see the screen. It it completely waterproof and ready for tough marine conditions like a rough day on the Kattegat as seen here...

As a fun test I got the Navionics App for my iPod last spring. So we have had a full season cruising and have got to recommend them! We got the Apps for UK/Holland and found it a great tool. It has the tides as well as the full charts for the area and I often found myself using the App to plan our departure times and course - especially in the trickier tides of the Channel Islands. The screen is too small for use with serious navigating but it still had one interesting use. Because it is so small and I always carry my iPod around, I often found myself using the charts when comparing notes with other cruisers. We might be meeting up on someones boat and discussing upcoming destinations. I could pull out my iPod and put on a recommended waypoint or anchorage. Very cool!!

Now we have an iPad I have added the Apps for it too (available in HD for the bigger screen). It will be fun to try this out on the next cruise! I am certain it will it will be a useful addition to our navigation equipment.

Equipment Roundup

Having the new boat has been a great opportunity to get that new gear I always thought would be a good idea. I thought I would do a round-up of the equipment now that we have had a year to try it out. So here goes... in no particular order

Electric heads - Tecma - they have been brilliant! No breakages and no servicing required yet. I had thoroughly disliked our Jabsco heads previously. They needed constant maintenance, required way too much pumping to operate and frequently seemed to malfunction. There had to be a better way and the Tecma electric head is perfect for us. I have ordered a spares kit for them (not cheap!) but it is well worth it. I know purists will suggest an electric toilet is somehow “not proper” but if all fails we always have a bucket...

Forced Air Heating System - Espar - Wonderful! Nothing beats coming down below to a toasty warm boat after a cold/wet sailing day. The Espar has just worked flawlessly. It does have a small and slightly bizarre control panel that does theoretically allow it to be turned on and off at preprogrammed intervals but we haven’t used that option. We just turn it on and set it for 1-3 hours as needed. Great!

Plotters - Raymarine’s new E90Wide X 2 units. These are the new touchscreen hybrids that have full control either with touch or buttons. The plotter is the heart of the boats navigation system and the E-wides are excellent. I really like the touch screen ability including a popup onscreen keyboard to name waypoints etc. These units also come with a huge number of built-in charts - another big savings over the old style. But adding the Navionics charts is great also since it gives you harbour info, tides and currents plus aerial shots of harbours if you don’t have a cruising guide. The picture above was shot leaving Amsterdam at night. The plotter up on deck working perfectly as usual. Bright enough to be easily read on the brightest day, it also goes right down for night use. With the radar and AIS overlaid we can see ships that might otherwise be hard to spot against the lights of the city.

Electric winch - Lewmar conversion - This was a lifesaver! We sailed a couple of months then added the electric winch so we can compare before/after. The 49 means everything is 20-30% bigger and raising the mainsail was a tough slog. On the 42 I pulled the main up to just 1 meter from the masthead then put it on the winch. With the bigger 49-footer the same effort means I can pull it with 4-5 meters left to go. So I have to winch the sail 4-5 times as far. The electric winch handles it easily. It also meant we had no trouble going up the mast. Sheryl can easily pull me up and that meant we could get more shots from the masthead!! Depending on your boat, an electric winch could make sense. Even just adding one as I did could change your sailing a lot.

LED Lighting - Imtra - A revelation! Finally LED lighting that works and lasts! We can now afford to turn on any lights we light. On the darker winter days we can run all the lights we want. Using perhaps 1/4 the power of the old lights. The lights are designed from the ground up as LED lights rather than adding replacement bulbs to conventional fixtures. This means they can build in a nice heat sink for the power circuits. I am sure they will last for many years giving us a cozy well lit boat!

This is just the start... now I am rolling I want to go through more tomorrow - anchor, engine etc...

Raymarine News

The Boat Show is always a good place to get a first look at the new gear that has hit the market, and electronics is always changing quickly. Two years ago when we were outfitting our Southerly 42 it seemed we had such an advanced system! But these last two years has seen a big advance in technology, especially with Radar and chartplotters.

This year at Southampton I got a tour of the new Raymarine “Hybrid-Touch” chartplotters. I have always liked the idea of a touch screen for the obvious convenience, but been leery of using one on a boat with saltwater and spray around. The conductivity of saltwater drips or spray on the screen would make the touch screen think you were touching it. A great idea for an enclosed bridge of a large yacht but not practical for outdoor helm stations.

Raymarine has solved the problem with a very clever mix of the two technologies, hence the hybrid. It looks like the former “C” series plotters with buttons for all functions, BUT it also has a touch interface that can do the same functions. You can switch back and forth between the two seamlessly, press a button then touch the screen. Very neat! But for safety and usability in spray or rough conditions you can deactivate the touch screen.

Check out the demo on their website!


Radar is the other big breakthrough. In the last couple of years radar technology has advanced dramatically. “Digital” and “Hi-Definition” are not just marketing slogans. Advances in technology has allowed the brains of the radar to be moved up into the scanner itself, and for it to be much smarter about sending out and receiving the pulses radar uses to see the world. The new Digital radar means the whole radar function is done up in the scanner, then the final image is sent down by a thin ethernet cable instead of the thick bundle of signal cables of last year’s radars (those cables were as thick as a thumb!).

- much improved definition of targets
- smart scanner automatically adapts to surrounding targets
- better detection of weak targets such as rain so should be able to detect a ship within rain
- saves weight and difficulty with cabling

We are very keen to get out on the water and try these new technologies! I will report back!!

Electronics - Radar, Chart Plotter, Instruments and Pilot

I have been in the middle of planning the instruments for the new boat. Most of it is sorted out now so I thought I'd give you an overview of the (nearly) final system.

First, regular viewers of our TV show will know I installed a Raymarine C80 and associated system a few years ago. To say I have been happy with the C80 is a huge understatement! I mean, all the Raymarine stuff works great, the autopilot was strong and quick and handled Two-Step very well, and the instruments were excellent too. But the C80 Plotter was a revelation!! It has an 8.4" screen which was a huge inprovement over our last plotter (with a small 5" screen). But the best feature is the integration with the other components of the system. I had not realized what it could mean to have information from the wind, speed, autopilot and especially the radar communicated to the plotter.

  • Wind: the C80 can display the wind as a yellow arrow blowing toward your boat - on the chart. This means you can instantly see the actual wind direction on the chart. For sailors this means all the calculations on which is the favoured tack is much easier.
  • Speed: naturally the plotter knows the boat's speed from the GPS, but it also gets the speed through the water from the knot-log sender. So the plotter can calculate what currents are affecting the boat as well. If you have entered a waypoint then it can also calculate the progress you are making toward that. The C80 can display a small arrow showing the direction of the current/leeway.
  • Radar: Here is my favourite integration feature of the Raymarine plotters. The radar image can be overlaid on top of the chart! It is actually quite difficult to do this from a technical point of view. On a big ship the heading doesn't change much, so the radar image can be simply set up to line up with the heading of the ship. But on a sailboat in perky conditions, the heading is changing quite a lot. So in the time it takes for one rotation of the radar scanner, the heading has changed. Without getting into too much detail, it is DARNED DIFFICULT to plot the radar image on top of the chart. But the Raymarine system does a good job. So good in fact that it can make accurate calculations on a single radar target... which leads to my next favourite feature!
  • MARPA: this is really a result of the radar integration but deserves a heading all to itself since it is SO COOL! MARPA means mini automatic radar plotting aid. This is an amazing tool and really made us feel safer at sea whenever there were big ships around, and especially at night. Basically it allows you to identify a ship on the radar and have the MARPA track that target - giving you the direction and speed of the target. Marpa will draw an arrow on the chart showing the course of the ship! It also calculates the ship's speed, and whether it will pose a threat to you! It really is hard to explain just how great this feature is. I have featured it a couple of times in our TV show since I am really convinced it is a huge safety and confidence plus for anyone who gets out in open water where there are ships. Very cool! Here is the link to a good description of this on Raymarine's website For this to work well you should have a gyro compass - luckily one is built into the G series of Raymarine Pilots. We had the S2G on Two-Step and will get it again on the new boat. Bringing us to the next point...
  • Autopilot: the plotter gets exact course and heading info from the autopilot. Put a waypoint on the plotter, press goto, and the autopilot can be engaged to steer along the track to that exact point. This means it will use the plotter and GPS to insure it doesn't deviate from the line due to currents and leeway. This is not possible if the autopilot doesn't have some level of integration with the GPS. Of course the best is to have a plotter since you can then plot the position visually on the chart - and just go there.

So here's the list of electronics we are getting for the new boat.

Chart-plotters - One E120 for the nav station. I never wanted a plotter in the nav station on Two-Step since you can't see out. But the new boat has a pilot house and it will be just perfect there. But I also want one outside for when we're sailing. So we are also getting a E80 - looks exactly like our trusted C80 but is able to network with the E120 below. This means we just have one Radar antenna, and one chart chip with the navigation charts on, but can display the info on both displays. This is a picture of the nav station on a Southerly 42 like ours with the Raymarine E120 in the nav station. I am still trying to figure out where to put the E80 display. It will be in the cockpit somewhere but I'm not sure where. My plan is to wait until we have sailed a bit to see where it would be best. Two obvious spots are up under the dodger (sprayhood) where its visible from the main cockpit, or back on the table where it would be easier for someone at the helm to see.

Autopilot - Raymarine S2G Smartpilot with two control stations. One in the nav station as pictured above and one at the helm. We are also getting a remote for the pilot in case we are sitting forward from the helm.

Radar - 2KW radome will be installed up the mast. (Raymarine also). This can do the Marpa functions since we have the Gyro series autopilot controller - S2G above.

Instruments - Raymarine ST60+ series wind, speed and depth separate instruments. Also a graphic display which can repeat any of the info on the "bus". This will be at the nav station - although strictly speaking the E120 plotter can provide the same info and more - its convenient to have it already up on a dedicated repeater.

Lifetag - Raymarines new safety MOB system. More on this in a future blog.

AIS - WAY COOL!! I have been so looking forward to having AIS. More in a special AIS blog!

Thats it for now. I'm off to plan the battery/genset etc.