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Thread: Don't forget the Skipper

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
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    Default Don't forget the Skipper

    I'll add this little anecdote hoping that it will be of help to first-time LongPac participants.

    For those who will be attempting the LongPac for the first time, don't forget to focus on skipper preparation too.

    Beginning in January of 2007 with a focus on the LongPac I spent a great deal of time with the boat...new dodger, wind vane, emergency rudder, AIS, life raft, storm sails, etc. I managed to do the SSS races in the Bay, but rarely got outside the Gate for some extended ocean sailing. And nowhere in my preparations did I fully appreciate how difficult it would be to continue to point the boat offshore in the face of seasickness, fatigue, and cold.

    The 2007 LongPac was my first. I retired after the first day due to seasickness. After the race I kept trying get out to that 200-mile green line. I tried and failed a second and third time...also due to sea sickness. Finally after getting some prescription meds (Scopolamine) from my Doc I actually made it on my fourth attempt.

    For first-time ocean racers I think it worth some time to make sure that you are physically able to stand up to the conditions that you will face. Also spend some time thinking about when and under what conditions you might actually retire from the race. For me I retired after the 9:00 am role call on the second day of the race. Within half an hour of starting the engine and heading home I was feeling much better. I am glad that I turned back when I did but I also regret not spending the time before race day to better understand my own reaction to the combined affects of seasickness, fatigue, and cold.

    The LongPac is a serious offshore race. To be sure, the boat must be ready. But the race also places unusual physical and mental demands on the skipper. Take the time to be sure that you are up to the task.
    Richard
    Libations Too

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    Default

    Among the bazillion other things to think about, don't forget that it can get flippin' cold out there. Sure it's the middle of the summer, but don't kid yourself.

    Plan and prepare for a very disciplined sleep regimen. It takes about 20-25 minutes for that big container ship or barge towing lumber down from Seattle to Long Beach to A.) appear on the horizon, and then B.) squash you into atoms. Any sleep longer than 20-25 minutes is a calculated risk.

    On both the 2007LongPac and on my subsequent qualifier in October 2007 I encountered ships both coming and going in a lane about 80 miles out. In all three cases if I hadn't been awake, I would have been at significant risk of collisions, yes, it was THAT close. In my return back to Morro Bay in 2004 I had to change course a o-dark-thirty, bleary eyed, stressed, in 40 knots of wind and big seas and mentally thrashed, in order to avoid a collision with lights that were way, way way up there in the air. In other words, I was kind of looking UP at them, not just OUT at them. Not good. No, not good at all.

    Figure out a sleep plan. You have to get sleep, but you've got to discipline yourself around that issue.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  3. #3
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    Sep 2007
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    3,031

    Default

    My SHTP qualifier (same course as the LongPac) went well but I went too thin on sleep time. Approaching the Gate at night with a front coming in, I was looking at a distant gap between two large, dark objects and thought it was the Gate, so I headed towards it. Before long I saw breakers - I was actually heading for two rocks below the Pt. Bonita lighthouse. The chartplotter was right in front of me on the hatchboard - my brain just wasn't telling me to look at it.
    _________________________

    Regarding Alan's comment about ships, I just checked again on the simplest, cheapest AIS solution. At $261 (today's exchange rate), there's just no reason not to install one of these:

    AIS "Radar" from AllGadgets in the UK

    At the bottom of the web page are any accessories you might need (I bought their cradle bracket for bulkhead mounting). They'll ship it from the UK and you'll have it in less than a week. I've had this unit since 2005 (including two SHTP's) and it has worked flawlessly with almost no power draw.

    You can spend lots more to get fancier, interface with your laptop, etc. but this minimum, stand-alone unit will wake you up when a ship comes into range, tell you where it is, and give you the information needed to call them. Just hook it up to a VHF antenna and your GPS's NMEA output.

    I hate "requirements creep" but SSS should consider making these mandatory.
    Last edited by BobJ; 02-12-2009 at 03:22 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default

    I sure like the idea of AIS, and I borrowed that same unit that Bob pointed out, from George MacKay for my SHTP. I interfaced it with a Garmin standalone unit (I think it was a GM152-color) with an internal antenna. The GPS got strong signals all the way across to Hawaii, so that wasn't the problem.

    I hooked the AIS unit to my masthead VHF antenna, figuring that once we were more than about 15 miles from the Golden Gate, I wouldn't be using VHF any more, and if I really needed to use it, it was a 30 second job to unhook it and plug in the VHF radio antenna.

    The ONLY ship that the system ever detected was one that came within about a mile and a half, possibly two miles on the first day. I ran the unit for the first 5-6 days....nothing. I even saw ships a couple of times, checked the AIS and there was nothing on the screen. Ergo (pun intentional) I have less than ultimate confidence in the AIS system.

    That said, lots of other guys have spectacularly great results with the system, so there you go. Whatever the case, that's a cheap investment in something that will potentially save your life in what's got to be one of the more gruesome, frightening, and unfortunately (apparently) increasingly likely scenarios while shorthanding.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    San Anselmo, CA
    Posts
    20

    Default

    Bob, thank you for this info and the link. I see that the AIS unit equires it's own antenna. I also noticed it needs to be at leats a meter away from the VHF antenna. Where did you mount your second antenna?

    Sorry, scratch that. Just read Alans description. Got it. On second thought ... did you mount a separate antenna?
    Last edited by SSS.ScottP; 02-12-2009 at 05:36 PM.
    CAL Twenty-Nine

  6. #6
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    It's pretty easy to tell if the AIS is working - turn it on in the Bay. In the Estuary it looks like the screen has the measles.

    It sounds like you might have had an antenna connection issue. Also make sure the GPS output is set to NMEA, not Garmin's proprietary output (the default).


    SSatSixty, I use a separate VHF antenna on the stern pulpit for the AIS, which is also available as an emergency VHF antenna if I lose the rig (masthead antenna). This seems to be the most popular way to do it and from what I've read, it doesn't affect the AIS's range much.
    Last edited by BobJ; 04-26-2009 at 09:13 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Posts
    51

    Default

    I have less than ultimate confidence in the AIS system
    Your experience does sound like an antenna problem. On the other hand, the receiver in the "AIS Radar" unit does appear to be somewhat less sensitive than some of the other receivers. Using my SR-162 AIS receiver and a short VHF antenna on the stern rail I would always detect ships before they appeared on the horizon. Previously I used one of those "emergency" VHF antennas (the one with the suction cup) stuck to a deck hatch cover, and the sensitivity was awful. I now have no faith in that particular emergency antenna, and instead now have a real VHF whip that I can clamp to the rail.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    Vancouver British Columbia, Canada
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    Default

    Not sure if this applies to the receive-only units as well, but when I installed my Class B AIS unit on the boat I was aware of the fact that to optimize performance the dedicated VHF antenna had to be either purchased specifically for, or 'tuned' to frequencies used by AIS system - which are slightly different than the 'regular' ones.

    Not really al that critical, but I imagine that if you had one that was WAAAAY out of whack it might inhibit performance.

    So, anyway, I put up my old back-up antenna and if it didn't seem to work all that well, the plan was to 'tune' it with a pair of side-cutters 'til it worked better. But it was fine as it was

    Jim/Haulback

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    521

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by BobJ View Post
    I just checked again on the simplest, cheapest AIS solution. At $261 (today's exchange rate), there's just no reason not to install one of these:
    AIS "Radar" from AllGadgets in the UK
    Bob, thanks for the lead. That's an amazing price: the same unit (as far as I can tell) is over $500 at Defender.

    I'm on it.

  10. #10
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    Sep 2007
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Critter View Post
    Bob, thanks for the lead. That's an amazing price: the same unit (as far as I can tell) is over $500 at Defender.

    I'm on it.
    Yep, if you want the same unit with Si-Tex's name on it, Defender has it for $579:

    http://www.defender.com/product.jsp?...8569&id=674834
    Last edited by BobJ; 02-19-2009 at 01:36 PM. Reason: Defender's price went up!

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