Mustang Sally
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Navigational Summary


Navigating down the west coast is pretty simple. Keep the shore to port and the ocean to starboard.  So why sweat all the navigational equipment?    Check the correct answer below.

    1.  Because it fun to play with cool gadgets?
2.  Because the coast guard requires them?
3,  Because sooner or later one has to come back to land?
  If you chose 3,  you are right.  But number 1 is not totally wrong.

To keep from finding the hard stuff (land) by surprise Mustang Sally uses a variety of means to keep the boat on course and the current position well defined.  Below a list of the gear and method:
    Hourly "system checks".  About once an hour we go over all the key operating and position information and confirm all is OK or correct any deficiencies.  This is an Excel spreadsheet that we update each hour.  You can download the template sheet here.  
    Latitude and Longitude tracking via our GARMIN 210 GPS MAP.  It is only accurate to plus or minus 50 feet - but that is good enough for the girls I sail with!  Sally's two back units are a Garmin GPS 72 and a GPS 50.  Should be good enough?

NO!  Just north of Santa Cruz, California the 210 failed.  So I fired up the backup GPS 72. It couldn't get a position either.  Both were reporting poor signals.  "Uh oh"  I thought ... "Was Uncle Sam blasting away at some new terrorist haven?"   Rubbing my hands together in worry then start with dead reckoning.

Barely got going with the DR routine and both GPS's jumped back to life, maybe 45 minutes later.

    Nobeltec Visual Navigator provides electronic charting.   The system and vector charts are top of the line.  The charts are expensive and the system has some gottcha's:  
  1. Nobeltec support sucks, often takes a week to get in touch with an inexperienced non-boating nerd,  who's best suggestion is to re-boot and try again.  Pretty pathetic.
  2. Under XP, if the software crashes and you modify your route before the software crash, the program will automatically restart,  using the un-modified route.  Very serious if you use the software in conjunction with your autopilot, as you may not even notice that the software has crashed and restarted.  Is this what got the BC Ferry?
  3. The data base corrupts regularly. That throws the program into a recovery loop that can only be avoided by using task manager to kill the software and then deleting the data base.  When you delete the 'database' the program looses all routes, waypoints, etc.  Note what Nobeltec calls a database is in reality a simple text file.

Nobeltec can use any raster charts.  The company provides some helpful navigational photos and the coast guard charts are also interesting to provide another view.

The weather overlays are also useful for large scale planning.  Where available I primarily use local weather forecasts for coastal navigation.

Prior to each leg,  I use the Nobeltec software to plot the course then analyze in detail to insure we are well clear of all dangers. As we travel, I monitor position and course continually.

While underway, most often we run with the Comnav autopilot steering down the plotted course.  The Connav unit requires manual adjustments to get the best steering response, power usage, activity combination in different wind/sea conditions.  In close quarters hand steering is required.

We can steer the boat using the Nobeltec software and the autopilot,  but doing so is rather clumsy.  Most often we use the autopilot controls for dodging debris or to alter course temporarily. 

When sailing, the autopilot steers a better course for the wind when it is steering to a magnetic heading.

    Nobeltec Radar provides electronic eyes that see when I can't.  The radar overlays on the charts are very helpful for learning radar.  Also working with the radar when visibility is good helps to learn what it can and can't do.  When it works it is great!

Nobeltec's radar is supplied by Sitex, who are based in Florida.  Sitex get the radar units  from the Japanese Manufacturer - Koden.  A little further down the food chain than I like.

Radar support from Nobeltec is pathetic.  Sitex has better support, but Sitex had trouble executing a repair for me.  Took about 6 weeks to do a repair from Mexico.  For 2 of those weeks, the unit sat on the Sitex shipping dock.  As it was a warrantee repair,  Sitex said they would pay 1/2 the shipping.  But when the shipping department found out the unit was bound for Mexico - it was no way Jose!   Everything stopped until I chased them down and found they would not honor the return shipping.

    A Dell Optiplex Computer hides in a compartment in the navigation station and provides the main computing power for Nobletec and the boat.  I chose this unit for its reliability, low cost, small size and 12 volt power feed requirement.  Downside is the 6.5 amp power requirement.  
    A 17 inch VarTech monitor provides visual output from the computer.  This unit is 12 volt, has a great industrial strength display that can be read in all conditions.  It draws about 2.5 amps depending on brightness settings.  
    A Comnav 1101 Autopilot operates independently or via direction from the Nobeltec software.  95% of the time,  this unit steers the boat in "navigation" mode.  In this mode the autopilot steers the defined track that we configure using the Nobeltec charting software.   
    A Mitsubishi Notebook computer is carried as a backup for the Dell computer. 
Speaking of backups - I have a replacement disk that I keep loaded with the current software and data.  I can change out the disk in about 5 minutes.  I also have two additional backup disks on which I keep redundant copies of the software and data. I update the data backups every week and the software once a month.
    A Raytheon depth sounder is essential for confirming positions.  
    A pair of Steiner Binoculars with a built in compass is great for taking hand bearing.  
    A Platismo binnacle compass is used occasionally for steering on the ocean.  
    A backup Raytheon Wheel Pilot is also installed and configured to work either independently or under control of the Nobeltec software.  
    Mustang Sally also carries a plastic sextant.  If all the electronics blows out,  I should be able to determine a position accurate to 5 miles or so.