Tag Archives: WIFI

AIS Now Being Served In The Cockpit (sans wires)

Finally!

Finally!

That’s my Droid sitting there with the same image as the laptop. Well actually that’s not just an image, it is the laptop streaming content to my Droid and vice versa. We now have the ability to see and control our AIS information (and other info such as XM Weather, GPS diagnostics, etc.) from the laptop in the Nav Station with any Android device anywhere within range of our on-board router — about three boat lengths. I now have a good reason to buy an Android tablet — screen size. This arrangement is much less complicated than our original arrangement.

All that was required was the Splashtop Personal app on the Droid and a streaming application on the laptop. Since these devices are on the same wirelesss network (logged in on the same router) the service is free. And if you wanted to do this from a separate network, from anywhere, it’s cheap. Splashtop can service Google Android Devices, iPad, iPhone/iPod, Mac, Windows, Win 8/RT & WinPhone.

If I discover any problems, I’ll post them here, but with 15 million users, this is not a junkyard app.

WiFi Antennas and Tidal Fluctiation

AntennaPatternsMost WiFi installations are designed for short distances and fixed and stable environments. Most cruisers are interested in longer ranges and operate from moving (even if anchored, moored, or slipped) and unstable platforms (pitch and roll). When setting up a WiFi antenna/booster for this reality, it is useful to know when it comes to antenna gain,  more can result in nothing.

RangeAntennas are rated by decibels (dBi) — power gain — usually referenced to an omnidirectional* antenna. When increasing antenna dBi from “2” at constant transmit power, this loosely translates to range improvements shown. This range comes at the expense of reducing the vertical width of the central beam of energy coming from the antenna. See top graphic.

Where tides are concerned, let’s assume the shore-side provider wanted things to stay dry, and the antenna to “see” as far as possible. In our case, at high tide, the shore WiFi antennas (yellow dot below) for our dock will be about ten feet higher than our boat antenna. Given the picture above, the half angles of 12.5°, 15°, and 20° are worth considering, if one’s boat is close to the shore antenna, it is possible to be below these angles as the tide drops. In our hurricane hole marina, the angles and antenna geometry create the picture below:

Good

High Tide Antenna Beams (Red arrow is tide range.)

Low Tide Beams

Low Tide Beams

Three things then happen.

  1. Connection via the main beam weakens due to edge attenuation (For us, when this happens, we get an 83% signal strength reduction that lasts about three hours).
  2. Reflections off masts, and rigging and hulls more effectively compete with the main signal for the connection,
  3. Connections through side-lobes† do the same thing — In sum, WiFi services slows, fades in and out, and some folks start firing up their 3&4G hotspots to stay online.

If the marina is using a higher gain antenna than 5 dBi:

  1. Avoid slips too close to the shore antenna — 120 feet out and beyond should work, however being farther out means more mast and rigging interference.
  2. Connect to a dock antenna farther away (on a different dock) for the same reason. Also possibly better from a mast and rigging standpoint.
  3. Keep a low gain antenna (2-3 db) on hand for situations where a close in slip is unavoidable or another shore antenna is unavailable.
  4. Hoist an antenna in the rigging to approximate the height of the shore antenna

* WiFi antennae can be referenced to dipoles, but those are rare in this application.

Well made 8db WiFi antenna pattern (vertical plane)

Well made 8db WiFi antenna pattern (vertical plane)

†Side lobes (teal color) are small beams of energy caused by the interaction of wave patterns coming from the antenna. More sophisticated antennas (e.g., radar) have very complex designs and management algorithms to eliminate these and their effects.

Posted via my Android Phone because lighting fried one of the marina’s routers and the overload on the survivor coupled with low tide made it the only working connection.

So What Does Cruising Cost? Dot Too

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Some Slips are Bare Bones

Renting a slip is a lot like renting a car. The advertised rate is much less than the price, and you have to add a lot of stuff to get the real number. And daily is the most expensive choice. [And I’ve ignored taxes.]

Most marinas have a daily rate which many will discount. The latest twist is some are only honoring their day discounts on the first day of your stay. Some have a weekly rate, and almost all have a monthly rate which may be discounted if you sign a contract.

Cost Elements Continue reading

So What Does Cruising Cost?

At the marina picnic last week, a bit of the discussion was about money (which pairs with boats like lemon juice with a paper cut). Most of it was about new stuff, broken stuff, too much stuff and other stuff. But there were a few newbies, and their questions and comments were mostly about cruising was more expensive than they expected. Whatever they expected.

Cruising costs what one lets it cost. Some keep costs down by good decision making and good discipline. Others keep costs down by sneaking into marinas/mooring fields and tying up for the night and leaving before the staff arrives in the morning. Fortunately, there are very few of these folks, but not few enough. Zero would be good.

But having listened to the discussion, I wondered what is it costing us? Not in dollars and cents – our Quicken has 29 sub accounts; we know where the money is going. But in terms of trade-offs, we hadn’t given that much thought.

After deductions for taxes and short-term savings, this is the picture:

RemovedPutting the house in rental and making it completely self supporting allowed us to reduce our budget by 15+ percent. So far renting has been a little better than break-even. If we had been able to sell it, it would have been net zero to budget since we have to buy another house eventually.

ReducedWe were able to reduce our expenses when it came to driving a car (ours or rented), and free WiFi and a masthead antenna saves us a bundle on bundled digital services. Special insurance is an artifact storing the car reducing the premiums.

UnchangedBut medical and insurance costs accounting for almost a fifth of our budget remained unchanged.

IncreasedOur fuel use (diesel, gas and propane) went way up, as did the unit prices for those things. Slip fees were a different matter. Our cost for an annual slip on the Chesapeake was high enough to reduce the budget impact of transient slip fees. But slip fee is not slip fee is not slip fee — it can be better to buy a month and leave early than go day-to-day or week-to-week — more in a coming post. [BoatUS membership helps significantly on marina fees.] Government fees, US and Bahamian, were in the round off. Cost of ownership went up because of our internal budget for wear and tear and because we found things that needed to be changed (the anchor for instance). Groceries went up because we bought pre-prepared items we wouldn’t have on land, and because we couldn’t shop sales and coupons like we used to. Dining out (of which we do less) went up because it’s more expensive the closer to water one gets whether the food is better or not.

added2If we had forgone storing household items, excess boat items such as the cushions for the aft cabin “garage,” a travel/emergency wardrobe and keeping a (paid for) car, we could have saved about 15+%. The trade on storage was what would it cost to replace particular items. In many cases the new cost less old salvage value made storage of quality items preferable since we knew from the outset this was a 3-4 year cruise. The trade between auto rentals and keeping the car was a wash. The other stuff was going to have to be stored in any case.

So after paying our taxes and increasing our short term savings, we allocated 12% less to cruising than we had to living ashore and owning a boat. So far we are ahead of budget. We spent less in the Bahamas. Because we won’t be going up to the Bay and back, we will save there as well.

But in the end, cruising costs what we let it cost.

Cap Goes for A Swim

27 April 2013, Powell Cay

Janet suggested we sail back to Green Turtle Cay to take advantage of the WiFi there and then sail up to Powell Cay while we had a few days of good winds for anchoring there. And so we did. We reached to GTC with staysail and main. From there to back NW to Powell we used the genoa only and kept a steady 7 knots on the meter. The weather was absolutely gorgeous; nearly clear sky, turquoise everywhere and 17 to 22 knots of wind. I know that seems a bit much, but after decades of Chesapeake light summer airs, it is nice to be sailing where, even when the wind is near 30kts, the configuration of these islands and cays can make for some great sailing. The breezier it gets, though, the fewer boats we see.

At our furl the sails point, my ball cap blew overboard on a gust. We hit the Man (cap) Over Board button on the chartplotter and fell off the wind to furl the genoa. That done, rather than follow the chartplotter course back to the cap’s assumed position, we motored slowly along the track we’d made. Two minutes later and 50 feet from the MOB waypoint, Janet hollered, “Slow Down,” and she scooped the hat from the water with a boat hook. The cap was bouncing along the hull.

Why didn’t we follow the chart plotter’s suggested course? It would have brought us back to the cap with the waves right on our bow — cap on crest, see it, cap in trough, miss it. By backtracking, we had the waves abeam and could look along the tops and troughs, increasing our chances of seeing the cap. Still, eagle eye (literally) Janet only saw the khaki at our bow! Usually I wear bright yellow caps — the better for waving at folks. But my favorite isn’t so bright any more, and I got it in Alaska. Time for a new one. Chicken with stuffing and green beans for dinner.

Unexpected Progress and “Why Fie!”

Leaving the Abacos and Hope Town is not easy. The place has a magnetic attraction for us. Much of that is built upon what these places don’t have*. But we had it all laid out – go to Marsh Harbour on Wednesday for a Thursday hair stylist appointment, hull scrub, and incidental provisioning and then start slowly making our way west as the winds and seas allowed.

First, Wednesday, Janet says, “I’m going to call the stylist and cancel, this can wait till the States.” OK. Two hours before high tide at 1200, we pulled away from the Hope Town Marina dock having said goodbye to all our new friends on the staff. Seriously, friends.

Fourday001We zigged and zagged our way out of the narrow harbour channel and shallow approach and set course for Point Set. There was more wind than we expected, but the water was about as rough as shag carpet – transparent turquoise carpet.

As we rounded Point Set, Janet said, “If it’s this benign in here, it can’t be too bad at the Whale.” I radioed an open query for information on the Whale, and a charter fishing captain came back with, “2-3 and nice.”

I called the marina we were headed for and canceled and asked them to let the fellow who was to have scrubbed our hull know that we had done so. We set course for the Whale. We sailed up to Foote’s Cay and then along Great Guana Cay to the Loggerhead Channel where the report proved correct – 2-3 foot swell with ripples.

We used the engine to come in the north cut off No Name Cay because the wind was on the backstays and had gone light. Once inside we were able to sail again, and we dropped the hook off New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay around 1800. Through the day our boat speed never seemed to suffer, so the hull scrub may not have been needed in any case.

We didn’t mind missing Treasure Cay; we’d been there for nine days earlier. We didn’t mind missing Guana Cay; we’d been there after our snorkeling on Fowl Cays Reef. Now we have nearly three weeks to explore this side of the Whale, (Foxtown, Allens-Pensacola Cay, Crab Cay) something our late arrivals and contrary winter winds prevented in 2011 and 2012.

The water off New Plymouth was swimming pool calm and clear as the Cay lifted the breeze above us. 300 yards behind us we could see the breeze drop to meet the water. Only later did it get lumpy as the wind went more to the south. After all that sailing Janet still made salmon cakes and sauteed spinach for dinner! YUM!

Thursday dawned behind clouds that sent showers N & S of us but not across. I cooked sourdough blob Belgian waffles again, this time with diced Canadian bacon and sharp cheddar folded in as a short quick swell and lots of boat wakes bumped us around. We were happy to get going at 1400, an hour before high tide, to get into White Sound with its 340° protection. [When the wind swings either side of due south, the approach channel pushes the wind into the anchorage with amplified force, and much tacking at anchor ensues – bad juju for WiFi, see below.]

Friday we watched the world go by, and then part of it stopped by. A young couple headed ashore had an outboard malfunction, as in, no go no more. Neither would it start. They managed to grab our toe rail, and we tied them off so they could assess the situation. Deja rained vu all over us, as they were experiencing what we had last year and early this. We chatted while he pulled, and pulled, and you get the idea. They rowed back and later he got a tow ashore where he could work on a more stable platform (with shallower water to drop parts in). I passed him a can of carburetor cleaner as he went by and a couple of hours later, vavavavoom, he motored back to their Halberg-Rassy 31. He stopped for more chat.

Why, “Why Fie?” As the wind went up into the high 20s, the boat began to tack. It’s what fin keelers do. As the boat began to tack, the mast and rigging moved back and forth across the line of sight between our WiFi antenna and the hotspot about a mile and a half away. Imagine trying to watch a tennis match waving your fingers back and forth in front of your face. The antenna constantly broke lock and lost signal because it couldn’t figure out which reflection from mast or wire was the real signal. For 24 hours we managed about one minute of five connectivity. We didn’t want to go into the marina just for WiFi and wanted both water tanks to be empty before we went in for water, etc. These technologies are great, but they are fragile at the edges. Relying on them is NOT a good idea.

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*Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice, Noise, Traffic, Cold, Snow, Ice,………………………………………………