2011 06 21
Here is what we have learned so far.
AIS Receiver - Five Stars
Replacing our VHF radio with a similar radio with AIS receiver capability was a stroke of brilliance. We purchased a Standard Horizon Matrix AIS + GFX2150. This model was reasonably priced at $350 US. It requires no changes to your VHF wiring or wiring in of antenna sharing devices. Just remove the old radio and plug in the new. You must provide a GPS feed to any AIS receiver for it to be able to interpret and display information but this is easy done with any handheld GPS or your chartplotter if you use one.
If you are coastal cruising the AIS would be even more effective for night passages.
Big Ocean Going Boats do Not Always Display Their Lights.
You cannot see these behemoths in the dark when they are dark as well. The AIS takes care of this. Lasts night the Budget Committee was alerted to a passing "dead" ship which closed to less than four miles. She never saw a thing. One wonders why a ship showing no navigation lights powers its AIS transponder.
Chartplotter & Instruments - Mostly off.
They take too much power. Our new radio, with GPS wired into it, gives us lat and lon, zulu time and if needed a bearing to the next waypoint. We have never needed it. Chartplotter on when near shore.
Time - Zulu All the Way (but no swahili)
All radio broadcast schedules are in zulu or GMT time. We have zulu, local, home and children's time zones to contend with. Clocks are set to zulu on board - we both agreed this was so much easier. Conversions are made from one single reference point. Very Cool.
The Log - Amazingly Valuable
When coastal cruising most of us forgo keeping a log. For our transoceanic adventure we purchased a separate log and are keeping it fastidiously. I love it. At a glance you see your progress, the barometer, the wind shifts. Maintaining timely entries also gives you something to do.
Stores - You will have lots Cause Nobody Has an Appetite
If you have provisioned for a typical three month trip to the Caribbean you just do the same thing for the Atlantic. Then you have way too much food, as if there is ever any such thing. For the first 10 days we have not touched much meat - two pounds of sausage between the two of us. We live just now on pancakes, rice and beans and my favourite: Kraft Cheesewhiz on bread. Our stomachs have not developed a sufficient tolerance for the motion of the boat to make food much of an issue.
Water - We have lots of this too. Conserve. Conserve. Conserve.
From Norfolk to and including Bermuda we used 4.4 us gallons of water a day. We were not profligate with our water use but once in Bermuda neither did we stint. Meredith carries 150 us gallons so we have all the water we need for a 21 day crossing with a 100 percent allowance.
Weather - Grib Files are Amazing - Even When They are Wrong
One of the joys of SSB is being able to download Grib weather files via Saildocs. A few cruisers with ability in radio and computers have set up a network of radio sites around the world which can be accessed by any boat with a SSB radio. There is a separate network for ham operators - those guys who have their ham licence and access to more frequencies. Using your radio you can get weather forecasts for up to 7 days ahead broken down into 6 hour interval on spacing as tight as 0.5 degree by 0.5 degree. We use them on Meredith but always look for enhancements to the data from sources like Herb Hilgenberg. Never forget grib files are raw data straight from the computer model and have not been considered by an experienced meteorologist. Still. Fantastic.
Man Its Hot!!
We took clothes for a north Atlantic crossing. You know, gales, icebergs, freezing rain. Now we sail naked to stay cool enough - even in the middle of the night.
We are All Alone Out Here
This is the best part.
Except for the freighter last night we have not seen another vessel - commercial or pleasure. We know a couple of boats that are out there and within 250 miles but this far exceeds VHF range. No one runs their SSB because it uses too much power (2 amps an hour at rest).Since leaving Norfolk we have spoken to no boat by radio.
Open CPN - open source navigation program that displays AIS and GRIB data. Best overall nav programm I have used.UGrib from Grib.us - For simple downloading and elegant viewing of grib files this is the program. The program needs an internet connection for easy downloads but will display grib data from any source.
OCENS weather software. Expensive, complicated and unreliable. I still cannot get it to work with my satellite phone despite the company assurance that it works. Using it with the SSB is a joke - I can get the files they charge for without charge using saildocs. In addition the company touts its exclusive data compression as a big plus. I use 7 Zip a free open source compression/decompression program to open their files so they do not have exclusive anything - they are selling another man's work as their own. I take a dim view of such things.