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Warm-up cruise

jesterchallenger

New member
Joined
7 May 2007
Messages
134
Location
River Orwell
I've just returned from my annual two week cruise, which this year I used as a warm up for next year's Azores Challenge. I thought a few comments might be helpful to other Challengers, but please excuse me if this is all rather obvious! I planned to sail nonstop from Harwich to Plymouth, but found getting into a sleep pattern impossible until well past Dover. By this time I was so tired that I found it difficult to catch up on sleep and eventually stopped in Brighton for a few hours shuteye. Perhaps if I had perservered things might have improved. From Brighton I kept to a pattern of 10/15/20 mins asleep with 5 mins awake, and despite interruptions from shipping, fishing boats, yachts, crab pots, sail changes etc arrived in Dartmouth (prettier than Plymouth!) feeling fresh and rested. It seems important to start the routine immediately, not wait until tired out.
I have an AIS radar and found it excellent, giving a clear alarm of any ship in plenty of time. More importantly it tells you the ship's position, cog, sog and usually the name and MMSI no. It doesn't work for fishing boats or yachts, but I found it invaluable for shipping, especially in thick fog (all the way back!).
Before I left I bought a Nitetraker 2 million candlepower searchlight, which proved its worth one dark night in a NE7 from a collision with a ferry doing 19 knots - I didn't mess about with flashing it on the sails, straight between his eyes on the bridge! It worked and he swerved to avoid me, passing 1/4 mile behind. And no, I wasn't asleep, he was just making a very slow course change and obviously hadn't seen me.
I have two small solar panels which work very well even on slightly dull days but struggle to keep up with things if it's really overcast. My towed Aquair generator is fantastic - minimal drag and good power output giving 6.5 amps at hull speed. After a while you forget it's even there, whilst being completely cavalier with power useage - I might even put the fridge back aboard!
I found the radar of limited benefit apart from identifying fishing boats - motoryachts seem to be invisible (a large 40 footer passed me 20 yards away in thick fog doing about 30 knots, brave man, and never showed up on the screen) and yachts seemed to be invisible at any range over 2 miles. However it may prove its worth highlighting icebergs in the JC10. Yachtie radar reflectors would seem to be of negligible benefit other than to install a false sense of confidence, although a container ship at 16 knots did alter course around me in 50 yard vis, so I assume he must have picked me up.
Hope that's of interest.
 

PacketRat

New member
Joined
20 May 2007
Messages
170
Location
Merseyside
Good post. Thanks. I'd be interested to know what AIS you used and the wattage of your solar panels? I've got two x 20 watt panels, as yet untried, and wonder if I'll be getting away with that.
 

CPD

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Joined
20 Sep 2006
Messages
2,902
Location
Hampshire
Sounds like an eventful trip !. From what I have found, I agree with getting into a sleep pattern even if you aren't tired. I can well imagine that if I didnt, then my body would shut down and I would go into a 10hr marathon sleepfest with the obvious dangers, although having said that, we are of course all different. Does your AIS system give an audible warning of potential/imminent collisions ?
 

jesterchallenger

New member
Joined
7 May 2007
Messages
134
Location
River Orwell
Yes, Noddy, thoroughly enjoyed it!

My AIS is a standard NASA unit and it has a very loud alarm, audible even with the engine running ( I know, I know, but I was on holiday!). Good piece of kit and not too expensive. It's not water resistant, so it must be mounted safely somewhere dry. I use a stubby VHF antenna mounted on the pushpit and get clear reception from ships 16 miles distant. The max range is 32 miles, but this is frankly irrelevant - I set mine to 8 mile range and it bleeps loudly when anything comes within 4 miles, giving plenty of time to panic. I have come across ships steaming across oceans with their radars switched off, but it is my understanding that AIS transponders are always on. That being the case, then an AIS receiver is really of more importance than radar, but not being an AIS expert I may be wrong about this - perhaps there's someone out there who knows a bit more about it? If I couldn't afford radar (I can't, actually, but the boat came with it - if it goes phut, I shall sail without it) I wouldn't hesitate to buy an AIS receiver.

I have two solar panels, 1 x 36 watt and 1 x 24 watt - best charge I have noticed so far is 2.6 amps, but this may improve a bit as the summer sunshine strengthens. They will happily cope with minor electronics (not radar or big colour chart plotters on 24/7), an LED tricolour and a modicum of interior lights at night, but you have to be careful of having an overcast week when the charge rate may well be less than 1 amp. As I like to sail on and off my mooring and do all my anchor handling under sail, I rarely use my engine and find that they keep the batteries toppped up for all my normal weekend sailing. Best of all they're fit and forget.
 

PacketRat

New member
Joined
20 May 2007
Messages
170
Location
Merseyside
I hope I'm not the only person that hasn't heard of AIS. On my last boat my log was a stopwatch and a piece of wood at the end of some string.
I assumed I would get a radar target enhancer, but the NASA AIS looks infinitely better to me. Anyone else have any experience or views on this?
Strange that I don't recollect any reference to such a device on the MAIB site, especially on the Ouzo incident report.
 

ronsurf

Well-known member
Joined
17 Jan 2007
Messages
5,704
Location
Plymouth, D-heaven
I'm a bit puzzled by the expectations of radar. I've just completed a degree with a fair chunk of navigation in it. We were told (again and agian..) that fibreglass is invisible to radar. Wood,yes. Metal, yes. Fibreglass, no. This explains why the motor boat can pass really close and radar doesn't see it. Just a bit puzzled why so many people expect to be seen in glass fibre vessels. Radar is generally for seeing big metal ships. Usually by other big metal ships so they don't hit each other.
 
G

Guest

Guest
[ QUOTE ]

Before I left I bought a Nitetraker 2 million candlepower searchlight, which proved its worth one dark night in a NE7 from a collision with a ferry doing 19 knots - I didn't mess about with flashing it on the sails, straight between his eyes on the bridge! It worked and he swerved to avoid me, passing 1/4 mile behind. And no, I wasn't asleep, he was just making a very slow course change and obviously hadn't seen me.


[/ QUOTE ]

Good move. Wondering why you were invisible though - just to check - what other lights were you burning, that the ferry couldn't see ? Was there anything behind you that could have 'masked' your lights (illuminated shore-line etc.) ? By any chance did you have a radar reflector up ?

Over the years I've become suspicous of masthead tricolours in a blow, and am becoming more keen on BIG all-round whites.

Colin
 

jesterchallenger

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Joined
7 May 2007
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134
Location
River Orwell
Yes, GRP is virtually invisible to radar, especially if low down on the water, like most yachts, power or sail. The returns you get on radar are from the radar reflectors and I was surprised that this high speed motor yacht gave no return. It was gone so quickly that I didn't notice if it had a reflector, only that it had radar - hence the confidence in his speed I suppose. Interesting scenario if his sistership was approaching from the opposite direction at 30 knots, also with his radar on, but also not giving any radar return......

In reply to the near miss with a ferry, I have an Echomax radar reflector 20ft above sea level and an LED tricolour at the masthead. Windspeed was 6-7 up the chuff and the seastate was rough enough to set the boat rolling quite a bit, so both tricolour and radar reflector would have been gyrating pretty wildly; with possibly 20 -25 degrees of heel, neither would have been very effective. It is possible that he HAD in fact seen me and was confident of passing clear, but it felt too close for comfort. And at 20 knts closing speed it is very dangerous to assume he has seen you when in fact he hasn't - powerful spotlights are cheap and effective and I'm sure any watch officer would rather be flashed and given ample opportunity to take evasive action; no doubt liberally cursing yachties in general! I had a conversation with the master of a North Sea ferry some years ago and he said that they rarely, if ever, picked up yachts on radar before identifying them visually, sails by day or lights by night. The lack of long range visibility of tricolours and radar reflectors has recently been confirmed by the MAIB report into the loss of the Ouzo. Personally I will now always assume that I am invisible to shipping at night unless positively confirmed otherwise. It is of course equally important not to panic and beam your searchlight at every ship on your horizon, but only those that are at close quarters and on collision course and seemingly unaware of your presence. In the same way that AIS transponders are very useful fitted to ships, but would be completely meaningless if fitted to yachts - shipping would be then be virtually invisible in the background clutter of yacht returns.
 

FAITIRA

New member
Joined
22 Jan 2007
Messages
1,548
Location
France
V interesting posts, thanks, I went from Waterford to Cameret recently with a 38' wooden ketch and she made a very poor target as close as 1 1/2 miles in calm weather, he said the same applied to me, 32'grp sloop. Bill
 

andlauer

New member
Joined
15 Mar 2007
Messages
310
Location
Paris France
I hope I'm not the only person that hasn't heard of AIS.
---------
Bonjour
AIS, I suppose is highly documented on the web.
The AIS system is mandatory for big ships. It uses 2 dedicated VHF frequencies. Under a GPS clock synchronisation each equipped boat broadcast it's position, course, speed... 24hours a day at mooring, offshore... It is becoming the MAIN, if not quasi exclusive, anti-collision equipment for maritime shipping industry.
Small cargos and fishermen are not yet equipped.

With a small not too expensive, low energy, equipment you may listen and have the information about the big boats around you. The equipment must be connected to a VHF antenna (I have a dedicated antenna on the pulpit) and to a GPS. If the voice VHF antenna is used a protection must be incorporated to prevent VHF emission to destroy the AIS receptor.

AIS incorporated into the VHF are coming to the market.

You may also buy a complete system that will also provide automatically your position to all the others equipped boats around, like a big ship!

The dispaly may be dedicated or information may be displayed on your lab top (Mac + GPSNavX in my case) navigation system. Some navigation systems (expensive one's) provide AIS functionality at extra cost (no comment) ! /forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif

Off course alarms may be set or on a distance or on a collision risk basis depending of the system.

It is a great security device, for every one and more for single handers ! /forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

The only risk is the use of AIS data for piracy but we don't have anymore and yet this sort of issues in North atlantic. /forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif

Eric
PS : Remain cautious, the Renard, Surcouf corsair's boat has been rebuilt in St Malo ! /forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif
 

PacketRat

New member
Joined
20 May 2007
Messages
170
Location
Merseyside
There is much to learn before moving from coastal sailing to the ocean. Your views, Eric, are illuminating and much appreciated. I have, as you suggested, searched the internet and found some more facts, but there is nothing quite like the opinions of experienced skippers for making those facts more digestible.

The Ouzo incident convinced me of the need for a Radar Target Enhancer. But I had misgivings about the RTE because it is a passive measure. AIS has now replaced the RTE on my shopping list.
 

Noddy

Member
Joined
22 Jun 2005
Messages
621
Location
Thames Estuary
Isn't Radar a better bet than AIS?

It seems that AIS only works for those ships that have a transmitter correctly installed. Its the shoddy ones we are worried about.

How big do you have to be before AIS is mandatory?

I can see its use in the English Channel, but in less organised areas I'm inclined to go for something that doesn't need someone else to get it right.

Radar can also help with navigation, showing coastlines. It will also show ships etc regardless. I'm not too interested in speed, name etc.

I'm probably being a luddite
 

CPD

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20 Sep 2006
Messages
2,902
Location
Hampshire
I do not think you are being a luddite at all. AIS and radar do very different things, and IMHO, radar should come well well before AIS on anyone's shopping list. I recently had a very interesting chat with a pilot at Harwich who, whilst full of praise for AIS on larger ships, was surprised that yachties would bother with it compared to radar.. If the ship is over 300ton, and if their AIS is switched on, you might be ok. If it is 5000ton, and it isnt, or if it is 250 ton, then you are in trouble if you rely on it as a prime piece of anti-collision kit.
 

PacketRat

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20 May 2007
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170
Location
Merseyside
Radar may well be better than AIS in some respects, but other considerations include battery drain, size/weight and cost.

According to http://www.aisliverpool.org.uk/ "ships over 300 tons are now required to broadcast their positions using AIS" and there are plans to extend the scheme.

Radar certainly puts you in charge, and radar with a zone alarm is even better. But if radar was within my range, I wonder if radar and AIS would complement each other.

In the last resort, we still have to maintain a lookout. But given that shoddy boat you mention, Noddy, with its faulty transmitter and how about no navigation lights steaming full ahead on a collision course at night, then, yup, radar's the only thing that'll save us.

Is it mandatory for ships to have AIS, or mandatory to use AIS? How often do ships sail with AIS off?
 

CPD

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20 Sep 2006
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2,902
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Hampshire
AIS is mandatory to have fitted and also be used, HOWEVER, it is/can be fitted as a manual system, and my pilot friend at Harwich said he quite often had to call up ships to remind them to switch their AIS on - their AIS locatoion showing them being docked at last port of call, when in reality they were steaming into/out of HArwich. Very scary !
 

jesterchallenger

New member
Joined
7 May 2007
Messages
134
Location
River Orwell
The main issues with radar on small boats are high power consumption, high purchase cost and finding somewhere to install the radome and display. By comparison an AIS plotter uses very little power, is a compact unit that is easy to fit and is relatively inexpensive. Using a pushpit mounted VHF antenna means that in the event of a dismasting you also have a spare antenna for your radio.

Radar and AIS do different things and both are very useful in their own way. However, a radar screen needs to be continuously monitored to allow proper interpretation and without care can be very misleading - remember that big Moody that was run down off the Channel Islands a while ago, despite having a crew member at the screen plotting relative courses and speeds? AIS on the other hand gives a report of a ship's Lat & Long, SOG and COG, enabling a plot to be made on your chart (I use a Yeoman Plotter, another really good navigation aid) and therefore a very clear picture of closing distances and speeds. A high speed ferry at 35 knots is closing with you at over 1 mile every 2 minutes, so you don't have much time to make up your mind - AIS tells you that at a glance. AIS would be the first thing on my list, followed by radar if budget, space and power allowed. Frankly any ship approaching within a 4 mile range needs monitoring carefully to allow a decision to be made in safe time and you can't beat a good pair of eyes. But yes, if his radar and AIS are switched off, he's on collision course, you don't have radar or AIS, you sleep through your alarm etc etc, he's going to get you. But the odds are in your favour of this not happening - don't forget that statistically if you buy a lottery ticket, you have more chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the jackpot! Speaking of which, if you get struck by lightning, ALL your electrics and electronics will be fried, so don't forget the Walker log and sextant!
 
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