Installing a NMEA 2000 backbone

One of the things we liked about our new Garmin chartplotter that we installed in December was its connectivity.

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The chartplotter was our first electronic device with a NMEA 2000 plug.

NMEA stands for National Marine Electronics Association, and 2000 is the standard set for communication between devices. Garmin sticks with a NMEA 2000 nomenclature, but Raymarine SeaTalk, Simrad Simnet, and Furuno CAN are all rebranded NMEA 2000 systems that only need a plug adapter to be compatible.

Theoretically, any two NMEA 2000 devices will connect and communicate with each other no matter the brand. However, since we’re starting from scratch when it comes to the electronics on Gimme Shelter, we decided to stick with Garmin as much as possible.

The first step to setting up any NMEA 2000 system is to install the backbone. We went with this Garmin NMEA 2000 Starter Kit that cost about $60 through eBay.

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The only directions that came with this kit was the diagram on the label. That’s it. It’s THAT simple. However, I chose to hook the yellow cable, which is the 12 volt power cable, to the chartplotter circuit on the back of my breaker panel instead of directly to the battery.

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Once it was tied into the power system, I started adding T connectors. (Note that there was terminator plugged into the open end of the backbone when I finally took the photo.)

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The starter kit came with two T connectors and two terminators. I ran a cable from one T to my chartplotter. I ran the other cable to my GWS 10 Wind Instrument.

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I switched the chartplotter to the “gauges” setting, chose wind, and … nothing.

Nothing happened at all. It didn’t work.

I stared at the diagram. I retraced my wiring. I pulled the breaker panel off again and re-checked my power connection. It just wasn’t doing anything.

I finally resorted to Google and almost immediately I found out the most important detail of this system.

NMEA 2000 doesn’t work unless there is a terminator on every open T plug!

The starter kit had come with two terminators, and I hadn’t bothered to put them on. I figured they were just to keep the dust out or something. Wrong. It turns out there’s a resistor in those terminators, and unless they’re on the open plugs, no signal gets sent anywhere.

So after plugging a terminator onto the end of the backbone, I turned on the chartplotter again. This time I had success!

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Now all it takes to add new devices to my system is another T and a NMEA 2000 cable.

Of course, setting up the backbone was the easy part. The real fun starts this weekend when I climb the mast to drop a new cable and mount the wind instrument.

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Maintaining the raw water system: seacock, strainer, impeller, zincs

My sailboat to-do list has been growing all year, and there was no way around it, this weekend I had to do some maintenance and work off some of my lingering projects.

Universal 2420 Diesel

Auxiliary power on Gimme Shelter is supplied by the original 1982 Universal 5424, a marinized Kubota diesel. This weekend I decided to work through the raw water system.

Raw water seacock

I checked to make sure it moved freely open and closed. I checked the hose for cracking, and I checked to make sure the hose clamps did not show any signs of corrosion. Everything looked fine, so I closed it and moved on to the next piece of the system. (Closing the raw water seacock is a key step in all raw water maintenance and repair, as is opening it before you start the engine again!)

Raw water strainer

The strainer is basically a jar with a metal basket inside. Water is pushed through the top of the basket, and then shoots out all of the tiny holes of the metal strainer while leaving debris inside the metal strainer basket. If you look at the photo above, mine is very easy to access on the port side of the engine. I pulled out the strainer basket and found just a little mud, sprayed it with the hose and put it back together. No problems.

Raw water pump impeller

It’s recommended that you change the raw water impeller annually. I hadn’t had any water flow issues, and we hadn’t put many on hours on the engine, so I had let Gimme Shelter go two full years without replacing it. It was still working, but when I pulled it out, I could see the difference between the old and new impellers.

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I really like the Oberdorfer pump because it’s easy to access on the front of the engine, and it only takes four screws to open it up.

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The impellers just push onto the keyed center shaft, and you’re ready to go. The only catch is that you have to replace the paper gasket every time you open the pump. You also have to make sure you remove all of the old paper gasket before you install the new one or you won’t get a good seal. In the past I have resorted to cutting a new gasket out of construction paper with a pocket knife, but it’s definitely easier just to order a new gasket when you order the new impeller.

Sacrificial zinc anode

From the pump, the raw water moves to the heat exchanger where the antifreeze moves through tubes and transfers the heat of the engine into the seawater before it’s sent overboard in the exhaust. A sacrificial zinc anode is screwed into the heat exchanger to protect it from corrosion. If the heat exchanger tubes corrode out, you’ll end up with seawater in your antifreeze and vice versa, so this zinc is very important.

I’ll admit it. I’d been as lazy about the zinc as I had been about the impeller, and it hadn’t been changed in two years. When I unscrewed it, this is what came out.

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On the left is the two-year-old zinc. On the right is a new pencil zinc. This was bad. However, I didn’t have any seawater coming out of the hole, so I resorted to taking a selfie with the heat exchanger to see what was going on down there.

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There was still zinc left in the hole. However, two or three pokes with a screwdriver, and that little bit of zinc left crumbled to pieces and fell right out. I then installed the new zinc and promised myself I’d start checking it every six months.

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Once the new zinc was installed I opened the seacock and watched for leaks from the strainer lid as it filled. With no leaks from the strainer, I cranked up the engine and looked for waterflow from the exhaust. Water was flowing, so I popped back into the cabin to check for leaks from both the raw water pump and then zinc.

Once I’d verified that my maintenance hadn’t caused any new problems, I moved on to my next project, which I’ll blog about tomorrow — installing a NMEA 2000 backbone.

Up in the trees

While walking the dogs this weekend we heard quite the racket coming from the trees around the marina. There was an incessant chorus of what I guess I’d describe as a croak-squawk mixed with regular squawks and a bunch of wing-flapping and branch rustling. We had to go investigate.BlackCrownedNightHeron01

Black crowned night herons were everywhere in the trees, and as we stared harder, we discovered the source of the croak-squawking.

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Nests with very large baby black crowned night herons were everywhere. Most nests had two chicks, and some trees had up to four nests. They were all demanding to be fed while their parents hopped from branch to branch nearby, nervously wondering what we were doing under the trees.

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It was hard to capture a good photo due to all the leaves and branches, but the chicks seemed comically large for the size of the nests.

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When we walked back by on Sunday, we actually saw the adults starting to coax the chicks out of the nest for their first flying lessons. Of course, not all of them looked happy about being evicted.

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I’m sure that in another week or two we’ll see these little guys balancing on dock lines and grabbing fish out of the water, just like their parents.

Clear Lake Shores Food Park

There’s something new happening in Clear Lake this weekend. The food truck craze has hit the area. Check out the new Clear Lake Shores Food Park.

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We stopped by for a look around and Mary made a beeline for the pastry truck.

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Prices were high, but both the creme brulee and the macaroons were excellent.

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The Fat Wagon prices were more reasonable, but they weren’t opening back up until 4 p.m., so we didn’t get a chance to try their food.

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The Clear Lake Shores Food Park should be open through Memorial Day.

My big question is, why don’t we have food boats out in the bay? Can someone please get on that?

How to avoid boating tickets this holiday weekend

The first warm-weather long holiday weekend of the year is upon us. The lakes and bays are going to be absolutely packed with people who have not operated their boats since the fall.

“You know what, Cousin Grandpa … we should take the boat out!”

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This influx of boating activity also brings heightened activity by the US Coast Guard, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, the Seabrook Police Department, and any other government body in the area with boats and ticket writing authority.

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Expect to see up to six boats from various departments patrolling the no-wake zone of the Kemah channel initiating stops for the following:

  • Boaters exceeding the 5 mph no-wake zone speed limit
  • Boat drivers with a visible open container
  • Drunk drivers
  • Expired registration tags
  • Incorrect bow light placement (Red goes to port!)

Usually if you have remedied the above bullets, you can avoid being stopped, but I’m no stranger to boardings. During my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat class we were stopped, boarded and the instructor was ticketed by Texas Parks and Wildlife for having an expired registration sticker. Then, the next July 4th when I finally had the Seahorse running, I was boarded by the Coast Guard because my bow light lens was on upside down. (Oops!) Thankfully they just let me switch the lens around and sent me on my way.

However, once you’ve been boarded you will definitely get a complete Vessel Safety Check. Expect the officers to go through your boat from top to bottom to make sure you are meeting the minimum safety requirements.

Here is the checklist they use to perform vessel safety inspections.

If the checklist is too hard to understand, you can try this online Virtual Vessel Examiner to see if you meet the standards.

In the Kemah area it seems like the checks focus on lifejackets, a throwable PFD, a horn, a first aid kit, making sure flares and fire extinguishers have not expired, the pollution/no discharge placards, and making sure your holding tank through hull is locked or wired shut.

Give your vessel a check before you hit the water this weekend and save yourself the hassle of being boarded and hopefully save yourself the cost of a ticket if you are.

And remember, getting a ticket sucks, but the guys out on patrol are not the enemy. They are the ones coming to save your ass when something like this occurs.

Critique, evaluation, curation and rejection

The original focus of this blog was supposed to be sailing and sailboat repair projects, but not yet being full-time cruisers (and due to the fact that it hasn’t stopped raining in Houston for almost two months), Mary and I often end up distracted with our other hobbies, so I hope you don’t mind the tangential topics.

I have a tendency to push Mary out of her comfort zone with ideas like “sailing close hauled” or “creating boat cooking videos,” and she does the same to me — this time with photography.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures. I bought my first camera, a rectangular 110 point and shoot, with S&H Green Stamps when I was in elementary school. In middle school my parents sent me to photography day camp, and by high school I had my own Canon AE-1 Program, which I carried through college and into my first years as a newspaper reporter — right up until I finally joined the digital revolution. Then, about three years ago I got interested in historical cameras and started shooting with an assortment of TLRs and vintage rangefinders.

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Long story short, I’ve invested lots of time and money in cameras, lenses, film, tripods, bags, memory cards, batteries, etc. through the years, so Mary decided it was finally time for me to have a show.

I’ve never done the gallery thing. I have no idea how this really works, but Mary had already started contacting various galleries and cafes in the Kemah area to see if they would hang and sell my prints.

One small catch. I had no prints.

With an impending meeting last Sunday I had to really sit down, go back through all the terabytes of photos I’ve shot over the past few years, really critique myself, decide which photos were worth printing, and create a portfolio to show the galleries. That meant taking what I considered to be my very best work and opening myself up to having it rejected.

It was a very stressful exercise. The old saying goes, “You are your own worst critic,” but criticism from other people can sting much more.

Here’s a gallery of the photos I selected if you want to check it out.

I decided to go with a sailing theme, put in my print order, and tried not to grind my teeth while I waited for them to arrive.

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Mpix and Mpix Pro have started offering prints on Kodak Metallic Paper for just a dollar more than the regular prints, and wow, they really pop. I highly recommend it.

Now, a very long time ago I had attempted to do my own matting and framing, so I still had an old box of mats in the garage and a mat cutter in the attic. After picking up some foam core and a test frame at Hobby Lobby, I spent an evening attempting to mount, mat and frame one of the prints.

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My mounting and matting weren’t too bad, but when I actually examined the Hobby Lobby frame, it had two big nicks in the wood and a scratch in the glass — which was definitely not UV or glare resistant. When I factored in the cost of the supplies even with sub-par frames and the fact that it took me almost two hours just to finish one print, I decided it wasn’t worth it to do it myself.  I have too many other projects that need my attention.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and Mary, being the great manager/agent that she is, advised me to “dress artsy and seem interesting.”

We met with Roberto, the owner of Cerise Crepes, a new European-style cafe. Roberto was great, he told us about all his hopes for the restaurant and his vision of an art show with local painters and photographers as well as how he wanted to start a French club in the area. Plus, the crepes and the coffee were delicious.

There were only two problems. The first was that Cerise Crepes is located in Spring on the north side of Houston, not anywhere near the ocean. (My agent said she knew the cafe wasn’t located in our target region, but that she really likes crepes.) The second problem tied into the first, being that with the cafe located in Spring, Roberto wasn’t really interested in sailboat pictures.

I suggested that perhaps his customers would have more interest in some of my travel photos from Paris, Rome, London and Rio, so I packed up my display and made my way home where I spent another two or three hours going back through the terabytes of archived files, trying to find new worthy photographs. If I had thought the first time through this exercise was stressful, it was nothing compared to having to throw out all my favorite photos and then pick again.

Here is the new gallery I put together for Cerise Crepes if you want to check it out.

Mary has another meeting scheduled for me in Kemah next weekend, so hopefully that one will go better. If not, at least I did take a few steps out of my comfort zone, and if nothing else, Mary might end up with a wall of really nice prints at the house.

And here’s an ending note from my agent, who swears to me that a 90% cut is industry standard: If you’d like to book Fred for a shoot or order any of his outstanding fine art prints online, just visit www.fredfacker.com.

Summer Garden update

So now that summer is really in full swing here, I thought I would give you an update on our crop shifting. In the main garden the squash is really taking over everything, and the greens, while large, are coming to an end.  In fact right after this picture was taken we had to pull all the spinach as it was starting to flower.  The kale and collard greens are still going strong for now, and the carrots are not ready to be picked either you can barely see them under the squash on the right side.

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Not much change on the grape vine.  No grapes have ripened yet, and probably wont until fall.  We really could use more trellis, basically everywhere in the yard.  Garden02

On the other side of the yard to make room for more summer veggies I had to build another bed.  I didn’t expect that squash to get so huge and fill the other one.  Really overall everything got bigger than expected.  In the below garden I did 3 different tomato plants.  Then behind that two pepper plants.  Along the fence here I also did a row of sunflower seeds.  They are supposed to grow to 10ft and I’m hoping they keep our neighbors from looking over the fence, as well as providing a little bird seed. Garden03

Pretty much no progress on my little mandarin seeds I planted.  Maybe they will grow more in the summer?Garden04

This is all the spinach we had to harvest.  I ended up making 3 salads, and then freezing the rest.  All in all I’m happy to see it go, as I am super tired of picking it! Garden05

I’m looking forward to some different veggies this summer (tomatoes and peppers), and looking forward to saying goodbye to my greens.  I have really enjoyed having them, but it’s time for a change — one of the best things about gardening!

Flying, connections, weather, and the total breakdown of all customer service

Maybe I’m spoiled from the years of business travel, but I prefer direct flights. If I’m going to fly, I want to get there fast.

Mary, on the other hand, prefers cheap flights. She doesn’t care how many connections we have to make as long as it is cheap.

For our trip to Port St. Joe, we found cheap flights on American Airlines from Houston to Tallahassee via Dallas. I’ll admit, they were a bargain. Stress free mass transportation without the hassle of driving, right?

Not exactly.

We had to leave the house at 5 a.m. for the hour-long drive to the airport to make our flight at 8 a.m. Mary had booked us seats together, but when we checked in, we were in different rows. However, American Airlines offered to move Mary back into her original seat beside me for only $28.50. Then they charged her another $25 to check a bag.

We made it to Dallas by 9:30 a.m. Our flights were being handled by American Eagle, a regional carrier, and I think Oscar the Grouch might have been their hospitality trainer, but at least we were on time, and we still had high spirits in Dallas while we sat around all morning waiting for our connection.

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We finally made it into Tallahassee by 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rental car for the two-hour drive to Port St. Joe. We pulled into the rental house, just after 6:30 p.m.

At this point our total Thursday travel time was 13.5 hours. We had also paid $150 each for the flights there and the rental car was going to be $200 for the weekend plus gas.

Total drive time from Houston to Port St. Joe is 10 hours, and it would have cost us about $75 in gas.

I kept trying to convince myself that we had avoided all the traffic jams, road construction and crazy drivers, but by the end of the day I was thinking that maybe those cheap tickets weren’t such a good deal.

Then it came time to fly home on Sunday. The weather in Florida was great. The weather in Houston was great. Unfortunately, the weather in Dallas was terrible. They were having thunderstorms and tornadoes all afternoon.

After making the two-hour drive from Port St. Joe to Tallahassee we arrived at the airport by 1:30 p.m. for our 4:15 p.m. flight and attempted to check-in. Due to flight delays the automated kiosks wouldn’t issue boarding passes. We got in line. While still standing in line to check-in at 2 p.m., it was announced that all flights to Dallas were canceled. While still standing in line to change our ticket at 2:30 p.m. an announcement was made to call the American Airlines 1-800 number to change our tickets over the phone. Upon calling this number we were greeted by an automated message that said, “We are currently experiencing high call volume, please try your call again later,” which was followed by a click as it hung up on us. We continued calling periodically as we waited in line for the next hour and never got through. When we finally hit the ticket counter at 3:30 p.m., American Airlines had nothing to offer us and no way to get us home before Tuesday at midnight.

Needless to say, we decided to just have them issue a refund for the return flights and headed back to the car rental desk.

Since we had just turned in a car with Budget, we decided to rent from Budget again. We told the lady at the desk we’d be driving the car back to Houston Hobby Airport. She said that she could give us the Mother’s Day Special on an economy car, and it would only be $89. That sounded expensive for a small car but great for the distance to Houston, so we carried our suitcases down to a VW Jetta and headed out.

The Jetta left a lot to be desired. For one thing, the brakes felt kind of funny. The pedal would nearly hit the floor before the car started stopping. Then we found the cigarette lighters were dead, so we couldn’t charge our phones. However, at this point it was already past 4 p.m., and we just wanted to get home. Going back to the airport to complain wasn’t an option.

Mary drove us through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi before we finally crossed into Louisiana and stopped for gas and food.

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Then I did the second stretch across Louisiana and back to Houston. We finally rolled into bed about 3 a.m.

Monday Mary went to work, and I had planned to take the morning off and recharge, but by 7:45 the phone was ringing with office issues. I got up and dealt with those, then headed to Hobby Airport to return the rental car.

When Budget scanned the car’s tag, a receipt printed out for $305. Yes, $305 was quite different from the $89 we’d been quoted in Florida. As I mentioned before when we rented through Priceline, the experience was great. Renting straight through Budget, not so much. They’ve definitely lost our business after that bait and switch deal. It’s not like the rental agent wasn’t aware that Houston was more than 200 miles from Tallahassee, but there was no mention whatsoever of a mileage charge if we went more than 200 miles.

Running on zero sleep, I only had the energy to briefly argue the situation, and it was clear the Budget rep was not going to budge. I finally shrugged it off since American Airlines would be refunding us $300 for the canceled flights, and I took the shuttle to the parking garage to pick up my car.

About the time the shuttle pulled into the terminal I had the horrible realization that I hadn’t actually brought my car keys. They were still in my suitcase.

There was nothing to be done.

I walked into baggage claim, had a seat on a bench and called Mary. I didn’t move from that spot again until my lovely wife showed up to rescue me two hours later.

She’d had to leave work, drive home to the north side of Houston to retrieve the key, then drive all the way to the south side of Houston to drop it off, then drive back to work.

By the time I was finally on the road, it was 2 p.m., so I just gave up on life, used another vacation day and headed home for a nap.

A week later, American Airlines has issued the refund for Mary’s ticket, but they have not yet refunded my ticket. Budget refused to listen to any complaints regarding the $89 Mother’s Day special rental rate and says we should have read the contract.

I’m done with cheap flights with connections. From now on if the trip is less than 12 hours, we’re either spending the money for direct flights or we’re driving because the cost of cheap flights is too damn high.