Monday, December 24, 2012

Wearing Santa Hats

What happens when you wear a Santa hat?  People smile, nod their heads, honk their horns, wave.

But what we love most, especially with Al, is the reaction of kids!  All it takes is the hat.  There's no grey beard, or red suit, but kids' eyes get big and round, and so do their mouths.  Some even gasp.  And a few whisper 'That looks like Santa Claus!'

Al says that maybe it's the build.  But, I even had a child in the grocery store  line step around me to look up into MY face.  Yes, the hair is getting more grey all the time, but the worst of it is still covered by the hat.  


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Equal Time

Granddaughter Madalyn's Kindergarten Sing-a-long was this afternoon.  She attends a new school that I had no idea where it was!  Turns out it was on a road I used to drive to work every day!

Madalyn will celebrate her 6th birthday while school is out for Christmas, so she got to wear a crown!

Mom and brothers enjoying the show

Milo, 2

Evan, 4

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emrie's Program

One of our first 'events' in Portland was attending 3-year-old granddaughter Emrie's pre-school program.  It was a delightful evening!

Emrie's three  brothers we also in attendance, along with another set of grandparents!



 Emrie was very good at all the expressions and gestures of the songs:

This is Santa's belly.

These are Grandma's glasses.

I don't remember what this demonstrated...

Now that you've seen her up close, can you find her in the crowd?  (She's front and center.)

The Jingle Bells came at the END of the show!

Friday Harbor vs. Portland Traffic

We were driving over Sylvan Hill in the snow, and Al remarked that the traffic was 'like a Friday in Friday Harbor, in July'!

I had to agree and commented, 'there's even 'mandatory rafting, 3 deep'!

Friday Harbor Lights Up for the Holidays!

You gotta love small towns!

Friday Harbor closes off a block of street and traffic exiting the ferry is re-routed, so carolers can sing outside businesses, the big switch really works this year to light the trees -- not evergreens, but Dutch Elms -- and school children entertain.

The kids warm up by sharing shoulder rubs

Hey!  The lights lit this year!

The view from Viking Star back towards town

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Boat Life

On numerous different occasions recently, I have had to answer the question 'So, how do you like boat life?'  Even from fellow boaters!  And some even put that qualifying word in there -- 'Do you STILL like boat life?'

The other night, after the fact, I read aloud to Al the most recent answer I had sent to a friend in email, and he said 'That needs to be a blog post.'  So here it is....

The friend we are talking about had read the Liveaboard Simulator post, and sent these words:  'Also, reading your blog, The Liveaboard Simulator ... you are amazing, living in those conditions! You never complain, either, at least online. I can't imagine how you do it!'

And the reply I had read to Al: "Al found that years ago, I actually haven't read it yet to see if he said anything different or unexpected. And I really don't feel I have too much to complain about! It's a privilege to live this life, 'retired' at 50, surrounded by beauty. Yes, it can get a little uncomfortable at times, but the benefits outweigh that, most days. My standard answer to the question of how I like boat life is 'It's all been great except for 3 days.' Those three days ARE quite memorable, and though not at all fun at the time, have become part of 'the story'."

I sent THESE words to my cousin this week also:  'Most guys say it's hard to find a woman who is willing to live on a boat, and they cite 'space' as a big reason. But I say, I have a very cozy bed, and I have a place to sit in the main cabin. I have room for my books, and can get internet almost anytime. What more could I want? My view is ever changing, and we are close to nature, and sometimes it is breathtaking.'

And so, you get the idea that I pretty much -- still -- like it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Live Aboard Simulator

OK,  This is a classic that showed up in mailing lists  in the 90's (maybe the 80's?).  Attributed to "Larry W4CSC" and first located at:

It seems that link is gone, and I wanted to archive what I believe is the most accurate rendition of his original work.   So, for your reading pleasure:

The Liveaboard Simulator
By: Larry Butler W4CSC

So you think you want to liveaboard? Try the livaboard simulator first.

Just for fun, park your cars in the lot of the convenience store at least 2 blocks from your house. (Make believe the sidewalk is a floating dock between your car and the house.

Move yourself and your family (if applicable) into 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Measure the DECK space INSIDE your boat. Make sure the occupied house has no more space, or closet space, or drawer space.

Boats don't have room for beds, as such. Fold your Sealy Posturepedic up against a wall, it won't fit on a boat. Go to a hobby fabric store and buy a foam pad 5' 10" long and 4' wide AND NO MORE THAN 3" THICK. Cut it into a triangle so the little end is only 12" wide. This simulates the foam pad in the V-berth up in the pointy bow of the sailboat. Bring in the kitchen table from the kitchen you're not allowed to use. Put the pad UNDER the table, on the floor, so you can simulate the 3' of headroom over the pad.

Block off both long sides of the pad, and the pointy end so you have to climb aboard the V-berth from the wide end where your pillows will be. The hull blocks off the sides of a V-berth and you have to climb up over the end of it through a narrow opening (hatch to main cabin) on a boat. You'll climb over your mate's head to go to the potty in the night. No fun for either party. Test her mettle and resolve by getting up this way right after you go to bed at night. There are lots of things to do on a boat and you'll forget at least one of them, thinking about it laying in bed, like "Did I remember to tie off the dingy better?" or "Is that spring line (at the dock) or anchor line (anchored out) as tight as it should be?" Boaters who don't worry about things like this laying in bed are soon aground or on fire or the laughing stock of an anchorage. You need to find out how much climbing over her she will tolerate BEFORE you're stuck with a big boat and big marina bills and she refuses to sleep aboard it any more....

Bring a coleman stove into the bathroom and set it next to the bathroom sink. Your boat's sink is smaller, but we'll let you use the bathroom sink, anyways. Do all your cooking in the bathroom, WITHOUT using the bathroom power vent. If you have a boat vent, it'll be a useless 12v one that doesn't draw near the air your bathroom power vent draws to take away cooking odors. Leave the hall door open to simulate the open hatch. Take all the screens off your 2 bedroom windows. Leave the windows open to let in the bugs that will invade your boat at dusk, and the flies attracted to the cooking.

Borrow a 25 gallon drum mounted on a trailer. Flush your toilets into the drums. Trailer the drums to the convenience store to dump them when they get full. Turn off your sewer, you won't have one. This will simulate going to the pump out station every time the tiny drum is full. 25 gallons is actually LARGER than most holding tanks. They're more like 15 gallons on small sailboats under 40, because they were added to the boat after the law changed requiring them and there was no place to put it or a bigger one. They fill up really fast if you liveaboard!

Unless your boat is large enough to have a big head with full bath, make believe your showers/bathtubs don't work. Make a deal with someone next door to the convenience store to use THEIR bathroom for bathing at the OTHER end of the DOCK. (Marina rest room) If you use this rest room to potty, while you're there, make believe it has no paper towels or toilet paper. Bring your own. Bring your own soap and anything else you'd like to use there, too.

If your boat HAS a shower in its little head, we'll let you use the shower end of the bathtub, but only as much tub as the boat has FREE shower space for standing to shower. As the boat's shower drains into a little pan in the bilge, be sure to leave the soapy shower water in the bottom of the tub for a few days before draining it. Boat shower sumps always smell like spent soap growing exotic living organisms science hasn't actually discovered or named, yet. Make sure your simulated V-berth is less than 3' from this soapy water for sleeping. The shower sump is under the passageway to the V-berth next to your pillows.

Run you whole house through a 20 amp breaker to simulate available dock power at the marina. If you're thinking of anchoring out, turn off the main breaker and make do with a boat battery and flashlights. Don't forget you have to heat your house on this 20A supply and try to keep the water from freezing in winter.  Turn off the water main valve in front of your house. Run a hose from your neighbor's lawn spigot over to your lawn spigot and get all your water from there. Try to keep the hose from freezing all winter.

As your boat won't have a laundry, disconnect yours. Go to a boat supply place, like West Marine, and buy you a dock cart. Haul ALL your supplies, laundry, garbage, etc., between the car at the convenience store and house in this cart. Once a week, haul your outboard motor to the car, leave it a day then haul it back to the house, in the cart, to simulate boat problems that require boat parts to be removed/replaced on your dock. If ANYTHING ever comes out of that cart between the convenience store and the house, put it in your garage and forget about it. (This simulates losing it over the side of the dock, where it sank in 23' of water with a mud bottom or was dragged off by the current.)

Each morning, about 5AM, have someone you don't know run a weedeater back and forth under your bedroom windows to simulate the fishermen leaving the marina to go fishing. Have him slam trunk lids, doors, blow car horns and bang some heavy pans together from 4AM to 5AM before lighting off the weedeater. (Simulates loading boats with booze and fishing gear and gas cans.) Once a week, have him bang the running weedeater into your bedroom wall to simulate the idiot who drove his boat into the one you're sleeping in because he was half asleep leaving the dock. Put a rope over a big hook in the ceiling over your bed. Put a sheet of plywood under your pad with a place to hook a rope to one side or the other. Hook one end of the rope to the plywood hook and the other end out where he can pull on it. As soon as he shuts off the weedeater, have him pull hard 9 times on the rope to tilt your bed at least 30 degrees. (This simulates the wakes of the fishermen blasting off trying to beat each other to the fishing.) Anytime there is a storm in your area, have someone constantly pull on the rope. It's rough riding storms in the marina or anchored out! If your boat is a sailboat, install a big wire from the top of the tallest tree to your electrical ground in the house to simulate mast lightning strikes in the marina, or to give you the thought of potential lightning strikes.

Each time you go out, or think of going boating away from your marina, disconnect the neighbor's water hose, your electric wires, all the umbilicals your new boat will use to make life more bearable in the marina.  Use bottled drinking water for 2 days for everything. Get one of those 5 gallon jugs with the airpump on top from a bottled water company. This is your boat's at sea water system simulator. You'll learn to conserve water this way. Of course, not having the marina's AC power supply, you'll be lighting and all from a car battery, your only source of power. If you own or can borrow a generator, feel free to leave it running to provide AC power up to the limit of the generator. If you're thinking about a 30' sailboat, you won't have room for a generator so don't use it.

Any extra family members must be sleeping on the settees in the main cabin or in the quarter berth under the cockpit, unless you intend to get a boat over 40-something feet with an aft cabin. Smaller boats have quarter berths. Cut a pad out of the same pad material that is no more than 2' wide by 6' long. Get a cardboard box from an appliance store that a SMALL refridgerator came in. Put the pad in the box, cut to fit, and make sure only one end of the box is open. The box can be no more than 2 feet above the pad. Quarter berths are really tight. Make them sleep in there, with little or no air circulation. That's what sleeping in a quarterberth is all about.

Of course, to simulate sleeping anchored out for the weekend, no heat or air conditioning will be used and all windows will be open without screens so the bugs can get in.

In the mornings, everybody gets up and goes out on the patio to enjoy the sunrise. Then, one person at a time goes back inside to dress, shave, clean themselves in the tiny cabin unless you're a family of nudists who don't mind looking at each other in the buff. You can't get dressed in the stinky little head with the door closed on a sailboat. Hell, there's barely room to bend over so you can sit on the commode. So, everyone will dress in the main cabin, one at a time.

Boat tables are 2' x 4' and mounted next to the settee. There's no room for chairs in a boat. So, eat off a 2' x 4' space on that kitchen table you slept under while sitting on a couch (settee simulator). You can also go out with breakfast and sit on the patio (cockpit), if you like.

Ok, breakfast is over. Crank up the lawnmower under the window for 2 hours. It's time to recharge the batteries from last night's usage and to freeze the coldplate in the boat's icebox which runs off a compressor on the engine. Get everybody to clean up your little hovel. Don't forget to make the beds from ONE END ONLY. You can't get to the other 3 sides of a boat bed pad.

All hands go outside and washdown the first fiberglass UPS truck that passes by. That's about how big the deck is on your 35' sailboat that needs to have the ocean cleaned off it daily or it'll turn the white fiberglass all brown like the UPS truck. Now, doesn't the UPS truck look nice like your main deck?

Ok, we're going to need some food, do the laundry, buy some boat parts that failed because the manufacturer's bean counters got cheap and used plastics and the wife wants to eat out, I'm fed up with cooking on the Coleman stove today. Let's make believe we're not at home, but in some exotic port like Ft Lauderdale, today on our cruise to Key West Before going ashore, plan on buying all the food you'll want to eat that will:

  • Fit into the Coleman Cooler on the floor
  • You can cook on the Coleman stove without an oven or all those fancy kitchen tools you don't have on the boat
  • And will last you for 10 days, in case the wind drops and it takes more time than we planned at sea.

Plan meals carefully in a boat. We can't buy more than we can STORE, either!

You haven't washed clothes since you left home and everything is dirty. Even if it's not, pretend it is for the boater-away-from-home simulator. Put all the clothes in your simulated boat in a huge dufflebag so we can take it to the LAUNDRY! Manny's Marina HAS a laundromat, but the hot water heater is busted (for the last 8 months) and Manny has parts on order for it... saving Manny $$$$ on the electric bill! Don't forget to carry the big dufflebag with us on our excursion. God that bag stinks, doesn't it? ....PU!

Of course, we came here by BOAT, so we don't have a car. Some nice marinas have a shuttle bus, but they're not a taxi. The shuttle bus will only go to West Marine or the tourist traps, so we'll be either taking the city bus, if there is one or taxi cabs or shopping at the marina store which has almost nothing to buy at enormous prices.

Walk to the 7-11 store, where you have your car stored, but ignore the car. Make believe it isn't there. No one drove it to Ft Lauderdale for you. Use the payphone at the 7-11 and call a cab. Don't give the cab driver ANY instructions because in Ft Lauderdale you haven't the foggiest idea where West Marine is located or how to get there, unlike at home. We'll go to West Marine, first, because if we don't, the head back on the boat won't be working for a week because little Suzy broke a valve in it trying to flush some paper towels. This is your MOST important project, today... that valve in the toilet!! After the cab drivers drives around for an hour looking for West Marine and asking his dispatcher how to get there. Don't forget to UNLOAD your stuff from the cab, including the dirty clothes in the dufflebag then go into West Marine and give the clerk a $100 bill, simulating the cost of toilet parts. Lexus parts are cheaper than toilet parts at West Marine. See for yourself! The valve she broke, the seals that will have to be replaced on the way into the valve will come to $100 easy. Tell the clerk you're using my liveaboard simulator and to take his girlfriend out to dinner on your $100 greenback. If you DO buy the boat, this'll come in handy when you DO need boat parts because he'll remember you for the great time his girlfriend gave him on your $100 tip. Hard-to-find boat parts will arrive in DAYS, not months like the rest of us. It's just a good political move while in simulation mode.

Call another cab from West Marine's phone, saving 50 cents on payphone charges. Load the cab with all your stuff, toilet parts, DIRTY CLOTHES then tell the cabbie to take you to the laundromat so we can wash the stinky clothes in the trunk. The luxury marina's laundry in Ft Lauderdale has a broken hot water heater. They're working on it, the girl at the store counter, said, yesterday. Mentioning the $12/ft you paid to park the boat at their dock won't get the laundry working before we leave for Key West. Do your laundry in the laundromat the cabbie found for you. Just because nobody speaks English in this neighborhood, don't worry. You'll be fine this time of day near noon.

Call another cab to take us out of here to a supermarket. When you get there, resist the temptation to load up, because your boat has limited storage and very limited refridgeration space (remember? Coleman Cooler). Buy from the list we made early this morning. Another package of cookies is OK. Leave one of the kids guarding the pile of clean laundry just inside the supermarket's front door. We learned our lesson and DIDN'T forget and leave it in the cab, again!

Call another cab to take us back to the marina, loaded up with clean clothes and food and all-important boat parts. Isn't Ft Lauderdale beautiful from a cab? It's too late to go exploring, today. Maybe tomorrow. Don't forget to tell the cab to go to the 7-11 (marina parking lot) not your front door, since cabs don't float well.
Ok, haul all the stuff in the dock cart from the 7-11 store the two blocks to the boat bedroom. Wait 20 minutes before starting out for the house. This simulates waiting for someone to bring back a marina-owned dock cart from down the docks.... They always leave them outside their boats, until the marina crew get fed up with newbies like us asking why there aren't any carts and go down the docks to retrieve them.
Put all the stuff away, food and clothes, in the tiny drawer space provided. Have a beer on the patio (cockpit) and watch the sunset. THIS is living!

Now, disassemble the toilet in your bathroom, take out the wax ring under it and put it back. Reassemble the toilet. This completes the simulation of putting the new valve in the head on the boat. Uh, uh, NO POWERVENT! GET YOUR HAND OFF THAT SWITCH! The whole boat smells like the inside of the holding tank for hours after fixing the toilet in a real boat, too! Spray some Lysol if you got it.
After getting up, tomorrow morning, from your V-Berth, take the whole family out to breakfast by WALKING to the nearest restaurant, then take a cab to any local park or attraction you like. We're off today to see the sights of Ft Lauderdale before heading out to sea, again, to Key West. Take a cab back home after dinner out and go to bed, exhausted, on your little foam pad under the table....
Get up this morning and disconnect all hoses, electrical wires, etc. Get ready for sea. Crank up the lawn mower under the open bedroom window for 4 hours while we motor out to find some wind. ONE responsible adult MUST be sitting on the hot patio all day, in shifts, on watch looking out for other boats, ships, etc. If you have a riding lawn mower, let the person on watch. drive it around the yard all day to simulate driving the boat down the ICW in heavy traffic. About 2PM, turn off the engine and just have them sit on the mower steering it on the patio. We're under sail, now. Every hour or so, take everyone out in the yard with a big rope and have a tug-of-war to simulate the work involved with setting sail, changing sail, trimming sail. Make sure everyone gets all sweaty in the heat.

Sailors working on sailboats are always all sweaty or we're not going anywhere fast! Do this all day, today, all night, tonight, all day, tomorrow, all night tomorrow night and all day the following day until 5PM when you arrive at the next port you're going to. Make sure nobody in the family leaves the confines of the little bedroom or the patio during our trip. Make sure everyone conserves water, battery power, etc., things you'll want to conserve while being at sea on a trip somewhere. Everyone can go up to the 7-11 for an icecream as soon as we get the boat docked on day 3, the first time anyone has left the confines of the bedroom/patio in 3 days.

Question - Was anyone suicidal during our simulated voyage? Keep an eye out for anyone with a problem being cooped up with other family members. If anyone is attacked, any major fights break out, any threats to throw the captain to the fish.....forget all about boats and buy a motorhome, instead.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

You Might be a Cruiser if . . . .

. . . . Your boat gets all the Christmas presents!

New Head Pump Body

New Inverter

Spare Raw-water pump

Spare Transmission Cooler

Looking to Electrify Dinghy Lift

This one is just a 3-year  recertification, we already have the raft!

And truth be told -  if in some way you find yourself considering that Pump Head as much a present for your Wife as the boat, then you really know you are a cruiser!  (even if she does not totaly agree :-) )

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A peak inside the Xantrex ProSine 2.0. . .

In response to the question:  Can it be saved?  in  the answer is No.

Over this past week I have taken the ProSine 2.0 apart looking for any obvious signs of trauma and nothing jumped out at me.

Overall, this unit looked like a clean design and seemed well put together. Separated into a High Voltage side and Low Voltage Side the system consists of 4 major components   The bottom board handles the FETs and high current stuff,  two upright boards (HV and LV control board) each with a PIC micro controller and related logic to control things, and an AC relay contained inside the black box..

I would say the air flow though it is a bit hampered - all the exhaust had to squeeze under the black box on the right. Cardboard air flow control added to airflow resistance and as such I am not surprised  it overheated when trying to supply more then 80A of charging current.

 I did however notice that it used a lot of what I could consider questionable connector technology for a marine environment, ala:
Example of PCB connector 

The connects used appear to be tin-plated.  Going back to my history in PC manufacturing, we would NEVER have used non-gold plated connectors in such an application.  Seeing these I had hope that this was perhaps a major cause of the failure, and simply cleaning them and re-seating the boards (thereby doing a whipping action on the connectors) would bring it back.

Example of cables
And these insulation-displacement cables also caused me concern. Again, a technology less reliable then a proper crimped-on connector technology which gives good metal flow between the wire and the connector.

Hoping nothing overall was wrong and these connectors were a major weakness I disassembled the unit, cleaned everything and put it back together.  Alas there was no joy.

I noted in the diagnostic screens the system would display their firmware number, except for the High Voltage Board.  So I pulled it again, and re-seated the CPU in its socket.  Still no luck.

HV Board 
And looking at the PIC controller part number I noted that a Consumer temperate range part was used, as opposed to an Industrial range part.  Does save money (under a $ each), but given the high temp environmental I would have expected Industrial parts, not Consumer grade parts that are typical used for items inside a house or office.

At this point I am giving up.  Xantrex provides NO support for their products to the end consumer, nor their dealer network.  Parts are not available, and in short - if anything goes wrong the only choice is to round-file it.  (This started coming to light about a  year after I had purchased the unit.)  Even if I did dig more into it it would become a hobby for me.  So, to Ebay as Parts Only goes this unit, and a new Magnum MS-2000 had been order I also looked at Outback units.  Both of which have a good rep these days.   Not a chance I will ever purchase another Xantrex offering, based on their current support policies alone...

And of you want some interesting reading, here is one persons behind-the-scenes look at what happened over the years:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Raspberry PI Navigation Computer?

Today I got caught up looking over a bunch of Raspberry PI stuff and it got me thinking.  This might be a wonderful base for a low cost, high performance, open source Navigation computer / system.

Previously I talked about the Nav Computer used on Viking Star, a Windows based system using SeaClear:

and it continues to work well for us.

Pie anyone?

Raspberry PI?

But here is this new Raspberry PI environment that for $35 gives an incredible amount of power:

Launched over last summer, and to be honest just now getting on its feet,  this effort is along the lines of the Ardunio except that it focuses more on visual interfaces and hosts Linux.

Just thinking:

Could use the USB Hockey puck GPS receiver or the 4-port serial cable to connect to an existing GPS receiver.  (I likely would do the latter and download waypoints into the GPS in parallel with the chartplotter).

Add a Bluetooth Mouse if you did not want to be Touching the Screen all the time.

Add some power supply stuff and for $100 looks like you could have a VERY competent  navigation computer, with a complete touch-display system coming in under $300 - $400

Note:  Links just given for reference  likely can find better deals with some searching...

A very quick Google turned up a few folks that have started to play with this:

Seems there are still some issues, and you had best be well versed in tech (as with almost any Linux deployment).  And not sure if I would ever be happy with the rather sluggish response time of openCPN (See my 1st post linked above) while it updates the display.  But  IF I was starting our nav computer today this would be high on my look-at list.

UPDATE  August 2013 -

I did a quick google search, and found a few links of folks who seem to be making progress.  Here are a couple:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cost to Cruise - November 2012

November came, and November went.  Two big items impacted Costs this months:

  • First and Last at Friday Harbor
  • Filling out the Spares Kits in preparation of heading North.

First and Last we will recoup when we depart next year.  The Spares consisted of completing our chart kit for Canada and purchasing a spare Raw Water Pump and Transmission Heat-exchanger   Those two complete the Cooling water side of our spares kit.

Insurance / medical will start to climb higher as we see the Docs for the once-yearly thing, and get ready for Kristi's Cataract surgery next Jan/Feb.  Surprisingly, Dining Out was not as high this month.  Perhaps Kristi and I having colds for a couple of weeks slowed down the Coffee House thing!

On the Energy Front: Last year we heated almost exclusively using the Dickinson.  Though wonderful, it consumed 80-90 galls of fuel a month.  (Or about  $300+ of fuel).  This year we are trying to use the small electric heaters combined with the Hurricane to 'warm things up' in the morning.  This months 30 hours on the Hurricane combined with a bit over 1,000KWhs of electricity is about 1/3rd what we spent last year on heating when we relied solely on the Dickinson 

Saving $$ is great, but the Dickinson is still really nice when it is on.   Over the Winter we will try to use it only for those really cold / rainy / windy days and use the Electric / Hurricane combination when we can.  Or other 'special occasions' :-)

And look at Solar!  Hey, I know 27Ah's / day is not all that much, but it is about 2x what we expected in the modeler!  Go Solar!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

ProSine 2.0 packing it in?

One of the first 'major' purchases I made for Viking Star was a true Sine-wave inverter.  MSW inverters had been around for some time, and were well know for their simplicity and robustness.  But they also had SOME compatibility issues (electric Blankets being the biggest issue for some reason).   So for the long haul, a true Sine-wave was what I wanted.

Can it be saved ????       
Back in 2001 there really were not too many options, and I ended up purchasing a StatPower ProSine 2.0   At the time Statpower still had a good name, and their inverter looked just like what I needed.

However, , ,

Little did I know that StatPower had already begun its transition into Xantrex.  And that the ProSine was one of the first of 'problem children'  to come out of that company.  Problem inverters combined with $$$ oriented business practices - little to no support for the end consumer let alone their dealer network.  Their reputation can easily be found all over the internet.

Once these things came to light it was too late for me.  So I prayed I would have 'That One' that worked. . .

And it has, sort of, for 10 years.  Despite the occasional hiccups - Like faulting on "Low Bus Voltage" (when the batteries are well charged and little load is being placed on the unit), or my favorite "Revise AC Polarity" (impossible -- we have an isolation transformer.  Polarity is established on the boat, not the dock.  And even more fun:  this error would come up when we were not even plugged into shore power).  And poor cooling of the unit rendering it unable to support more then 80A charge rate without overheating.   But we limped along, listened to the faulting after which it would mostly restart-after-fault.  So it went.

Till a couple of days ago when it started reporting its Low Bus Voltage every day.  And it would no longer auto-restart.  Then last night it went wild with Errors 0258, and error 3073.  I also noticed it was starting to trip the incoming AC mains breaker - a quick check showed that the unit would Max Out the charging current to over 100A, despite being capped to 50A in the setup, and the 'AC Breaker' size being set for 20A.  This maxing out, combined with the dryer running would cause a 33A draw on the AC mains, easily tripping my interior Circuit Breaker of 25A.

So, last night I had to disable the ProSine.  We still have our backup Heart Inverter that we can use (aka The Tank), but I would like to get the primary inverter back into operation.  Before I plunk down $1,500 or so on a new inverter (and it will NEVER EVER BE A XANTREX product, I am looking at Magnum Inverter)  I want to bust open the ProSine and see if there is anything obvious.  Looking for blatant signs of distress, and also perhaps corrosion on interconnects.  This Slow Die of the unit just has that feel that the unit might be rusting up some, and causing reliability issues with interconnects and / or the ability to reliably read its sensors.

Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coffee Shop View

After a shared cold kept us on the boat for several days, and the Thanksgiving holiday, yesterday morning I put my nose to the grindstone and really dug in to my current work project.  After a couple of very productive hours, I wanted a break, so I set out to re-visit the Churchill Coffee House.

Last year when we visited, there was an ice cream machine whose compressor was VERY loud.  I didn't see the same machine, but there was a drink cooler I could hear running.  I ordered my 'regular' drink, and a cup of soup from the very friendly people who run this shop.

I took a seat in the very corner, and discovered it is the BEST seat of the house!  It is away from the kitchen, and as far away from any coolers as you can get.  And the view, on a gorgeous sunny day!

The ferry to Anacortes is loading.  The inter-island ferry is arriving -- those garbage trucks are waiting for that one.  I can see Churchill's lights from the boat, so of course I can see the boat from here -- but I know what to look for......let me get you a closer view.

Look for the 'white cross' just left of center -- can you see it?  That's us!

After a side trip to the book store, I head back to the boat to get more work done.  It's Al's turn to go on walkabout.  When he returns, he sees 'sea horse' in the sky!

This shot also goes right back up to the Churchill Coffee House, though it's difficult to point it out.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hopeful Things

Two recent images captured here in Friday Harbor bring to mind the thought of 'Hopeful Things'.

A rainbow, symbol of God's promise

Sunrise, a shiny, golden start to a new day!

These images cause me to think of Hira this week -- our friend, fellow boater and blogger.  She has been facing questions and testing regarding her health -- more today -- but Hira is such a shiny, golden, and warm spirit!  She is Light, reflecting through the clouds, full of Color and Life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Progress on the Arduino Alternator Regulator and Small DC Generator control

Some time ago I mentioned I was looking to do something better around Alternator regulation for our DC generator:

This evening I posted the 1st really ruff cut of code in the other blog:  "Arduino based Alternator Regulator and Small Engine Control"

Though I would just put a small notice here in case someone is interested  and perhaps had not been following the other blog.  Overall progress, hardware design is completed.  Parts and PCB for the 1st prototypes have been ordered and should be awaiting us when we go to Portland for the Holidays.  And today I posted the 1st ruff version of the Software.

Been a fun project, I had forgotten how enjoyable these small process-control designs can be.  Will be fun to see if it comes alive!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Can not let this one pass....


One of the mailing lists I belong to posted this today:

I am speechless, really?   But I guess it is not so bad a deal.  After all, shipping is free.  Plus it comes 'Fully Assembled' !

Did bring back good memory of one of my favorite Ren and Stimpy bits:

Wow, what will folks think of next!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Evidence of Wind

Whew!  Last night we were reminded long and hard that we live on a boat!  (Scroll down for the 'just published' post on the Liveaboard Policy)

In the afternoon, the wind pushed the needle on our anemometer up to 47.  We still are not sure if that's MILES-p-h or KNOTS-p-h.  But when it gets up there, who cares.

It was getting pretty rough after dinner.  Eating included holding onto the chili bowl so it wouldn't slide off the table.  The ferries seemed to be coming in a bit faster than normal.  Were they anxious to get back to dock? Late due to the weather and trying to make up time?  Is it easier to control at a faster speed (like Viking Star is)?

The boat shuddered many times.  Al stuck his head out the window to check the lines and fenders.  Even though the wind was 'blowing us off', the breakwater was rolling pretty good too, and we would ride those fenders between us.

A big sustained gust pushed that needle up to 55!  Then Al shown the searchlight across the water, and it showed a scary sight.  The waves didn't look THAT big in the DARK!

Right around 10 PM, it seemed to calm a bit. The rolling IS a lot easier to take while lying on our nice memory foam mattress.  I slept reasonable well.  Al still had a rough night, but I think that was more due to his cold and 'dealing with' all the fluids he's been drinking.

This morning, he stuck his head out again -- in the heavy rain -- to check the lines and fenders.  All survived well.  And then he cried, 'WHOA!'  I had to stand to see what he was seeing.

Just for a 'before' reference -- a photo taken of $13M boat Komokwa as she checking in with Customs.

And today's view, where the barrier has been pushed over so far that it nearly closes off the passage:

Liveaboard Policy

When searching for a port to spend the winter in, we had a few key requirements, but mostly having access to resources while not having a car.  After looking at several options, (and getting even more No's) we chose Friday Harbor as a winter port for many reasons:
  1. Access to healthcare, coffee shops, book stores, marine stores. - (Check)
  2. Access to major transportation -- ferries, and through ferries to trains, airports, and car rentals. - (Check)
  3. The San Juan Islands are in a 'rain shadow' of the Olympic Mountains, and get far less average rain than  Seattle or Olympia.  Friday Harbor itself is in a 'doughnut hole', where even when the San Juans ARE rainy, we may have sunshine. - (NICE!)
  4. The town of Friday Harbor shrinks in population over the winter.  Tourists swell  that count to about 100,000 during the summer!  We came to port, on a Friday, in July, the first time we came to check out the town.  WHAT A ZOO!  It gave us second thoughts about choosing it for our winter port.  Another visit with friends brought us here in October, and the town was much more tolerable. - (Good)
  5. And a very big reason for choosing Friday Harbor, is because they simply allow liveaboards!  Most of the more 'metro' marinas on the east side of the Sound, IF they allow liveaboards, have waiting lists that could be years long for a boat our size. - (YES!)

When we came in to port this winter we were asked to sign an acknowledgement of their Liveaboard Policy.  We did not recall doing this last winter.  It only makes sense though.  A couple of items had Al giggling when he read it.  Besides the usual and expected items regarding no discharge, pet responsibilities, safety, etc., we found these rather general considerations:

  • Have a boat suitable for living on board in the Port's sole opinion. (Kind of a DUH!  But notice, it's the PORT'S decision -- no matter what you think.)  And there are plenty of boats anchored out North of the Harbor that perhaps do not make their cut.
  • Accept the responsibilities identified by the Port for living on board in the marina.  (OK)
  • Accept the hardships and limitations that are part of the liveaboard lifestyle, such as water shutoffs and winter conditions.  
  • Be willing and able to live aboard without physical or financial assistance from the Port or its staff.  (Sad that this has to be spelled out.)
It is interesting how some of these just plain call out " Living aboard is not all Sunny Days!" Water might get cut-off, wind and waves might make it difficult to get on and off the boat. We have come to accept this.   Al will often answer to folks 'concern' about us being 'Out there' on the breakwater with "When things get rough, it just reminds us that we live on a boat". Comes with the territory.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

WiFi Repeater for the boat


I have updated and simplified the Home Built WiFi Repeater.   

Check out the new-and-improved WiFi Repeater here:


This post is long overdue, but as things are slowing down figured I would get to it.

As shown in Can you Hear Me Now? we have installed a WiFi repeater aboard Viking Star.   The primary purpose of this repeater is to reach out and connect to a distant WiFi station, one MUCH further than could be done using just our laptops themselves.  And the 2nd purpose of this 'repeater' is to allow more than one computer to share a distant connection.

There are several ways to get long distant WiFi connections, starting with external USB dongles-- often augmented by empty Pringles Cans or wire cooking colanders.  Hey, don't laugh, they work rather well.    Google up:  "Poor Mans WiFi" and see what folks have done!  More elaborate (and better range) systems use Ethernet-based external WiFi receivers, or even more elaborate repeater systems like we have here on Viking Star.

And there is also a wide range of prices, from as low as $15 for an external USB Dongle + wire basket, to approaching $1,000 for a proper repeater system like shown here.

But if you all know me, you know I did not pay $1,000 for our system.  (And no one should, there are well-designed, pre-configured systems out there for under $400).

Almost all of the current advanced WiFi systems are based around the Ubiquiti Networks 'Bullet'  These low cost devices are wonderful radios, featuring high power and good sensitivity,  mounted in an all-weather case with Power-over-Ethernet -- so only one wire needs to be routed to the device.  In the simplest form using  one of these units, an antenna,  some CAT-5 cable and a POE injector and you can be up an running on one computer for just a bit over $100.  Add a simple router and you get the complete repeater system for under $150.  And less if you happen to have some parts lying around!

There are a few companies who will pre-bundle these kits for you, and to be honest I kind of like this one:  For about $375 you get a complete kit with all the parts, including a router!  One of the other reasons I like these folks is they have gone in and simplified the Bullet firmware, making it simple to setup and use their system. Almost all other 'kits' out there leave the default Ubiquit firmware in place, which can be a bit overwhelming.  WaveWiFi has done a great job in simplifying everything.

Another provider that gets a lot of good comments is:  Their offering is the basic stuff, no extra firmware and is no different than what you could purchase independently - ala below.  But it does all come at once, and they have some creative antenna mounting solutions as well. Starts at $250, more for different antenna mounts and optional router.  Recently was passed on to me. Also around $365 for their router version, they too have done a nice job of integrating and writing a custom firmware to make usage simpler. They also do NOT use the bullet, but instead an Alps USB adapter for their internal workings.

A comment on that:  The only question I can see about TheWiirie is -  the Alps addapter is a consumer rated vs. commercial rated device - with the key difference being temperature range.  Consumer devices typically from from 0-50c (32-122f), while commercial devices typical are speced for -20c to 85c (or -40f to 185f).  For a device mounted outside,  using consumer grade devices can impact reliability as well as performance when outside of 'room' temperature.)

Now if you want to save some $$$, know a little about setting up IP routers and such, keep reading!

WiFi repeater used on Viking Star

Here is an overview of all the DIY-Repeater:


  • Bullet M2-HP, ala:                                        $78
  • 9dbi Omni-directional Antenna, ala: . . .          $43
  • CAT-5 Patch Cable - long enough to match your installation   
  • 12v 'Router' of your choice  (I used a Linksys WRT54G V5)
  • PoE Injector - Easy way, or modify the Router (Free way - see below)                         $5 (?)
  • 3M Supper88 Plastic Electricians tape
  • 3M  SCOTCH 2210 VINYL MASTIC Water-proof seal
So for around $130-150 you can have a 1st class WiFi repeater..  And if you shop around some and/or have parts on hand already, maybe even less! (I picked up my antenna for $10 off of Ebay, and already had the WRT54G).

A comments on the components.  Ubiquit has released a 'titanium' series of bullets - using an aluminum case instead of plastic.  Yes, they might be nice, but they also cost around $120.  Your call, but I think the standard plastic one is fine.  Also, make sure you get an M2 bullet, not the M5 ones.  The M5 ones use a different (and uncommon) frequency.  And also make sure you get the HP version  (M2-HP).  The High Power one puts out 8x the power as the standard M2 bullet.  The standard bullet costs under $40, so be careful what you end up getting when you buy.

On the antenna 8-9dBi is about the right gain.  Anything higher and the beam becomes too flat and tight.  Not only an issue with a rocking boat, but if you get too flat a beam there is a good chance the shore-based station will be physical too high for your antenna to see it.  And for the same reason  do NOT get an antenna with any 'Down Tilt'.  Down Tilt will direct the beam down towards the water, when you are more than likely trying to get up to the shore.  Get a flat, or 0-tilt, antenna and try to mount it 15' or so above the water.

CAT-5 cable just needs to be long enough to get from where you mount the Bullet to inside and the Router.  I did not get 'special' outdoor cable, but did get good quality cable.  It is also routed inside the mast out of the sun, and the part that is exposed got an extra wrapping of electrical tape for added UV protection. (Be careful, recently I purchased some Chinese cables and found the wires were not copper!  Best to purchase a US made cable.  US made, not US 'branded')

The Router can be any old 'home' router you might have kicking around.  Take care to check that it uses a 12V external power supply.  I had an old Lynksys WRT54G  lying around that works great.  Make sure it is a 12v one, some of the versions used 5V supplies.  See here:  The reason for this is we are going to connect this router directly to the boats 12v system and we do not want to risk letting any of the magic smoke out of the router.

The last two items are actually ones you will not see on other kits.  The tape and mastic is used to wrap up the bullet and make it very water resistant   There is a common concern around exposed Bullets, and there has been cases where water intrusion fouled things up. (and one reasons I think Ubni released the Titanium series).  But in any case, a good wrapping seems to be what the "Pro's" have done for years on cable telco and other RF outdoor systems.  No matter what you end up purchasing, consider adding this step to your installation.  (and BTW, this is not too bad of an idea for any exposed RF connectors.  I wrapped out AIS antenna in the same way, while our VHF antenna connector was already inside a weather protected sleeve.)

And do NOT skimp on the Super88 plastic tape.  It does cost more, but is well worth it.  The 2210 Mastic is the key to making waterproof enclosure between the Bullet and the Antenna, as well as the Cat-5 cable. (And why I do not think the Titanium bullet is needed - its all going to get wrapped up anyway).    It might be available at a Big-Box store, or mail order.  It comes in 10' rolls for around $50, so unless you are going to do a LOT of these you might see if someone wants to go in with you.  I ended up being able to purchase some by-the-foot at an electrical supply house.  

Power to the Bullet! - The Easy Way

At this point we are almost done.  All that needs to be figured out is how to get 12V up to the Bullet via the POE (Power Over Ethernet) feature on the CAT-5 cable.   Probable the simplest way is to purchase a PoE injector like this one: . . . .  At only $5 had this been available when I first installed the repeater I would have gone that way.

Spend the $5 and get a PoE adapter, trust me!

Power to the Bullet! - The Hard Way. . . .

Sadly, when I put this together these low cost PoE adapters were not available, so I modified the inside of the WRT54G to provide the PoE function.  And even today it is a free solution!

To do so one needs to take off the plastic housing.  The two ends just snaps off and you can extract the PCB unit attached to a plastic carrier.  What we are going to do is solder two jumper wires from the 12v power connect to the appropriated pins on one of the RJ-45 Ethernet connectors.  In this way you will be able to send 12v up to the Bullet over the same CAT-5 cable used to communicate with the Bullet.  Take note that we are going to use one of the block of 4 LAN connects for this, not the single WAN connector. (When I first did this, I was not sure which one I would end up using, so I soldered wires to both one of the block of 4 and the WAN.  In the end, you only need to do one of the block of 4)

After taking the case apart remove those two Mounting Screws, then the PCB can slide back and be pulled from the carrier.    

Flipping the board over and locate the Power Connector and one of the RJ-45 connectors in the Block of 4.  Then solder two jumper wires (one red, one black) from the power connector to the appropriate pins on the selected RJ-45.  CAUTION:   The photos show a V5 release of the WRT-54G, if you have a different version you will need to locate the appropriate power jack pins, and make sure the pins on the RJ-45 are not 'connected' to something else already. . . .   really, at this point that $5 PoE injector is looking really nice!

Remember, you need only to solder on one set of wires.
Make sure to mark on the outside some way which of the RJ-45
 connectors you soldered the wires to. (I used a Sharpie)

Now put everything back together and lets see if it all works. Up to this point the Router should function as it always has and you can do any testing you wish before moving on.

Mount the antenna and Bullet outside and bring the CAT-5 cable back into the boat.  Mount your router someplace inside the boat plugin the CAT-5 cable into the market RJ-45 connector you soldered the 12v wires to.  (Or if using the injector, CAT-5 goes to the injector, and injector goes to any of the LAN / group-of-four jacks.  Do NOT use the WAN jack as we will soon be disabling this.)  Wire a lead from your house 12v system, via an on/off switch to the DC jack on the WRT54G and you are all set to go.

Connections to the WRT-54G

As mentioned above, when connecting the bullet to the WRT-54G you want to use one of the LAN ports - not the WAN port.  So, connect the bullet (with or without the PoE injector) as shown:

Making it Waterproof

Some time ago I captured these steps written by Bob Hrbek on how to properly tape up an external connector.  the way the Pro's have done things for years on RF installations.  His website is gone now, but I saved a copy and here is the gist of it:
  • Use the Supper88 tape  to make 'Courtesy Wrap's  directly over the antenna connection and the place where the CAT-5 wire comes out the bottom.  This is just a couple of turns of the tape which will aid in un-gunking things if (when) you need to open things up in the future for servicing   Do not go wild on this, just a single layer a couple of tape widths wide is sufficient   Some folks even put the tape on Backwards (sticky side out) to work even better.
  • Using the SCOTT 2210 mastic to cover everything up.  Starting about 2 inches above the top of the Bullet antenna connector to a couple of inches below the CAT-5 cable.  It is a self fusing tape, pull it firm, make about 2 layers, and then mash it all together into a fused ball.
  • Cover it all up with two wraps of the Super88 electrical tape.  Making sure to go a bit higher on the antenna and the CAT-5 cable with each wrap.
In 8 years of outdoor use, I have never had a problem with water intrusion.  And yes, I did have to Unwrap things once, so was very happy I had put the Courtesy tape on.

Configuring the Router and Bullet

Here I am going to give an overview of  how to configure the Router and the Bullet, as well as how to use it for connecting to external WiFi networks. Again, these instructions are for the WRT54G router.  If you are using something else, the ideas will be the same, but obviously the screen shots will be different. And if you run into things like the default Router address is in a different subnet (ala 192.168.0.x instead of 192.168.1.x) then you will need to do some additional work.  If this gets too deep, just use a WRT54G, ask someone you know, or purchase a pre-configured kit. 

In summary what we are going to do is disable some functions in the WRT54G, namely:  NAT , DHCP, and Firewall.  This is why we needed to connect to a LAN port, not the WAN port.  We will leave the  internal Ethernet switch and local WiFi radio access intact.  And then the Bullet will be configured to pick up these disabled functions, as well as take  care of the long distance WiFi duty.  We will do this in three phases:
  • Configure Bullet
  • Configure Router
  • Fine tune the Bullet
  • Attach Bullet to external WiFi network.

To start with, perhaps it is simplest to reset the Router to its default factor configuration   Either by the reset button, or perhaps some command.  But lets start with a clean slate.  We will assume the Bullet is also in its default configuration.  In my case, this placed the two at:
  •   = Linksys WRT54G
  • = Bullet
It is simpler to connect a physical LAN wire from your computer to the WRT54 until we get all the basic set up.  But your call, all the following CAN be done cold via a wireless connection, but you will have a few more reboot steps in there....

First Step:  Configure the Bullet.

The Bullet by default acts as a 'transmitter'*, or more correctly an Access Point.  An Access Point is what you connect your computer to.  Instead of transmitting, we want  the bullet to behave more like our computer   To reach out over the water and connect to a distant access point..  To do this, we need to configure the Bullet  act as a receiver*, like your computer;  we do this by changing the Wireless Mode from Access Point to Station. 
* Yes, I know the words Transmitter and Receiver are not being used properly here, but I though it might better explain things.  The correct words are: Access Point and Station.  And being truthful - Router is a word that is not totally correct when referring to the WRT54G, but it is in common usage. . .

First lets set up a new password.  Open up a browser, type in  Enter the default ubnt for the user name and ubnt for the password as well. Click on the System Tab and change the Administrator password to something other than the default (click on the key image next to the username):

Take note of the Configuration Management section:  After all is done, it is very helpful to backup the Bullets configuration on your PC.   But for now lets move on.  Click on the Change button at the bottom and a pop-up will appear at the top.  For now, do NOT click the Apply button in this pop-up.

Next we want to select the Network tab.  

Here is where we will make the most changes and enable all those features we disabled in the WRT54G.
  • In Network Role, change the Network Setting setting to Router.
  • In the WLAN section, change the DHCP address to something like I have.  We will be moving everything away from the common 192.168.0.x or 192.168.1.x.  Not doing so might make it more difficult to manage your new WiFi repeater when it is connected to an external network.  You can pick lots of different addresses, just make sure it is one of the 'protected' local-only block of numbers.  I selected to use 192.168.37.x for all my setups.
  • In the LAN network section, put in a new IP Address, and then check all the NAT boxes as shown.
  • Still in the LAN section, check the Enable DHCP box and fill in the appropriated start and end ranges.  This is where we will pick up the DHCP and NAT functions we disabled in the WRT54G

Again click on the Change button at the bottom of the screen, and this time do click on the Apply button that pops up at the top.  We are done with the Bullet for now and ready to 'configure' the router.

Next step:  Configuring the 'Router'

Next we move to the WRT54G, and here we want to disable some of the functions we enabled in the Bullet (NAT, DHCP), move it to the new 'block' of IP numbers we selected, and set up the local wireless connection.  Going to your default manager screen still at  Change your password on the Admin tab.  And then go to the Setup tab and the Basic Setup sub-screen:

  • Change the Local IP address to something unique within your new selected block of addresses. (I selected
  • Disable the DHCP server - the internal NAT server will automatically be disabled as well.
Now select the Wireless tab to set up the local boats WiFi.  These steps are EXACTLY same steps you would do if you were using this router in your home.  Give it an SSID name that works for you, enable the appropriate security, and if you are able to, turn down the power to a low setting (unless you have a really BIG boat).  Make sure to set up any wireless passwords and such, again just like you would do at home.

Fine tune the Bullet

OK, save the changes and cycle the power to reset both the WRT54G and the bullet.  When they come back up you should now be able to connect to the WRT54G via the new wireless settings. And if you want, check to make sure your computers IP address has been assigned inside the new address range you selected.  If not, something is wrong.  Assuming things went well, opening up a browser you should find the WRT54G at the new IP address you selected ( in my case), and the Bullet at its new address ( in my case).  Go ahead and log into each one using your new password.  We have one more thing to do to the Bullet before we are ready to start using the system.

The Bullet has a couple of features in it for remote resetting that we want to take advantage of.  In this way, if something 'Goes Wrong' we can reset the bullet to its default state and start over.  Normally this would require physical access to the bullet - pressing a small button on the bottom of it.  But given that this unit will likely by mounted outside, up a mast somewhere, and covered with mastic, let's explore other options.

The first is a Watch Dog.  The idea behind a Watch Dog is that if we pet the dog every once in a while, he will be satisfied and behave.  But if we go too long and forget to pet him he starts barking.  In this case, the pet will be pinging the WRT54, and the barking will be to reset the Bullet.  On the Bullet management screen, go to the Services tab and click the Enable Ping Watchdog  box.  Then enter the IP address you assigned to the 'Router' ( in my case).  Put in some good long delays to help reduce accidental triggers, and also a failed count.  Note I used 300 seconds and 3 counts.  This means I might have to wait as long as 15 minutes to reset if needed.  But that sure is better than climbing the pole!

Click the Change button, and then the Apply button that pops up.  Once things reboot, you might want to go to the System tab and save the configuration file.  The WRT54G also has a save configure feature on its Administration / Config management tab.

That is it!  We are all set!  And if you ever need to 'reset to default' just press the physical reset button on the WRT54G.  This will cause it to load its default location of, and after 15 minutes of the Bullet not be able to 'see' it at will cause the Bullet to restore its default config as well.

There is a 2nd way to 'reset' the bullet remotely, but we will come back to that later.

Attach Bullet to external WiFi network.

OK.  We are all ready to use our new WiFi repeater!  Power everything up and log into the Bullet screen ( in my case) and select the wireless tab, then click the Site Survey button:

Here in Friday Harbor I can see over 50 different access points via the Bullet, a result of the 8dBi gain antenna, it's location up high, and the relatively good receive sensitivity in the bullet itself.  For reference,  my IBM Thinkpad can only see 4.  Check the button next to the one you want to use, and copy down the MAC address as well.  Scroll to the bottom of the Site Survey screen and click the Select button.  When you return to the Wireless screen, paste in the MAC address of the station you selected into the Lock to AP MAC box.  Do what is needed in the Wireless Security screen, click Change and accept and enjoy!

We have had this system aboard Viking Star for many years now; it is our 2nd generation system and has worked very well for us.  Not only are we able to connect to WiFi access points over great distances, but we are also able to get around some issues we have run across in marinas. Things like one of their access points still transmitting  but not actually being connected to the internet.  Being able to Lock In to a specific MAC address of the AP allows us to freeze out misbehaving marina WiFi nodes.  In the case here at Friday Harbor, they have a WiFi Mesh.  By being able to lock into a MAC, we lock onto the entry point of  the mesh, as opposed to the closest node to us (which is about 3-4 mesh-hops away from the entry point).  This gives us better speed and reliability of internet access. 

And though they are getting better, many marinas' WiFi installations are not the best.  In places where the office staff says 'well, it works best here, and if you are in slips 1 to 10 some folks can get it' we have found the repeater often will work just fine.

Big Ears and Big Mouth

WiFi communication is actually both directions, to the boat and from the boat.  Makes sense  and hence why 'transmitter' and 'receiver' are not really correct.  Just like two people communicating, each person needs to able to speak and hear. If you want to communicate over a longer distance, you need to speak louder, and maybe put your hands next to your ears to be able to hear better.

The repeater is doing the same thing.  Using a more powerful transmitter in the Bullet, we have a much bigger mouth than the laptop, and the gain of the antenna gives better ears.  But this is not always enough.  One situation we have found where the repeater does not work very well is in a crowded city.  When we were in Portland at the Blues Fest we were able to 'see' over 200 stations.  But even though we were only a couple 100 yards from an access point we were not able to connect to it.  I liken it to being at two sides of a room at a very crowded  party.  Even though we are yelling at each other (Big Mouths), and cupping our ears (Big Ears), there is just too much noise around to be able to effectively communicate.  WiFi was designed to work at a range of 100' or so, and as such, when there are a LOT of stations in place there is really no method for coordinating all that yelling . . . .  of course using a highly directioned antenna would solve this.  But for us, we just grab the laptops and walk up to the coffee shop.

And to be honest,  that was the ONLY place where the repeater failed us.  All else, it has been great.  And despite the claims in advertisements, I think the longest reach we have ever done was 2 miles.  Even so, not bad!    With the repeater we have a Big Mouth and Big Ears, to get the range we need to have a access point that also has a Big Mouth and Big Ears.  Getting a long range is more dependent on what is at the other end. 2 miles most definitely was a Big / Big guy.  Those small in-home access points, the ones like the WRT54G that are designed to work up to say 100'?  Well, with those we might get only a half mile out of them.  

Why LAN and not WAN connector?

Someone asked me why I connected the Bullet to the LAN port and moved the NAT and DHCP functions from the WRT54G to the Bullet, as opposed to the more 'traditional' setup of plugging the Bullet into the WAN port.  IIRC, I had tried several configurations (hence the PoE wires to the WAN and LAN port) and decided on this approach for two reasons:

  1. Using the WAN port I could not 'see' the bullet at its default address.  This was because the WRT54G had reserved the whole 192.168.1.x address space for its 'local' use and would not pass out anything in that space out via the WAN port.  Moving the WRT54G to a different address space (ala 192.168.0.x) solved this problem.
  2. But - with the NAT not being enabled in the Bullet I found that if I attached to a remote WiFi network which had also been setup in the 192.168.1.x address space, I could no longer gain access to the bullets setup and management screen as the remote WiFi had assigned a new address to the bullet. I COULD have hard-coded its address, but that would raise the potential of address conflict. This was a pain, and required 'remote resetting' the bullet to regain control.  
Moving everything to a less used address space (ala 192.168.37.x) helps, but there still is the POSSIBILITY of #2 above happening.  By using the LAN port and setting things up like I did, there is no risk.  And if by chance I do attach to a 192.168.37.x network I will still be able to see the WRT54G and the Bullet.  I just  would not be able to 'see' outside to their systems subnet.  Which is OK, as I really do not need to be messing with someone else's access point setup screens. . . . (Note that Internet access will still be passed through and work, it is just request to the local subnet that would be restricted to Viking Star's network and not be passed out to the external Access points WiFi).

It might be possible to leave the DHCP function in the WRT54G, but I suspect the NAT needs to go to the Bullet to prevent it from being 'captured' by an external WiFi access point which happens to be in the same address space as I am. . . 

And one other point:  The Bullet Watchdog timer needs to be able to 'see' the WRT54G and ping it.  I suppose I could have used the WAN port, enabled NAT in the Bullet, placed the Bullet and the WRT54G on different sub-nets, and enabled an external address for the WRT54G via the WAN port for the bullet to Ping.  Doing all this seems like a bit more work then what I ended up doing.

If anyone out there really knows this stuff and has some ideas - please send them in!

Final Thought - the other way to remotely reset the Bullet

It turns out the Bullets have an undocumented feature to do remote resetting.  This person figured it out, and it involves placing a voltage of 14-15v or more into the communication lines of the CAT-5 cable.

Cool little feature that DROVE ME 100% NUTS FOR A FEW YEARS!  See, it turns out my bullet triggers at about 14.2v, and it also turns out that for some unknown reason the WRT54G connected the + side of the power supply to the signal lines!    So, when we came into our slip, plugged in shore power all worked great.  I would go away, the batteries would charge up, reach their 14.6v set point and reset the bullet. . . .  Took me a LOONG time to finally figure out this one.  (And it is why I was glad that I had used the Courtesy Wrap in the waterproofing!).  There are a few way around this.  Selected a different Router than the WRT54G I had on hand, install a couple of dropping diodes into the supply voltage going into the WRT54G (which I did and it has worked well to this point), or on the System Tab un-click the Enable Reset Button box.  Doing so will not only disable the undocumented remote reset feature, but will also disable the reset button itself on the bullet.  The downside is, of course, if something really bad happens and you NEED to press that button, it will never - ever -  work.  But, at under $80 each (wow they have gone up.  I paid $49 for mine), I guess if you NEED to press that button - after climbing the mast and undoing the goop, just putting in a new one is not that bad...

I do not know if unclicking the 'enable reset' button will also prevent the watchdog timer for doing a reset.  For now, the two diodes in the +12v line to the WRT54G are working well for me.  If  they stop doing so and I end up having issues down the road perhaps I will look into this area a bit more.

I like to use these 'power' Bridge Rectifiers for things like Voltage Dropping   They are relatively low cost (as long as you do not purchase them at Radio Shack!).  But mostly I like them because due to their physical mass:  they have a sufficient level of heat-dissipation capability all by them self  without the need to extra heat-sinks.  (For this application!  We are only drawing perhaps 1-2Amps MAX).

Just run the battery power to the '-' terminal on the bridge-rectifier, and then the '+' terminal to the WRT54G.  We will not use the '~' terminals in this application. You can even clip those off if you want, but do make sure to cover them with some electrical tape, to reduce the change of stray wires shorting.



And here is again, all put together:

Showing usage of PeO injector