Work in Progress
While most people buy a bluewater cruiser to get away from it all, this owner undertook a refit of a 15-year-old Kadey-Krogen 58 as a way to take it all with him. Say hello to the new remote office.
Some people look upon Wi-Fi access as being on the elemental level of survival, along with air, food, water, and sleep. For others there is some truth to that: Those who earn their living designing the systems we all use to live our online lives need to maintain that connectivity. But think about the advantage to that life: They can work from anywhere in the world—including a boat.
That was the thought process Scott Miller underwent. He is the principle group program director of the FastTrack Center at Microsoft, that supports the onboarding of commercial clients using Office 365, and he and his wife, Teri, are also avid boaters who have moved their way up from a 20-foot Sea Ray to a couple of 30-or-so-foot Chaparrals to a Silverton 48C. He also has a Robalo 300 center console for fishing.
Miller Time takes to the hard for a fresh paint job and much, much more.
Owner Scott Miller has big plans to use broadband Wi-Fi and cellular connections to create a workspace of which many merely dream.
The Millers now find themselves in a new-to-them 2002 Kadey-Krogen 58. They wanted to paint her, refit the interior, and dial in the stabilizers and navigation electronics. And to take to the cruising life while still working full-time, they had big plans to build in the full Internet capability Miller needs to do his work.
He brought the boat to the Lauderdale Marine Center (lauderdalemarinecenter.com), where he worked with Luu Marine (luumarine.com)on the paint and Voyager Maritime Alliance Group (vmag.cc) on the electronics. He had some priorities and, being a project manager in his work, he had a very methodical way to make decisions along the way—point by point—until he thought he had answers to enough of the questions. While Miller was definitely focused on the onboard Internet access, he was equally attentive to other aspects of the refit, including the paint job.
“I like it very clean,” he says. “We made a decision—I saw on another 58 where the teak caprail was Awlgripped rather than varnished. Now I had long had my heart set on revarnishing the caprail and having a high-gloss finish on there. But I saw how clean it looked where it was just painted white. Teri said to me, ‘I am so glad, because water spots would have driven you nuts, and you would have made me nuts because you’d be constantly cleaning that varnish and making it spotless.’”
“And she’s right,” Miller says. “I can’t stand that kind of stuff.”
With the helm refit, Miller wanted to be sure to have all the navigation capability he needed, and the existing system—right down to its standalone JRC radar—was not there.
“We’re going for a clean look,” he says. “I don’t like clutter. That’s why I love the way the screens look. There is going to be nothing on the helm panel except the Garmin GPSMAP 8617 displays.”
He decided to remove the radar unit, opening up some valuable real estate. “All I want on that panel is an iPad Pro 12-inch—that’s the same size as my Surface book panel. And that’s where I’m going to view my video from the boat’s various cameras. It’ll be my secondary laptop. I’ll eventually install a Maretron NMEA 2000 monitoring system. That way I can take [the tablet] with me wherever I want to go on the boat. I can sit back on the settee and use it to either monitor video or controls or have a secondary view of the charts that are on the main displays.” Miller is still figuring out how to affix the tablet to the helm, but he wanted that mobile device to be a part of the system.
Like all onboard electronics systems, the Wi-Fi is designed to improve the boating experience by delivering information on demand. The big difference is that the data that’s delivered is basically the Internet. And that means if you have the right kind of job, you can figure out how to work effectively from your boat.
“I think it’s peace of mind,” Miller says. “It’s absolutely something that we constantly work on: any device, anytime, anywhere. That’s what you want from a cloud service, whether it’s Microsoft, Amazon, Google, or Salesforce—whatever you want. To be able to pick up your iPhone, your Android phone, your tablet, or your laptop, and be able to use it anywhere and not have to wait for it. Everything you need is there because it’s in the cloud.”
Miller’s idea is to use boosted Wi-Fi and cellular signals to maintain constant contact with the Internet and the cloud-based data that allow him to continue to work seamlessly from anywhere. “What I’m trying to do on this boat is basically connect to the cloud through the wireless and the cellular systems,” he says. “So when we pull up to this marina, I’m still connected to [my boat] Miller Time. Once I get tied up and situated and plugged into shore power, all I do is go up to my electronics app and select the marina Wi-Fi login. Now my boat is connected to the Wi-Fi, so anyone who comes on my boat just connects to the boat and hooks into a 5-gigahertz connection to the Wi-Fi and gets another layer of firewalled security. When I’m not on board, I can log into the boat and look at systems.”
The details of the renewed helm (above) emerge when you look at it next to the old version (below).The changes along the way are more than skin deep, and, as is often the case with a refit, offers an opportunity to clean up some wiring behind the scenes.
Though Miller Time is built to be a bluewater-capable cruiser, Miller knows he’s going to be keeping to coastal waters, which colored his thinking: A satellite VSAT system would be unnecessary for the system to fulfill a vast majority of his needs.
Miller’s electronics installer, Steve Delany of Voyager Maritime Alliance Group, agreed. “As long as you remain in the general vicinity of regular cell coverage, the cell signal can be amplified and then rebroadcast inside the boat,” Delany says. “In the area where we are in Ft. Lauderdale and up the coast to Stuart, it’s about 10 to 12 miles offshore that you can continue to get that amplified, robust cellular connection that gives you that fantastic data speed, almost for free.”
They agreed to configure the system with an eye toward both amplified cellular data-modem and amplified dockside Wi-Fi. “On Scott’s boat that cellular data was accomplished with a piece of equipment called a Cradle Point IBR 1100,” Delany says. “Cellular is radio, you understand, receiving and broadcasting a radio signal. This Cradle Point cell-data terminal is useless as a telephone—its sole function in life is to stream data. It’s the same cellular terminal that is used in emergency vehicles, where they need a strong cellular data channel to stream their medical information back to the hospital when someone’s being transported in an emergency.”
It sounds like a proven system, built for these times, when each of us is the center of our own cyber universe—no one’s data is as important as our own. “With a little rubber ducky antenna or even a couple of external antennas, you can talk to a cell tower 4 to 6 miles away,” Delany says. “When you get farther away than that, the cell tower will either drop the connection or not deliver the bandwidth, so you couple that with the system that is specifically designed to amplify and repeat the cell tower’s signal reaching the boat and also transmit a stronger signal back to the tower.” This is how the signal is delivered to the boat.
“We also want to rebroadcast this cellular capacity on board the yacht itself in a little envelope,” Delany says. “That’s a cellular amplifier-repeater system, so when you take the cellular amplifier-repeater, which is actually enhancing the carrying signal, and you pair that with this cellular data modem, now it’s like a force-multiplied pair: The data modem is actually doing the data transmit and receive of data, but the amplified cell repeater is kicking the signal out harder and sucking it in from farther, so it expands your geographic footprint where you can use it for distance.” Once it’s on the boat, that cellular amplifier-repeater gives access to those onboard devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers, even the cellular devices of guests get that extra cell transmit and receive power to shore.
“That cellular-reamplification system has a pair of interior panel antennas that look like a little book: an inch-and-a-half thick by 6 inches by 8 inches or so, and they go inside void spaces, one aft and one amidships.” These antennas radiate that reamplified cellular signal within the yacht so you can walk around and use your cell phone from much farther offshore than would normally be possible.
But when dealing with large files, it’s all about the data, and all the phone calls in the world aren’t worth much if the system can’t keep up. “The cell-data modem plugs into a data-selector switch,” Delany says. “This is something that you control with your computer, and it’s basically a source selector switch to choose what source of data (cell or dockside Wi-Fi) is being distributed inside the boat by its private Wi-Fi network. Scott can decide if he wants to stream data from the cell network throughout the yacht or instead pick up the Wave Wi-Fi, which is talking to the dockside hot spot, and distribute that source instead.” The marine broadband router is connected to a five-port Ethernet switch, which has two wireless access points (WAPs) connected to it. “So if the cell modem is chosen for the source for all Internet access, it goes through your broadband selector switch into the Ethernet switch and ultimately out to the yacht’s WAPs to paint the entire interior of the boat with a private yacht Wi-Fi environment,” he says.
Placing the necessary hardware for the system had its own challenges. When they removed all the antennas as a matter of course for the painting project, the team discovered an issue. “When we first did the inspection, we found some delamination when we walked out on the pilothouse roof,” Miller says. “It felt soft and I began to worry about fixing it from a timing perspective.” Because the repair could be effected prior to the painting, the result is a like-new top with a solid structure on which to bed the numerous antennas.
As the system gets up and running, Miller can tweak the data flow to optimize the Wi-Fi and cellular selection. “It will connect over a local wireless network through an access point using the wireless antennas, or I can manually switch,” Miller says. “I’m not sure if it’ll be manual or if it will auto-switch to a better connection from one of two different sim cards that I can have. So, I can have two sims from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, in the router for cellular broadband that’s a better data connection. That’s when I’ll see what works and what doesn’t, as a heavy data user.”
This system is the key to Miller’s plans for the boat. “I still work full-time and I will be for the next three to five years if this data component will allow me to have the data speeds that I need,” he says. “If it doesn’t it could limit me to weekends and vacation time—just short stays on the boat. But if it works I will spend four to five months of the year on the boat, especially in the winter time, and then come back up in Virginia when it’s warm and we can spend time on the bay.”
It sounds like a great solution. Will Miller’s careful planning yield the result to the level he needs? That remains to be seen. He certainly felt he was in good hands. “This is project number one for me,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a function of the Lauderdale Marine Center—I don’t have any other experience to go on—but one thing that I found, even with the interior decorator, everyone there just works together to get the job done.” One example: The helm chair had a green-painted metal frame that showed in spots, even with the new light-tan leather upholstery in place. Miller’s decorator wanted it to be painted black, so they took it to Luu Marine and said, Hey can you paint this? and they did all that coordination. “All of these vendors work together on all the boat projects that they do through the marine center,” Miller says. He liked how on-site operations seemed to solve problems like that organically, though he would consider hiring a project manager for a refit of this scope next time.
The technology that allows boaters like Miller to expand their time on the water—and to spend it in the manner they wish—is only going to improve, and become simpler to add to any type of boat, and easier to use. But as with all things boating, it’s up to the boater to decide what comes aboard and how it’s used.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.