Voyage of Ava T.

Electronics — September 2004
By Ben Ellison

Voyage of Ava T.
Lessons learned as an older boat gets a new owner and new electronics.

 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Ava T.
• Part 2: Ava T.
• Electronics Q&A
• Mariner headsets
• Ocean-Clocks
• SensaSwitch

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• Electronics Feature Index

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Pictured above is the helm of the good little vessel Ava T. as she approached the Cape Cod Canal shortly after dawn last Memorial Day. I was helping her new owner—PMY’s very own, and very boat proud, Richard Thiel—make his first trip aboard this 1985 Jarvis Newman lobster yacht, a 300-mile delivery from Camden, Maine, to Stratford, Connecticut. Now an older boat in such transition is a somewhat fragile affair. System idiosyncrasies that may have been second nature to her old master must now be relearned by the new one, and problems that festered while the boat awaited fresh enthusiasm tend to pop up without warning. In fact, Ava hadn’t been cruised, let alone driven hard, in more than two years, and the voyage—problem-wise—was epic.

If you look hard you’ll notice duct tape around the window! From the bow you’d see that both forward opening windows are heavily bandaged. That “repair” had taken place the previous day during the first two of four unplanned pit stops. When chop driven by 25-knot westerlies drenched the pilothouse, we presumed that the leaking was due to bad gaskets. We pulled in again for more taping when presented with wet, irrefutable evidence that the fixed glazing compound itself was porous. I won’t embarrass Thiel by describing how he tried to redo the glazing only to find the old stuff to be a nasty liquid goop and himself to be miming Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, much to the amusement of Boothbay Harbor yachtsmen. We had at least learned how the dust covers for the electronics made handy drip catchers, and we’d certainly confirmed the adage that one mustn’t voyage without duct tape.

But I digress. My main intent is to discuss the electronics evolution taking place on Ava (but there will be more gory delivery details). Imagine the helm photo without the big Raymarine C120 multifunction display (MFD) and the loose wires associated with its very temporary install. You’re seeing the boat’s electronics as purchased. A good surveyor named Steven Bunnell determined that the Furuno 1700 radar, the Garmin 225 plotter, and the Datamarine Dart depth/speed/log were all operational. (He would have needed a fire hose to uncover the window problem.) In fact, the 225 and Dart were new in 1999, much younger than most everything else on Ava. Nonetheless, Thiel had reasons to consider replacing the whole lot with one MFD.

For one, the Garmin’s screen is small for detailed chart work, and its zoom/pan speed very 1999, i.e. slow. For another, it uses G Charts, which though still sold, don’t work in Garmin’s new plotters, don’t compare to the latest formats, and are expensive to boot. The Datamarine company seems nearly moribund, suggesting that parts and service would be hard to come by. Finally, venerable as the Furuno CRT radar might be, aesthetically it’s like having a toaster oven on your living room mantel. The chaos of electronics boxes around the helm truly detracts from Ava’s handsome cherry-trimmed pilothouse, plus the ergonomics are poor. Eyes up to the plotter, eyes left to the radar, eyes down to could get cross-eyed on a long cruise.

Above all, it being 2004, Thiel couldn’t help but contemplate a wide selection of multifunction machines that promised to organize all his navigation tasks onto one clean-looking, integrated, easy-to-operate screen. He went for it. Several factors led him to the Raymarine C120: the flexibility to start using it as a plotter right away and later add radar, fishfinder, autopilot, and instrument functions as desired; support for Navionics Gold charts, meaning he could get a single XL3 card that covered everything from Maine to the Hudson River in the latest format; and, perhaps most important, the whopping 12-inch screen especially pleasing to older eyes and also encased sveltely enough to fit neatly into Ava’s helm.

I put my two cents in as well, suggesting that whereas Raymarine had more or less started from scratch with the C Series, he’d be getting the latest in technology and interface design. But, I added, since it was so new, it would likely be a bit buggy at first and would need a few software updates to reach its full potential. Truer than I knew! On day one—as we dealt with drips and dodged the spume by weaving through Maine’s complicated outer islands—the C120 went twitchy. We’d be setting a waypoint or changing the chart presentation when it would reset (crash) and then start right back up again. Sometimes it happened when we weren’t even touching it, sometimes it happened over and over for a few minutes. It was disconcerting.

Next page > Part 2: That’s when Thiel’s sunny disposition—and confidence in the machine—also crashed. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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