Living in a Connected World

Connecting to the world wide web and the boat wide web is an important part of our cruising life. The Badboy system we had on La Mischief is no longer an option, a victim of Covid19, but we were never really a great fan and believe we can both do a lot better, whilst at the same time broaden the scope of our next solution. 

Our Requirements

First things first, we needed to understand our complete requirements, which are documented as follows:

  1. Extend the range of our mobile devices for when sailing or anchoring away from cell towers. 
  2. Connect to Wifi Hotspots whilst at anchor or in marinas.
  3. Provide a network in the boat to hook up computers, phones, tablets, security cameras and TVs, with network attached storage to store movies, music, personal photos and video. 
  4. Play movies from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube etc as well as from network attached storage.
  5. Play music from phones and tablets as well as the web and network attached storage. 
  6. A GPS system that can track the boats position, when at anchor, with alerting to show if it moves when it shouldn’t. 
  7. Use Alexa or Google assistant for voice controls. 

I’m quite happy with using a combination of Iridium Go and InReach for Satellite.

I’ve also thought about integrating the boats ethernet network into the MFDs – mainly for Cameras – as there is a few blind spots when backing a big cat into a tight slip but I think just using a tablet to view the cameras is good enough. I use OpenCPN on my Tablet also but don’t think I need to integrate Radar and AIS onto OpenCPN as I use it only when navigating around reefs in poorly charted areas.

Components

I had originally thought Glomex’s Webboat 4G LITE COASTAL INTERNET would be my Badboy replacement but I hadn’t really done much research. Thanks to Gilbert from Vent d’Ailleurs who suggested that this was probably a bad choice, and his advice turned out to be spot on. So I needed to get serious and ramp up my research in an effort to at least become a youtube expert. Special thanks to Jeff from SV Quest, a fellow Saba 50, who shared the details of his gold standard solution for his boat. I also found some great information and advice from Steve on www.seabits.com. Finally, there are a lot of RVs out there who are trying to do the same thing and there are some excellent videos on how they are set up.

Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I was able to distill our requirements down into a list of components, that in total will meet our requirements. These are as follows:

  1. Either a cell booster or an external antenna that can boost or reach out to remote cell towers. 
  2. A Wifi Shore Extender (a la Badboy)
  3. A Router in which we can insert a SIM card for LTE Wifi access, when away from shored based Wifi hotspots. This router needs GPS capability and an app to track the boats movements.
  4. A network switch that is 12V, which we can connect TVs, Network Attached Storage and SONOS. 
  5. A Network Attached Storage unit to store music, movies, photos, video and security camera images. 

LTE Router

Now for some decisions. 

The heart of the system has to be the LTE Router. Everybody that I talked to or watched on youtube seemed to use Pepwave routers. Pepwave have several price points with varying levels of functionality, but I’ve settled on the Peplink Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 at around $599US. This is an enterprise grade solution offering redundant SIM slots with automatic switching between Shore based Wifi and SIM card Wifi, 12V DC power capability, advanced GPS tracking (anchor alarm?), and remote management, all packed into a durable metal enclosure. The downsides of the BR1 are that you cannot bond the 2 sims for better throughput where the cell data speeds were not great; and the BR1 has a 400mb backplane, not gigabit speeds. We decided we could live with this given we don’t get great throughput from shore based Wifi anyway and we don’t chew up out Google Fi Wifi with movie downloads, etc that need lots of streaming bandwidth. We tend to download movies offline onto my tablet using Netflix, Youtube or Amazon offline functionality, when we are hooked up to free shore Wifi.

The Peplink Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2I will be connected to the separate MikroTik Shore Extender and the Poynting LTE Antenna, both of which will be mounted on the spreaders. I will plug in a Google Fi SIM, which works all over the world (provided Google don’t disconnect our service because we are out of the USA too often), and maybe use the extra slot for local SIM cards if this makes sense in a particular country. This Pepwave router will provide access over Wifi throughout the boat as well as Cat5 connections to TVs, Network Attached Storage and the SONOS system, via an attached network switch. 

Wifi Shore Extender

The choice of a Wifi Shore Extender was a bit more difficult. Badboy was out so I started looking at the Wave Rogue Pro at $633 US. This seemed like an ideal solution except for the pricetag. I had a look at Ubiquiti airMAX Bullet M Range at Simon’s suggestion, but the problem here is that Bullet has either a 2.4Ghz model or a 5Ghz model that you need to choose between, rather than one unit that does both.

Steve from Seabits uses the MikroTik solution at around $100. It was encouraging to see Someone else on the Internet pointing out that the Rogue uses the MikroTik solution under the covers. The downside of the MikroTik is that its complicated to set up;  but hopefully the Seabits Step by Step instructions will get me through this. Plus I have all the time in the world to get this sorted. 


LTE Antenna

The next step was to find a solution to give me better wifi when there was a weak signal from cell towers. This came down to using either a cell amplifier or an external antenna or both. The WeBoost Drive Reach cellular amplifier was the unit that most seemed to use and recommend. This was around $500 and you needed to leave it off most of the time, only turning it on in remote situations. Leaving it on when there is good signal was detrimental and therefore I decided that spending $500 on something that could turn out to be a pain in the rectum was not where I wanted to go. So that meant using an external LTE antenna on the spreaders to give me the extra range that we require. The Poynting Omni 0402 was the gold standard but at $400 US I kept digging. Seabits used a Wilson Antenna at $200, but Steve did a review of the Poynting Omni 400 at $209, which he rated higher than the more expensive 0402 unit. $200 seems a reasonable amount of money to get better internet access when hopping along the coast or nearing a new country. 

Other Components

To round out the solution I will need a Gigabit network switch, to allow good streaming of Movies from the NAS to the TVs. Could go with one from Trendnet that Seabits recommend, but will do a bit more research first. A Network Attached Storage solution also requires a bit more research. I also researched security cameras and are honing in on the Reolink Lumus cameras as they don’t require a base station and work over Wifi direct to a tablet or phone.

Next Steps

 The next step will be to get back some feedback from you lot; and then go ahead and order all the above components and build out the solution on land before packing them up in our luggage and carting them off to France, where we can install them on our new boat. This should be a fun little project to keep me amused and get me ahead of the game.  

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In buying our new Saba 50, there are lots of decisions to make. We used the configuration of our old Lagoon 421, La Mischief as a baseline, trying to make sure we weren’t going backwards on any items and by and large we have managed to do this.

The big exception is the batteries. In the end it just didn’t make sense to go straight to Lithiums given that Fountaine Pajot don’t offer this as an option and this meant throwing out a perfectly good set of AGMs (600AH). Instead we are purchasing one additional AGM to bring the house bank up to 750AH (12V) and hopefully with 2000 watts of solar out the back, these batteries will keep their voltage up and the beer cold. We will still provision a Victron Colour Controller and a Victron BMV-712 Smart Monitor to keep a good eye on the state of the batteries, both when we are on the boat and remotely when we are on shore.

Continuing on the power theme, we decided against going Victron Quattro invertor/chargers because of a space issue in the engine room. Instead we will supplement the supplied Victron Multiplus 2000W with a second unit of the same spec; in parallel; to give us enough oomph, together with some redundancy (albeit with some manual reconfiguration). What we lose is the seamless cutover from genset to shorepower and vice versa that the quattros provide, but I think I can live without that. I haven’t been able to find out what else I’m doing without by going down this path; but one of the reasons I’m writing this blog post is to get feedback from people that know a lot more than I do. 

A larger cat means we can have a larger dinghy. We wanted something a bit more comfortable – maybe we are getting old. The Saba 50 allows for a 3.8m dinghy, which meant the Highfield Ocean Master 390 was 10cm too long. New Zealand’s OC Dinghy looked interesting but it’s too small and does not offer a centre console. We kept coming back to a Highfield as Uchimata is an agent and Uchimata can get us stuff VAT free. We came down to either a Hypalon Highfield CL380 Deluxe tender (181kg) with a Yamaha 40 HP (97kg); or the Classic CL380 tender (80kg) with FCT console and Yamaha 30HP. Even with the extra weight, we are leaning towards the Deluxe version because its a bit more comfortable and is drier with a self draining floor. Yamaha seems to be the logical choice for an outboard based on the availability of parts around the world.

Coupled with the dinghy decision is choosing the right hydraulic lift platform for the dinghy. We look like we will go with the Tenderlift platform rather than the one that Fountaine Pajot offers, because:

  • it supports a heavier dinghy. This is even after we found out the FP model supports considerably more weight that its spec says, based on feedback from Quest who have a similar Highfield CL380 Deluxe dinghy with a Evinrude 40HP outboard (we will go a Yamaha 40HP) on the FP Platform.
  • It has a grab bar that we can use in rough anchorages to steady the dinghy.
  • It offers the ability to ride up in the dinghy (we saw a video suggesting you need to get out of the dinghy before lifting it with the FP Platform. The video shows that you need to stand on the submerged platform – something that doesn’t thrill me coming back after dinner).
  • We also suspect it might be better built.   

The downsides are the significantly extra pricetag and the fact it will not be factory fitted, meaning another contractor to manage – albeit Robin Marine who we are familiar with from our Lagoon commissioning days in Sables D’Olonne.

Wifi on a boat is very important to us and we wanted something better than the Badboy system on La Mischief. SV Ghost put us onto Glomex’s Webboat 4G LITE COASTAL INTERNET, which is both a Wifi extender a la the Badboy; and a 4G booster, where we can insert a Google Fi SIM and get Internet further out to sea than just with a phone. 

One of the most important items is a watermaker. We liked our Dessalator watermaker on La Mischief, but this time we have decided to go with an Aquabase 12V 105l/h Watermaker. They come well recommended from other FP owners; and it is the brand that FP offer as a factory option. However we didn’t like either of the two factory options (the 60l/h unit was too small and the larger unit was only 230V – we like to make water using the solar panels). So we opted for the 105l/h model that Lady Roslyn has and as a company called Uchimata is doing a lot of our aftermarket items and they are an Aquabase reseller and installer, this made sense. We will get the Auto Flush feature as well. 

Manoeuvring a much larger cat got us thinking; and I have asked for a quote for an extra set of throttles to be installed on the rear deck to help me back into marina slips. These don’t have to be electronic (expensive) as Lady Roslyn has a second set which are mechanical. Lets see what the quote comes back.  I will also pick up and install a Garmin GC100 wireless camera, interfaced to the chart plotter to help with backing into tight places. 

Other aftermarket items include: 

  • Replacement swim ladder 
  • Stern (sugar scoops) grab rails 
  • Fuel Polisher/Fuel Transfer System 
  • Passerelle/gangway 
  • Additional European 230V Outlets 
  • Isolation Transformer
  • Automatic Anchor/Tricolour Light
  • Automatic Fire Extinguishers – Engine Rooms
  • Fresh and salt water Washdown pumps 
  • Fans in Rooms. 
  • USB Outlets
  • Filtered fresh drinking water 
  • Fortress FX55 Secondary anchor 
  • Jacklines
  • Liferaft 
  • Genneker
  • Ladder at base of mast and Mast Steps
  • Five 400W Sunpower Solar Panels and Controllers
  • Starboard Winch for coloured sails
  • Parasailor – 170m2
  • Ultrasonic Antifouling
  • Second Autopilot
  • Dive Tank Holders and Compressor
  • Dockwater inlet
  • BBQ
  • Third Electric Winch at Helmstation
  • 40kg Rocna Primary Anchor 
  • Propane gas detection system
  • 12mm Dyneema Main Sail Halyard
  • New Bed for Master and Bed Slats
  • Underwater Lights
  • Garmin Charts
  • Spares
  • Forward Facing Sonar
  • Propeller Anti-Fouling
  • 70%  Phifertex Vinyl Mesh for Window Shades
  • All around Sunshades

All input welcome!

Update from the Factory

For those of you who are wondering what’s happening with regards to the delivery of our new Saba 50, which was due to roll out of the Factory in June, here is the latest update from Multihull Solutions, our Fountaine Pajot agent in Australia….

Dear Client 

I hope you have had a good week since my last update. The situation overseas is as follows:

  • France is still in lock down. They are reviewing the situation and renewing the isolation in fortnightly increments. I have been told they are likely to extend again, following the fortnight they are currently in. They are optimistic the work force will start to come back from the 4th of May. This ties in with the schools in France returning following the Easter Holiday.
  • The Fountaine Pajot factory is in the Charente-Maritime department of the region Poitou-Charentes, in the north west of France. Romain is in lock down in Quimper in Brittany, further north. The west/north-west of France is the least affected by the COVID-19 virus. The east being worst affected, as it is connected to the rest of mainland Europe. The yard Managers are optimistic that the region is contained and they will be one of the first back to work……. We will have to wait and see?

Please call me or e mail me if you have any questions regarding your order.

(Note. I will not have any updates on delivery times until such time that the French Government allows the production lines to start work again)

Planning for our New Catamaran

With La Mischief sold, its now time to turn our focus onto our new Saba 50 catamaran. With the world in lockdown it’s a little tricky to put hard dates into our project plan, but there is still much planning and decision making to be done. 

The search for a name for our new boat goes on, as does our search for the best country to register it in. Australia is out as the boat will be owned in joint names. The USA is an option but I like the idea of a neutral country. We like the Maltese flag but are unsure of putting the ownership of our major asset into a Maltese company, where corruption is a known problem. A lot of the other options – BVIs, Cook Islands, Cayman Islands – still have that annoying Union Jack in the top corner – something that also bugs me about the Aussie flag. The Marshall Islands is an option, especially when you can have “Bikini” as a home port, but the Flag is a bit so so. At the moment, I am leaning towards the Cook Islands as I love the Pacific and Multihulls Solutions, our Fountain Pajot agents are well versed with registering boats there. 

The choice of dinghy is also top of mind. We are down to two options, both Highfield. We like the OC Dinghies from New Zealand, but they don’t have a console option. 

Our first choice appears to be the Highfield Ocean Master 390 tender (190kg) with Yamaha 40 HP (97kg). This will set us back about $27,000 US. We like its ocean-going capabilities, as we love to go exploring in our dinghy. We also like its false floor that will keep our gear dry. It will mean that we need to go for the more expensive Tenderlift option to hold the extra weight and getting it onto a beach will be more of a challenge. 

Our second option is a light grey Highfield Classic CL380 tender (80kg) with FCT console and Yamaha 30HP.  This is considerably cheaper at approximately $15,000 US, plus we can save an additional $3,000 in a cheaper, smaller, lighter Tenderlift option.

On the planning side, I went hunting for a good free project planning tool and came up with Wrike. I’ve managed to build out a lot of the tasks and dependencies around two guessimates of when the Factory will open back up (maybe start of June) and when we will get our Saba ex factory (my current guess is end of September). It looks like we will be spending Winter in La Rochelle doing the fitout and then leaving in April next year for the Mediterranean (on the same timetable as La Mischief in 2013).

As well as the gantt chart in Wrike, I also have the following documents and lists in various stages of completion. 

  • Aftermarket specifications in MS Word – 93 items that need quotations from Uchimata (some of which we’ve since removed – eg. Lithium batteries as we will go with the supplied AGM’s until they die). 
  • Test Plans in MS Word for each individual item (didn’t do this for La Mischief and we missed a few things). 
  • An Issue Log in MS Word – there’s always issues!
  • A Detailed “To Do It Ourselves” List in MS Word – all those things we need to do ourselves when we are on the boat in France. 
  • List of Contents of Boxes Shipped from La Mischief to France – we have packed 68 boxes of stuff (personal effects, line, lifejackets, drogues, etc. etc.). Now know why we need a bigger boat. 
  • MS To Do List for stuff we need to buy in USA and take with us (eg. Rangefinder – old one stopped working). 
  • MS To Do List for stuff we need to buy in France (eg. Dinghy anchor) 
  • MS To Do List of possible boat names. 

So as Dee and I sit out the virus in isolation at Dee’s Mums place in Somerset, California, there is enough to keep me occupied. Can’t wait for the world to return to its new normal so we can get off land and back on the water.