More Neat Stuff

By Tom Neale, 5/13/2010


Occasionally I tell you about neat stuff we’ve come across while traveling on “Chez Nous.” I don’t tell you about this neat stuff from reading product reviews or advertisements. I only tell you about things that we’ve used, either on our 53 foot motorsailer or on our Mako. We travel thousands of miles a year on “Chez Nous.” We travel considerably fewer miles on the Mako, but at a much greater speed. So there’s opportunity for plenty of real life experience with these products. I’m writing this column as we head up the US east coast on “Chez Nous,” and I’ve got a few more things to tell you about.

Head Set From Cruising Solutions
The first is a great set of headphones for communication between the person on deck to the helmsperson. You can get these from Cruising Solutions (http://www.cruisingsolutions.com/). We’ve used the predecessors to these phones for many years, but thought they’d gone out of production. I’d wanted to get another set, because ours are getting very old and we consider them to be crucial equipment. But I couldn’t find them. Many times I’ve wanted to write about them, but thought it pointless unless they were available. Well, they have been available for some time…I just didn’t know it. I’m really happy I finally got up to speed on this. There are many really good things about these headsets.

First, they’re not priced for megayachts but probably work just as well—maybe better than the ones that cost several hundreds of bucks. You might say I really don’t know because I haven’t used any on a megayacht, but I think I know. You see the fancy dudes and dudesses on megayachts with a little pack stuck in their pockets and a head set, or you see them holding a radio that looks a lot like a VHF—all while talking to the super dude (or super dudess) up on the bridge and saying something like “Come back another 3 feet and you’re going to wipe out a yacht, the pier and the pumpout station behind you.” I don’t know why anybody would want a bridge to deck communications radio that they must hold, because most of us—whether we’re at the wheel steering or on the stern fending off or on the bow working the windlass—have our hands full.

You wear this set on your head. Your hands are free. Each set is totally self contained so that you don’t have wires running down your shirt and into your pants to a battery pack which you really hope isn’t going to short out and start a fire down there. Each set is powered by an off-the-shelf 9 volt battery. You can set each to high or low power as conditions warrant. And once you turn it on, you just talk and listen. Your conversation will be one to one as though you are sitting with your partner at the wheel. You don’t have to push a button to talk and you don’t need to say “over.” It’s like a land line telephone. Both sets transmit and receive.

There’s no voice activated microphone. You can find a lot of “walkie-talkie” devices at sporting stores. But these don’t work well on a boat because there’s always background noise to activate the mic when you don’t want it and because these mics usually clip off the first word or syllable so that when you’re saying “Reverse for God’s sake” the person at the helm doesn’t get the first word and thinks you’re up on the bow praying (which you probably are at that point). The only thing you need to worry about is not muttering to yourself things that you don’t want your partner to hear.

E-Charting Products
There’s no voice activated microphone. You can find a lot of “walkie-talkie” devices at sporting stores. But these don’t work well on a boat because there’s always background noise to activate the mic when you don’t want it and because these mics usually clip off the first word or syllable so that when you’re saying “Reverse for God’s sake” the person at the helm doesn’t get the first word and thinks you’re up on the bow praying (which you probably are at that point). The only thing you need to worry about is not muttering to yourself things that you don’t want your partner to hear.

Something else that really came in handy was a complete set of Raster & Vector Charts for United States Waters, all on a DVD, and an accompanying book called “Get Onboard with E-Charting.” These are from Mark and Diana Doyle, who write the guidebooks “Managing the Waterway” (ICW and Florida Keys editions) (http://www.managingthewaterway.com/). These guides have no advertisements. We’ve used the ICW guidebook for several years, as well as other guides. They emphasize not only useful information, but layout and organization conducive to assessing and using that information, in context as you travel. You simply follow the waterway, mile by statute mile, from north to south, with divisions by state. Bridges (with their restrictions), marinas and other items of interest are noted in the order that they appear when travelling. The Doyles call their company Semi-Local Publications, with the thought that as people travel on the water, they’d like to know some of what the locals know about each area. Throughout each state chapter are numerous vignettes about local customs with local pronunciations, wildlife, plants, and other items of interest not usually covered in the guidebooks that just describe what to do and where to dine out after you tie up at the marina. The Doyles say that each guidebook is updated twice annually, and items of timely interest are posted on the website. (Remember that even the best guide books can quickly become out dated as to some information because of daily developments such as shoaling, wrecks, construction, storms and other factors.) But back to the charts.


Tom’s Tips About Neat Stuff

1. Product manufacturers regularly send out press releases about their new and/or improved products. This is very helpful because we all want to know about the new developments that can help to make our boating safer and more fun.

2. I’ve found that many product reviews in magazines are basically a regurgitation of press releases. Magazines need to do that to help get the word out and I consider this to be a service to the reader. But I try not to base my buying decisions solely on this type of releases and reviews.

Click Here for More Tips

Most of you know that in 2005, NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began distributing raster and vector charts for free. There are also tens of thousands of pages of nautical reference material available free on the Web. When this first happened everyone was saying, “Hey, great, now I can download whatever chart I want.” But as you might imagine, downloading, maintaining and updating a complete nautical e-library takes a lot of time and patience. It turns out that not many had enough of either to do that. I know I didn’t. The Doyles, as a service to their “Managing the Waterway” cruising guide readers, download and catalog updated NOAA and USACE charts and many nautical publications yearly. They’re all on a 2-DVD set. Sure, you pay them a little for it, but you’re getting what would have cost you thousands of dollars a few years ago.

The second DVD in the set contains a Nautical Reference Library. The Doyles say that this third annual update now includes just under $3,000 worth of material if you bought it all individually and over one gigabyte of government publications, reference texts, and nautical calculators in searchable Adobe Acrobat PDF or HTML web browser format. Included are 35 groups of government publications, some containing many volumes within the set. For example, the groups include the complete U.S. Coast Guard Light List, NOAA Coast Pilots, Navigation Rules, Chart #1, Sailing Directions (Enroute and Planning Guides), just to name a few. The Doyles’ book, “Get Onboard with E-Charting,” is helpful if you’re just getting into this and need very basic introductory material, and it is also helpful if you’re already familiar with electronic navigation but want to improve your knowledge and the usefulness of this media. I can’t say that I agree with everything that’s in it, but that’s not unusual and I’m glad that we have the book aboard.

Mark Doyle holds a 100-ton USCG Master’s License. Diana is a former university professor with a Ph.D. from Yale. She holds a 50-ton USCG Master’s License. The Guidebooks are around $25 each, The E-Charting book is around $35 and the Complete Electronic Chart and Nautical Reference Library is around $40. You may be able to obtain special pricing by emailing the Doyles at mark@semi-local.com.

And before I go, I want to say one more time how much we like our Steiner Commander XP 7X50s with internal bearing compass. I’ve mentioned them elsewhere in these columns, but we found them so helpful on the trip that I felt that they deserve yet another mention. See the 99th column under Past Articles entitled “Seeing the Difference. (http://www.boatus.com/cruising/TomNeale/article_99.asp)

Boating and water sports involve risk.  Any comments herein should be followed at your own risk.  You assume all responsibility for risk or injury to yourself or others.  Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive and also hold authors harmless from any and all claims which may arise from or be related to that use.

See www.tomneale.com

Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale