Friday, August 21, 2009

Good Vector Charts for Mexico

I finally have found some electronic charts of Mexico that are at least of 'good' quality. The MapTech electronic raster charts of Mexico are unusable outside of the major port areas. The C-Map that our Furuno chartplotter use are better than MapTech but not that good. We have use Coastal Explorer for our PC Chartplotter for many years and when we upgraded to their latest version they noticed that they added the capability to use Navionics S-57 vector from ChartWorld in Germany. These charts have special copy protection and are referred to as S-63 format. In the US, NOAA distributes all of the marine charts for free so the ChartWorld charts are only for areas outside the US. After some research and concern that these vector charts would not be any better than the old raster charts I finally purchased the set of charts for western Mexico. The cost is EURO 150, about $213 dollars US. Coastal Explorer has worked with ChartWorld to make the install process easy. I did have a little problem with the install because I had changed the chart directory settings but CE support was very helpful in sorting it out. The difference between the raster and vector charts are amazing, see photo's (Vector on left, old Rasters on the right). I've read that the Mexican Navy has done a new survey of Mexican waters in the last few years and it's that survey that these charts are based on.
I don't know what other software supports the ChartWorld vector charts but if you are going to Mexico these charts are worth getting a copy of Coastal Explorer 2009 for just to be able to use these charts.

Links -
ChartWorld GmbH
Coastal Explorer 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Solar Panels

Today we finished adding solar panels to Discovery. We bought 2 Kyocera KTM 130 panels and a Blue Sky 2000E Controller. Discovery has a dinghy davit where we store the dinghy except for ocean passages and the top rails of the davit are a natural place for the solar panels. We ran the 6/2 gauge wire inside the davit upright tube into the lazarette and then into the engine room where the controller is located. At anchor we use 300 to 320 amps per day and we hope to get at least 100 amps from the panels which will reduce our generator run time by an hour or more. We purchased the panels and controller from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DVD Hack

We have been renting DVD's from the Blockbusters in Guaymas since we got here, we just requested a card and they quickly provided one with few questions. This is our 3rd country that we have a Blockbusters card for; 1)US, 2)Canada, and 3)Mexico. Most of the DVD's play without a problem, all you need to do is select Ingl├ęs (English) as the language and/or turn off subtitles. On two occasions we got an error that said 'Wrong Region'. Not having a clue what this meant I did a Google search and it seems that DVD producers can encode what region of the world (US, Europe, Latin America, etc.) they want the DVD to play in and the player has a region code embedded in it when it's manufactured. If your DVD has a region code and it doesn't match your player's region code it won't work. Fortunately there is a way around this for some DVD players. Our player is a cheap Cyberhome brand but I found a undocumented hack for changing the region code on the player. Once I did that it would play all the DVD's we rented. Isn't the internet great!

Link -

Shade Tent

Last winter when we were in the West Marine in San Diego near Shelter Island, Linda found a shade tarp made for a sail boat to hang over the boom that had a small tear in it and was on sale for nearly 50% off. She felt confident that we could make it work to cover the bow of the boat so we bought it and she was right. It looks like it was made for the boat and in fact some people have said that they thought it was a custom made cover. It covers the bow and provides shade for the entire front stateroom and the shape allows us to open the hatches to let air in but protects us from the rare rain shower.

New VHF & SSB Antennas

When we bought our boat it had the original 15 year old 23' VHF and SSB antennas mounted on the pilothouse roof. When we did an update of the electronics in the winter of '08-'09 we added a second VHF with a Digital Antenna 8dB 6' antenna. On our trip south down the Pacific coast the 23' antennas took a beating and the VHF reception through the 23' antenna degraded greatly to the point that it only received nearby broadcasts. The antenna had obliviously had saltwater intrusion and needed to be replaced. While we were at it I also wanted to replace the matching SSB antenna. Both antennas are Shakespeare brand and 15 years old so I wanted to replace them with the best antennas I could find. After doing some investigation, isn't the internet great, and asking on some forums I decided on Morad brand antennas out of Seattle. Being from the Seattle area I was familiar with Morad, they are made from a distinctive gold anodized aluminum tube and are easily spotted on boats. Most commercial fishing boats in the PNW and Alaska use Morad as does the US Coast Guard.

I contacted Morad directly and after exchanging emails with the owner Ken Holland we decided on the configuration that would best fit our needs and he custom made the antennas with custom milled bases to run the coax out the side and be able to screw into the hinged roof top base. These are not the cheapest antennas on the market but for about 50% more than a Shakespeare they are truly a quality product that is far superior to the cheap fiberglass antennas on the market. Here's what we got -

VHF-156 HD "Hot Rod" HD Style VHF 6dB Gain
9130 WH-23G-UPS SSB Unloaded 23' Whip Antenna, Gold - UPS Shippable
9130 WH-23G-UPS SSB Unloaded 23' Whip Antenna, Gold - UPS Shippable WITHOUT FIBERGLASS TIP
1203 RG-213 Coaxial Cable 35'

The 9130 SSB antenna without tip is used as a base for the VHF-156 HD antenna. We haven't been out of the marina since installing the antennas so I haven't been able to give them a good test but I'm very impressed with the initial results.

Link - Morad Electronics