Six times up the mast
Let’s take a moment and talk about boat projects. As social media (@sailingkairos5) attests there are ALWAYS projects to be done. It’s the nature of boat ownership. When and how and where are the only questions and often necessity dictates those answers.
A week ago, we woke to thick fog. It was a travel day. We had 46 miles on the docket, which we are learning in Maine, means a full day, what with dodging lobster pots and such. We delayed departure about an hour until the fog lifted enough to see two boat lengths. Slowly we ventured forth, radar overlaid our charts and with AIS (installed in FL) we felt reasonably confident with all eyes on deck and careful progress we could navigate safely.
Prior to this we were aware that the reach on our AIS (gps locator of boats) was poor (0.5-3 miles). Navigating the thick fog that morning reinforced the safety issue and bumped the project up on the list to discover why the AIS reception/transmission was so poor.
The “diagnose and fix AIS reception/transmission issues” boat project went down thusly.
Locate and consult with someone who is smarter than us on all things electrical. That someone was in the same harbor on a sailboat, cruising with his family. Knowledge and playmate for junior crew – double win! Praise God.
Use diagnostic tool to determine SWR (what does that even stand for?!) between cables and splitters. Research what SWR values mean.
DAY 3 & 4
Pretend we were on vacation and hike with friends from Michigan who were vacationing in Maine. Try to forget about looming boat project.
Talk over SWR values with knowledgable someone to confirm we were on the right path. Buy the 100 ft of 50 ohm cable that he had on hand. Mentally prepare to replace the current cable that runs from antenna at top of mast to barrel connector at base of mast.
Early morning dinghy run to town to buy connectors. Attempt to solder it onto the cable. Quickly realize soldering skills need work. Wait for knowledgable someone to aid soldering. Send Marcie up the mast to change out cable. Immediately evident the new cable would not fit through the current hole in mast head.
Lower Marcie and brainstorm options. Send Dave up the mast with drill to make an adjacent hole and then whip new and old cable together to feed new cable down the mast. Follow with two more trips up the mast for Dave and one for Marcie as approach continually needed tweaking, boat wakes were plentiful, and blood flow to legs minimal. Finally feed entire 100 feet of cable through the mast and lower Marcie to the ground. Exhale and then realize a carabiner was left at top of mast. FOR THE LOVE. Add connector to cable and hook it up. Revel in the plethora of boats appearing on AIS as far as 40 miles away. Send the 8-year old up the mast, who has been longing for a chance to go aloft, to retrieve the carabiner. Revel a little longer. Call it a wrap and feed the children popcorn and cheese for dinner.
And that, my friends, is how to replace one simple wire on your boat. I wish I could say this was an extreme example but it’s not. Boat projects rarely go smoothly and often get dragged out.
Last night sitting in the cockpit, watching the sun light up clouds as it sank beneath the horizon it was clear to us that the trade offs outweigh the headaches but goodness, we don’t approach boat projects lightly.