Yesterday I mentioned AIS without explaining it. AIS stands for Automated Identification System and is installed on all large ships. It broadcasts position, course, speed and other data via a VHF radio signal. If you have the equipment you can receive the information from all ships near you and avoid being road kill.

Our Raytheon C80 radar display is a multifunction unit that is capable of showing radar, depth, charts, GPS, and engine monitoring information and will probably run the TV and flush the toilet, all with the same unit. Of course, we only use it for radar since we don’t want to lose all 5 things if a bad tube takes out the display. We even try to minimize the number of electronics on the boat that are talking to each other, never know when you’ll pass critical mass and the thing will develop intelligence, try to take over the boat ala ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

Our Garmin GPS output was fed into the C80 so it could use the position, course, and speed info along with the radar to perform collision avoidance duties for us. While in Panama City we had a SmartRadio AIS unit shipped in. I changed the GPS output to the AIS unit and fed the AIS output into the C80. One external antenna later the C80 display had full AIS data displayed on either a chart or the radar display. Near the Panama Canal this had the comic result of displaying 100 AIS contacts. It’s nice knowing the course, speed, destination, and name of large vessels in your neighborhood. Knowing the name of the ship increases the odds of them responding to a radio call if everyone is getting too close.

And yes, I know our electronics no longer contain vacuum tubes. Does anyone else remember vacuum tubes in consumer electronics? The TV dies, you take the compressed cardboard back off the old Zenith, dust the tubes and pull the one that looks like an old, used flash bulb. Off to Radio Shack or the local drugstore where you plug it in to the tube tester and repeat the process until you find the bad one. Plug the new one in and you’re everyone’s hero. It’s harder to be a hero now that those pesky little tubes have been replaced by transistors. If you’re under 40 you only know that when the TV goes the hero is the guy that trundles off to Best Buy and brings back the new plasma TV.

So back to sailing, as Teresa’s post mentions, not much happening. It is interesting to realize the number of sail combinations we’ve used on this trip. We’ve used all sails except our two storm sails. We’re on our fifth day of flying the asymmetrical spinnaker, the last two days as a symmetrical spinnaker poled out in front of the boat. We’ve worked hard at keeping the boat heading in the right direction and just slightly north of our direct course. It’s working well, the boat continues to sail well.

And sorry for diverging into my childhood, but it’s better than describing the cloud formations that are going by. You know, the Ren and Stimpy cloud that transformed into a 3 foot tall grandmother in clown shoes with the top-hat-wearing shark pool toy around her waist? Might be getting bored, must be time to do laundry.