Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wow, it's March Already

Here it is, March 22nd. I have been bad about updating this blog, but to be fair I've been busy. Also, it's been darn cold here in the northeast.

Just like last year, all the little bits and pieces I purchased over the winter are being installed. I added a line brake to the boom for the reefing lines, a few well placed cleats for the halyards, most of a HAM radio installation (which also includes no small amount of studying for the tests) and getting equipment that needs updating updated (EPIRB and others).

Here's a tip: If you are going to sail away from the United States you need an FCC Ships Station license. Nothing is required except for $150 or so and when you apply check all the services you may use (for instance, EPIRB, VHF, radar, etc. - you don't need INMARSAT, but it's up to you). If you want to add a service later, it'll cost you another $150.

Anyway, that's not the tip. The FCC will give you a new MMSI number. If you've programmed your radio with the number from Boat U.S., you may have to send it back to the manufacturer to change it. All DSC enabled radios will allow at most 1 change to the MMSI number. The reason for this is to prevent someone changing the number and making false distress calls. The Standard Horizon GS5500X doesn't even allow one change. I didn't know that the Boat U.S. number wasn't good for overseas operation.

Here's another tip, though: if you have an EPIRB and you have not registered it with NOAA, do so. If it came with the boat, make sure you update it to your contact information. If you have an older non-406MHz unit, dispose of it. No one is listening to the older frequencies and it will leave you with a false sense of security. Registering is free and takes all of a few minutes to do here: You'll need your EPIRB's unit identity number (UIN) which is provided by the manufacturer and is on the unit itself.

The only difficulty is if it was registered by the previous owner with a different vessel name. The process is a little convoluted but it's absolutely doable. The end result of this process is a sticker for the EPIRB that shows you've registered it. It's good for two years and it's free.

Before leaving, I plan to purchase another EPIRB that deploys automatically. The manual one will go with the ditch bag.

It's amazing on how much effort it is to get a vessel ready for offshore use. Not just physical work, but expense and thought and learning. It's often hard to look at your boat and think of all the things that make general travel safe. Most of us sail in pretty benign areas (at least on the east coast) and have many choices for ports when the weather turns crappy. Once you're offshore by more than about 50 miles it's a total free-for-all. By the time you'd make safe harbor the weather incident will probably be over. This is why the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) requirements are so strict.

What is a minor nuisance day sailing becomes possibly life threatening on offshore passages. One of my pet peeves was that several drawers in Pelican didn't have latches and on port tacks tended to open - they never fell out, but I never pressed the rail into the water either. So my first project in March was to put latches on everything that wasn't. Although I don't really care for the fingerhole type of latching, it's what I have and it'll have to do. Finger hole latching invites broke fingers. At least the holes are big enough for some wiggle room.

Sure, in port it's a nuisance in port to have to unlatch drawers every time you want to get to something, but it's a small price to pay to keep knives and stuff from flying about when you least need it.

Once the cover came off (I forget how much I enjoy the light streaming in) it's apparent how dusty the boat gets during the winter. Light is wonderful, but shows everything! So now Spring Cleaning is in full swing. Swiffer pads are the best for dusting! I wish they had one with oil for the wood, too. If I find another product that works well on the interior teak, I'll post it.

Well, I'm off to do more stuff! The bad thing about boats is that projects never end. The great thing about boats is that projects never end!

We'll all be on the water soon! See you there!