Sunday, June 8, 2014

First overnight safely completed

We are anchored in the St. Johns River, where the ICW crosses it about two miles inland (map), closing the loop from when we stayed just across the channel at Pine Island in December.  We had a very pleasant, if somewhat tiring, overnight passage from Port Canaveral, a journey of some 144 nautical miles.  It was our first real night running, and of course our first overnight cruise, and we did pretty well, all things considered.  Louise "live-tweeted" her night watch, which started at 03:30.  We shoved off from Port Canaveral around 2pm, in order to have a favorable tide here helping us upriver, and that was still plenty of time to avoid the departures of the three cruise ships we found in port when we awoke.

Carnival Liberty, Disney Fantasy, and Carnival Sunshine as seen from our flybridge as we headed down the channel.  This photo makes them look much smaller than they really are.

I expected to learn a few things about the boat last night, and how well set up it is for overnight running, and learn I did.  For example, in order to darken the pilothouse enough to see out the windows, we had to turn off or otherwise, umm, modify some equipment which lacked adequate brightness controls.  In the light of day the blue painters' tape I put over the bilge alarms, water maker display, and Command Mic for the upper VHF looked rather classless, but it worked well over night.  (The tape, which appears opaque, actually only attenuated the lights about 80%, so we could still tell what indicators were lit.  One was so bright I used two layers of tape.)

The biggest offender in this regard is the inexpensive TV/monitor we use for our primary chart display.  The chart program has a "night mode" palette of colors, and the monitor has a "brightness" setting, but neither actually reduces the backlight illumination of the screen, which is LED and thus must be driven at a certain voltage.  The monitor attempts to control brightness by adding black level (LCD pixels) over the bright background.  Great for watching TV, but still way too bright on a darkened bridge.

We solved this problem by turning the monitor off altogether, and displaying the screen instead on our iPad Mini using VNC.  The iPad has a more functional brightness control and we could dim it as much as we needed.  I had actually installed the VNC server on the chart computer a while back, for the purpose of being able to see it from the flybridge with the iPad, and from my bedside table with an old Android phone I had lying around.  It works well for those purposes, too, although even at max brightness the iPad is a bit hard to see on the flybridge in the daytime.

We'll address this issue more permanently by buying a piece of neutral-gray 80% tinted Plexiglas the same size as the monitor, and we will fit this over the screen at nightfall.  That should let us use the brightness and color controls to fine-tune the level as needed.  It's worth noting here that PC monitors are made for this application which have much more dimmable screens, and many also have high-nit (daylight readable) screens and even water resistance for use as marine chart displays.  Depending on features, those displays can run into the thousands of dollars; we paid $99 for our monitor and I might have to cough up another $20 or so for the Plex.  Considering night running will be a tiny percentage of our time under way, it's fine for our purposes.

I spent a good part of my watch on the flybridge, where it was much cooler, and even up there I had to cover a few things with tape.  The display on the VHF radio apparently has no brightness control, nor do the indicators for the stabilizers (although the more elaborate stabilizer panel in the pilothouse has several selectable brightness levels, including off).  I generally did my horizon scans from up there or else dead-center on the Portuguese bridge -- our incredibly bright LED navigation lights actually cast quite a bit of light on either side of the Portuguese.

We did enjoy a nice dinner together in the pilothouse and sunset (without sundowners) from the flybridge before Louise retired about 9pm.  We were just a few miles north of the northern security boundary of the Kennedy Space Center at that point.  I tried to get a photo of the center, showing the old Apollo/Shuttle launch complexes (one of which is now completely dismantled) and the Vehicle Assembly Building, but we were too far offshore, owing to the fact that we had to make a roughly ten-mile circuit around the shoals that extend southeast of the Cape.

Very long turn around Southeast Shoal.  The black dashed line is our track.

That also put us out of cell and Internet range for almost the entire trip; I didn't pick up data coverage until about three hours south of Jacksonville inlet.  Too bad, because 'net access would have made the time on watch go a bit faster.

Our entire track from Port Canaveral to the St. Johns River.  Different scale on this chart results in different depth contour shading.

Early in my watch I took to setting a 20-minute countdown timer on my phone, as a safety measure in case I dozed off or got too absorbed in other tasks to remember to go on deck for my scan.  Both the radar and the AIS have proximity alarms, set to go off a good ten minutes or more before any sort of evasive action would be required.  Still, I routinely scanned the displays every few minutes, and, in fact, looking up AIS targets and/or trying to correlate distant radar returns with visually identified objects is a good way to pass the time (and develop skills).  At eight miles or so offshore, we encountered almost no traffic all night -- that's too close in for most large ships, and too far out for most pleasure boats.  The only traffic of any concern was a giant tug and barge that passed us right after change of watch, but Louise did not have to adjust course or speed.

I struggled from 11:30 or so (my now-usual bed time when moving the boat regularly) to about 1:30, which is when I got my "second wind."  My goal was to go until at least 3am and perhaps a bit longer, and I ended up waking Louise at 3:30.  She had also set an alarm for 4am as a safety, something we learned from this harrowing story.

Now that we're safely anchored, we'll take it easy for the rest of the day, and allow ourselves to wake naturally tomorrow, to get back on track.  From here we're not sure if we will make a quick stop in Jacksonville, several miles further up the river, or continue north either up the ICW or in the ocean.


  1. The problem I have with dimming is if I don't remember to make the VHF brighter before turning it off after dark I can't see it in the daylight to change it. LOL

    Bill Kelleher

  2. I like your creative use of VNC! My workplace uses VNC to handle a number of otherwise messy situations - but your applications have given me new respect for this useful technology!

    BTW: Though I don't comment often, I love keeping up with your adventures - and the level of detail you share about what's really required to take on this level of challenge. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Phil. VNC has been working great, except that it periodically disconnects after a period of inactivity, as if there is some sort of time-out, even though I have the time-out set to "never." If I can fix that, it will be nearly perfect. As it stands now, when I wake up and want to glance at the plotter, I usually have to acknowledge the disconnect error and then connect again.


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