No more kickboxing for the cook

Switching things off at sea

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Ionian Blog I honestly thought the cook had lost a toe.

I'm pleased to be able to report that he hasn't. Equally, I'm pleased to be able to report that we're steaming along at a cracking pace under engine and, finally, I've cracked the problem of charging the satellite terminal's battery.

You'll be wondering why the cook's toe is relevant to navigation or to satellites; and I'll tell you. It has to do with getting a good night's sleep, and not wanting to climb a 40-foot mast which is swaying from side to side.

There are a lot of wireless goodies on a boat. Believe it or not, the wind speed indicator at the top of the mast is both wireless and solar powered. That little three-cup rotating gizmo - the anemometer - sends its opinion of the wind speed down to the deck. There, it is mocked by captain and crew.

Now, how do you suppose you switch it on and off? Well, yes, you could climb up the mast, and press a button, or you could run a wire down the inside of the mast and along inside the cabin to the nav panel. But nobody wants to climb the mast, so you need to answer the question another way.

Yesterday, however, the cook did want to climb the mast. It was one of those rare days when the wind looked like blowing in a useful way - allowing us to switch off the yacht's big diesel, and use the sails. So we pulled up the sails. And they jammed.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" said the cook, who was on the wheel. "It's that rubber band of yours!" he added accusingly, glaring at the owner.

There's this clever system, you see, to allow the owner to get a good night's sleep. As the owner of the boat, he gets the big cabin in the front of the thing, with an en-suite toilet, or "head" all to himself. And right next to his head, when he goes to sleep, is the mast. Up and down the mast go all the big ropes, including the biggest - the one that hauls the main sail up. In the night, if the wind blows, it moves back and forth, like a very very deep bass string on a ridiculous guitar. And in so doing, it thumps the mast, like a bored toddler with a drumstick.

Easily fixed! - you wrap a bit of rubber bungee cord around it, and also to the shroud - the wire that holds the mast up. That keeps the rope from touching the mast. And the owner gets a peaceful sleep. All you have to do is remember to undo that rubber band before hauling up the main sail. The owner himself does that, and on this occasion he forgot; the rubber band was now dangling 20 feet up off the deck. Volunteers to climb 20 feet up were hard to find, and The Irish rugby player decided to jump. Well, naturally that didn't work, even with a 12-foot long pole in his hand. He went up, and he came down, (without the rubber band) smack on the cook's toe.

The cook said: Well, actually, on mature reflection, I think the spelling checker will choke on some of those words, so we'll leave it that he now has a red and blue toe. After he said what he had to say, we did do some sailing. And while we did that, I read some emails, and discovered that the question of "how do you switch the thing off?" was important.

Answer: with the wind meter, it stays on as long as it is getting a signal from the navigator's panel. After that, if nobody wants to know what it thinks about the wind speed, it sulks, and conserves its little battery in case the sun goes down. Something similar happens with most of the other onboard electronics. You switch them on or off, and when there's no engine charge, they close down as much as possible.

The Inmarsat BGAN terminal, however, is not a marine device. It's not designed for the job I'm bullying it into. I have a secret message from Inmarsat pointing out that a ship-board BGAN product is on their list of plans for 2007, and asking me to point out that they know perfectly well that the current device is not suitable for marine work.

(Well, I know that, but I suppose I didn't tell my reader. So I'm telling you).

What they didn't tell me is that this marine life makes assumptions that aren't sustainable. And for one of them, I think the BGAN design needs changing. Specifically, it needs to wait till I tell it to turn on before turning itself on.

Like many electronic devices, the BGAN terminal has an "on" and "off" switch. You switch it on when you want it to work, and off when you've finished. And there it would end, except for the fact that if you plug it in to charge, it assumes you want it switched on and working.

So here I was trying to work and something was beeping.

It wasn't the VHF radio. It wasn't the lighting panel or the audio panel. It was, of course, the BGAN, sadly lamenting its inability to find a BGAN satellite. It had switched itself on when the engine came on to raise the sails, and it had stayed on when the engine went off.

So, in the two hours we'd been sailing, it had been recklessly discharging the battery I'd so carefully been charging. I've sent an urgent message to Inmarsat HQ in case there's a default setting I can change, but I think the message is: don't leave the thing plugged in once it's charged or it will turn itself on when power returns. An easy problem to deal with, once you understand what's going on.

That resolved, we moved on to the evening's entertainment: a rowing dinghy race. The whole flotilla tied up near a pretty beach and the oarsmen were blindfolded and instructed to row by a partner in the boat.

If you ever get roped into this entertainment, I can tell you how to do it: have the partner in the water, behind the boat. It doesn't matter how crookedly the oarsman rows; with a human dragging behind the boat, it will go forward. The partner can steer it from the water; and while everybody else is spinning in circles and smashing into anchor chains and expensive Onassis-style cruisers moored nearby, the inflatable dinghy will proceed elegantly in a precise course, and win by an hour.

Meanwhile, the Irish rugby player has been accidentally treading on the cook's damaged toe. The first time, it was taken as an accident; the second time, the cook expressed himself even more freely than when the original accident occurred. The third time, I suspect it was put down to malice, and I think it is just as well that the cook's deadly weapon (right foot) is disabled... ®

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