We've owned Sea Spirit for almost exactly three months now, having bought her more or less unexpectedly in the middle of August. Even back then, we knew that our first "big" trip together would start in January, so we had plenty of time for learning and commissioning (the process of making the boat ready for service).
Of course, the boat was perfectly ready for service when we bought her, and had done the boat show circuit up and down the East coast of the USA for the last year. Still, there are many "owner preference" items that don't come as part of a newly built boat, because each owner wants things just a little different from the next. Here is what the boat's helm looked like when we took delivery.
In our case, we either have added, or are in the process of adding many items to the boat, which I will list here to give you a sense. The items are mostly still in the process of being installed, so the "after" pictures will need to wait for a while. I held off choosing most of these items until seeing them in person at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show a couple of weeks ago. Wow, what an amazing show, but I'll talk about that in another post. Here are the things we added or will shortly add.
Dinghy and its associated tie-down/chock hardware: We chose a 14' Zodiac Bayrunner Pro 420 with Yamaha 70HP engine. We saw this as a fairly "open" style of tender, which will be well suited to our family of 4 plus associated water toys/groceries/etc. We also looked at some very nice AB boats which were a little more luxurious, but less roomy. We took a lot of things into consideration when choosing the dinghy, including whether there were "ankle busters" (items sticking up from the floor), and so on. We felt we were treated very fairly by Glenn at Lifeline Inflatables in Ft. Lauderdale.
Watermaker: Wow, it's tough to choose amongst watermakers. Too much similarity and too few differences. In the end, we settled on a Sea Recovery system that can make 1,800 gallons/day of water. "How much?", you ask. Yes, 1,800. We have a 400 usg tank on Sea Spirit. At 1,800 usg/day, we can use 100usg/day (which is a lot), and make it up in only 80 minutes of generator/watermaker run time. Overkill? Yes. But there will be no navy showers on this boat :)
An extra Icom M604 VHF radio: For something as important as a VHF radio, one seemed insufficient.
CCTV system: I want to be able to see out the cockpit, the boat deck, the salon, and the engine room, all from the wheelhouse. I also want to be able to see these places from my bedroom. I'm still in the process of selecting cameras and the "brain" of the system. But in essence, there will be wired cameras looking in all those places. There will be a "brain" probably in the wheelhouse somewhere. The output will likely be led to the chartplotters' video input. I'll also be able to connect over the boat's local Internet to the "brain", using a web browser. This will allow me to display any camera on my iPad or iPhone, and ultimately over the Internet from home too.
One problem with the CCTV setup is that my chartplotters, though amazing, have one nasty limitation. The Garmin 5212 plotters can only display video at 1/4 of full screen size. The newer 7212 models don't have this limitation. I'm not particularly keen to muck around with upgrading the chart plotters at this time, but if I want full screen video on the chart plotter screen, I'll need to. On the other hand, perhaps I'll live with it for a couple months before making what is probably ultimately a fairly expensive decision to upgrade them, since I have 3. While I could just upgrade 1, the 7212 looks slightly different from the 5212, and I don't really want unmatched displays in the wheelhouse (just for aesthetics). There is a price to vanity, but I haven't yet decided whether to pay it :) :)
Ship's Internet. My goodness, there are a lot of choices here. I need wifi to connect through the marina, 3G/4G cellular data while near shore, an unlocked GSM card to use data while away from the USA, and some sort of satellite system for data offshore. All of this has to be managed, and I know from my motorhome days that it can be a pain in the neck to manage multiple connections.
Fortunately, Peplink has a device called the Pepwave MAX, which can mix and match among multiple links to the Internet, and can do so in a way that respects the limitations and priorities one would like to assign to each one. I bought one of these, and am burning it in at home before sending it to the boat.
By the way, burning things in at home (ie: running them for a while to make sure they work well alone and work well together) is something I have done all my life, and am a great believer in. Somehow, problems are a lot easier to solve with the benefit of a home full of comforts and equipment, than they are "out in the field" (or in this case, "out in the marina").
I have a Verizon Mifi 2200, which is a really cool Wifi-over-cellular access point, but it works fine with the Pepwave MAX. I also have a Virgin Mobile Broadband2gostick which provides "unlimited" 3G data at only $40/month (of course, only in the USA). The Pepwave MAX manages this too. It will not only prioritize the two of these cards, but it will also count the data used on the Mifi so I don't go over the monthly limit. It will also split the data from the ship's network up, sending some over the Mifi and the rest over the Virgin card. This improves the speed of the system, since it effectively lets you use two sticks at once. Actually, I think it will let me use at least 5 Internet access points at once, which sounds really cool.
I'll also be able to plug in a satellite Internet feed to the Pepwave, once again allowing the Pepwave to set the priorities and policies for its use. At the $11/MB that the satellite Internet costs, I'm very glad that it does so. If I accidentally allowed the same 5GB of data to go over the satellite that I am allowed on Verizon, my bill would be $55,000!
From my motorhoming days, I know the importance of getting the Wifi and cellular antennae way up high, so will be doing so on the boat, with long whips. The wifi whips aren't that long, but I can mount them on an extension, which should help. I'm looking at putting them up either 16' or 23' from the boat deck, which should extend line-of-sight quite dramatically while offshore.
I'll also be installing a wifi and cellular amplifier for each of those antennae, to ensure the signal from the boat is properly heard. However, when considering power and antenna, having a high mounted (and high gain) antenna is more important than high power. After years as a ham radio operator, this fact is deeply engrained.
I'll also very likely be installing some kind of satellite phone/Internet. While the mini-VSAT system seems ideal, with its unmetered Internet link offering 150kbps - 2mbps speeds, KVH's pricing of the units makes it very difficult to see the value. It would essentially double the annual operating cost of the boat, which seems slightly obscene. Having looked at the Iridium Openport system and the Inmarsat FleetBroadband system, the latter seems to have a performance advantage. There are several vendors, with Skipper Communications providing the best airtime value plans and also the lowest cost unit I have found so far. They are also favorably reviewed online, but in fairness, so are all the others. This seems to be one area where the equipment is a bit of a commodity item (ie: not much difference from one vendor to the next).
One thing we're not quite so sure about adding is an SSB radio. I've received equal and opposite opinions on this from a variety of nautical sources. Some swear by it, others swear at it, many have it but never use it (even offshore). As a HAM radio operator, I am wondering whether the ability to just pick up the mic and speak to my Dad (who is also a HAM) will trump all else, or whether I'll be more practical and say "heck, just pick up the satphone for $1/minute and call home". The jury is truly still out on this one.
Electrical outlets: There are many on Sea Spirit, of course. But, I'm having an extra 10 retrofitted, in places I learned about from motorhoming. For example, inside the bathroom medicine cabinets, so that toothbrushes and razors can be charged without turning the countertop into a sea of cables. I'm also adding a couple extra outlets on the helm for laptops. There were some there already, but not quite where I wanted them.
Anchors: The debate will never end on this one. We have a massive "Pool" style anchor with sharp looking flukes that should dig in nicely. On the other hand, I've read in the Hinz book on anchoring that these anchors don't hold as well as more modern "digging" styles. But putting a second anchor on my bow is tough at this point, and yet I absolutely want to be able to anchor with two off the bow. The compromise we're going to try first is to have a couple of extra Fortress anchors aboard, one in the bow and one in the stern. These are very light in weight, but apparently hold exceptionally well. Time will tell. They store very well too.
Hookah: I bought a superbly built Brownie Surface Supplied Air system (sometimes called Snuba). This is a system that pumps air down a long tube to up to 4 divers. For relatively shallow dives (ie: cleaning the boat, exploring down 20 - 50 feet), this system seems like a great way to go, but we've never used it before (although we are certified divers), and so will have to wait and see.
Air data: I felt it would be useful to have a readout of wind speed, direction, air temperature, pressure, and so on. Airmar makes a great looking and well respected solid state (no moving parts) unit for this.
Water data: Although I already have a depth and temperature gauge (sonar), I have no speed-through-the-water measurement. Since depth is pretty important to know, I am considering putting in a "tri-ducer" that will measure depth, temperature, and speed through the water. Still, it's another hole in the boat, and do I really need it.
Cabin readouts: I want to be able to hear an anchor drag alarm from the master cabin, and see the direction the boat is facing. Garmin's GMI-10 is a small instrument that reads data off the boat's navigation data network, and can display it in about a 4" x 4" package. I am considering putting one in each cabin, so that anyone in any cabin can see this information. Perhaps overkill.
Phew, that's a lot! I've also done what I always do when buying a new vehicle (such as an airplane, car, etc.) that isn't quite "brand spanking new". Oil change, belts, hoses, coolant, and so on. I also "boiled" all the heat exchangers, and believe me, some of them were very clogged (aircon especially). All are pristine now. I've also ensured that all access panels are truly "accessible", ie" don't have any screws in front of them. I figure any time there's a screw there, it will not get looked at until too late. If it's just a handle or door, it will get looked at. There were only a few places that needed modifying, since the boat generally has extremely good access. But now even those few places are truly accessible.
That's all for now. More later.