Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boats on the Horizon

The ocean is starting to get busy. The geography of New Zealand means that the closer you get to Whangarei, the more convergence there is amongst all the possible routes taken by commercial traffic to and from this country. To get to Auckland, you pretty much have to cut through all the shallow small islands at Whangarei and take a wide channel down to the city. If you can imagine all those freighters with Blue Bell chicken chips and Anchor butter, canned corned beef and Wattie's soups off to the Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga to supply all those scantily stocked and ridiculously expensive dairies, then you can imagine that approaching Whangarei is tantamount to poking your bow into a beehive of commercial boat traffic.

This is one of those moments where I strongly regret that Don Quixote does not carry two items of equipment now seen on the well-stocked cruising boat: AIS Tx/Rx and a SeaMe radar repeater. The Automatic Identification System is essentially 'whois' for boats. Hmmm, only computer geeks probably understood that analogy. Let's try this again. Every boat has a unique identity in the global system of radio communication. With an AIS transceiver (Tx), a boat broadcasts this electronically to every boat within several hundred miles -- and incidentally but totally pointlessly except in certain limited emergencies -- to all airplanes as well. The announcement says important things like your boat name and size, location, heading, speed, and registry. With an AIS receiver (Rx), these signals are detected and then plotted on a heads up display. They are often incorporated into your helm navigation station in boats with newer electronics packages. AIS is internationally mandated for all vessels over a certain size. I do not know the size off hand, but think Big. When Don Quixote was commissioned, AIS Tx was illegal for small craft. I guess the thinking is that we would clutter up the display. We met cruisers in Mexico with AIS Rx which they swore saved them from getting run down like chickens on a Tongan street by freighters and cruise boats. Now it is legal for even small craft to own both send and receive. Next time. I like the notion of being able to call out a boat on the horizon by name.

The SeaMe radar repeater we have only seen once on a boat named s/v Catacaos. Lorraine and Graham are registered out of Jersey (look that one up -- a country, not a state). Graham is a coastie for Jersey, and someone who's nautical acumen I trust deeply. I don't know if I'm spelling this correctly, but they had what sounded like a "SeaMe" radar repeater. What it did was sit there passively doing nothing until it detected someone else's radar signal. Then it lit up and started to broadcast a very loud return. Catacaos was one of the most visible boats ever to appear on our radar with a stronger, more steady return than even the floating islands known as cargo containers. Our radar has trouble detecting land, but it had no difficulty telling us precisely where Catacaos was out to 12 miles. I want one of these. Better than being able to call a boat and get its attention is to be so "loud" electronically that the boat's own navigational systems alert the driver.

For these last few hundred miles of our cruising life, however, we are powerful radar toy-less. We've made it this far, so I am optimistic we'll manage to dodge traffic through our last overnight. We are, however, going to light the boat up like a Christmas tree: nav lights and salon lights. We'll be highly visible in these clear, relatively flat seas. If the wind holds, we have roughly 150 miles to Whangarei where we will first give everything of edible value to customs, then anchor the boat, and then find someplace with Indian take aways. I am so ready for a good curry.

~ Toast
Distance: 130/1155/1347 Vava'u to Auckland Day: 15
33 43.00'S 175 45.61'E - Rhumb line to Whangarei
Oct 15 2011 18:30 UTC


Richard said...


Congratulations on this step along the way. A long trip but enjoyable with others with you.

Have a great time there and keep up the blog.

Anne and Dick
"Full & By"

Brian W. said...

I sure hope you all arrived safely as you haven't posted in a long time. Love your stories, writing, and humor. Post to let us all know you are OK!

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if they confiscated your computer. Give us an "Oye there matey" to let us know you guys are OK:)

Andy in Mpls, MN

long island used boats said...

You know what would make your exciting story much better? Pictures. If there were pictures, it'd be a blast reading through your tale.