Simrad Ruined Our Fun!

December 7, 2017

Going through this narrow, poorly charted pass should have been exciting – terrifying even. It wasn’t. It was easy. I honestly felt a little let down after we got anchored. I really was nervous about this pass. The Rocket Guide cautioned against taking it for a draft over 2 meters. The weather wasn’t right with lots of chop, a pretty strong current with us and no visibility through the water. It even looked like it might rain at one point. We decided to try it. We could always turn around and go to another anchorage, but we didn’t have to. I’m loving our new chartplotters and the ForwardScan sonar.

We recorded the entire trip through the pass so you can see what the ForwardScan sonar showed us. It also shows us using a satellite “chart” on our NSS9 EVO3 chartplotter.

-Rich

Exploring Around The Anchorage Island (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 19 – 23, 2013

It’s probably obvious that we were pretty enamored with the Blue Pool, but that’s not to say the areas closer to us were chopped liver. The ride around the island that partly enclosed and created our anchorage could be pretty stunning. We’d take a pass through two small islands and find ourselves in a fairly wide open area dotted with little motus and, a short distance away, the pillar islands of the “Bay of Giants”.  (Below, an interactive map approximating our favorite route around the island.)

Our Anchorage
Around the Island
Bay of Giants

The mainland around this area was fairly mountainous, creating a dark backdrop as the sun and passing clouds would alternately light and darken various islands. When the sunlight hit the area around our island, the blues and greens would light up dramatically.

A bit further around we discovered a bombie the size of a small living room. We made plans to come back and snorkel it as soon as we got the chance, but the water was so clear we could see much of it without leaving the comfort of our dinghy.

Definitely a beautiful area, and very close to probably the most impressive place: The Bay of Giants coming up in the next post. -Cyndi

Snorkeling at the Blue Pool (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 22, 2013

We weren’t deterred by the cloudy sky when we first decided to snorkel at the Blue Pool, and this turned out to be a lucky thing. Under gray skies, the water had taken on a blue-grotto glow, making the area look even more exotic and magical.

We got into the water and snorkeled around the little island, the walls of which seemed to serve as a nursery for multitudes of baby fish, especially blue damsels. Next, we swam over to the sides of the pool. Here, we saw butterfly fish, fascinating transparent fish with bright blue eyes, and small damsel fish of all kinds.

The standout feature, though, was a rock shelf covered with coral that was shaped like mushroom caps, each about 8 to 12 inches across. It looked like these “mushrooms” had been scattered across the flat area of the shelf, nearly covering it. It was bizarre but not surprising that this strange and exotic place would look like a fairyland below the water with small colorful fish and mushroom-shaped coral. (We’ve never seen anything like this before or since.) Below, a few photos from this beautiful and exotic underwater world (click to enlarge on this or any photo galleries in this post).

After we finished snorkeling, I took some extra time to swim and get more photos. Of course the camera was now wet so the photos look a bit watery, but I like them anyway.

Of course we shot some video: below some footage of the Blue Pool on a cloudy day.

The time came to leave the pool and head back to the boat. As we motored out we passed a cave full of swallows darting about. This would not be our only swim here during our stay in the area, but it was the most magical one. – Cyndi

Simrad ForwardScan Sonar vs. Bombie

December 2, 2017

We are out playing with our new equipment (and enjoying New Caledonia) while we wait for weather to sail to New Zealand. One of our new toys is ForwardScan sonar. Below is a short video that shows a coral bombie that wasn’t all that visible to the naked eye (the video has been enhanced to show the bombie better than it appeared in real life).

This was only our second outing with the sonar but I’m really happy with it.

Completing the new equipment one-two punch is the ability to display satellite charts, made from SASPlanet and Insight Map Creator, directly on the chartplotter. (I’ll post a how-to video soon. It’s been a steep learning curve but I think I’ve finally got it down.) Goodbye anchoring stress! -Rich

The “Blue Pool” (The Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 19 – 23, 2013

This particularly lovely spot was just around a corner from us (see map in previous post) and was actually part of an anchorage we’d considered as we made our way to Legacy’s current location.

The anchorage itself was beautiful, teal blue water surrounded by steep, stony cliffs draped with green vegetation. At the back of the anchorage sat a large, boulder-like motu. It was behind this motu that we found the magical place we called the Blue Pool. (Below, a few photos of the anchorage outside the Blue Pool. Click to enlarge and scroll through the photo galleries to follow.)

While the boulder island was large, there were channels around both sides of it leading into this special place: a large pool of water surrounded on three sides by vertical rock cliffs and hanging greenery. On its open side the boulder island separated it from the larger outer bay. (Below, a few photos of the channels leading into the Blue Pool.)

What made this spot so extraordinary, beyond merely being beautiful, was the water’s luminescent, ethereal glow. The glow seemed brightest in the sunlight, but even on cloudy days the water still seemed lit from within. Mostly this glow was a light, almost neon blue, but other times it glowed a vivid green. In the shadows the hues ranged from a rich blue to emerald (thus, the “Blue Pool” is a bit of a misnomer). The combination of rock walls, draping vegetation, glowing water, and the enclosed feeling made it seem like a dream world. (Below, a few photos of the Blue Pool)

Some of the brightest water was under the ledges beneath the cliffs. We were very anxious to return and do some snorkeling.

Below, a quick video from one of our visits to the Blue Pool. You can see how it changes color depending on the light, shadows, and viewing angle. Maybe we should have called it “The Blue or Green Pool Depending.” -Cyndi

The Holy Grail

November 29, 2017

About a week ago, we wrote about the New Toys we were installing on Legacy – new chartplotters to replace our older, failing plotters along with forward looking sonar. One of the new units arrived defective and while we’re waiting for the replacement, I’ve been trying to get a feature working that I’ve wanted for so long: Satellite images displayed on the chartplotter for navigation! I’m getting there. See…

You can even view both the satellite image and chart (Navionics in this case) simultaneously…

And it’s not just viewing these charts that’s the holy grail for me. I could always do that on my tablet, but it’s being able to use the satellite image directly for  navigation with routes, waypoints and the boat’s position displayed directly on the satellite image.

The other huge advantage is that almost all tablet displays are terrible outdoors. Our hew Simrad NSS9 EVO3 plotters have a beautifully bright screen that is so easy to see, even in direct sunlight.

Insight Map Creator

To make this possible, I’m using a free program called Insight Map Creator (IMC) to create the .at5 files that will display on the plotter. You can find a link to it on our “links” page. It’s been quite a steep learning curve. When I’ve got it figured out, I’ll make a video and post it on our blog.

I’m making charts for New Caledonia right now (since that’s where we are, waiting for suitable weather to get to NZ). Each run of IMC is taking about 20 hours and that’s on our very fast Intel Core i7 laptop. One reason it’s taking so long is that I’ve gotten greedy!

I  used to be happy with simple little .kap files made from GE2KAP or ChartAid. I’d capture a satellite image for an area I might want to anchor or transit and make just a small satellite image of that area. Enter SASPlanet and ESRI ArcGIS.imagery. These satellite images are stunning in their clarity and detail, at least here in New Caledonia and several other places I’ve viewed. Since I’ve seen these images, and since I can  now load them on my chartplotter, I WANT IT ALL!

I’ve made charts for the bottom half of New Cal and it takes up about 30GB on my 32GB micro-SD card. (Good thing they’re cheap. I can just buy them by the dozen and swap them in and out of my chartplotter as needed.) These images are so much better than the .kap files I used to make. For one thing, the ArcGIS imagery is better than what I’ve used before, but also, there is greater color resolution when doing things this way.

Normally, the .kap files have 8 bit color and a lot of detail is or can be lost because of this low level of color resolution. While I don’t know exactly what the color depth is in the resulting .at5 files, it looks stunning. There is so much detail I think I might be able to see individual seacucumbers on the bottom!

Satellite Images as Art

Some of these images are so beautiful, I’d mount them on wall (if I  had walls, that is). See this one below. Again, it’s the ESRI ArcGIS.imagery displayed in SASPlanet.

Zooming in shows the amazing details made by centuries of water flow into and out of the reefs.

Can you blame me for my greed? I may never anchor here, nor transit this channel, but damn it, I still want the image on my chartplotter! -Rich

 

Settling In for our Time in the Bay of Islands (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 19, 2013

Rich checked the weather and Houston, we had a problem. We were in for a windy spell, and in spite of how well protected our anchorage seemed, the winds would affect us. The problem was that wind tended to gust through this area while the current just sort of swirled around, leaving Legacy facing in any number of directions. This was not an issue in light winds, but with heavier gusts we’d probably end up all over the anchorage, not something we’d want with all the coral bommies around, nor did we want to end up beam-on to the gusts.

Rich had thought about going to a different spot, but I was already attached to this one and really wanted to stay. The solution: a stern anchor!

It was already gusty enough to make this job difficult–we were using the dinghy to pull the boat’s stern over and would make progress only to have a gust of wind stubbornly knock it back. But we kept at it and made progress in this tug-of-war with nature. Finally we succeeded in setting the stern anchor (and boat) just where we wanted them. We then pulled the boat back towards shore and out of the channel of wind blowing through the middle of anchorage. Suddenly it was calm and smooth, Legacy sitting nicely. We were ready now for whatever nature planned to throw at us over the coming days (uh, within reason).

Later in the afternoon conditions calmed and we decided to head out and do some exploring. Unfortunately we had an unpleasant new ritual whenever we used the dinghy: the struggle to get our electric outboard engine started. It would begin with the worrisome efforts to get it working, followed by relief when Rich finally got it started, then fear that this could well be the last time it would run. Not having a dinghy engine here would be a disaster as we had so much exploring to do, way too much ground to cover for rowing.

Below, an interactive map with a few of the places we’d end up visiting over the coming week, most of them more than once. Unfortunately, the satellite image is blown out for part of the area, so I’ve just marked favorite areas on our side of the channel. We’ll put in a map showing other areas when they become relevant.

Our Approximate Anchorage
The Small Pass
The Bay of Giants
Deep Blue Lake
Across the Lake 1
Across the Lake 2
The Blue Pool
The Jade Pool

I’ve decided to focus coming blog posts on particular places we saw during our time here; so the photo galleries will feature pictures from various days and different cameras. The changing light could have a huge effect on the look and feel of these places; so the same place can look remarkably different depending on when the photo was taken. The names I’ve mentioned aren’t official; I’m pretty much making them up as I go along.

Below, just because this is as good a place as any to put them, are a couple of views out a porthole in our boat. It’s pretty cool to look out and see a scenes like this filling the view space. –Cyndi

Our First Afternoon in the Bay of Islands (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 18, 2013

Just after we arrived in the Bay of Islands and got our anchor set, I was thinking about how great it would be to do something we never do: jump in and swim right away. You would think we’d do this all the time, but the reality is there’s always stuff that needs to get done first: a meal prepared, the dinghy launched, or a multitude of other small things. Plus when there’s a lot to explore, we generally start with a dinghy ride followed sometime later by a snorkeling trip–the see-and-do stuff. Swimming is a pure indulgence and tends to fall last on our list.

Thus it was a surprise as I was looking at the water to hear a splash behind me: Rich had just stripped down and jumped in! I proceeded to do the same, choosing for once in my life not to worry about sunscreen. What a great way to start our time here! Rich swam over to check the anchor and to make sure a worrisome coral bombie would be deep enough under our keel if we floated over it. I indulged in one of my favorite things: making dives off the boat. The sensation of plunging down into the water headfirst and going as deep as gravity takes me, then letting myself float slowly up to the surface, is one of my favorite things in the world.

Below, a few dinghy’s eye view of the anchorage (taken on different days–I didn’t have the camera with me during our first swim). Click to enlarge/scroll through any photo galleries below.

By the time we’d finished our post-swim showers followed by a very late lunch, it was sundowner time. The evening sun lit up the islands closest to us before disappearing behind the hills. A few bats flew overhead, and we could hear the woff-woffing of barking pigeons from the land around us.

We stayed out as the evening deepened, watching the moon rise behind filmy clouds, making a wonderful purple-blue dusk. Beautiful!

New Toys

November 21, 2017

While we’ve been sightseeing and enjoying all the wonderful restaurants in Noumea, we’ve also been busy with boat projects, too. Our Simrad NSE8 chartplotters have been a problem for a while. On the way to New Caledonia from Vanuatu, we couldn’t get the inside one to boot and the outside one was getting more and more sluggish.

When we were here earlier this year, we talked to Thomas at Altomarine about our issues. He’s the Navico dealer here (Simrad, Lowrance and B&G). While our Simrad units were well out of warranty, some of the issues we were having were known to Simrad and he was able to get them to offer us a greatly reduced price for replacement units. Since they don’t make our NSE chartplotters any longer, we got their newest tech – NSS EVO3 units. And since that newest tech supports forward looking sonar, we added that as well. That entailed a transducer change so we had to haul out briefly.

We managed to get the old transducers drilled out and the new ones installed in an hour. The cost at the yard here was minimal and the staff was extremely skilled and professional.

Our new forward looking sonar transducer installed.

The transducer in the center of the hull, the one that sticks down a bit, is the new forward looking sonar. We kept our old transducer as well as it has a boat speed paddle wheel. We moved that off to the side a bit where we had a blank from a previous instrument package.

“Why are they blue?”

Good question. That just happens to be the color of the brushfull of bottom paint we managed to beg and borrow from another boat on the hard. We hope the fish don’t mind the lack of color coordination.

Test Drive

Legacy anchored amongst the bombies.

We got out for a very short cruise to some of the islands and reefs near Noumea. This turned out to be a great test of our sonar. In the above picture, we were anchored in 12 feet of water with coral and rocks all around us. The sonar gave me great confidence traveling in this skinny water.

For us, there are always those dark patches of water up ahead that we don’t know about. Can we pass over it? Is it grass, or is it a rock? I was able to drive right over one of those because the sonar showed the water above the dark patch was more than deep enough for us. -Rich

Here are some links with more details about what we installed…

Simrad NSS EVO3 Chartplotter

Simrad ForwardScan Sonar

ForwardScan Video

P.S. Simrad really came through and Thomas at Altomarine in Noumea is great!

Despite the age of our NSE units, Simrad really stepped up in offering us a very large discount on new units. They really stand behind their products. Thanks Simrad!

Thomas at Altomarine is one of the best marine electronics guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He went out of his way to make this deal happen for us and supported us all through the process. Thanks Thomas!

Our Anchorage in Vanua Balavu’s Bay of Islands (Northern Lau, Fiji)

September 18, 2013

Just before we made our final turn into the area that intrigued us, we saw a turtle, generally a good-luck sign for us. We then turned the corner and gasped at the sight. The area looked just big enough for 2 boats. On the south side small islets were bunched together. We could catch a glimpse into the area amidst them: a large jade pool dotted with rock islands. Ahead of us was a pass into a large, deep navy blue body of water, the far side of which had a wall of mountain cliffs fronted by rock motus. On the other side of us, hilly green islands formed the north side of this bay. All around us the land was hilly and very green. The water was a mixture of rich teal and intense blues. This was about as beautiful as any place we’ve been.

The bay wasn’t without some challenges as we had to anchor amid bombies; making this area actually a one-boat anchorage (maybe two if using stern anchors). We managed to find a spot and set the anchor, then settled in to admire the exotic scenery. With all the islands around us, the area had the appearance of being landlocked, adding to its magic. Interestingly, this place reminded us more of Tierra del Fuego or Queen Charlotte Sound than the tropics: there wasn’t a palm tree in sight. Yet the air felt warm, and we could hear a multitude of bird calls and barking pigeons (sounding a bit like howler monkeys) in the trees. Truly, this was paradise.

Once we anchored here we didn’t feel the need to move, but in the coming days we’d do a lot of exploring by dinghy. Below, a few photos of our anchorage, including a photo of Legacy taken from our dinghy.

We were the only boat in this particular anchorage and tended to get lulled into feeling we were the only boat in the area. Thus, the occasional passing kayak would surprise us quite a bit. I’m sure we surprised them, too, as we were never, shall we say, dressed “for company.” It’s disconcerting to be wearing just enough to be comfortable in the warm weather (which might be very little) only to suddenly see a kayak passing by when you’re caught out in the cockpit.

I don’t love the idea of putting bells on a cat’s collar because the poor cat has to hear them all the time. I do love the idea of putting bells onto all kayak paddles so a person can be warned when they’re coming. Otherwise, how are you to know? Those kayaks can be sneaky, especially for vessels who have the anchorage to themselves. Kayak bells . . . maybe not a bad idea. — Cyndi