List of Improvements (in order of completion)

Dinghy And Motor

I purchased a used Achilles 8'8" Hypalon Inflatable with a 6hp Tohatsu Motor from an ad in the San Diego Reader Magazine. One of the very first things that I decided I would need was a dinghy. I felt that I wanted the extra security of having one onboard for use as a life-raft for our local coastal cruising, but also as a utility tender, and hopefully as something of a water toy when the water warms up or I head south.

Although a packaged life-raft would probably be better (safer) for extended coastal or ocean cruising, I feel that, as an emergency vessel, when accompanied with a ditch bag, the dinghy provides a significant level of additional safety, while still providing useful transportation and fun that you don't get with a life-raft. I will still consider renting or purchasing a life-raft if I take an extended cruise, but I like my little inflatable.

It has a high pressure inflatable bottom and came with oars, fuel tank for the motor, foot pump, full documentation, and so on. I registered it with the DMV, according to regulations, so it even has a license number and pink slip. The dinghy and motor were only 6 months old, and in virtually perfect shape, when I purchased them, yet at a substatial 40-50% discount to what I would have had to pay new. I have used it to go from the boat to shore in Avalon harbor and back a few times, but have yet to get up to planing speed. I look forward to playing with it more, as a toy, in the summer months.

EPIRB and Handheld VHF

The next thing I wanted was an EPIRB. These are the emergency radio beacons that broadcast your a distress signal to a satellite in orbit above the earth. The satellite triangulates your position and sends a message to the Coast Guard and/or other National or Local emergency services dispatchers, who then automatically, and almost without fail, mount a search and rescue effort for you.

These are very serious devices. For instance, they are labelled as a "device of last resort", and the instructions are very clear that it is against the law to trigger them except in an emergency. In fact, you have to register them with the Coast Guard, by mail, and each device sends a code which allows the Coast Guard to identify you (and your boat) when triggered, which can help in a rescue effort.

There are different kinds, including some that automatically activate when immersed. I opted to get a manual one (you have to press a two buttons simultaneously for 5 seconds), but the one I got also includes a GPS receiver. So it also sends out my position, as data encoded in the radio signal, which is much more accurate than merely triangulating the position from outer space, which is how it would work otherwise. This means that the rescue effort can be much more focused (down to within mere meters instead of anywhere within a few square miles) which in turn can save critical time in an emergency.

The other device that I wanted right away was a hand held VHF. This can be used when one person is on shore and the other on the boat, or as a second radio for listening to the weather broadcasts, scanning other channels or whatever while the main radio is in use or monitoring a specific channel.

The EPIRB and Handheld VHF are mounted on the starboard side main salon bulkhead, where they are easily found in an emergency. The emergency ditch bag is stored just below this (behind the navigators chair), and the idea is that in an abandon-ship situation, these two devices will be thrown into the ditch bag before the ditch bag is taken overboard.

Electrical Panel, 12V Sockets, 700W Inverter

I guess in 1990 no one thought about all the 12V plug in stuff we would see here in the 21st century lol. There wasn't a single 12V socket on the whole boat! So I added a 12V fused and switched electrical panel, six 12V sockets and a 700W inverter and it's associated 110V socket to Mandala. The panel has four switches that control the 12V sockets and inverter.

The first 12V socket is at the aft of the bottom starboard shelves above the setee table, and I use it for my laptop computer plug. The next three 12V sockets are in a bank at the foreward end of the chart table shelf. I use these variously for a rechargeable spotlight, the rechargeable handheld VHF, an AA battery charger, and/or to recharge my cellphone. The final two sockets are found in the cockpit, one next to the autopilot bracket, and one on the back of the instrument pod. I use the later of these so that my handheld GPS does not need to run off batteries while being used at the helm.

The Inverter is in the aft battery compartment (under the aft settee seat). It is mounted with heavy tie straps that are screwed into the fiberglass of the seat. A 110V socket connected to the inverter is located at the aft of the top starboard shelf. Since this is 700W max (and 400W steady), it is not very powerful ... I use it only for battery chargers that don't run off 12V (like for my cannon digital camera).

Together these 12V sockets and the inverter mean that I can run a lot of stuff off of 12V that I wasn't able to do before. Having them individually switched (and fused) means that I can leave everything plugged in, and only turn the chargers and wall-warts on when I need them, which is not only convenient, but also saves power.

Water and Waste Tank Level Indicator

Mandala came with a "Tank Alert" unit, which is a single red LED that comes on if the waste water tank gets too full. It only comes on when there's no room left to use the toilet anymore. She did not come with any level indicators for the fresh (potable) water tanks.

It only makes sense that you would want to know how much water and waste is in your tanks before they are full (waste) or empty (water). Imagine trying to drive a car without a fuel guage! Or imagine finding out in the middle of a shower that you were out of water! Better level indicators enable you to better anticipate (and plan) when you will need more fresh water or empty your waste tank.

So I decided to install a Snake River Tank Level Indicator on Mandala. The unit is very well designed and generally simple to understand and install. You stick two pieces of special foil tape (2" wide, like duct tape) to one side of each tank, attach the wires, program the unit, and it works.

In my case the hard part was getting to the sides of the tanks. The waste tank was enclosed in a factory built fiberglass-plywood box with no room on the sides. So I had to cut and break the box apart, before I could attach the foil and wires to the holding tank, and then I had to re-fiberglass the outer box back together. It was hard and messy work and I got some scratches on the back of my hand against the rough fiberglass-plywood while trying to spread the tape vertically on the waste tank, and working with fiberglass and epoxy is always messy.

Fortunately the water tanks, which are under the aft bed, when empty, can be moved a few inches without detaching, cutting or breaking anything, and so they went relatively quickly compared to the black water tank.

The control unit is mounted on the corner of the kitchen counter, between the drawers and the sink. After running the wires from the tanks to the control unit, and running a power cord from the main electrical panel to the control unit, I was able to test and calibrate it.

You have to empty and fill the tanks to calibrate them. When empty, you press one key combination to set the empty level and when full, another combination to set the full level. The control unit can display the results for three separate tanks (which is what Mandala has now), but can be upgraded to a bigger unit (without rewiring the sensors) to add additional tanks to the system. Also nice is the fact that you can program the LEDs to read red-to-green or green-to-red, so that fresh water tanks are green when they're full, but red when they're empty, whereas waste tanks are the opposite. And it remembers (or appears to remember) the settings when the battery is off. The documentation is not clear on this, but my testing seemed to indicate that it uses flash memory for it's programming, so that it remembers the calibration when off, which is important in a switched boat DC system.

In operation the unit is fairly accurate, depending mostly on boat movement and accurate initial calibration. In practice I find that it lets us know whether I can use water freely, if it's time to start conserving, or if it's time to think about where we're going to empty the waste tank in the next few days. Much better than finding out at 10:00 at night that the pooper is full, eh?

Bottom Paint

The bottom had not been painted since 1998 or 2001, a long time in eaither case, so I decided to haul the boat and have the bottom painted. I decided on a pretty blue bottom. I also had the Shelter Island Boatyard do some minor blister repair (sand, seal, repaint) a s was appropriate at that time and install a new zinc, as the old one was almost 50% gone.

While the boat was out of the water, I also had the boatyard install the new thru-hull and the FLS Sensor, described sepearately. Oh yeah, and finally, I had her topsides waxed and buffed at that time.

New Instrument Pod and Guard Rail

I added an FLS (below) and needed another spot for an instrument, so I needed a new instrument pod. I also felt that the old instrument pod was also too close one's eyes and would be better placed farther back, so I also purchased and installed a new angled (instead of straight) stainless steel guard rail.

I originally ordered an Edson instrument pod, but when it arrived and I found out that it was made of steel, so I ended up sending it back. I wanted a plastic pod that I could work with, as I would have drill and cut holes in it to mount the instruments. I finally settled on, and purchased, a blank Navipod 3 instrument pod.

After carefully cutting the holes in the faceplate for the instruments I was ready to install the pod and new guard rail. So I started to remove the old guard rail and discovered that the connectors on cables were too large to feed back thru the pipe! It couldn't be removed without cutting some of the instrument wires. After a careful analysis, I determined that the previous owner (or the factory) had to cut the cables in order to install them in the first place, so I found where they had cut the wires, and cut them and removed them.

The hardest part of putting the new pod and guard rail back in was that I had to solder and heat shrink each wire in several fine multistranded bundles. Plus I needed a foot or two of extra length, so I had to insert, in some cases, a short length of shielded 9 conductor wire. I think I had to solder about 40 connections altogether to reconnect everything, including fashioning tiny aluminum foil strips for multiply shielded wires (a shielded twisted pair within a 9 conductor shielded cable, sheesh!). Once that was done, however, everything else went together relatively easily and all the electronics worked fine. You can see the instruments much better at an angle and slightly away from you, and I think it looks much nicer than the old one! So I'm happy with it.

FLS (Forward Looking Sonar)

I'm not sure I needed it, but as a paranoid beginning boat owner, looking for anything that might help make it safer, I determined to add an Echopilot FLS (Forward Looking Sonar) to Mandala.

Mandala has Radar, which (theoretically) allows us to see other boats or obstructions on the surface of the water. However, 90% of the things you're likely to hit with a boat are under the water, not on top of it! For seeing under the water, like most boats, I only had a depth sounder, which shows you the depth immediately under the boat, in feet. That's certainly useful because, for instance when approaching a shoal, if you pay attention to the depth finder you can see a trend as the depth changes, and take corrective at some point. But if there was an uncharted reef or some other abrupt obstruction in front of you, you would not see it until you hit it, as, once again, the depth sounder looks straight down, and cannot predict what is coming!

FLS, on the other hand, points forward and down, painting an actual 2-dimensional picture of a slice of the bottom for upto 300 yards directly in front of the boat. It can also give you an idea of the density of the bottom by displaying a soft or fuzzy line as opposed to a solid one. So theoretically, with an FLS on your boat, if there is a reef or rock ahead of you, you will have some time to take action before you hit it, whereas a boat without FLS would never know it was there until they hit it.

According to specifications, the FLS sensor is supposed to be mounted perfectly vertical, pointing straight down from the bottom of the boat. Not realizing how important that was, when I had the sensor installed, I let the boatyard install it without a fairing, so it is now angled about 10 degrees off of the vertical. In practice, this means that what the sensor sees is (a) slightly shallower than it indicates, and (b) slightly off to one side of the boat. I will probably have this corrected and install a fairing, the next time I have the boat hauled.

By the way, a fairing is just a piece of wood glued to the hull which is angled with a hole in it to such that the sensor can be mounted flush vertical to the otherwise slanted hull. They are usually smoothed and curved as much as possible so as to be fairly efficient while moving under water, but they are essentially just angled blocks of hard wood with a hole in them. Since they present a larger surface area and more resistance, I wasn't to keen to have one in the first place, but now I'm pretty sure it would have little or no effect on Mandalas sailing characteristics and wish I would have installed the fairing when I first had the chance.

As far as how it works, thus far, I have taken Mandala around and briefly tried looking at various things under water, but have not made a systematic effort to really test the unit. Most of the time (in most of the places I sail) it just shows a gradually descending slope of soft sandy bottom in front of me, because of where I sail, and I believe this to be generally representative of the conditions ahead of the boat. Since I don't generally sail directly towards rocks, I havent had a chance to test the unit in that way, yet!

As far as seeing things near the surface, in actual usage although I have been able to pick up returns from bouys, other boat's keels, and seaweed and other things near the surface, I would not say it is straightforward using the unit for open water collision avoidance. Perhaps a cargo container would give a clear return, but I doubt that you could differentiate a log from wave noise. Perhaps it should be pointing down just a little bit more to avoid a bit more of the surface (or it could have a software filter to accomplish the same). The controls are rudimentary and don't allow for any adjustments of sensitivity or angles of sensing.

All in all I'd say it works pretty much as expected, especially given my cock-eyed mounting of the sensor. Still, I find it to be a useful addition to my instrumentation. Coupled with the other instruments it gives me a sense of security to know that I now have two ways to look under the water. I can use the FLS and depth sounder to check-and-balance each other. This is good because sometimes the depth sounder gives spurious readings and they make me just a little queasy, and the FLS makes me feel better about them. Each lends to the other. I think I could even use the FLS, to some degree, as a fish finder if I wanted to, and in any case it's always fun to have another toy to look at and play with in the cockpit.

I believe that as I sail more I will learn more about reading the FLS display. I think you have to learn to read it, like you have to learn to read a Radar screen. But even now the FLS is, in the short time I've had it, the instrument of choice, the one my eyes are on, when, or should I say "if", I find myself in tricky shallow water situations. And since I don't know what I'll find if I take Mandala on an extended cruise to Mexico, I think overall that it's a worthwhile and useful addition to the boat.

I will try at some time to do a systematic test of the sonar, and post pictures of obstructions and screen shots of the FLS so that you'll get a better idea how it works ...

Bow Pulpit

When I got Mandala the bow pulpit was bent, downard, in a sad looking way, like she had been punched in the nose! Apparently the previous owner had run the boat, at slow speed, into a piling or some other boat or something. It wouldn't have been too bad if the bend hadn't broken the stainless steel tubing, which was now rusting and looked like it might break off if you needed it. Since this was a safety issue, I felt had to correct it.

I could have gotten the old bow pulpit welded and/or re-chromed, but after calling Catalina Yachts and finding that they had the exact replacement in stock for a very reasonable price, I decided to get and install a brand new one. Kudos to the folks at Catalina Yachts, as not only was it relatively inexpensive, but it arrived quickly by by overland freight, extremely well packed in large, custom built cardboard box.

Removing the old bowpulpit was easy, but putting the new one on was a little tricky. I used the old mounting holes and I ended up having to wrestle the new Bow Pulpit into place. Plus some of the backing bolts had to be put on in inaccessible places, by feel only, and only barely by that. Finally, after an afternoon's worth of explitives, i got all the bolts in,  and all the backing washers and nuts on and tightened. After a further bit of tweaking and adjusting the lifelines in order to re-attach them (they needed to stretch a few centimeters as the pulpit, it turned out, wasn't exactly the same size as the old one), the task was completed, and I had a Shiny New Bow Pulpit !

Engine Control Handles and GPS Bracket

To complete the spiffing up of the cockpit, I replaced the old red and black plastic control handles with bright shiny new Engine Control Handles. There was a functional aspect to this as well, as the old handles actually bent when you pressed on them, leading to less than perfectly accurate control, particularly when shifting gears.

The handles went on quite easily, but, because they have a slightly larger "knob" on the top, when pressed forward, the shift lever would hit the guard rail and thus didn't "click" into gear as securely as I wanted. So I was also obligated to adjust the transmission linkage to get it just right, but that was fairly easy, apart from moving the aft cabin matress out of the way.

Now that it's all done, however, I'm very pleased that I took the time to do this minor improvement. I also made a bracket for the GPS, and together they look really nice.

Steaming Light

What a b@**! this turned out to be!   On our Sail to Catalina, i discovered that the steaming light was burned out. Since the next thing on our agenda is to practice night sailing, this had to be corrected, for safety as well as legal reasons.  You don't want to get a ticket or look like a jerk because you don't have the proper nav-lights at night! really And it's just a light bulb, right?

Wrong !!

It turns out that the fixture had gone bad. Well, more accurately, it looks like a fix to the fixture had gone bad. Apparently it had been repaired before, as evidenced by the silicon goop where a rubber gasket should have been. And inside where the wire should have been soldered to a brass piece, it was instead "compression fitted" (read: jammed back together) to force contact. You could see where the solder junction had broken previously, and although the previous solution was physically secure, the wire had corroded and wasn't making good contact with the brass any more.

I decided to not fix the old light, and instead went to West Marine and bought a near exact, tho more modern and made mostly of plastic, replacement. I also needed a rivet gun, as I had to remove the old bracket to mount the new one (although the holes all lined up), as I had left it in place when removing the old fixture. West marine had a rivet gun and the right kind (aluminum) of rivets to ensure that they wouldn't corrode.