Friday, December 2, 2011

NCC 2011: Dawn Patrol and Pounding Through to the Finish

6:48 AM on Core Sound 
October 1, 2011 

Dawn Patrol on Core Sound

At 6:30 AM the sky and waters were bathed in soft colors of an advancing sunrise.   The Core Sound 20  Dawn Patrol was exactly where she was meant to be:  on a stealthy mission in the middle of Core Sound reaching at 5-8 kts aided by a spinnaker.  The time and place were perfect for relaxed cruising and camping aboard the Dawn Patrol.  Instead, we were racing.  We were trying to keep each other awake after 23 hours of non-stop sailing (12 hours in the dark).  Staying warm was also a challenge even while wearing almost every stitch of high-tech warm-and-fuzzy clothing we had packed.  It was a very cold and windy night.  Now, like the cavalry arriving just in time, relief was coming over the horizon.  We knew the sun would soon rise and warm us. Already we could see the channel markers.  We began to think clearly enough to celebrate with hot chocolate and hot coffee.  In less than an hour the sun would be up.  In less than 4 hours we would cross the finish line and enjoy a hot shower and some sleep.

At about 6:30 the Bushnell trail camera silently switched automatically from stealthy IR-flash mode to full-color-daylight mode.  It continued shooting every 15 seconds to capture hundreds of images from its position on the tiller aft of the transom.

Below are some of my favorite still images from that morning, as well as a time-lapse video (4.5 minutes) spanning the final four hours of our NCC adventure race.   The Bushnell's clock was faulty but the time stamps shown on the images have been corrected.

Next  channel  marker  in  Core Sound

Time-Lapse Video

From 6:45 - 10:15 AM the Bushnell "tiller cam" gave us hundreds of images.  Minus a few images edited out, a sequence of 883 images is shown in the video at a rate of 1 frame per 0.3 seconds.  Despite the camera's narrow 50-degree field of view,  this video is an interesting part of our time-lapse experiment with this camera.

Welcome aboard to take a ride on the Dawn Patrol.....

Time-Lapse Video 
6:45  to  10:15 

GPS Track
GPS Speeds

We put away the spinnaker at 7:00 AM.  At 7:15 our speed peaked at 8 kts and gradually declined to 5 kts by 8:00.  At 8:15 we reefed both sails.

Are You Awake?

The 300mile Everglades Challenge often features long open-water transits appropriate for single-handed sailing.  That makes it possible for a crew of two to take turns taking occasional 2-3 hour naps.   Not so in the 100mile NCC!   The frequently changing environments and weather of the NCC route kept both of us on non-stop active duty.  As in the NCC 2010, staying awake became a challenge in the the pre-dawn hours.   For example, SOS is at the tiller but his eyes have closed and his head is drooping. 
      DWSB:  "Are you awake?"  
      SOS:      "Yes!" he says, straightening his posture.
      DWSB:   "Your eyes were closed."  
      SOS:       "Oh I know this route so well I don't need my eyes open to see it."
In the pre-dawn hours we attempted conversation to stay awake.  However, we discovered it is possible to fall asleep while talking and it is even easier to fall asleep while listening.  It is also easy to be asleep while you think you are talking.  For example:  SOS is speaking but I have stopped hearing him and I am dreaming something I believe he is saying.  Now he is asking me something again.  My reply is ridiculous and he laughts at my non sequitur.   Unavoidably, we took turns at this "game".   Towards 5:00 AM the game became more challenging and we craved sunrise.

The Sun Brings Wind and Waves

During the night, the cold front had rolled over us at about 10:00 PM.  By the time we departed CP1 at nearly 1:00 AM,  the NW wind was mostly steady at 6-15 kts and the waves were small.  On our way out of Taylor Creek we had decided to continue on while the conditions were much better that we had expected.  If conditions turned very rough (per forecast) we could anchor for sleep.  As it happened, the tolerably smooth sailing lasted until the sun rose and heated things up.

Beautiful colors, time,  place

By 7:30 we could feel the sun warming us.  By 8:00 the wind strengthened. The waves grew in size and frequency and the wind became strong and gusty.  
Sun-Lit  Pearls of  Spray

Crystal  Sculpture

A Pounding Ride to the Finish 

In NCC 2010 we entered Pamlico Sound via the shallow cut-through of Beach Creek. (Sprint to the Finish).   This year that route featured a strong headwind and surf zones. We chose instead to follow a very natural channel that cuts through the shallows between Chain Shot Island and Harbor Island.  To follow the channel, we found ourselves short tacking in strong winds through 3-4 foot waves and rollers.  The roller coaster ride was unlike anything we had ever experienced in the Dawn Patrol.  It was a pounding ride through the white-capped waves:  from each wave the bow fell into a deep trough with a booming thud as the bowsprit submerged in the next face.  Then the bow rose skyward to climb the next steep wave.  We were careful to hang on tight as we hiked out.   There were clusters of pound nets to port, fields of pound nets to starboard,  and eventually pound nets astern.   Our aim was to break through to the deeper waters of Pamlico Sound without (1) slamming the centerboard into the bottom, (2) being capsized by a gust and/or breaking wave, (3) falling overboard, or (4) breaking something important.   We were glad to exit the surf zones and bear westward directly toward the finish line.

GPS Track from Core Sound into Pamlico Sound
Aerial view from Google Earth

Scenes from the Tiller-Cam

Our experiment with the Bushnell camera yielded the following selected images. 

Pound nets to starboard                                   Harbor Island ruins

GPS in hand.   Harbor Island ruins off the starboard bow
Yes, the image can be corrected for tiller movement.   But . . .

Pound nets off the port bow. 

Wind waves

Bigger waves

Cedar Island Beach in sight

Approaching the breakwater at the Cedar Island Ferry dock

Heading toward the entrance of the breakwater.  
Boat ramp,  dock, and small beach dead ahead.

Inside and preparing to slow down.

Gliding toward the sandy beach (finish line) .

Finished !

We landed on the small beach next to the boat ramp. We were happy to finish "in one piece". We were certainly sleep deprived / stupified.   And we were still rocking and rolling.  

Why was I still wearing my headlamp? I was... er... umm... demonstrating that it would have been possible to wear a GoPro Hero camera on my forehead. Yes. That is what I was doing, and I'm sticking with that story.

Chief was there to welcome us and to interviewed us. He wanted video footage of me kissing the ground.  Can you believe that? Ha! I respectfully told him "No way!" and I pointed out it was his tough luck if his camera missed me doing it the first time.

Video of Interview at the Finish Line
(by Chief)  

Our time was 26 hours, 45 minutes.  That's better than our 29 hours, 20 minutes in the NCC 2010,  and better than our 31 hours, 55 minutes in NCC 2009.   

However, in 2009 we were anchored in Taylor Creek for 7 hours for sleep!   In 2010 and 2011 we chose to go non-stop from start to finish. 

The Dawn Patrol finished first in Class 4 (monohulls) and 6th overall behind 3 kayaks (Class 1) and 2 trimarans (Class 5).    The Isotope catamaran of HoldYourCourse (Class 5) finished soon after us.

The two Class 1 kayakers who finished in the 15 minutes before our arrival (MosquitoMagnet and TheThinker)  had taken the shallow-cut-through route via Beach Creek.  They both reported shallow flat water in Beach Creek,  but rough conditions at both ends of the creek.  The entrance to Pamlico Sound was a field of 1'-2' breaking waves and shallow even 50 yards offshore.

MM said, "The waves didn't make it into the creek at all. That tells you how shallow it was at the mouth. I don't think the water was more than 2' deep at best. Towards the mouth of the creek, everything was shallow. You could have probably towed the boat, but when you got to deeper water, you'd have had trouble getting safely back in."

TT said, "The waves on the Cedar Island Bay were not bad, maybe 1-2', but the 20mph headwind was a killer. As we (I was paddling together with Mosquito Magnet) turned into the creek, I did not notice any major difference. We hit the creek at the high tide, so I was not touching the bottom with my paddle (est. depth 2'), but it was pretty shallow at the entrance and also exiting the creek. I was ready to pull my boat in case I had not been able to paddle, but I ended up paddling. Paddling the last mile through the breaking waves on the Pamlico Sound was a challenge and that's where I was unable to keep up with MosquitoMagnet."

Roll Roll Roll Your Boat

Strong winds can produce tall closely-spaced waves in the shallow areas of Core Sound and Pamlico Sound.  Around Chain Shot Island,  we were concerned about the possibility of slamming our centerboard into the bottom.   We were also concerned about the possibility of being capsized by a large wave.   Wave-and-gust combinations were a concern as well.  In hindsight, there was not much chance of being rolled by a wave.  Whitecaps were everywhere but the waves were not breaking.  

To figure out whether the sea conditions pose a risk of rolling your monohull boat, the following useful formulas relate wave height (WH) and wave length (WL) to boat length (BL) to guide risk assessment.

There is a high risk of being rolled if  the wave is breaking, the boat is broadside or oblique to the wave,  and WH  > (0.30 x BL).    

A wave is likely to be a breaking wave if  WL < (7 x WH ).  In this case the waves are tall, steep and unstable.

So for a 20' monohull boat, like the Dawn Patrol for example,  WH > 6.0' and WL < 42' would indicate dangerous waves.   

Our waves' heights around Chain Shot Island were only in the 3' - 5' range and they were not breaking. 


Sunday, October 16, 2011

NCC 2011: Time Lapse Photography

Postcard from the edge:  The above image from a time-lapse series demonstrates the utility of side-deck coamings for keeping water out of the boat;  as here, when heeling at 24 degrees and burying the bowsprit in 3' waves and large rollers.  Here, crossing from Core Sound into Pamlico Sound,  the crew was hiking out on the starboard coaming.  Our portable battery-powered Atwood pump handled slosh.

Experimental Photography

In the 2011 WaterTribe NC Challenge (NCC) we, SOS and DWSB, experimented with time-lapse photography aboard the Dawn Patrol.  We used a Bushnell trail camera mounted on the tiller aft of the transom.   The camera took about four photos per minute during our 27 hours in the NCC.  The camera produced good-quality color photos during the daylight hours.  At night its invisible near-infra-red (IR) flash produced monochrome photos.  The camera uses 8 lithium AA batteries.  Between shots, it efficiently preserves energy to provide a battery life of weeks or months  --up to 12 months depending on the settings.

The camera has a 2" LCD review screen and can be used as a handheld camera for snapshots or video.  Or, it can be configured to run night and day for many weeks recording time-lapse photos.  It can also be set to record time-lapse video segments with sound.  Hunters would usually not use the time-lapse feature (a.k.a. "field scan mode"); rather, they would use its motion-sensor which triggers a photo or video segment whenever game stroll into view.  It can do both simultaneously: interval shooting and motion-triggered shooting.  In fact the only way to disable the latter is to blind the sensor with electrical tape.

The Photos

The good news is the camera took 5900 photos during our 27 hours on the water in the NCC aboard the Dawn Patrol.  The bad news is the camera took 5900 photos for us to sort through for use in time-lapse videos, slide-shows, or individual stills.  After tossing out blurred frames, over/under exposed frames,  and x-rated frames (changing clothes), we have 4589.  Here are some examples...

daylight color image
(Neuse River)
Twilight color image
(daybreak on Core Sound)

Twilight monochrome with IR flash
(Clubfoot Creek)
Night time still with IR flash
(Harlowe Creek)
Night time action with IR flash
(SOS spot-lighting markers in Newport River)
Backlit by late afternoon sun
Image taken when tiller was in motion
(Core Sound)
The Camera Mount

The camera was mounted on the tiller via a c-clamp camera mount with tether cord for security.  Just aft of the camera is the tiller's socket for the stern navigation light.  We chose to mount the camera in this location for several reasons:  We hoped that the occasional off-center positions of the tiller would help counter the camera's limited field of vision (50 degrees)  --but we knew the tiller would almost always be pointed straight ahead.  We hoped that the camera would not snag the mizzen sheet.  Putting the camera aft of the stern light would have blocked the stern light. 

                       Camera mount                                                                                          Side View
 The Camera

The all-weather camera was designed to be mounted on a tree trunk to create a photo-trap for discovery of game animals (deer, turkey, etc.) or bigfoot or poachers.  Mounted for an overnight test on the Dawn Patrol in our driveway, it captured the expected images as well as  --what else--  deer grazing in the lawn.

Model  #119456
"Bushnell 8MP Trophy Cam Night Vision Color LCD Digital Trail Camera"

Left:  2" LCD screen and control buttons,  8 AA batteries.    Right:  the back has attachment points, 
while the the front has an LED Array, a sheltered lens, and a motion detection sensor 

Left:  SD card slot, USB port, audio port, AD power,  mic (array of tiny holes)
Right:  hole for AC power,  rubber plug for hole,  1/4" camera mount socket
The camera housing is a hinged box with an o-ring seal  --similar to a small Pelican case.  We sealed the array of tiny microphone holes with electrical tape.  From the inside we applied electrical tape to seal the AC port's large, rubber-plugged hole.   These appeared to be the only obvious paths of potential water infiltration.  The camera is rated to handle splashes (rain), ice, etc.   However,  it is not rated for submersion as might occur during a capsize of the sailboat.

Array of 32 IR LEDs,  plus 2 center LEDs
that signal the status of the camera.
List of camera features:  8 mp resolution


The camera worked well, about as expected,  in terms of the photos produced.  At night the IR flash was indeed invisible expect for a very faint red glow in the LED array  --which signaled to us when a photo was in progress.  The camera stayed dry and we did not capsize.

One disappointment:  the camera's clock was defective.  The correct date and time was stamped on each photo for the first 3741 photos, but then at 11:11pm the clock time-traveled to 08-10-2022 08:05am.   Then on the 3809th photo the clock jumped to the first minute of 01-01-2011.  After that the clock jumped on five other occasions to arbitrary times for no apparent reason.  Apart from these occasional episodes of time travel,  the camera continued to snap photos every 15 seconds, approximately, and kept accurate count of the time between frames.  Because of this clock defect we returned the camera for a refund.  We had no choice as having the wrong time stamps on the photos (and wrong creation dates on the JPG files)  was unacceptable.

Many thanks to that big NY camera store, B&H Photo,  for their outstanding customer service and free shipping in both directions.   I would buy from them again.

Lessons Learned

1.  A wider field of view would have been better!   We knew that,  and if time had allowed, we would have explored mounting a wider-angle lens on the camera before the NCC.  Several vendors sell such lens for use on iPhones and other cellphones.  (AGPtek)  

2.  A mount further aft might have been better.   This might not be necessary if a wider-angle lens is used. The camera could be mounted on a rigid boom 3' or 4' aft of the transom (not on the tiller).   The IR flash seemed too close to the cockpit.  In the night photos, we can see that the camera was too close to the mizzen sheets (ropes).  Occasionally, at night, one of the sheets moved in front of the lens and the IR LEDs flashed point-blank into the sheet causing washout of the entire photo.  When the mizzen sheets were slack they occasionally snagged on the camera.  On one such occasion at 3am the camera's aim was shifted to point at the cockpit sole and in the darkness we did not notice the shift until almost 6am.

3.  Comparison to video recording.   Waterproof compact cameras (here) and adventure video camera such as the GoPro HD Hero 960 can be submerged, have wide/wider angle lens, and are known to produce very good short segments of HD video.  For example, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 for snapshots and HD video has an 80 degree field of view.  And for example, the GoPro has a 170 degree field of view and records HD video (or time-lapse video) --but all subject to a battery life of about 2.5 hours.  How does recording a set of video segments compare to recording a set of start-to-finish time-lapse frames?   They both have their pros and cons, and their end results are complimentary.   For example, at the most exciting moments it may be difficult or impossible to activate/manage a video camera,  whereas the Bushnell camera never needed any attention.  On the other hand, when it is feasible to activate/manage the video camera the results can be great.  

What's Next?

We plan to post most of the time-lapse series.  We will break the series up into various segments of the NCC and present each subset of frames as a time-lapse video, a slide show, or as selected individual frames.

We would like to experiment further with a start-to-finish time-lapse camera (e.g. Bushnell) 
--if we can set it up with a wide-angle lens.

We would also like to experiment with an aft- boom- mounted video camera managed by a handheld remote control   --if we can find such a camera!  GoPro, are you listening?   (Probably not.)

And while we are dreaming,  a light-weight gimbaled camera mount would be a fine improvement. 

Alternatively we could just go on a nice coastal cruise in the company of another sailboat  ...perhaps one with a crew of professional photographers.  Now there's a new idea.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Trees of Harlowe Canal

Harlowe, NC took a beating during Hurricane Irene.  On our way to Cedar Island, NC for the 2011 WaterTribe NC Challenge, we paused in Harlowe and used our brightest light to check out the views of the Harlowe Canal from its three bridges.  

Bridge 1
At 9pm the current under Bridge 1 was running at about 2 knots in the unfavorable direction.  But wait!  That's not all you get....  Bridge 1 has a new feature:  a fallen pine tree which spans almost the entire width of the waterway.   The base of the trunk appeared to be roughly 1' in diameter.   The trunk is supported on those of its limbs that are pointed down into the water and bottom.  DogsLife was the first NCC arrival at Cedar Island to discover this fallen tree when he scouted the bridges earlier in the day.   As DogsLife said, it appears that the sea kayakers will have no problem gliding under the middle or around the top end of the fallen tree.  Looks like a sawing and pruning party for the rest of us.   Here are three views of that tree. 



Bridge 2
From Bridge 2 we could see that some collapsed tree limbs are resting on the power line.  Inspecting this feature from a bit of distance might be advisable as we float toward Bridge 2  --just to make sure the line has not fallen.  Also from Bridge 2 we could see the silouettes of several very tall trees that are now leaning high over the canal.  This suggests more trees may be in the process of falling over the coming weeks or months.

Bridge 3
Do we really need to scout Bridge 3?  

During the NCC,  if the WaterTribe Challenge Tracking Map shows a large number of challengers all piling up at one spot on the map near Harlowe, NC ....  well......   they may have just discovered a "new feature" of the adventure race.

Update:  Tree from Bridge #1 in Daylight  
(from Christine Cochran)


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WaterTribe NC Challenge begins September 30, 2011


Silver pieces of eight and gold doubloons
The third annual NCC begins Friday at 7:00am on Cedar Island. In sea kayaks, trimarans, catamarans, and mono-hulls,  more than 60 individuals are on the confirmed roster for the 100mile adventure race around Cedar Island.  Two kayakers are on for the 50 mile race to the check point in Beaufort, NC.  Pirate treasure awaits the finishers.

SOS and I are aiming to complete our third NCC.  While we are sailing and rowing the Dawn Patrol,  SandyBottom will be taking on the much greater challenges the NCC offers sea kayakers.  In 2009 and 2010 she organized and managed the NCC.   This year she is looking forward to being on the water in her QCC 600 kayak. 

For all of us who take longer than half a day to finish,  it is certain that one of the challenges of this NCC will be late September's lack of moon light.

Moon phases calendar
Current weather forecasts suggest a range of conditions as a predicted cold front arrives. Temperatures on Friday and Saturday will range from 80°F down to 60°F.  Friday might be somewhat like that in the 2010 NCC:  warm and sunny with light winds.  Or, Friday or Saturday may look to be much like that in the 2009 NCC:  cool with heavy or high winds from the north or northwest.  Will we be beating into headwinds the entire way?

The adventure is about to begin.  The Dawn Patrol's SPOT track during the 2011 NCC should be available (click here).

SPOT in the bag
(or copy and paste the following URL in your browser... )

Today the WaterTribe Challenge Tracking Map shows challengers recent test locations (paddling/sailing on lakes and rivers, or at home).   During the NCC it will use SPOT tracking data to show the tracks and positions of all the challengers.
WaterTribe Challenge Tracking Map (here)

Track of the Dawn Patrol in the 2009 NCC

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Waterproof Photography

"Digital Photography Review"  recently compared six waterproof cameras that would like to find homes aboard small craft, kayaks and canoes.   The article  seems "just in time" since our ancient waterproof camera died a few days ago.

Digital Photography Review compared 6 waterproof cameras in August, 2011
  The Review Article

The cameras compared in this helpful review article:
         Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
         Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS
         Sony Cyber-shot TX10
         Fujifilm FinePix XP30
         Olympus Tough TG-810
         Ricoh PX
Of course, there are many other reviews available. We found helpful for comparing pairs of cameras.

Pentax Optio WPi
Pentax Optio WPi   ( 2006 - 2011, R.I.P. )

During the past five years we enjoyed taking a few thousand snap shots / videos with our compact Optio WPi.  In spite of heavy use when kayaking and sailing,  it was still a solid performer to the very end.  Suddenly, it fails to boot up now.  The "on" light comes on, but that is the only response.  To turn it off we have to remove the battery.  Perhaps it is in an electronic coma.  

The WPi seemed fine and healthy when it came home from a two-day trip (41 photos).  Here are the last three photos taken with the WPi.

Cedar Island kayaking,  6:09pm August 20
(by SandyBottom)

Dolphins in Cedar Island Bay on a foggy morning, 7:36am August 21 
(by SandyBottom)

For recreational photography, the WPi has enhanced our sailing and kayaking experiences in many ways. After 5 years the time had come to replace the WPi. 

Choosing a replacement was not easy!  But no complaints here; it is a good thing that there is currently a good number of makes and models from which to choose. The most recent batch of entries in this niche market features dozens of enhancements and improvements.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-Ts3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 (Silver)

We chose the recently released Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3.
This is "version 3" following the TS2.

We put it to work immediately at home and SandyBottom is planning to give it a try kayaking in the 2011 WaterTribe NC Challenge

It is easy to use and remarkably familiar.   The controls and menu systems are clear and intuitive.  

On boot-up the display first reminds the user to make certain the camera door is locked  --and how to do that. This does not delay taking a photo however, because pressing the shutter-release immediately on boot-up takes precedence.

To save battery time,  we will tend to not use some of the features; for example,  the GPS,  compass,  barometer,  altimeter,  face recognition,  etc.

Favorite color ?
Waterproof compact digital cameras on the market today offer dozens of features,  specifications,  and pros and cons to consider. Choice of make and model of camera depends on the user's preferences about dozens of practical and technical considerations. 


Pentax Optio WG-1
with or without a built-in GPS
Pentax Optio WG-1

During the years that we were enjoying the WPi,  Pentax marched out a series of new versions:  W10, W20, W30, W60, W80, W90, and most recently the WG-1 and the WG-1 GPS.   The Optio models remain the only waterproof cameras that have offered time-lapse photography (a.k.a.,  "auto drive" or "interval shooting"). Every new model seemed to add a few more features and enhancements. We certainly expected that we would eventually replace the WPi with a newer Pentax model.
Among it's many features, the new WG-1 models include a 1cm macro mode with LED lighting,  and rugged build that can make claims as crush-proof, freeze-proof, and shock-proof.  Options include the built in GPS for geo-tagging photos (about $50),  and a small waterproof remote control (about $30).
Choosing between the Pentax and the Panasonic models was a tough call that required weighing many trade-offs and pros and cons.  

Nikon  CoolPix  AW100 with 3" Display
Nikon CoolPix AW100

Had we known about it, we might have considered Nikon's new entry....  the CoolPix AW100.  As of September 2011 it is available for purchase (e.g., at but there are not yet many reviews of this model.  Does it produce better images?  I don't know, but it seems it may be a strong competitor for space in the pocket for your PDF. 

Like most of its competitors it is waterproof, shock-proof, freeze-proof, ruggedly built for the outdoors. Take it diving to a depth of 33 feet.  It has a 16-(effective)-megapixel CMOS sensor.   Some features can be controlled by shaking it.  A GPS and compass are built in.   It is smaller, lighter, and more costly than the TS3
Colors: orange, blue, white, black, camoflage.

But wait,  that's not all you get!   It has ....  maps!

Map of  the locations of your photos

What Comes Next?

Perhaps we will see a rugged waterproof compact camera that combines all the functions of  a great 20 megapixel camera,  a GPS-map chartplotter,  a personal locator beacon (PLB),   and a smart phone with cellular, wireless, bluetooth, and satellite connectivity.   
Naturally, this $300 device will become available the day after you spend $300 on a cool new waterproof camera that does not have a built-in chartplotter,  PLB, and smart phone.