2021-02-12 The Keel Is Working

“The keel is basically a flat blade sticking down into the water from a sailboat’s bottom. It has two functions: it prevents the boat from being blown sideways by the wind, and it holds the ballast that keeps the boat right-side up.” There had been a lot of side winds and rocking of the crew recently. It seems though our way is now clearing and we are beginning to make way. After three weeks we have moved back aboard Magnolia while she was having some home-improvement jobs done. We did have two different AirBnbs that were very comfortable but definitely not our own bed! As further evidence of the “righting of the ship” I received my surgery date of 11 March to have this Prostate fixed up. We are definitely making “way!”

I received a very kind note this week from a blog reader that I did not even know I had! The gentleman from Queensland Australia has been a follower for sometime…I have to admit I was flattered. I really have little insight to whom actually reads our posts…to all those known and unknown, thank you for taking time to read.

As for home improvements we could not be happier with the accomplishments! Though we do have a couple more things. The first task & most importantly was joining 4 drawers to 2 larger ones…

The most complicated repair and at the beginning least understood was a leak in our keel. Most leaks on boats are from the deck where rain finds its way inside the boat. This time though was a leak from the keel…we were slowly sinking…not to worry it was very slow! The “slots” were where water was leaking up from the keel.

After repair and restoration the same location looks like this. A 17 gallon hydraulic reservoir normally sits here and will be re-installed.

Magnolia’s hull is a “full-displacement” design which makes her VERY efficient to move through the water which is why we can go nearly 3000 miles on a tank of fuel. The downside is the hull allows her to be really rolly…to counteract that undesirable characteristic most full displacement vessels are equipped with stabilizer fins which counteract that tendency.

Deep in the bowels of Magnolia are the actuators which drive the external fins.

Between the fin and the actuators are two seals that keep water out of the hull. These seals need to be replaced every three years and our time was due!

Just like a house, sometimes you need to replace the water-heater. Note the shiny, pretty and very expensive box in the middle!!!

Last but least the outboard engine on “Blossom” was misbehaving and I have never rebuilt a carburetor before. I have always been too chicken because there all these itsy-bitsy little parts and I never imagined I would get back in place. Having “Nurse Cleck” assist we managed to get it apart, reassembled and the most amazing thing happened….it worked!

We are blessed and the above proves my point!

This week in all about getting the water maker re-installed and then we start working down the list…a long long list! Be safe and thanks for reading, thank you Bruce!

2020-02-06 Not Sure Where To Start

I have been procrastinating on writing because I just simply do not know what to write. I have said for a long time the life we lead aboard both Magnolias is so calm I knew it would leave us ill prepared to deal with those inevitable bumps that arise in life. Please do not get me wrong, our life is not always easy. Magnolia is a very demanding task master and if you if you do not take care of her she will inevitably make you regret your laziness. We always know where we stand with her. If you listen to mother nature our life is actually pretty darn idyllic until….real life comes a knocking.

We had learned to tolerate Donald Trump trusting that, as for the last 244 years the political pendulum will continue to swing. I have great confidence in our democracy as long as the pendulum continues to swing venting the pressure that inevitably builds up in the current minority party. We need that pendulum to swing, both ways.

We as most of the world have learned to live in a “Covid World.” I honestly INITIALLY welcomed the isolation. We spend a fair amount of time living socially isolated simply because of our lifestyle. Little could I have imagined that even I long for the normalcy of social interactions. We have been PERHAPS over-doing the isolation thing, but we have managed to stay virus free so far and actually know only one in our circle who has become infected. Thankfully she is young and strong! Here in Florida they seem to be getting vaccines out with good progress for the most vulnerable. I am sure they will get to us, I just hope it is BEFORE hurricane season!

So as far as medical goes, that has been a goat rope. In spite of the fact that we supposedly have great insurance (Blue Cross) I have yet to get to resolution of my prostate cancer. I cannot not imagine how people in our society of lesser means can begin to even cope. Thankfully we we have time and finances (and a very SLOW growing cancer) that should allow for a successful outcome. Though with as slow as things are going, I am wondering how slow is slow when it comes to cancer!!!!

So as many know we lost my mother Patrica Ann Baker a couple of weeks ago. She was only 80 years old so most definitely we wish she could have had a better quality of life for a little longer. In the end though she was tired and ready to rest. It is a hard time for my pops to be sure. My mom and sister Kimberly were exceptionally close. Kimberly very much carried the water for my brother and me. Mom is definitely missed each and every moment. In life we all struggle from time to time. But I think the one thing I will definitely hold onto is that she taught me to just TRY and do the best you can. We will all sometimes fall short…what we do tomorrow is really what counts.

Magnolia is currently in Stuart FL, actually we are hauled out for a couple weeks as we take care of some maintenance issues. We are safe and comfortable and just working through the bureaucracy on our way to getting this surgery out of the way. Vessel, Crew and Family will be well, thank you again for the prayers.

2020-12-27 — Non-Original Thoughts

I know it has been 3 months since my last update here and the reason like the rest of the world just trying to finish 2020 in one piece. I wish I had something original to share and even my humor is not original, “Just wait until 2020 turns 21 and starts drinking!”

That said like the rest of the world Magnolia has been carry’n on in 2020 the best we can while doing what we can to stay and keep those around us and ourselves safe.

Those who follow us on Facebook are probably aware of my Public Service Announcements regarding retirement saving and mental health care and the support for others to those facing that challenge. Well it seems I need to add a somewhat personal topic to those PSA announcements. Though a bit confusing, this PSA Topic, “The PSA test is a blood test used primarily to screen for prostate cancer. The test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. PSA is a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate, a small gland that sits below the bladder in men.” (Mayo Clinic). My long term physician never ordered the test and it was not until after I changed physicians that the test was ordered. Thankfully my issue was detected and I am confident we will get the situation resolved but if I had not changed physicians the outcome could have ended up ALOT more serious. Please no matter your age ask the question “Do I need a PSA test and if not, why not!!!” Just do it!! PLEASE.

Dealing with the above delayed Magnolia’s departure from Maryland way too late. How late, I had to wear long pants for the first time in 8 years while not attending a wedding or a funeral. Our trip south was cold but we with the exception of temperature we had good weather. Magnolia is a comfortable vessel and well found so we hoped we would be a bit warmer getting to Jacksonville Florida. After spending more than one night with 28 degree temperatures we are moving right along heading out for south Florida on Tuesday.

We will be heading for Stuart where Magnolia and myself will get some maintenance. We hope you all were able to have a decent but safe holiday. If there is one thing I hold closest and hope the same for you….just how blessed and grateful we are it. Please be safe…Anthony & Annette

2020-09-20 — Galesville Chores

Magnolia has been in her “homeport” of Galesville, MD for about 3 weeks now. As many know my grill is pretty important to me. Though the “Spaceship Grill” had been my all time favorite it just was not holding up in a marine environment. After 3 years and two re-paints it was time to move on. Our latest update is the Charbroil X200 which is a aluminum so hope it holdups better. Of course the new grill, required a new grill platform. I was able to reuse the mounting to Magnolia but the table was custom built for this grill. Came out great.

Of course every grill needs a bag and the Admiral was kind enough to work her magic.

One of the main negatives in the many reviews was a poor regulator control. I was able to add second valve that should take care of that weakness.

While Annette was behind the sewing machine she turned out some sail bags for the Pentagon Sailing Club (PSC) for their annual meeting. The PSC gave us our beginning so we try and pay back at every opportunity we can.

She sure does amazing work IMHO! 🙂

In spite of the “grueling” schedule aboard Magnolia we do make time to relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery here along the West River.

One of the additions to Magnolia was a adjustable/moveable table pedestal. Of course I was not satisfied with is functionality. Disassembly quickly uncovered the short-comings.

Implementation in progress…..

Successful outcome!

The Admiral was brave enough to take on the deck chairs. They need a very thorough cleaning. In past years we used Teak Oil which allowed mildew to form. This year we are trying a product called StarBrite Teak SEALER. We are hoping for a better outcome, standby news at a 11.

During our initial refit in 2017 I got much of the Engine Room painted…it was time to FINALLY wrap that project up. I used BilgeKote on the deck and some White Polyurethane paint on the deck plates.

I am very happy with the outcome…I like having a “clean” engine-room!

Another 2017 Refit Holdover was the mast. The top of mast and spreaders was peeling and really needed a wire brush and some paint. I used a tap to re-do a number of the threads. The mast is aluminum and the fasteners are stainless so a thorough coating of TuffGel will keep from the two metals from ceasing in the future.

Mast looking shiny!!!

Of course geek projects continue. The latest additions are a RS-232 Smart Display and the ability to set some manual statuses in the system.

I added a very small LED Annunciator driven from the RaspberryPi which calls attention to a condition (valve, switch, condition) which is out of norm. Functionality continues to be developed.

Annette has been VERY active in preparing this years Kadey-Krogen Rendezvous. Normally held in person in Solomons Island MD, this year though as a Zoom Meeting.

We recently took the opportunity to host an outside Bar-B-Que with my cousins Dan, George and Cathy. It was a fun afternoon and a small break from the Pandemic craziness!

Lastly, sadly the retired USS Ticonderoga which I served on in the early 1980s was towed from Philadelphia to Brownsville Texas to be recycled this week. She really moved the Navy forward technologically and helped me make some lifelong friends.

Magnolia has another three weeks in Galesville before moving on to Solomons MD. If you are in the area give us a shout!!! About that cigar Kriescher?????????

2020-07-10 — Long Island Sound – Branford, CT — Sag Harbor, Greenport, NY

First thing in Branford was to get the “freight” offloaded! Our friends Al & Michele purchased some new to Kindred Spirit “jewelry.” The item was delivered to us in Galesville, MD from Richmond, VA. We had it in the “garage” for safe passage, not it, but our safety….its a FREAKING ANCHOR 75lbs ok? 🙂 We were able to safely offload in Branford along with some social distance hugs!!!

In addition to anchor delivery, the primary reason for Branford was to visit our friend Ted aboard Amici. Ted is a fabulous chef and made these Brontosaurus Pork Chops!! Fabulous! I was also grateful to share in some wonderful comradre over some black-water lines….do we know how to have fun or what???>

Though most people will not recognize but this is the world famous Defender boat stuff store outside of Groton CT. They had just re-opened the store so our visit was fortuitous….there was the lunch of Road-Side Red Hots too!!!!

It was great to catch up with Ted and we made plans to catch up on Block Island in a couple weeks. Magnolia got underway across Long Island Sound to Gardner Bay and area around Shelter Island. We have never visited the area before so we were juiced.

Plum Gut – pretty fast water in here on the tide swings

First stop was Three Mile Harbor. A wonderfully protected harbor far enough inland that she will not be busted open to the ocean during the next hurricane….more on that later…we spent our time trying track down the elusive Three Mile Harbor Wild Chicken…


The area is filled with plenty of beauty and easy to understand why many NYC people escape here.

Even the boats are fabulous….(Greg & Nancy — check this one out!!!)

And this one….oh wait…this is our previous boat, Magnolia-S. She was spotted in Ocracoke, NC and this picture sent to us. Her new owners are wonderful people and are obviously keeping her in fine shape!!!!

Annette even scored a few pieces of Sea Glass.

This store is on the main drag in Sag Harbor. Could not but help think of the Schipani sisters…first sister to read this wins a bottle of Mazzei “Poggio Badiola” Toscana!!!

We were in Cutchogue Harbor for the 4th Of July and treated to a perfect view of their holiday boat parade.

The beautiful Trumpy (no relation) designed MY Freedom (https://www.woodenyachts.com/fractional-ownership/freedom)

So were sitting anchor and this big brother came in dropped the hook next to us… this is a Kadey Krogen 48. Only 6 feet longer but about twice the living space!!!

Greenport Carousel (https://northforkrealestateshowcase.com/greenport-carousel-history/)

As I said at the beginning of this post, we would come back to Three Mile Harbor….I actually meant that literally. As soon as Tropical Storm Fay made herself known we knew exactly where we would be to welcome her. In the end, Fay came and went and all was fine. We never saw more than 30 knots of wind which was just fine with us. I even managed a solid nights sleep. All well, that ends well.

We will wait till Monday to depart for Block Island where we will meet up with some friends….looking forward!

2020-06-29 — Busting Out Of The Barn (Galesville, MD – Port Washington, NY)

Magnolia was in Galesville for 5 weeks…some ways seemed longer…some shorter. The whole Covid thing and friends facing challenges…well life was getting a bit dizzy. Getting up to Port Washington can sometimes be a weather challenge but we got real lucky. It was 345 mile trip it was smooth sailing!

Magnolia had been sitting at the dock for 5 weeks in the relatively warm water of the Chesapeake so before we head north in the summer we always do a short haul for a thorough bottom cleaning and zink replacement.

It is less expensive to hire a diver but the job is certainly not as thorough and I like to take a look at things with my own eyes.

We literally depart the marina from the travel-lift usually to a nearby anchorage. We like to get away from the dock just to get on the hook to see that everything is working and it really does allow us a bit of time to get our heads back in the game. We wandered just around the corner to the Rhode River dropped the hook and watched the rain come down…and boy did it!

After the showers passed through we opened up boat and in flew a Hummingbird. Though this is no Albatross (sailor superstition says they are lucky) we felt like the cruise was off on a lucky note. Please note we departed on a Friday which by the same superstition is considered an unlucky day to start a voyage….our friend quickly found his way back out and was off.

In spite of the fact we SHOULD know better we headed off Sunday morning to round Thomas Point Light and head up the Chesapeake Bay. The moment we were out I realized we had waves on the nose so we went a couple more miles and anchored in Whitehall Creek. All the years anchoring in the area never Whitehall…All in time for my Sunday talk shows and before the day trippers filled the anchorage.

Monday we wandered up to the Bohemia. Sadly Minx was underway south in the bay so we missed out on seeing them.

We NEVER go through the C&D Canal on a weekend. The weekend boating is just TOO crazy. Going through during the week is a completely different experience! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesapeake_%26_Delaware_Canal )

Always admired this house…what a place to watch the boats and ships…yes real BIG ships too!

Approaching main canal channel

Nice, no ships today.

Delaware City, DE: We have never stopped here but on the recommendation of some Pentagon Sailing Club Members as well as a Krogen friend we thought it was time for a change. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_City,_Delaware )

We really came to visit with the Tennar Clan. We were planning to meet in the Florida Keys last spring but no….Covid. Annette and I had been TOTALLY isolated on Magnolia for 8 days so we trying to be safe. It was a lovely afternoon and we even found an outside isolated corner to have some lunch. Thank you again Jack Kathy & Christina for making the time for a visit!!!

So, like we said first visit to this marina and as you can see a long long face dock on a NARROW NARROW channel. I nearly forgot the awesome tidal current that runs through here….thankfully they have the best crew we have met and made it simply!

We still had another day to get a weather window in the ocean so we headed down the bay to anchor in “the best under-utilized anchorage on the east coast.” That’s per my friend Jeff and we agree 100%. Easy in, easy out, wonderfully protected and no washing machine as is Cape May.

If you are going to transit the Delaware Bay, do it fast…nothing to see here.

The below does not show the sea wall we are anchored but the lighthouse above sits on the seawall!

After a peaceful evening we were off in perfect “trawler” conditions! You have to meet the tides just right to easily transit the east river which meant we needed to be at the Battery as soon as we could after dawn.

We had a number fog banks on the passage but none too bad…we have a good radar Note the NJ shore and another vessel off our port side. Many of these boats are fishing and do not have AIS on….be warned.

Our route up the east river towards Long Island Sound.

We approached Ambrose Channel from the south about 3:30 AM with the Verrazzonno Bridge ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verrazzano-Narrows_Bridge ) in the distance.

Annette took the watch at dawn as we went under the bridge….I quickly fell asleep while she piloted us through the city and captured these images…

Brooklyn Bridge

Janes Carousel ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane%27s_Carousel )

Hells Gate ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_Gate )

We arrived in Port Washington and snoozed a good portion of the day but rewarded with a magnificent sunset with which to celebrate our passage.

Next up, east on the Long Island Sound.

2010-05-25 – Heading For The Barn – Galesville, MD

I have, in the past had occurrences of “blog ignore” where certain periods of time nothing has been written. This is one of those times but only a very extensive one! I have to assume it is the “Covid Moment.” At the same time, we have had a couple if very close to home tragedies that have left us feeling a but empty. I am the first one to say out life does not suck, yet at this time, well we wish it were a bit better. We are confident the world will right itself in time and we just need to stay the course. Perhaps a good reminder to us the water is not always ripple free. We have been keeping a low profile since we departed Palm Beach and have been doing VERY VERY little since we arrived into Galesville, MD a couple of weeks ago. Plenty of boat chores but little else.

No matter my current mood, have to stay with the program and document at some level the final leg….weirdest tug boat award goes to this candidate….

With Covid restrictions in full swing we did make a stop in Moorehead City to wait out some weather. Some nice weather, a beautiful Admiral and expensive fishing boats…

Next stop was a visit to our friends on Campbell Creek, near Aurora NC. We always try and make a stop to see Mike, Kathy, Beth Rip. It is always quiet and peaceful to visit here.

We had not received mail since Florida so our custom Christina masks were a welcome addition to our safety equipment!

If there is one thing I like being more than anything and thats useful! I was able to help Mike with a couple of boat projects which I really enjoy. The view from the dock on Goose Creek is SPECTACULAR!!!

Making the short trip to Belhaven allowed a bit of Geek-Time to solder up a board….the experiments continue.

The whole reason for for stopping in Belhaven was to support Spoon River Restaurant (http://spoonrivernc.com/) which was on curbside service….but still just as good!

One of local families out for a stroll.

This is another Krogen traveling on the Alligator…as you can see there was a bit of chop on the water…Magnolia continues across the Abermarle Sound…a little bumpy but not bad!

Further north you get the “better” the anchoring….as long as the chain did not break…Magnolia would not being going anywhere.

We made a two day stop at the “famous” Coinjock Marina. It was the first time we had spent any real time there…

In between showers we took a couple long walks and we can confirm…Coinjock may not be in the middle of no-where, but you can see it from here.

Next stop was Great Bridge VA. Not only famous for a Revolutionary War battle…but a great stop to re-provision.

Under the category of not fun…Portsmouth Naval Hospital where my nieces husband serves. Because of Covid concerns we just kept rolling…..HATE missing out on seeing family but in this case it was exactly the right thing

We were in Solomons Island MD the same time as our friends Bob & Julie but once again…Covid…

Thankfully Covid does let us catch up on our hobbies….current and temperature sensor below.

We had such a terribly cold May Annette whipped up a curtain for the pilothouse to keep the warm air in the saloon from wasting away in the pilothouse!!

We have been in Galesville, MD for nearly a month and it has taken that entire to get this post this far. This post started with Covid and is wrapping up with crescendo of racial injustice and political turmoil. I keep seeing memes about skipping the year 2020. It has been a terrible year for many and my heart goes out to them. Adversity does drive change and just maybe we will come out of 2020 as a little better world. At the very least I am going to work to make me a better me for sure!!! Be safe, will work to be a bit more frequent and upbeat.

2020-04-12 Magnolia on the Move (700 Mile Week)

Magnolia had a nice winter in South Florida but it was getting time to get on the move north. Our friends and mentors Greg & Marie aboard SV Second Sally were on a non-stop passage from St Thomas Virgin Islands so did not want to miss the opportunity to miss connecting with them.

It was soon time to get on the “road.” We were looking to get offshore as much of the trip north as we could. We did see about a weather window about a week out and so Magnolia got underway and headed up the coast of Florida with a plan to jump off at St Augustine and see how far north we could get.

We were anchored in North Lake Worth (Palm Beach) where we met up with Greg and Marie. Since Magnolia and Second Sally have both been isolated we were feeling comfortable enjoying time together.

Getting underway I thought it was time to confess what life underway is really like…when we are underway in open water, we use this little remote control to drive Magnolia up the waterway….sorry to bust any bubbles…

We made a quick stop at Cocoa Village and happy to see there are new docks and waterfront improvements going on. Going to be really nice when its done!

Magnolia at anchor in “The Trailer Park.” There are a number of “derelict” boats anchored here and the locals refer to it as such….

We have books and charts that show the information about when bridges open etc….I do not remember actually seeing a sign on a bridge before. Oh, sorry some bridges we can go underneath…some bridges we call on the radio and ask them to grant us passage and they raise the bridge for us.

Bird Island, on the Indian River near Cape Canaveral.

The Indian River next to Cape Canaveral is a wonderful wildlife habitat. Here we are heading for Haulover Canal where we go from the Indian River to Mosquitto Lagoon….thankfully not as bad as it sounds this time of the year.

We anchored in New Smyrna Beach for the night and up early for the long trip to St Augustine, our weather window opens tomorrow and we need to be on time!

We anchored just offshore from Fort Castillo de San Marcos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_de_San_Marcos). Do not even ask me to pronounce nor tell you the history but its all in the link above.

After a good nights sleep we were up and underway at first light heading out St Augustine Inlet.

We were soon way out in the ocean sharing our space with this handsome sea-turtle.

The day was just perfect at sea and as you can see the evening was heading the same way. We knew the morning was going to bring some less than ideal conditions, as turned not as bad as expected.

After 236 nm we arrived into Winyah Bay, SC and a VERY good nights sleep!

Ours friends on SV Runaway anchored nearby after arriving from Fernadina….when the window opens….cruisers move!

Progressing up-river from Winyah Bay leads to the beautiful Waccamaw River (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waccamaw_River)

We get such a kick out of counting turtles on a sunny day…..though Doctor Fauci would not approve….

We have never been out of Little River inlet but it was a calm day and day in the ocean beats shore anytime!

Off shore from Southport, NC heading towards the Cape Fear River.

Our forgot that we entered Cape Fear (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Fear_(headland)) once before. We were on the SV Magnolia on an over-night from Charleston. The forecast came out to be a lie and it was a horrendous passage…arriving the inlet with its huge standing waves was a morning we now want to forget once again. This arrival was NOTING like that!

After stops in Carolina Beach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Beach,_North_Carolina) and Camp Lejeune (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_Corps_Base_Camp_Lejeune) we arrived in Moorehead City, NC, just inland from Cape Hatteras (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Hatteras). We are expecting a pretty good “blow” so we came into the Yacht Basin to a dock to sit it out and do a little boat cleaning. As with most others, we will have a low key Easter as most others…that will not be stopping us feeling grateful.

2020-03-30 Bilge Sensor Detail

This document assumes this is not your first Arduino implementation. If so please contact me for specific implementation help

This is a home-built sensor is the latest addition aboard Magnolia. The purpose is to collect the primary bilge pump run frequency and run duration. Magnolia has a traditional stuffing box and the bilge is MOT dry. Our bilge pumps have always popped on as required, but I never had any understanding of how long and how often. We now have that data.

Hardware: The sensor itself is very simple. There is an ESP-32S Processor Board , 25V Voltage Detector, 1.3″ IIC I2C Serial 128×64 SSH1106 OLED LCD Display LCD Module along with a Breadboard and connecting jumper wires. There is also a small push button to enable downloading of new software to the ESP-32. All items are readily available on Amazon.

The below Fritzing file is availble at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=16hcxkLP8NNJhmCP00F-pebd04jTqR8gh

I used some Piggy Back Spade Quick Splice Crimp Terminals Connectors to attach the sensor to the back input of my Bilge Pump Control Panel ensuring the sensor was receiving power whenever the bilge pump light illuminated.

Software: Three of the sensors on Magnolia use the same codebase and applicable sections are controlled pre-processor directives. The specific Bilge Sensor code is available at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qqcYzlBnlc_VfFYIYtKl8uIyEPSApwfq

The following paths are reported to the Signal-K Server:

environment.inside.bilge.currenttime “19:32:28” 
environment.inside.bilge.lastruntime  “19:30:44” 
environment.inside.bilge.runcount                  110
environment.inside.bilge.runduration  “04:02”   
environment.inside.bilge.rundurationmils            242
environment.inside.bilge.status                “Stopped “

2020-03-28 — (Geek Warning) – MV Magnolia Data Collection & Distribution System with Signal-K

Vessel: Magnolia is a classic 42′ Kadey Krogen trawler with stabilizers, hydraulic bow thruster, hydraulic bow and stern anchor windlass. She is recreational vessel built to commercial like standards from her Lugger main-engine to her extensive hydraulics and redundancy provided by her 16Kw Lugger powered Northern Lights generator.

Background: Coincidentally when Magnolia’s solar array system was upgraded in 2019, a new data exchange format was emerging called Signal-K. Being ever curious, an idea of an in-depth data collection system came into focus. Research, along with a lot of trial and error, I got a Signal-K (http://signalk.org/ ) Server running on a RaspberryPi. (Before this started I did not even know what a RaspberryPi was.) After getting the server to receive Magnolia’s Raymarine Navigation Data via an Actisense USB Adapter, it was time to figure out how to get a “home-grown” sensor and Magnolia’s data into the server.

I wanted to build my own sensors and research led me to an Arduino processor board specifically, the Mega2560. I made this initial decision based on the large number of hardware inputs at the 5 volt level. The downside of this choice was there was no integrated Wifi. An ESP8266 chip with Wifi capability could be integrated using the serial interface. In the end I found the Mega2650 was not a great choice because I could not get good reliability from the Wifi nor solid interfaces from NTP Time Server. This is probably not the fault of the board but inexperience of the developer.

As sometimes happens on boats in the midst of this project a less fun piece of equipment failed. Our grey-water tank control gave up the ghost and died. Sadly, the only product that really met requirements was a “Tank Sentry” product in excess of $1000! My attention quickly turned to a homemade Signal-K-based system.

Since I had never tried anything like this before I wanted to have two isolated level sensors. I wanted to make sure we could still use the sensor if the “smart” part should fail! I started with a float switch and several Non-contact Digital Water Sensors. I eventually abandoned them and went with a second traditional resistance float switch. The control panel was made with some teak, LEDs and switches that I had on hand. An upgrade could be in the works, but waiting on inspiration for it. The Tank Sensor Control system is based on the Mega2560 controller board instead of the later adopted ESP-32 controller board.

The Tank Sensor & Control measures tank level, displays the measured levels via the installed LED lights and will empty the tank either manually, or automatically under control of the Arduino controller. In addition the following data is sent to the SignalK Server via UDP over WIFI.

– Current time aboard the Arduino is reported. – Current humidity inside the Arduino hardware case.

Current temperature inside the Arduino hardware case.

– Ships Battery Voltage

– Secondary Sensor Tank Level (Only 2 values available from this sensor, high or low)

– Primary Sensor Tank Level (4 values available from this sensor, high, high-medium, low-medium or low)

WilhelmSK is one method to display SignalK data. Note that the Grey-Water tank data is highlighted in red below.

I think that kind of explains how we got here and now I will provide a more in-depth discussion of what we have implemented aboard Magnolia.

Current Implementation:

The above diagram presents the interconnected functions of the Magnolia Data Connection System. The Signal-K Server running on a RaspberryPi is at the center of the diagram.

Raspberry Pi/Signal-K Server: The Raspberry Pi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry_Pi ) itself is a single board computer which provides the same functionality as any other computer although two extra attributes make them very desirable for this application. 1. Cost – relatively CHEAP! 2. Power – power consumption is low, powered by 12v supply. As far as computer processing power, the device provides all the capabilities required by the Signal-K server software. The Signal-K server software provides a mechanism to transfer, store, and distribute data focused on a boat environment. The Signal-K server software is best described here (http://signalk.org/overview.html).

The server receives inputs from various sources:

Actisense NGW-1 NMEA 2000 Gateway: (https://www.actisense.com/products/nmea-2000-gateway-ngw-1/ ) This commercial device interfaces the Signal-K Server to the boat’s NMEA network. Garmin, Raymarine are examples. The data transmitted can be any combination of Navigation, Depth, Wind and can include engine and other systems data.

Bilge Sensor: This is a home-built sensor is the latest addition aboard Magnolia. Its purpose is to collect the primary bilge pump run frequency and run duration. Magnolia has a traditional stuffing box and the bilge is not dry. Our bilge pumps have always popped on as required, but I never had any understanding of how long and how often. We now have that data. (ESP-32 Processor)

Battery Sensor: Another home-built sensor that collects current and voltage data associated with the house battery bank. In addition electric current data is collected from solar arrays. A standard electrical shunt device is used to collect current data coming from the Outback Solar Controller and another shunt is used to monitor total current coming and going to the house bank batteries. The sensor also includes reporting of the Battery Sensor current time, temperature and humidity as well. (ESP-32 Processor)

Tank Sensor: This sensor/controller is pretty well described above in the opening section. (Mega2560 – Processor)

Solar Sensor: This home-built sensor is very similar in functionality to the Battery Sensor. The Solar Sensor collects Solar Data coming from the Solar Arrays BEFORE it is fed into the Outback Controller. Magnolia has a battery on the fly-bridge used to power the Dinghy Hoist. This battery is charged via a separate solar panel and monitored via the Solar Sensor. (ESP-32 Processor)

The above paragraph outlines how data is collected using the various sources but how it is viewed and utilized is where the real value of these systems come into play.

WilhelmSK (https://www.wilhelmsk.com/ ) (from webpage) is a commercial highly customizable boat instrument display that uses the Signal-K protocol (signalk.org) to show information from your boat’s sensors on your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or AppleTV. On Magnolia we primarily use this application in the Pilothouse to display our Signal-K collected data. Essentially there are two separate displays. One is designed for Navigation Related Data and the other for Systems Status Data.

The Navigation Data Screen provides all of the usual data but a couple of items require special notice. Magnolia has two depth transducers installed (one port, the other starboard). One weakness of Raymarine is it could only use one transducer at a time. Signal-K and the WilhelmSK application allow me to display data from both transducers at the same time. In addition, unlike any display in Raymarine we are able to display Pitch, Roll and Yaw data being generated by the 6-Degree of Freedom (DOF) gyro. This display also shows the current data from the Bilge Sensor as described above. The anchor distance from the Signal-K embedded anchor alarm can be displayed as well. Last but not least on Raymarine Systems, the autopilot can also be controlled as well.

The Systems Status Data Screen is essentially where the data from Battery, Solar and Tank Sensors is displayed. As previously described the left hand side of the screen provides grey-water tank related data. There is one tank but two sensors. The granularity of the sensors is different and that is why they measure slightly differently. Everything is a compromise. The electronic tank sensor is located at the far-end of the forward 12v bus so we also report back the battery voltage measured at that location. There is also a temperature/humidity sensor and a real-time clock reported to the server as well.

The center section of the display is related to the Solar Sensor. This is solar data before it has reached the Outback Solar Controller, which is essentially raw from the panel data. The panels ideally operate at 22v and produce approximately 10amps or 225w (times 5 panels). The collected data makes it very easy to see how the panels are operating in relation to specification.

The section on the far right again is similar to the center in that it primarily shows solar data, but this data is AFTER the energy has been passed through the Outback Solar Controller. There are two electric amp displays, Solar and Battery. The Battery display is a measure of what is happening in the battery bank, i.e.are we making more energy than we are using either through solar, the generator or even the alternator. The Solar Current measures the solar panels contribution to the battery status. For example, the ship’s equipment may be using a -10amp load but if solar is producing +20amps it will appear +20 in the Solar Current Display and +10 in the Battery Current Display.

Amazon Alex – (https://www.amazon.com/Scott-Bender-Signal-K/dp/B078X362VK ) When you connect your Signal K Node server to the Signal K cloud, you can use Alexa get information like wind speed, battery charge, tank levels, etc.I really do not use this functionality but it makes a great parlor trick!

Grafna / Influx – I neglected to include this item from my overall chart. This section really begins to show the super strength of Signal-K and how sharp the developers of this server really are!

Influx (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InfluxDB): “InfluxDB is an open-source time series database (TSDB) developed by InfluxData. It is written in Go and optimized for fast, high-availability storage and retrieval of time series data in fields such as operations monitoring, application metrics, Internet of Things sensor data, and real-time analytics. It also has support for processing data from Graphite.”

Grafna (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grafana): “Grafana is a multi-platform open source analytics and interactive visualization software available since 2014. It provides charts, graphs, and alerts for the web when connected to supported data sources. It is expandable through a plug-in system. End users can create complex monitoring dashboards[4] using interactive query builders.”

The developers of Signal-K provided a mechanism for all that boat-reported data to be stored in an Influx Database. Using a tool like Grafna, a dashboard like the simplistic one below can be created EASILY! My simplistic dashboard below shows the items I am curious about on a day to day basis. The top window tells me about the energy the solar panels have produced over the last 48 hours measured in watts (instantaneous). To the right, the next display tells me about production over the last month measured in watt-hours. The House Battery Bank Voltage is straightforward and corresponds to charging action of the solar panels from above. As I said the Bilge Pump Sensor was just recently brought on line, but as you can see it shows the number of times it turned on and the total run-time. You can see in the chart below what day Magnolia was underway. Still figuring things out here. Last but not least is the voltage of the Dinghy Hoist Battery. Its voltage too corresponds to solar charging but we do have a small charger in place to ensure the battery’s availability. Having the data available to understand trends is extremely useful.

Node-Red / MQTT – Before I started with Signal-K I had never heard of InfluxDB, Grafna nor these next two topics. The more I learn the more I am impressed with the Signal-K developers. When it comes to usefulness, this in my mind is where things go completely off the charts.

Node-Red (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Node-RED): ”is a flow-based development tool for visual programming developed originally by IBM for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services as part of the Internet of Things.”

MQTT (MQ Telemetry Transport) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MQTT): ”is an open OASIS and ISO standard (ISO/IEC PRF 20922) lightweight, publish-subscribe network protocol that transports messages between devices. It is designed for connections with remote locations where a “small code footprint” is required or the network bandwidth is limited.”

The above paragraph says a lot, but I will use the below as an example of what Magnolia is doing. On the first line of the chart below you see the Tank Sensor Current Time. This is the time message the Grey-Water Sensor sends to the server. When the server receives the time message the server sees that Node-Red has subscribed to that message and it enters my custom processing flow. Inside the flow that message is used to reset a watch-dog timer. That means that if the message is not received in the prescribed three minutes the flow automatically sends a message to the Grey-Water Tank Alarm which plays an audio message that starts with an alarm and then a message saying “Grey-Water Sensor Appears Offline.” In addition a SMS Text Message is sent to my phone. Thanks to Jeff Siegel who opened my eyes to another technology, PHP web scripting, which makes this functionality possible! Having that alarm go off sure beats a grey-water tank from overflowing into the bilge! The possibilities are endless. I might point out the “Blow Dryer Delay” implemented in the Battery Current. The purpose of this processing is to send an alarm if, for example, a high current appliance is left turned on or if shore power is lost and the air-conditioner is on. Obviously the alarm is not allowed to go off while the blower dryer is running…btw, that is an agreed on five minute timer! 🙂

There is similar processing throughout the flow, but the smallest box on the flow is the most powerful. The lavender box marked “mqtt” is the coolest. That little box collects data sent to it and forwards that data to a MQTT broker that lives out on the internet and allows that data to be forwarded to my phone. As previously shown, alarm SMS Texts can be sent, but in addition, actual data can be forwarded to my phone as well.

The phone screen captures below allow me to see what is going on aboard Magnolia from any place in the world. We can see: status of the batteries, solar, how far we are from the anchor drop location and how deep the water is! Essentially any data on the boat is available anywhere in the world. For me this was the ultimate endpoint.


Cost: In dollars this technology is essentially free. All of the software is free (WilhelmSK is $19.99 and worth hundreds!) and the hardware I have purchased is less than $250. The cost in hours is immeasurable, but the satisfaction is priceless.

Thanks: The development team at Signal-K are rock stars! The product they are producing is amazing, the choices they have made and implemented provide the flexibility to do anything we boat geeks can imagine. Special thanks to Scott Bender and Teppo Kurki who patiently helped me through many technical challenges. I cannot forget to thank my friend, Jeff Siegel, who is always willing to talk through ideas and implementations.

Dedication: This post is dedicated to all the people and teams I have been blessed to be part of over this lifetime. The list is too long to enumerate but it started with Cam-Bake Productions and a stupid little casino game aboard this Navy Ship. What a freaking adventure!