Electrical equipment can cost a fortune, so when we were looking for a boat, it was a requirement that the boat was already equipped with the basics for a long trip. When we bought Sevelot II (Arbutus’s name before we renamed her) she didn’t have an on board computer. She was equipped with a VHF, Navtex, Weatherman, a GPS displaying speed/depth and an anemometer.

Paul is a computer technician and felt an irresistible urge to transform Sevelot II to our specific needs in energy, comfort, and pleasure. At times Sundy thinks they are over-equipped



We do not have nuclear energy nor a generator on board, but we do have solar panels, a wind turbine and an alternator. For the time being, we choose to turn off the fridge and to not use SSB to conserve electricity and we run the engine to recharge the batteries.

At the time of writing we have yet to invest in other resorces of energy, or increase the capacity of the batteries because these are costly and major upgrades. However, these upgrades maybe necessary as time goes by.


The Brain

arbutus_sailing_albertarbutus_sailing_computerThe brain is an energy efficient computer, mounted on a low-power Atom processor.

It consumes very little energy because the ventilation system is replaced by heat dissipation (aluminum box in the chart table), there is a SSD hard drive and 4GB of RAM.

We have a 19 inch LED-backlit screen that allows us to see the tiniest details of our charts.
The energy consumption of the computer with normal use, and the screen turned on is 18W. With normal use and the screen turned off it’s around 10W!

All of the different parts of the computer were assembled by Paul which saved us a lot of money for such a customized computer. It’s a beast that features great performance, low energy consumption, splash and dust proof.

His name is Albert (Einstein)!

Albert is discrete and practically invisible hidden in the map table. Albert knows all. He guides, alerts, and informs us. Albert is also a conductor, meteorologist, cartographer, and mathematician. Without a doubt, Albert is a valuable team member who detests the water and prefers to stay dry.


Connecting the navigational instruments

After installing Albert, Paul installed NMEA to connect the navigational instruments to Albert. He used a NMEA multiplexer with three ports.

We named our portable Garmin 78s GPS Gamin (kid in French). He has a craddle just infront of the bar and we look to him to point us in the right direction. He is equiped with an anemometer / wind vane and log / sounder / thermometer. When Gamin is in the cockpit he can receive and transmit information given to him by Albert via NMEA.

Gamin sends our geographical position and the heading of the boat (It incorporates a magnetic compass !). The anemometer / wind vane sends Albert speed and apparent wind direction. Finally, the log / sounder / thermometer sends the water temperature, the depth and speed of the boat on water Albert. When I told you that Albert, he knows, it is not for nothing. That’s not why he should not keep their ears to the wind!

So, via NMEA, Albert is able to know the speed and direction of the wind, depth and temperature of the water, ground speed and bottom surface of the boat and its actual course. Then, by calculations based scholar cosine, sinus arccos, arcsin, Albert provides us with valuable information such as:

  • Direction and true wind speed
  • The direction and velocity
  • Of the polar’Arbutus

This information helps make informed navigational and rigging decisions.


A new VHF

A new VHF with DSC has been installed. The VHF DSC allows us to transmit a distress signal by simply pressing a red button . Information about Arbutus’s position and the nature of distress are transmitted automatically. This allows us to call for help while still having our hands available to manage our problem. Since we are only a two member crew, this function drastically improves our safety on board.

In order to send our GPS position, the radio must be connected to a GPS. On Arbutus, GPS used is completely independent of the NMEA’Albert and could be used as a backup on the network’Albert.



Ais is connected directly to Albert via RS232. It notifies Albert when there are commercial vessels (freighters, commercial fishing boats, etc.) close to Arbutus. The AIS receives information by VHF, and then this information is passed on to Albert so he can display it to us on a real-time map.

Here is the information that AIS can provide us about each vessel:

  • Position
  • Speed
  • Bearing
  • Destination
  • Length
  • Weight
  • Name
  • Captain’s age and the colour of his/her eyes….just kidding

The AIS is a valuable tool for our safety. It helps us in the quarter (especially at night) and when crossing major traffic lanes.


SSB radio and modem

The SSB radio is named Deborah (Bee in Hebrew) because she is always buzzing like a bee ! Deborah’s model is ICOM 718. You can hear her on amateur frequency service QRZ F4HBR. Deborah allows us to listen to the other side of the world and she even has the capabilities to send emails for free! She has one downfall…she devours energy.

Deborah is controlled either directly by Albert (primarily to the change frequency) and / or by the modem (for sending email) which itself is controlled by Albert (yet it). But Paul also loves to manually manipulate Deborah…sometimes it is awkward when Sundy is in the same room.



Like a lighthouse on the coast, Arbutus’s radar rotates and emits approximately 1cm electromagnetic wave lengths. The radar measures the time required for the wave to return, and calculates the distance of the object that the wave bounces off of.

At the time of writing, the radar is still its box, because we need to find a solution to install it. We know that it won’t be mounted on the mast because it is too complicated so it will go on the back porch.

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