Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Escape -- Catalina 32

Destination: Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island
Date of Trip: 2007-04-22

Escape is another solid boat, and its aesthetics are very good -- according to their web site it's just had a make-over, and they did a nice job on the eye-catching parts of the boat (teak finish/gel coat/stainless were all very nice, above and below decks. ) And Escape was every bit as sea-worthy as North Star, without any question, same hull and power plant maintenance regime was evident.

If you zoom out to the big-picture view, the problems I had with this boat were relatively minor. But even so, I left this boat with a lot of negativity. (I should also note, to be fair, that Adventura voluntarily compensated me for the failures by waiving their engine hours charge. )

The problems, which involved the autohelm and the stereo, were aggravated by the fact that I explicitly asked about the stereo, and I explicitly requested autohelm. All of my guests brought their favorite music, and none of them knew anything about sailing, so I considered both of these devices to be requirements.

The stereo initially seemed to work, but we shortly discovered that while the volume-down button did work, the volume-up button did not. The stereo's face plate was designed to be detachable, and detach it we did (theorizing a contact issue between the face and unit) but then we were unable to get the face to latch back in place. Upon closer examination, we noticed that the face plate had been super-glued into position. Fumes from the glue could easily be responsible for button failure. I was disappointed by what appeared to be a sub-standard repair, plus I had to listen to my guests snivel about the lack of tunes for two days -- neither brought me any joy.

The problem with the autohelm could've been caused by any or all of several contributing factors -- one of which, I must admit, might even have operator error (though this certainly was not the sole factor, if it was involved at all.)

The autohelm on this boat is integrated with its nav cluster, which must be on for it to function in any way. Once all nav electronics were powered on, the autohelm seemed to respond somewhat normally, but the blasted nav crap would start beeping, as if some waypoint or depth alarm was going off, every 5 minutes or so -- seriously annoying!

Part of why I go sailing is to get away from everyday noise. On my hand-held GPS, everything but shoal warnings and dragging anchor are silent. Alarms that mean nothing aren't really alarms, they are nuisances.

Now, it is entirely possible that there was/is some cryptic key sequence, born of the limits of technology of its day, that I needed to know, to make it work right. I read the boat notes, I skimmed several of the numerous device manuals... I somehow got it to stop its awful noise, but couldn't tell you for sure exactly how.

I didn't really care about integration, all I really wanted it to do was steer the course of my choosing. I again had my own GPS, with course and way points already programmed-in. Freedom to move around the boat was all I asked... but this freedom was not in the cards.

In trying to figure it all out I noticed the autohelm's internal compass read about 60 degrees off of the ship's compass (the latter of which nearly matched the fluxgate compass built into my GPS.) So it may be that the unit required some sort of setup or configuration that had yet to be performed correctly. Or perhaps the autohelm was simply AFU.

Exactly what the deal was is impossible for me to say, but to me, for some device to power-up in a condition that causes a meaningless alarm at short, regular intervals, renders that device useless. And when that useless device is integrated with other devices, so that all are required for any to function, one useless device will then render them all useless.

More, if there is some arcane thing the user must do to make it function, then I, as a yacht charterer, need some quick and easy-to-find instruction. If its not at least marginally intuitive, it needs to be documented.

And finally, while I'm all for nav electronics device integration, in my humble opinion, any such scheme that makes all devices exclusively dependent upon each other (meaning each is incapable of functioning individually, if any of the others fails or malfunctions) is seriously lame.

Long story short, this failure forced me to stand a couple of lengthy helm watches that were well beyond grueling -- and that, I'm pretty sure, is why I have sniveled at great length, over a couple minor glitches, of an otherwise beautiful and seaworthy boat... Timing is everything, isn't it? :-)


  • Seaworthy: Yes
  • Would charter again: Yes (if problems were corrected)
  • First pick of the fleet: No (but validity of reasons is uncertain)
  • Overall value: Very Good (if not for failures)