Jonty Pearce burrows into the depths of his boat to wire up some new instruments

Jonty Pearce: You’d have thought that renewing the chartplotter, VHF and stereo unit on a yacht would be a simple matter. And, in a way, so it is – all you have to do is a little planning and then connect the wires up. And, indeed, when I powered my new toys up everything worked perfectly. So why did it take three days hard labour to reach that point?

The reason, of course, is that all the connections need different wiring, and need feeding carefully through the boat’s entrails while the old wiring is carefully removed. The most laborious installation was the new chartplotter. My trusty old Raymarine C70 has been passed on for a new lease of life aboard Gwennol, my friend Hutch’s boat. Its power lead, NMEA cable, a huge radar wire I’d never connected, the SeaTalk 1 connector, and a cable connecting it to the DSM300 fish finder all were routed via the engine compartment below the cockpit to pass up through the binnacle to a homemade platform on which the compass and chartplotter sit. As the steering chain and cable also passes through the binnacle careful chafe protection is essential. The new Raymarine eS97 just (and I mean just – 1mm clearance) fits within the confines of the grab rail on the top of the binnacle. I’d made a wooden base spacer whose routed underside allows room for the new cables to be led down into the binnacle without obstructing the arrangements for the removable table. Everything, of course, had to be stripped out, the platform removed, and the old cables fed back down the binnacle to be replaced by the new power, SeaTalk NG, and network cables; good attention was paid to chafe from the steering mechanism again. All fitted as planned, but then I was left with feeding the electric spaghetti through the engine compartment, and thence through the bilge to the main saloon area.

This sounds straightforward, but aboard Aurial all the wires, second steering position, engine and gearbox controls, and main battery cables pass down the inaccessible far forward corner behind the engine to be routed through a small hole already too full of aftermarket updates. The other side of this bulkhead hole is equally hard to reach; under the floor at arms length in exactly the direction that my arthritic shoulder refuses to work. Still, with the use of mousing lines, insulating tape and considerable patience I managed to work the wire through. End of day one.

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Day two’s job was the installation of the new Raymarine 240 VHF by the companionway. In this location the handset would be accessible from the navigation station as well as from the cockpit; an important benefit in MOB procedures. All went well until I tried to squeeze a 1-inch plug though a 7/8-inch gap… A change of plan and re-routing of the cable side-stepped the impossible challenge. It was then down below the floor to route all the new wires through to the main electrical area behind the saloon seat back. This was a miserable, uncomfortable, and laborious task but was better than working out in the pouring rain and cold in the cockpit. Then came the task of removing the old VHF and stereo from the instrument panel. The previous owner had installed the panel; an oblong piece of plywood hiding a tangle of wires that disappeared behind the woodwork with insufficient space. Pulling through bare wires was possible, but I lost the aerial plug from the stereo to a tight section and an unwise tug. After that, all the plugs were removed and replaced after re-routing.

The end of the day was made pleasurable by the relatively simple job of connecting it all up together. Amazingly, it all worked! The chartplotter lit up, replete with AIS, fish finder, and position. The Raymarine apps on my iPad displayed and allowed me to control the eS97 from the chart table (or my bunk, if I so wished!). The VHF (now with MMSI data) found its GPS position, and the Fusion stereo displayed on the chartplotter; I can now even control the music from the wheel. I quickly put my tools away before something went wrong.

The job for the final day was the creation and installation of a new instrument panel. The old tatty one was now full of holes and unusable. Having brought down a carful of tools including a workmate and table saw, it was a simple job to cut a new blank panel. I then used the old one as a template for the remaining switch panel and battery/bilge monitors, before carefully marking out the location for a Raymarine ST70 instrument and a couple of new USB/cigarette socket 12v supply units. These holes were all jig sawed out and refined till all the instruments sat square. A nifty bit of hinge installation and I had a neat panel that swung down for access to the connections behind. A swift coat of International Woodstain (Cetol Marine as was) and it was time to clear the decks, shower, and relax. Before bed I applied a second coat, and admired the colour match to the teak trimmings.

All I have to do now is read the manuals to find out how to use it all now; Carol had only just learnt how to use the old ones so I’m not exactly in her good books. But Aurial is now all up to date, electronically compos mentis, and ready for our planned summer cruise to join the French in the Isles of Scilly in August. Me, I can’t wait.