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Project Log:  Friday, March 9, 2012

The relocation of the VHF to the main helm panel simplified the potential overhead electronics display that I'd been considering by eliminating the need for such significant depth to the box, which I'd thought looked bulky and awkward.  Now, I planned only for slim instrument displays that didn't require 5" of space behind the panel, which meant (I hoped) that the arrangement would be better integrated.

That being said, there still was minimal clearance above the center window in the pilothouse, and there'd be no way to avoid the display extending slightly over the window frame when all was said and done.  However, I thought this was an acceptable compromise.

The overhead display would include two 4" instrument heads--a wind display and depth/multi display--as well as the late addition of a small, inexpensive backup GPS.  For the secondary unit, I selected a Lowrance Mark 4 LCD plotter (and fishfinder, though I'd not be using that function) for several reasons:  first, Lowrance is part of the same parent company as Simrad, oriented more towards the small boat and fishing marketplace, and I thought it made sense to stick within the same family, all the more so because the menu-driven functions were so similar to those on my Simrad unit; second, the Mark 4 featured a compact size that I thought I could fit in the overhead console, with a family resemblance to the nearby instrument heads; finally, the price and impressive features of this small LCD unit simply could not be beat.

The Mark 4 features an internal antenna, which in years not far past I never would have expected to work without a clear view of the sky.  But GPS technology has advanced to the point that such antennas have superior capabilities, and while I anticipated all along that I'd need to connect the unit to an external antenna, I tested the unit in the shop, without pointing it out the window or to the sky (similar to how it would be aligned in the pilothouse), and it acquired satellites and position without issue, so there seemed a good chance I could avoid the external antenna.

The Mark 4 was a bit taller than the other instrument heads, but was generally compatible, and was about the smallest GPS display available, not counting handhelds (which I'd also have on board; my old Garmin 45 still works).  Still, this would require that the front panel of the overhead console be about 6" in height, perhaps an inch more than it would need to be for just the instrument heads. 

Earlier in the week, I'd prepared another panel with plywood backing and black Kydex face, so having determined the dimensions needed I milled it to its final size, after which I built a couple blanks of solid cherry that would eventually be the side panels.  For appearance and function, I intended the face to be angled at 20°.  The front panel would need to be removable, so I milled rabbets in the side panels for the front to recess into, and secured it with screws.

I temporarily clamped the still-oversized assembly in place and marked the side panels where they met the angled pilothouse forward so I could scribe them to fit.

Cutting to these marks reduced the protrusion of the assembly, and brought the face forward enough so that it was just forward of the large overhead hatch/skylight opening.  The side panels, incorporating the 20° angle, tapered down to nearly nothing at the bottom (about 3/4" - 1"), but still overhung where the window frame would eventually be, so I'd have to incorporate the frame into the design of the panels somehow.   More on that later.

My first inclination had been to scribe the top of the panel to match the overhead, but since that shape was uneven, and since the panel naturally met the forward edge of the hatch opening, I decided that trim would be a better option, and wouldn't reduce the width of the panel.


I thought the current arrangement would work (pending a mockup of the window frame and incorporation thereof), but to be sure I'd have adequate clearance for wiring and installation of the actual electronics, I began to lay out their positions on the panel.  For access and easier operation, I thought I'd put the GPS to starboard, where it would be accessible from the companionway, with the other instrument heads to port; I'd finalize the spacing and layout later, but left it here for the day.  I expected to increase the spacing between the instrument heads; the layout below had them equidistant from the center of the panel, but it seemed unnecessarily crowded, and the layout would be necessarily asymmetrical no matter what I did.

Meanwhile, with plans to work on various trim pieces later in the weekend, I reassembled the various panels of the helm console, and bunged the screw holes in the lower console.  I needed to keep various pieces removable for future access, requiring exposed screws, but the black-colored stainless screws looked much better than the shiny ones I'd used earlier.


Total Time Today:  4.5 hours

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