I’ve just built a Classic Wooden Drone!

It will fly at 24 feet above the deck and point in exactly the same direction as the boat. That is because it will be fixed to the upper spreaders!

It is typical of a wooden boat owner to solve a technical problem with a piece of wood and six coats of varnish but at least it will look nice even if it doesn’t work!

I ruled out this solution quite early on

The problem I am trying to solve is being able to spot leads in the ice. William Scoresby Senior invented the crows nest partly for finding a path through the ice but also for spotting whales. I have ruled out nailing a wooden barrel to my mast on the grounds that with only a six foot beam I suspect a loaded barrel would probably capsize the Good Ship.

Moored to floating ice. Gaff rigged boats are more suitable for ratlines. This was in 2019 when I was sailing on Integrity in heavy ice. Photo Will Stirling

Ratlines are often used on larger yachts but with my cap shrouds and intermediate shrouds running parallel and the lowers going to under first set of spreaders it wasn’t a practical solution.

You can see there is no suitable place for ratlines on Sumara. Here she is moored in Castlebay with Kisimul Castle in the background.

Drones have a lot going for them, in particular getting the extra height, but with just myself and Ray on board it simply wont work. To my mind it is vital to have one crew member forward of the mast signalling to the helmsperson. I couldn’t spare Ray to operate a drone. If you have three or four crew and a skilled operator (and you can bear to have more charger cables on board) then a drone might be the way forward, but it’s not for me.

So I decided to try to mount a camera up the mast. However, I didn’t want more power or data cables going aloft so I needed to find a battery operated Wi-Fi camera. Then it occurred to me that I actually have a battery operated Wi-Fi camera – my old GoPro Hero 3+. So here is my cunning plan.

It looks like it might work – on paper at least! Left hand shows it in action and the right is in the standby position.
The “Drone Board” without the camera – and upside down just to confuse you!
“Drone Board” against the spreader (on a table)

I did research into using security cameras but they all rely on a phone signal. Some state a battery life of 6 months but that is based on them being triggered by motion sensors and filming for a couple of minutes then going dormant again. By the way, don’t bother trying to get any sense out of GoPro themselves. Their Customer Services are the worst I have ever come across!

The “Drone Board” with the GoPro Hero 3+

I needed live transmission of an image to an iPad in the cockpit without a phone signal. My problem was the battery life on the GoPro was only about an hour. So I have made a board that can be quickly raised and lowered with the camera mounted to it. I then purchased six Chinese Wasabi Batteries and a charger. The Wasabi batteries have a good reputation and arrived in reasonable time from California. I will charge everything up and then store the batteries away in a Tupperware box ready for action.

I reckon a few hours of viewing should get us out of most trouble but we will be able to charge the flat batteries as we go along to provide theoretical continuous viewing. We will almost certainly be motoring whilst in ice so charging isn’t such an issue.

The idea is that the top of the wooden board will be lined with neoprene foam tape so it fits snuggly under the upper spreader. Before the mast is stepped I will rig a rope with an eye in each end so that it passes over the upper spreader and returns down to about 1.5 m above the deck. One end will have a snap shackle in the eye. The line will then be reeved through a Petzyl Mini Traxion Pulley.

This is the Mini Traxion. There is a newer Micro Traxion which may be better but I already have two of these so I’ll use the Mini.

The Mini Traxion will have a loop of bungee secured to it so it can be choke hitched to the stanchion base mount. The length of the bungee will be such that it is a very tight stretch when the hauling line is just forming a loop in its standby position. When it comes to action time, the loop of hauling line will be split apart and the “Drone Board” inserted into the line. The bungee will be less tight now but still under some extension. I mustn’t forget to turn on the GoPro! The Mini Traxion will now have its cam lowered into action and the board raised to lock in under the upper spreader. The rope lock on the Mini Traxion will hold it in place.

When the battery needs changing, simply release the Mini Traxion cam and lower the “Drone Board” to a working height. Change the battery and hoist back into place. I shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

Once clear of the ice, remove the board and stow it below. Reconnect the rope to form a loop ready for next time.

Bingo a Classic Varnished Wooden Drone!

Technical Details

Be aware that the Petzl Mini Traxion and the Micro are climbing pullies which will not like exposure to seawater over long periods. Mine will be sprayed with anhydrous lanolin to protect it.

The distance to the horizon at 24 foot height is 6 miles.

The rope is 8 mm Liros Classic Matt Polyester three strand mainly because I had a drum of it available. 6 mm would probably have been fine too.

The GoPro battery lasts about 2 hours at room temperature and 1.75 hours at about 9 degrees C.

The connection sometimes drops out but I am not sure if it is caused by the iPad just going to sleep through boredom. It is quick to reconnect.

Operating details can be found on Idiot Sheet Number Five under “Instructions” in the Download Section

One response to “I’ve just built a Classic Wooden Drone!”

  1. […] ratlines could achieve a similar result. Alternatively, a mast camera could be explored. I haul a GoPro up to the upper spreaders and blue tooth to an iPad, but the GoPro batteries only last an hour or […]

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