Captain’s Log 06/06 – 06/12

June 6, 2021 – Still alive after a week!

LoCARB has traveled 154 regular miles away from the launch site, and is in line with San Luis Obispo. It is currently 114 regular miles off shore from San Luis Obispo and 94 miles away from any closest shoreline. For reference, the Farallon Islands are 27 miles away from the closest shoreline of San Francisco.

LoCARB did well through the night but ran out of juice after 5am. The battery hasn’t been at full charge since launch so its capacity and performance is a little subpar, its voltage takes a quick dump when it hits 20% SOC which is normal, but it shouldn’t drop that quickly (they are probably slightly damaged from such deep discharging). Will try my best to get it above 16.5v today. May need to drift at times, but everything so far seems to be functioning correctly.

Skies should be clear sun today (Data from NESDIS)

LoCARB is still on course to meet those westerlies down towards Mexico.

1:39 pm: Charging is slowing down, so I sent a command to turn off the motor (which takes effect on the next update), hopefully the battery will charge a little quicker. The problem with charging is that the higher the voltage gets with the battery, the lower the current it draws so the extra current the panel is capable of generating goes to waste. Will test.

June 7, 2021

An eventful past day I might add. If you haven’t noticed, my webpage theme has been changed to another. This is because I believe the previous theme may have been compromised by some malicious code, or it had a vulnerability which allowed malicious code to run. Hopefully this fixes the redirect plugins from reinstalling themselves and redirecting traffic to junk sites. It isn’t completely customized yet, but it works.

Have you heard about the solo kayaker who coincidentally left San Francisco on a trip to Hawaii the day after LoCARB launched? I thought that was pretty cool  (crazy!?) and maybe the two could meet up some time. I am mentioning this not because they did meet but because when following his blog, I learned that he encountered the same ocean conditions that LoCARB was experiencing. A day after LoCARB set off from HMB it hit a point going out west and could not go any further, I deemed it a malfunction or weather occurrence of some sort, and then proceeded to direct the boat on another course to follow the winds south (I assumed that it was strong winds causing the behavior, but couldn’t be fully sure it wasn’t another problem with the autopilot or steering system).

The solo kayaker course before rescue off Santa Cruz (looks very similar to LoCARB’s!)

Ocean conditions were so bad he had to deploy his sea anchor for the last three days before his rescue, which happened off of Santa Cruz on June 7. Below is an excerpt from his blog:

As predicted by my weather router, the conditions deteriorated progressively to reach winds of 30-35 knots, gusts to 45 knots, for a sea increasingly formed with troughs of 4.5 meters, the waves breaking on the cabin of my kayak with an impressive noise. However, my sea anchor was playing its stabilizing role well and the situation remained manageable.

Being that he was in the same vicinity, this explains the inability for LoCARB to do anything but head south. LoCARB is a slow moving boat with a maximum speed of 1.5 kts, without over 1 kt of speed it loses directional control. I am glad the solo kayaker is safe, and hope he can recover his kayak, and am also impressed that my P.O.S. boat built from trash parts is actually doing O.K. considering ocean conditions.

The goal for today is to charge to 16.7v and then run the motors south-west.

LoCARB is now past San Luis Obispo and 118 miles off the coast from Santa Maria

10:37 am:  Motor turned on with throttle of 1. I am testing charging with motor on condition.

11:37 am: New Waypoint for LoCARB to point to while motoring while being simultaneously blown south. Autopilot power cycled, Arduino rebooted, update interval reset to 30m, and throttle set to 2.

1:47 pm: LoCARB has reached full charge, first time since launch!

3:47 pm: Throttle reduced to 1.

June 8, 2021

Malicious plugin reinstalled itself again at 3am last night, so the new theme files did not work. I have only one other idea to fix it. Hope it works!

High winds prevailed throughout the night causing the boat to drift further East. Today however, skies look clear and winds look to be much more cooperative!

Skies should be clear today (Data from NESDIS)

10:47 am: The boat is correcting its wind-blown course eastward, and now curving back westward. Charging seems to be OK. Go little boat go!

4:47 pm: Good news, the boat has charged to 16.09v! The bad news is that the motor pod humidity has reached 61% which most definitely means water is getting in to the battery compartment.

LoCARB is now past Santa Barbara and is coming up on Ventura!

June 9, 2021

Today was a particularly busy day. The malicious redirect website plugin keeps installing itself so I decided to leave it in place and contact my webhost security team. They took an exhaustive look at the issue and could not find anything! They say all the normal routes for attack are good to go…I don’t know what else to change but I have one other idea. Ill need to let the plugin get installed once more to do it though.

So I’ve found the Pixhawk 1 autopilot I am using has trouble running for long duration. Anything over than a day it seems and it will not upload the new waypoint when I send it the command (quite possibly other navigation issues arise as well). After reboot, it would still try to navigate to the old waypoint. I now need to reboot the Pixhawk, then upload the waypoint, then reboot it once more for the new waypoint to take effect. Thankfully I anticipated some of these issues before I launched and so had my Arduino phone home within 2 minutes after rebooting to pull in any new satellite commands. Otherwise I would have to wait an entire update interval of 30 minutes. Not ideal, but at least there’s a workaround.

Between having the three kids today, trying to find where the website plugin is getting in, and testing LoCARB, its pretty much a day without any real progress in route.

10:46 pm: LoCARB has just about reached Los Angeles! What a feat! Having braved an incredibly turbulent ocean right from the start, to hobbling along with all the many malfunctions and unknowns, LoCARB has exceeded my expectations by reaching L.A. (well, in line with it anyways)!

Regarding the website hacks, I am almost positive I found the issue with the malicious plugin getting installed. Turns out that if you connect your WordPress site to via Jetpack, essentially has full administrative rights. When I logged in, I saw straight away that the account credentials must have been compromised as I saw a log showing the plugin being installed and removed via the web gui.

I’ve since reset the account credentials, removed any bad plugins, and hopefully locked out any future malfeasance by enabling 2FA authentication. What led me to this path was looking at the webhost server logs and seeing a CRON job for the WordPress jetpack plugin at the same time the time/date stamp for the plugin was installed. This didn’t make sense as Jetpack is a pretty secure plugin. More digging into Jetpack’s capabilities, and I found Jetpack connected to gives an attacker a vector to completely control a website if the credentials are compromised.

I might be a little ahead of myself, but I think a small little celebration is in order!

June 10, 2021

The malicious plugin did not reinstall itself, I think the site is fixed!

8:46 am: The motor seems to be using slightly more power overnight than before. Could be that the water is finally affecting the efficiency of the exposed motor.

9:46 am: Sent updated waypoint further southwest into Mexico. Expecting another day of good weather/full sun.

Skies should be clear today (Data from NESDIS)

4:35 pm: Turned off motor to charge as much as possible before dark. Power system is really just barely breaking even with charging during the day and discharging through the night. Note to self: More panel more battery for next build.

7:36 pm: Motor turned on, will probably turn it off when I wake up in the middle of the night so the battery doesn’t run out of juice to charge up at a decent rate tomorrow.

June 12, 2021

LoCARB had trouble charging today…It hovered around 6v for quite a while which is really damaging to the battery pack. The fact that it didn’t bump up until I turned off the motor means that something is really messing with the charging circuit, and that charge current is around 1 amp or so.

Really overcast skies? Water or moisture damage to the buck converter? Damage to the BMS circuit board? If it doesn’t get better tomorrow, LoCARB might be close to death.

Battery pod humidity is now at 65%