zCAPN and Tux's Adventure

Cruising out to sea with Linux navigational software.

zCAPN (zNav Computer Automated Practical Navigator) for Linux is a joint software venture between Nautical Technologies and Barco Software, LLC. It is remote-control software intended to be used with CAPN Voyager Mosiac Version 7.4 navigational software. zCAPN is closed source and written in Java. The cost is $99.00 USD; see www.barcosoft.com for details. I received it in a zip file that contained a package suitable for installation on the Familiar distribution of Linux for PDAs (.ipk). It requires CAPN Voyager Mosaic V7.4 software running on a notebook or server with a GPS (global positioning system) attached. CAPN Voyager is distributed as commercial software and currently is available only for non-UNIX platforms. CAPN Voyager was chosen as the premiere ECS (Electronic Chart System) in 1999 by the USCG (United States Coast Guard) and was adopted to replace the GDOC (Geographic Display Operations Computer) system, after GDOC was determined to be inadequate for the future.

Installation and Configuration

zCAPN installation is straightforward; simply use ipkg install $package_name.ipk to complete the task. Barco Software recommends the Opie window manager. Refer to www.handhelds.org for installation and basic configuration of the familiar distribution and Opie, as those tasks are beyond the scope of this article. zCAPN also requires that you have an ad-hoc wireless connection to the server running CAPN Voyager. The zCAPN software starts with an appearance similar to that of the CAPN voyager, minus a few buttons and menus. The initial settings of zCAPN include a default port and IP address. You may need to change the IP address to the same IP as your wireless network card uses on the server running the zCAPN Voyager server.

Real World Problem

I found myself in a unique situation at age 40. I needed an adventure in my life so my peers would not have to hear the same old stories over and over again until they retired. I began in the spirit of rolling with this mid-life crisis by acquiring a Cross Trimaran (multi-hulled) sailboat. Then, being 31.6 feet in length and 18.6 feet in width, I realized it was not economical to transport the sailboat over land from Guild, Tennessee (22 miles west of Chattanooga) to St. Petersburg, Florida. Did I forget to mention that I live in Bloomington, Indiana? Thus, it was time to back up my boast to my colleagues that I could move this boat to its destination by way of the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee Waterway that connects several rivers to Mobile Bay in Mobile, Alabama. It then would be a leisurely cruise across the Gulf of Mexico or through the ICW (Inter-Coastal Waterway) on the west coast of Florida.


I was unable to find a marina in a 60-mile radius of Hales Bar Marina in Guild, where it was berthed, that could pull this boat out of the water. Therefore, it was imperative to have ample safety equipment in case of an emergency during the journey to Florida. Meanwhile, my parents began to forget my current age and used up all the minutes on my cell phone with their flashbacks of previous adventures from my youth. (No, we won't dicuss them here).

I was able to convince my reluctant roommate to take part in this journey with me. He actually began to take me seriously when I installed steps on the 36-foot mast and powered up a halogen steaming light at the top of the mast. The other crew member was against the idea of traveling, so we stuffed him in a box and refused to let him out of the lower galley until we were well under way. Hercules (aka The Idgit) retaliated by hiding in an undiscovered ventilation shaft the day of departure. Also, he often was caught sleeping at his post and kicking kitty litter out of his litter box all over the galley.

We finally set off with all the necessary safety equipment and followed USCG regulations so the boat did not wind up impounded before it reached its final destination. The list of electronic equipment we took included:

  • 1 Garmin GPSMAP 188C (chart plotter) with transducer

  • 1 Dell Inspiron 8200 dual-boot notebook

  • 1 Compaq iPAQ 3670 dual-sleeve PDA

  • 2 Linksys WPC11 PCMCIA wireless network cards

  • 1 Sony CDMavica MVC CD-500, a 5.0 megapixel digital camera

  • 1 Nokia 9340i cell phone

Real World Application

We operated within a small time frame spanning from December 20, 2003 through January 18, 2004. The first three days were lost due to my inability to complete all the items on the last of my many famous lists of things that had to be done. This was categorized as excessive compulsive behavior by a speech pathologist. I promptly added this to my list of shortcomings.

The time for departure came late in the afternoon of Tuesday, December 22. My first mate (not the cat) promptly fell in 51 degree Fahrenheit water while wearing full make-shift foul weather gear, including sweatpants, pants, coveralls, jacket and rain suit. He spent most of the next two days in the galley literally chilling.

After a brief stop in Smithville, Mississippi, to fix a blown head gasket--which cost us yet another three days--we finally arrived in Mobile Bay, only to find that the bay was fogged in. I was unable to use anything other than the chart plotter, compass and markers prior to reaching Mobile Bay due to my lack of SoftChart maps for the inland waterway systems. Furthermore, the demands of traveling on the river were far more taxing than I originally had anticipated. We found it to be narrow, shallow and strewn with floating debris. Nevertheless, we temporarily placed Tux upon the mast on several occasions throughout the journey for good luck.

When we arrived in Mobile Bay and saw the fog, we powered up the notebook and attached the RS-232 cable to the GPS. The chart came up as expected and promptly located my position. The iPAQ then loaded, and I proceeded to insert the proper IP address for the CAPN Voyager server running the notebook. The PDA slowly brought up an exact duplicate of the display on the notebook. The iPAQ was the controller from that point forward and offered the ability to change the zoom level on the notebook simultaneously. I found it exciting that I could walk around the boat and monitor my location on exact duplicates of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) charts produced by SoftChart International.

We moved slowly through the fog looking for the first of several buoys that would lead us to Dog River Marina. My first mate soon became upset, stating that he knew we were in the ocean and lost at sea. He also was concerned that we would get hit by another vessel. I assured him we were not in the ocean and could follow the buoys to stay outside the channel and avoid a collision. He almost was convinced when a very large ship appeared out of the mist off the port side of the boat. It did not calm him when the buoy that showed on the iPAQ appeared in view within a few feet our vessel. I took over the helm, and he headed below deck exclaiming that he could not handle any more of this. I did not have the nerve to tell him later that I had not taken into consideration the fact that we had to cross an intersecting shipping lane that made us a potential target for approximately 180 feet.



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Re: zCAPN and Tux's Adventure

Anonymous's picture

There seems to be some major discrepancies in this article that were overseen due to time constraints and communication problems during the course of this article. I will write a follow up article to address these issues. The following issues will be addressed.
1. zcapn apparently does not stand for znav practical navigator. It is merely a slang term pronounced as it appears.

2. Obviously, it cannot be written in Java within a Qtopia environment. It is written in C++

3. Barco Software recommended that I use the opie window manager since my Ipaq was converted from Pocket PC. This is not true for the Zaurus.

4. The software was not designed or advertised to run as a standalone application. This was clear after I read the page at Barco Software. Yet, I was not sure about what its complete capabilities and limitations were based on the site at Nautical Technologies.

5. Apparantly this software does have the ability to run in infrastructure mode. I have not been able to confirm this. I will submit an update after I have finished testing.

6. The blocking mode is still unclear as to how it is applied and whether it is by the application ( It supposedly is ) and the affects it has on performance and reliability. I will attempt to clarify this.

I feel like Barco Software and the Linux community will help me to
fully understand this sofware and its strengths and limitations and want to convey this to readers so that they are not mislead by this article. I would like to take the time to apologize for any incoveniences this may have caused.

Timothy R. Hedges

Tech solutions are no substitute

Anonymous's picture

Tech solutions are no substitute for lack of knowledge and experience in both sailing and navigating.

It is not the boat that is in need of an upgrade but it's user.

The pebhad (problem existing between helm and deck) with 3h experience in 'sailing' is a danger to both himself, his crew and other vessels.

300h is not even enough imho.

(The anonymous user that dares to make these remarks has 34 years of boating experience)

Re: Tech solutions are no substitute

Anonymous's picture

I can't believe I am responding to this. Nevertheless, this was not a definitive guide to sailing the waterways to Florida from Tennessee. Nor, was it an evaluation of my skills in navigation or sailing. If it were that I would have explained that an extensive amount of research into the waterways, lock systems, communication, and etiquette on the waterways was undertaken. Furthermore, the boat was motored all but 1 hour on Pickwick lake and 10 hours on Mobile Bay after the fog had cleared which was clearing as we started the crossing. Finally, I wished I had spent more money on sailing instead of pilot training and the power boats over the last 10 years and perhaps I might be nearly as competent as you in sailing. You, on the other hand should have spent more time with reading comprehension, spelling, and grammar.

(LORD: Please save me from your zealots and other miscellaneous fanatics)

Re: zCAPN and Tux's Adventure

Anonymous's picture

Wow... that sounds like fun. Next time your first mate doesn't want to go let me know.....

Cool pictures and cool article!

Re: zCAPN and Tux's Adventure

Anonymous's picture

The boat is currently in St. Petersburg, FL. I just got back from moving it yet again.;) Please, feel free to email me.