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Get a Degree in Gizmology at TrawlerFest; Nobody's Better Than Ben Ellison


“Nobody does it better” was the theme song to a Bond film, but it could also describe the work of PassageMaker Electronics Editor Ben Ellison, who is heading up our marine electronics curriculum at TrawlerFest-Bay Bridge with three seminars.

The TrawlerFest boat show and seminar series happens at Bay Bridge Marina Yacht Club on Kent Island at the foot of Maryland’s magnificent Bay Bridge Tuesday through Sunday, Sept. 29-Oct. 4. The boat show runs Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 1-4, and includes booths displaying marine products and services.

Ellison’s seminars are “Onboard Wireless,” “Multi-Function Displays: Now and in the Future” and “Electronic Engine Monitoring Comes of Age.” We are also offering “Apps for Cruisers” and “Satellite Communication & Entertainment” by other instructors.

Comparing Ellison to James Bond may be farfetched but both have one trait in common—kinda, sorta. Bond loved his gadgets. Ellison loves his gizmos. Gizmo is in fact the name of Ellison’s Duffy 37 (above).

Gizmo is a test boat for marine electronics, and as such sports multiple multi-function displays, radars and sounders. “Nobody does it better” than Ellison because nobody else does it at all. Ellison is the only person testing marine electronics to the same degree—that is, on a dedicated test boat—and writing about it on his online blog Here’s Ben’s song to himself from Panbo:

 Ben Ellison in a previous life.

Ben Ellison in a previous life.

Well, sure, let's talk about me! I've lived in Camden, Maine, since 1971, when I bought a 1946 wooden sloop (same vintage as me) that was moored here. I was planning to sail around the world, made it. I did live aboard Alice for most of the 70s, ran her as a daysailing operation, and cruised twice to the Caribbean (with just a VHF radio and a depth flasher for electronics).

During that decade I also worked on oil field boats off Louisiana, tried my hand at commercial fishing, delivered yachts and taught navigation/seamanship in many venues including offshore on a barkentine. By the 80s, the boat had morphed into a home-built home and I even started a totally non-nautical business (which at least got me into personal computers early). I did keep up the deliveries and teaching, managed some boats, and in 1985 began a five year stint as director of the WoodenBoat School. I still get a pitter-patter when I visit there.

 Ellison today: Less facial hair, more gizmos.

Ellison today: Less facial hair, more gizmos.

The 90's? Back to boat deliveries and teaching, a house addition, work for a tide prediction software company, and eventually a stint as editor of Reed's Nautical Almanacs. That job was more about marine software and data manipulation than sentences, which is partially how I transitioned into writing about electronics. I got started at Ocean Navigator in 1999 and became electronics editor at Power & Motoryacht in 2001, added SAIL in 2004, and then switched over to the position of senior electronics editor at Bonnier Marine Group in early 2009.

In 2013 I switched teams again, returning in a sense to Power & Motoryacht and SAIL, which are now part of the AIM Marine Group along with Soundings, PassageMaker, Angler’s Journal and Yachts International. I now write primarily for Panbo, whose content is shared with AIM websites and publications, but I also work behind the scenes with AIM editors and electronics writers. In 2015 I hope to again spend significant time aboard the 37 Duffy "lobster yacht" dubbed Gizmo, a near perfect platform for testing electronics along the beautiful coast of Maine and further afield.

I'm proud to add that my work has received numerous honors in the annual Boating Writers International writing contest, especially the first place Original Online Content award to Panbo in 2011 and again in 2012. And again in 2013!