Following on from a recent article from Penny Chuter (Click here to read), this further post is intended to give more detailed information on the Cox-Box Mini System and, more specifically, looks at what features the Cox-Box Mini System offers Cornish Pilot Gigs.
The complete system comprises the Cox-Box Mini itself, a microphone with lead, and a harness with 2 loudspeakers. In addition there is a re-charging unit with lead and mains plug.
The main Cox-Box Mini Unit:
This unit features a plug at one end for the microphone lead socket, and at the other end for the loudspeaker harness socket. It has one large On/Off/Volume Control switch, together with a low-battery warning light. Once the volume is set it is not necessary for the cox to touch the unit further, and it can either rest on the stroke-side (starboard side) of the coxes seat, or can be strapped to the right arm or right leg of the cox (with an optional arm/leg band), or clipped to the coxes clothing with a rotating belt clip.
There are two reasons to keep the unit on the stroke-side (starboard side). First, the mic lead should be kept well away from the stroke rower’s hands and the arc of his/her oar handle, which is mainly on the port side. Secondly, the loudspeaker harness needs to run along the stroke-side of the gig. (See the harness section later). The unit is waterproof, compact, and lightweight, and can be protected by an added rubber “bumper”. These make it more rugged, and also enable clubs/coxes to customize their units with a choice of 12 different colours.
The mic itself is very small, but quite long and malleable so that it can to adjusted to rest exactly beside the coxes mouth/cheek. It is held to the right side of the head by an adjustable stretch webbing headband which is worn round the coxes head. A bend in the mic’s length fits over the right ear and the mic points downwards from there. A “head-microphone” leaves the coxes hands free for the rudder lines, stopwatch and/or VHF radio, etc. In strong headwinds there can be some distortion if the open end of the mic is facing into the wind, and in these circumstances it needs to be adjusted carefully, so that the open end of the mic doesn’t face directly into the wind. I often actually tuck it inside my jacket to protect it from the wind. Also, a very small “muffler” over the open end of the mic is useful in very windy conditions.
The other end of the Cox-Box Mini has a harness attached to it. The harness comprises an audio-lead which reaches as far as the No.2 seat, and has two loudspeakers attached along its length – one under the No.4 seat and one under the No.2 seat.
My first harness was one adapted from a sliding-seat coxed four, which was much too long, but Nielsen-Kellerman in the USA have now made me a CPG specific harness. This can now be purchased by any gig club. This harness is exactly the right length to lead from the starboard side of the coxes’ seat along the inside of the starboard side of the gig, and with the loudspeaker attachment points exactly under the No.4 and No.2 seats. In wooden gigs it is easy to strap the harness along the stringer with cable ties to keep it well above the floor-boards, and also well below the gunwales in order to keep it as dry as possible. The advantage of the CPG-specific harness is that it is exactly the right length overall, it has the junction points in exactly the right positions, and it only has the two junction points for the loudspeakers. To minimise the possibilities of water ingress, the less junction points the better!
These are small and light, and have a “D-shaped” bracket on the back which allows them to be screwed (2 screws) on to the underneath side of the No.4 and No.2 seats. I have found that the best position to fix them is exactly half-way along the seat between the starboard side of the gig and the centre line of the boat, where there is no rower sitting. Also, I then adjust them to point inwards towards the centre line of the boat, and 45o downwards. Since they are fixed on the under-sides of the seats, they are reasonably protected from wind and spray.
The stroke and No.5 rowers can hear the coxes’ voice without any amplification. Positioning the first speaker under the No.4 seat allows the No.5 rower to hear from behind, the No.4 rower from below, and the No.3 rower from in front. Equally, the speaker sited under the No.2 seat allows the No.3 rower to hear from behind, the No.2 rower from below, and the bow rower from in front.
With this deployment of the two speakers I have found that all rowers in all seats can hear the cox very well without the cox having to shout, and there is no necessity for more than two speakers.
If a club only has one harness, then this will need to be moved from gig to gig. In this case, the two speakers simply “sit” on the starboard stretcher rack underneath the relevant seats, and the harness just rests along the starboard side above the floor boards.
Batteries and Charging:
The main unit has lithium-ion batteries which only need replacing about every 2-3 years, depending on the amount of use it gets. From a full charge, I have found that it will last for at least six 2-hour sessions and possibly more, although I take care not to run the battery low. When the battery starts to run low, the light indicator will change from green to red. It then requires an over-night charge using the mains connection lead supplied. There is also an optional car adaptor charger.
Care and Maintenance:
Electronics don’t go well with water, especially salt water, such that regular maintenance and greasing of all connection points to prevent water ingress is important. An optional Maintenance Kit is available. Also, sand has a terrible habit of getting into every tiny crevice, so it is important to keep the Cox-Box Mini clean and free of sand at all times. I keep mine in a convenient plastic and waterproof “clip-lock” box and, if it gets wet, I dry it out slowly at home.
The most expensive part of the whole system is obviously the Cox-Box Mini unit itself and, at least to start with, clubs may only wish to purchase one complete system and move it from gig to gig.
If they appreciate the benefits of a voice amplification system in the boat, the next step would be for a club to purchase a harness and two loudspeakers for additional gigs as they can afford it, so that they can be permanently fitted to all their gigs eventually. With permanent harness/ 2 speakers in each gig, it is then only necessary to plug in the cox-box-mini when that gig is being used, and remove it again after use. I cover the harness socket with a small plastic bag when not attached to the Cox-Box Mini.
Finally, the club could purchase a Cox-Box Mini unit and microphone for each of its gigs, and/or full-time coxes could buy their own, knowing that there would be a harness, already in each gig.
In conclusion, the only negative point about the Cox-Box Mini system is that it does represent yet another cost to clubs in addition to gigs, oars, cushions, radios, etc., but if a club values the benefits, then I am sure it will find a way to purchase at least one Cox-Box Mini system.