Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nav Comparison

When sailing last weekend in Fort Myers Beach I was able to test the full spectrum of Nav programs available for the iPhone. The only program I don't have is Active Captain as they haven't ported it to the iPhone yet. I was able to compare iNavX with NOAA Raster Charts, iNavX version 2 with Navionics Vector Charts, Navimatics Marine Maps (Now Charts and Tides), and Fly to Maps Water Map Navigator. By far the best chart data available was the Navionics Vector Data.

As this product hasn't been released and Navionics is handleing the PR side of things I can't show you a full screen shot, but here is the chart portion of the screen shot. The raster chart above was usable, but due to the low scale of the Raster, the free chart was not great for navigating the narrow channel (not that it really mattered as we still bumped a sand bar heading out due to the unusually low tide even though we were dead smack in the middle of the channel). My understanding of the plans for iNavX are that when version 2 comes out (free upgrade) Navionics will have a method to purchase and download their Vector charts (in addition to the free NOAA Raster charts). No word yet on regional packaging or pricing, but if I lived up this inlet, I would spend the money for the Navionics Vector chart as it fills in nicely for the less than stellar Raster of the region.

I unfortunately forgot to load the correct region of the Navimatics charts, an inherent flaw in a system with separate programs for different regions. That said, you can load more than one region at a time and the icon shows the active chart region. Below is what the Navimatics chart of the region looks like.

Certainly workable, but not really as good as the NOAA raster let alone the Navionics Vector. It doesn't show all the Nav Aids that line the channel, just the larger Piles at the entrance. It does show the location of the channel with a different water color, but without the smaller posts shown, it would be harder to follow.

Fly To Map's product uses the free NOAA Vector charts (S57 format). Unfortunately, there are still ~30% of the raster charts that have not been converted yet. Also, they aren't the prettiest things in the world by any means. Clearly this is a region where the detailed charts haven't been converted to Vector format yet making the software completely un-usable in this situation. Sure it only costs $10, but if you lived or sailed in Fort Myers it wouldn't be worth 10 cents.

Overall, I am very excited about the partnership of Navionics and iNavX. The iNavX software is by far the most powerful, with the new features of waypoint and track import/export just adding to the functionality. They also keep developing with promises of eventual Grib weather overlays and several other features on top of the added support for Navionics Vector charts. The Vectors are sure to be somewhat costly, but hopefully they will be priced fairly and reasonably or at least in a way that you can pick and choose the charts you want to buy to fill in areas where the rasters aren't that great, or for international use.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Leukemia Cup Fantasy Sail Weekend

Scotty was kind enough to let me take the Rumours/Unplugged spot at this years Fantasy Sail Weekend in Fort Myers Beach Florida. Electronics problems delayed my Friday morning flight, so I missed out on my planned Friday afternoon by the pool and the opening cocktail party, but was checked in by 8:00 and walked into town for some wonderful oysters and garlic crab.

Saturday morning started in the dark as we had breakfast at 6:45 and dock call at 7:30 for the morning race session put on by Steve Colgates Offshore Sailing School in Colgate 26's. My boat only had 3 total (most had 4 and some had 5) which put us at a serious disadvantage in the steady 18 gusting to 22+ kts. Still, it was a blast and we were a very steady 5th in the fleet.

The afternoon was a sunny 72 degrees and I found a great spot by the pool to relax and read. I partook in a wonderful massage at four and took this shot just before leaving for dinner at six. Gary Jobson put on a wonderful show throughout dinner with a mix of old an new boat video and his excellent humor. Overall a very enjoyable and relaxing weekend. A real winter treat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fly to Map - Water Map Navigator First Look

Fly to Map was nice enough to let me test their new marine mapping program (Yeah Apple Promo Codes ... way easier than AdHoc distribution) for review. The program is cheap and simple (just $10) and displays NOAA ENC charts. I got the US Eastern region which covers the coast from Maine to Mexico although my understanding is that NOAA is not yet completed turning all the charts into ENC's yet so coverage detail may vary depending on region. The chart rendering is nice enough, although not nearly as pretty as the Navimatics Marine Maps, fairly similar to the Navionics charts on iNavX Version 2. Zooming and panning is quite jumpy, although smoother than Navimatics marine maps, not anywhere near as smooth as iNavX V2. Pushing the location button plots your position, and moves the chart to put you in view, but does not rezoom, so when you start the program and it shows the entire east coast, you must manually zoom in or search to your region to actually see any detail. The search function does work but is essentially the only function the program has. There is NO WAY this program should be used for navigation, or really even trip planning, but it does provide a fairly cheap way to view the ENC charts on your phone. For anyone serious about iPhone navigation, this isn't worth your $10, at least not yet. Better to save your money for iNavX or the upcoming iNavX Version 2 (with Navionics vector charts).

By the way, iNavX V2 is coming along nicely. The search that I love in the Navimatics marine Maps is finding its way into the software. If you want a sense as to what this will look like, you can download the free Navionics viewer and roam around south Florida or Italy. Picture those charts with iNavX's instruments, waypoints, etc and you have a pretty good idea of what is to come. I haven't gotten a clear sense of what will happen to the raster version of iNavX when the vector charts become available. I generally prefer raster charts, but the ability to search for a harbor by name when dealing with the small screen of the iPhone may be enough reason to favor vector charts.

--UPDATE-- from iNavX -- Apparently both the raster and vector charts will be able to exist side by side within iNavX Version 2 when it is eventually released. Thus far the alpha version I have been playing with doesn't have access to the raster charts (which makes sense at this point as he is working out the vector parts of the program) so no word yet on exactly how this will work, but if past performance is any prediction of future results, it will be a smooth integration from the folks at iNavX.

Reading through the iNavX forums I found this bit of useful info:

"All current owners of iNavX will receive version 2.0 at no additional cost. iNavX version 2.0 will add these features to iNavX..

- Download purchased Navionics charts & maps in addition to the free NOAA US waters
- Navaid inspector
- Waypoint upload/download (GPX and KML file support)
- Pinch zooming (Easy to use zoom slider will still be available)
- Available on ALL iTunes iPhone app stores

Prices have not been finalized on the top quality Navionics cartography, but I understand they will be very reasonably priced. Even with the additional features, iNavX will remain priced under US$50. "

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eight Bells

Photo Credit -- Morris Yachts

We are sad to learn today that Tom Morris, founder of Morris Yachts, and builder of "Visions of Johanna" lost his fight with Cancer last Sunday. Bill and I last saw Tom at the Pre Marion-Burmuda race dinner in 2007. We both commented that night that Tom didn't seem to be himself that night and our fears where confirmed the next morning when he and his doublehanded partner pulled out of the race. I believe he was diagnosed soon thereafter.

He will be in my mind this coming weekend when I travel down to Florida for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Fantasy Sail Weekend -- reward for the impressive fundraising I headed for the Leukemia Cup Regatta earlier this year where we raised over $56,000 in less than two weeks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New Wifi and Computer System Update

I finally got all my tools and parts back from Shane in Florida and got a decent day on Saturday to finish the wifi install. The new WiFi antenna is the white one on the right (furthest outboard). I ended up needing an antenna extender since there was just no way to get the LMR-400-UF SMA connector down inside the hoop. Luckily West had all I needed in stock so I was able to finish before snow flew last night....thank god. I sure wouldn't have wanted to be climbing on my rather precarious ladder arrangement in the snow. It is quite difficult finding a location in a cockpit to place a 8' stepladder. In the spring I will need to re-rig my ladder in order to install a GPS antenna opposite the WiFi antenna on another Edson Rail Mount for the AIS unit we plan to install.

The Port Networks MWB-250 system by Alan Spicer Marine Telcom is working superbly. Looking at the site survey on the left (click for bigger), you can see signals about 1.5 miles away (Sail Newport) in a rather "Noisy" environment of downtown Newport.

Further long distance testing will have to take place in the future when there aren't sooooo many signals, but my initial reaction is that the system works quite well and is very easy to use. In the few minutes I played last night, I was able to connect to several access points around town, most of which aren't visible on my laptop even when in the pilothouse or out on deck.

The MWB-250 unit which is located in the pilothouse with a Power over Ethernet (POE) equiped Cat-5e cable connecting it to a POE injector and then to the Linksys WRT54GL router running an open source firmware DD-WRT. A LED equiped switch is located in the back of the desk flip-top to allow turning off the WiFi reciever to save power offshore as it runs on the same circuit as the Cell Phone Booster and Globalstar SatCom.

I love this router and firmware for its low cost, high power, and extreme flexibility. There is a great community providing support and sample scripts to allow many customizations such as multiple WAN ports and data shaping. I can certainly recommend Alan Spicer and Port Networks to any interested in a high powered WiFi system with a remote radio. If you are very savvy, you could probably buy direct from Port Networks and put together the antenna, cable, connectors, etc yourself, but if you want some direction, Alan's services and in particular his service contracts (which he is supplying to my client Shane) can be indispensable. With the service contract, he was incredibly price competitive on the parts.

I am also in the process of upgrading our computer system with a new Nav computer, moving the Nav computer over to Communications work and moving the 8 year old Com computer off the boat for Home Theater use. I will update on this and our entire onboard computer system in the near future.