Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. We're sailing up and down the east coast of Australia after a summer back in Britain.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A (good) Bad Elf has joined the crew

Last night we were aboard 'Ithaka' (we first met Ana and Colin in Panama) and were talking to them about the delights of Fiji as they are planning to go there for the first time this season; we took with us a chart of the whole archipelago to show them some of the places we've visited. The black and white chart was printed in 1968 but was based on surveys from a hundred years earlier and we warned how inaccurate these aids to navigation can be; we found that reefs could be as much as half a mile off their charted positions. 

The good news is that the fast-paced changes of information technology are even reaching the cruising sailor and on Maunie we've just made a bit of a stride forward. We've added a Bad Elf to our crew list: 

The Bad Elf Pro +

The Bad Elf is clever battery-powered, hand-held GPS receiver which will transmit its information, via Bluetooth, to up to 5 devices including our iPad. Unlike normal iPad and iPod built-in GPS receivers it doesn't require the help of mobile phone towers to find its position quickly and it also has a data-logging function and a barometer built in.

We had already downloaded some 'open' (i.e. free) chart-plotting software called OpenCPN which more and more boats are using to supplement their main chart plotters. The New Zealand Government has, rather wonderfully, released all of its charts online (again free of charge) so, with the addition of the Bad Elf, our laptop has now become a chart plotter.

The laptop with Maunie's position (on her mooring in Opua) shown on the chart as the red boat icon

The big step forward for places like Fiji where the base data for the charts is so poor is the use of Google Earth. It's now possible to download libraries of GE images (put together by other yachties) and OpenCPN will open them and use them just like charts. Unlike the charts, though, the GE positions are accurate to only a few feet so the Bad Elf will place our current position on the photo and we can see exactly how close to us the reefs really are!

The port of Levuka, from where we left Fiji last October, on Google Earth; the extent of the reef is clearly visible. 

Now all we have to do is to work out how to upload OpenCPN and the charts and GE images onto the iPad and we'll have the ability to have it up in the cockpit (in a waterproof case) for those tricky navigational moments! It should be a major safety improvement for our sailing in the tricky waters of Fiji but we won't relax our lookout at all - the Mk.1 Eyeball remains the most important navigation tool.

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