Rip Rap February 1, 2005 Issue

More Practical Websites

Our last compilation of useful Internet resources for sailors included 26 websites; here now are two dozen more that we like.

Rigger Brion Toss offers useful tips and interaction on his website: www.briontoss.com.

We at Practical Sailor can remember a time when those in the know would speak in hushed tones about the "World Wide Web." This was at a time when the Internet was embodied in services such as WAIS, Gopher, and FTP. Today, "Web" is used interchangeably with “Internet,” the qualifier "World Wide" being dropped long ago.

Indeed, we are struck by just how local and specialized the Web has become, with content addressing every niche and interest. The continuing trend toward more local and specialized content on the Web makes it difficult for us to give the definitive list of the most practical websites for hands-on sailboat owners. Nevertheless, here are sites—some general, some specialized—that we find particularly practical.

General Reference
Google (www.google.com) never ceases to amaze, both in the power of its core search engine service, and in the innovation in related services the company develops. The first Practical Sailor list of practical websites (see PS November 1, 2001) included Google, but the site has developed so much that it deserves mention again. The Google search engine has an uncanny knack at retrieving web pages that are relevant to your queries, and now allows you to search for images as well.

At an associated site: Google Answers (www.answers.google.com) you can register and ask any question you fancy. You put a dollar value (from $2 to $200) on having an answer and submit the question. One of a group of registered researchers may attempt to answer your question, using Google to search the Web for the required information. If you are satisfied with the answer, you get billed, the researcher gets the fee you set, and Google takes a small cut. Questions relating to boating are somewhat rare, and sailing questions rarer still, but those that we've seen appear to be competently answered. A good source, but don't overlook PS Advisor.

Another Google entity we like, Google Catalogs (www.catalogs.google.com) allows you to browse the catalogs of hundreds of retailers. Google scans the printed catalogs to create full-page facsimiles on this website that you can browse, with the powerful addition of full text search over all contents. There are sixty-three retailers represented in the Marine and Water Sports category, including APS, Clark Craft, Davis, Defender, Edson, Landfall Navigation, Layline, Sailrite, and West Marine.

And then there's Google Local (www.local.google.com), which helps you find businesses and services in a specific geographic area. Type "boat covers" and "Morehead City, NC" (or enter a zip code) and Google Local returns a list of canvas makers within 45 miles of the location, with phone numbers, addresses, maps and driving directions. Google Local compiles the search results from the billions of web pages that Google indexes, plus Yellow Pages listings.

Weather
A website called Poletopole.org (www.poletopole.org) gives you real-time and recent weather observations from thousands of weather stations around the globe in a nice graphical format. Wind direction and strength, for instance, are displayed in a compass rose, while atmospheric pressure and other data are plotted on charts. The site only provides observations, not forecasts, and the data comes mostly from airports. Still, we like it for its ease of use as an alternative to sticking one's head out the door. We keep Poletopole.org on our Favorites list, and we check it before heading down to the boat.

Unisys Weather (http://weather.unisys.com) is a good site for someone wanting in-depth weather data and forecasts or the bigger picture behind a local marine forecast. The site has all the data that a professional meteorologist would be comfortable with, but also features clear explanations, legends, and keys for the layperson. This site has radar and satellite images, forecasts maps, upper air data, and weather model output. We also like that it's well organized, with a clear navigation scheme. Unisys Weather covers the continental U.S. only, and does not have marine forecasts. Interestingly, the site archives over one hundred years of hurricane tracks. For marine forecasts and weather charts, including high seas forecasts, see the list of National Weather Service and NOAA sites in the May 15, 2004 issue of PS.

An alternate source of marine forecasts is Weather Underground, (www.wunderground.com), but beware, it subjects you to those darned pop-up ads.

Buy and Sell
You have to hand it to the people behind the website Yachtworld.com (www.yachtworld.com) and it's companion website Boats.com (www.boats.com). They have built two very impressive online classified and online boat brokerage sites, respectively. Individuals may create a listing on Boats.com for $50 per month, while on YachtWorld.com, subscribing brokers create the listings. Many of the boats for sale through a brokerage appear to be cross-listed between the two sites, so start with Boats.com to ensure you cast the widest net. The search functions on the two sites help you narrow down thousands of listings to those that match the kind of boat that interests you, your budget, or your location. Individual listings include photos where available, as much description as the vendor cares to supply, and contact information for the vendor.

Renown among collectors and yard sale regulars eBay (www.ebay.com) is being discovered by sailors, too. For boats for sale on eBay, go to www.motors.ebay.com and follow the links to Sailboats. However, we found that the quality of the boats listed for sale on eBay can be a bit spotty. There are many other sites for boat listings, so don't spend too much time finding your next vessel here unless you're looking for a 35-footer with hurricane damage or a Sunfish without sails, spars, or rigging. You can find good deals for sailing hardware on the site. Go to eBay Motors and surf through the categories under Parts & Accessories to arrive at electronics and sailing hardware. Many chandleries use eBay to move their old inventory, while individual sailors use the site to clear out their lockers. We recently came across an auction for five years' worth of back-issues of Practical Sailor, and were pleased to see active bidding for that item.

Mapping
On the website MarinePlanner.com (www.marineplanner.com) you can view nautical charts online. Some of the site's content is free, while much of it requires a subscription. We have used the free chart viewer as a study guide to familiarize ourselves with new anchorages. You can download electronic charts for a fee, in a format that is compatible with common navigation software packages for PCs. Online nautical calculators are an additional free feature of the site, for calculating the distance to the horizon from a known height of eye. Like much of the free content on MarinePlanner.com (we have not taken out a subscription), the nautical calculators are not likely to be of help when you are on the water, but they do make a handy online reference.

The website of the NOAA Office of the Coast Survey (http://nauticalcharts.noaa.gov) is a massive source of information on NOAA nautical charts. The site has the full chart catalog, and lists critical chart updates. The site has a database of wrecks and obstructions, and allows you to view historic charts dating to the Civil War.

Reference and Education
Brion Toss, a well-known rigger and author, promotes his services and books on his site (www.briontoss.com), but it also has articles, newsletters, a monthly brain-teaser, and an online forum for discussing rigging with Brion and other experts who frequent the site.

Grog's Animated Knots (www.grogono.com/knot) is a superb example of practical content on the web. The site is well organized and written, easy to understand, and fulfills a single purpose elegantly. Visit the site to watch 12 common sailors' knots being tied. Follow the text that describes each step in synch with the animation; control the speed of animation; vary the perspective to rotate or invert the knot; read the discussion of the uses, variations, strengths, weaknesses, and alternatives to the 12 knots. It's a good site, though most of these knots will be familiar to Practical Sailor readers. We also think the editor's approach to turning a cleat is a bit extravagant.

We like the thoughtful answers that cruisers get when submitting questions at North Sails Cruising Sails Q&A (http://na.northsails.com/QA.htm). Dan Neri, the product manager for North's cruising sails, gives clear and detailed answers to questions relating to sails, rig configuration, and sail-handling systems. Yes he's predisposed to North's products, but also frank about the pros and cons of North's premium offerings.

Here are some suggestions for further reading on topics of interest to sailors, without much commentary from us. For cruising first aid, go to www.riparia.org and find the link to the Cruising Medical Kit. Look for free excerpts on international and inland rules of the road from Reeds Nautical Almanac on Boats.com and for the complete Bowditch compendium on piloting and navigation on Marineplanner.com. Head to the Galley on SeaRoom (www.searoom.com) for cruising recipes.

Cruising Guides
We simply can't cover all sailing areas, but if we were to pick out one example, we would suggest The Usual Suspects - Caribbean Sailing Adventures (www.usual-suspects-sailing.com). Click on "The Experiences" for descriptions of the Grenadines, the Abacos, and other Caribbean cruising grounds as detailed as any cruising guide found in bookstores. Be sure to check out the pages listing the vendors who sell ice and other commodities out of open boats in Caribbean anchorages. The site is yet another example of a highly localized content, created by a dedicated individual for the enjoyment of all.

Noonsite (www.noonsite.com) focuses on providing essential information for bluewater cruisers. The site covers hundreds of cruising areas and ports, with information on clearance, customs and immigration regulations, local events and services, and more. The content for Noonsite is taken from the World Cruising Handbook, by Jimmy Cornell. Updates and corrections for the printed guide are published on the site. Noonsite is not overly designed, and has an even more pared-down text-only version, which will be appreciated by sailors in far-flung cruising destinations, for whom the only Web access is a dial-up connection at a rustic Internet café.

Owners' Groups Associations
Class association or owners' group websites are of pirmary interest to those who own the boats in question. We bring up the example of the C&C Photo Album and Resource Site (www.cncphotoalbum.com) not as the best class or owner's association website out there—there's no such thing—but as an example of what a class or association website can be. The site has a home-spun, friendly, do-it-yourself tone. The contents include descriptions of various boat improvement and maintenance projects, schematics and manuals, and a database of owners by model and year.

Chartering
Sailonline.com (www.sailonline.com) is an information resource for everything relating to chartering and its industry. The site's well-written content includes information on what to expect in common chartering areas, including weather conditions, and popular anchorages. Other articles cover choosing a chartering company, the pros and cons of cruising catamarans, important sailing skills, and many other topics. The editor draws on firsthand experience with charter yacht ownership to give an independent and objective assessment of the pros and cons of this side of the business. The site charges a small fee (usually under $20) for some content.

Online Communities
We remember when sailors looking to participate in Internet discussions would turn to the rec.boats newsgroups. The newsgroups have largely fallen into disuse, while the availability of free software allows any web site operator to add a threaded discussion board to a site. With so many web discussion boards competing for attention, the challenge is to find one that has an active community. One site we like is The Cruisers Forum (www.cruisersforum.com), a web board that has had success in fostering a vibrant online community.

Other Practical Sites
Webshots (www.webshots.com) is a free online photo album. Once registered, you can upload digital photos to virtual photo albums and invite others to view them.

The Official U.S. Time (www.time.gov) is a service jointly offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a Department of Commerce agency, and the U. S. Naval Observatory (USNO).

If you are in a boat partnership and need to coordinate work parties or sign the boat out for the weekend, consider using Localendar.com (www.localendar.com) to create an online schedule. This free service allows you to create a private, password-protected calendar, add and edit events to it, and share it with others.

TinyURL.com (www.tinyurl.com) is a handy tool for those who want to email a link to a friend. Increasingly, web content on large sites is stored in databases and retrieved through long and complex coding in web links. TinyURL.com is a service that shortens a long web address into something more manageable. Copy-and-paste the web address of your choice into TinyURL.com, and it creates a permanent short-cut on the Web (e.g., http://tinyurl.com/47eg5), which you in turn can copy-and-paste into an email, with full confidence that the link will not get fractured by being line-wrapped in the e-mail message.

A weblog, or blog for short, is a personal journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Most blogs run on web servers that allow authors to publish and maintain the content of a blog, all through a web browser. Blogger (www.blogger.com) is one such free service. After registering, it is only a matter of picking a template for the layout of your blog and the world can start reading your thoughts. We know of at least one cruising couple that is posting a diary on Blogger to keep family back home informed of their voyages.

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