Mailport: July 2010

Letters to the editors of Practical Sailor in July 2010 include questions and comments about mildew, galley blenders, teak cleaners, online captains courses and personal hydration.

Details Distinguish the Best Wi-Fi Antenna for a Sailboat

Practical Sailor looked at three Wi-Fi antennas suggested by readers: the Bad Boy Xtreme from Bitstorm, Rogue Waves Wave Wi-Fi from GeoSat Solutions, and The Wirie, developed by cruising couple Mark Kilty and Liesbet Collaert. All three are marketed specifically to boaters, and they represent the two principal types of devices that users will find: USB-type units that plug into computer or laptop USB ports and Power over Ethernet (PoE) bridges that network via your computers Ethernet port to provide a pathway to the Internet.

Multiplexing Marine Electronics

In an effort to find an inexpensive, reliable way to connect a PC (or Mac) to our onboard electronic navigation system, Practical Sailor testers scouted basic NMEA 0183 multiplexers with good track records. We zeroed in on the easy-to-install MiniPlex Lite from Holland-based ShipModul. This multiplexer was one of the first high-speed NMEA 0183 multiplexers capable of handling the data rates required for some of the newer electronics like AIS receivers. With very little effort, the Mini Plex Lite allowed us to network our Dell Latitude D620 laptop, AIS, GPS, and chartplotter, and it handled the data transfer without a glitch. Our chief gripe: This entry-level model uses the laptop for its power source.

GPS Receivers for Smart Phone Navigators

During our testing of pocket navigators for the December 2009 issue, we examined other approaches to propagating a GPS signal around the boat and found some viable alternatives. Several aftermarket options can turn smart phones or PDAs into handheld navigation tools by supplying or sharing reliable GPS data. Practical Sailor looked at a Bluetooth-enabled Globalsat BT-338 GPS receiver with the SiRFStarIII chipset and Franson Technology’s GPSGate software for Windows and Windows Mobile, which was designed specifically for the task of sharing GPS data. Testers found both utilities to be good choices for the job, however, we still caution against relying solely on a PC-based navigation network onboard.

Mariner Resources on the Web

Practical Sailor’s roundup of practical boater websites covers all topics related to sailing, boat owning, and boat maintaining. From weather forecasting and navigation sites to boat-owners’ groups and social networking sites, these links to online sailing resources are editors’ and readers’ top picks from the world wide web.

Looking to Boost Your Onboard Computers Internet Connection?

Internet access onboard is increasingly popular but achieving a reliable wireless connection can be difficult in a marina or on the water. A laptop with a built-in Wi-Fi system is a common starting point, but marinas can be a difficult place for low-power, high-frequency radio signals. Practical Sailor tested 5MileWi-Fi, a system that utilizes an external antenna to extend the Wi-Fi range beyond that of normal Wifi devices.

EarthNC Software

On a recent boat delivery from Michigan to Florida, I had the opportunity to try out some new computer-based planning software from EarthNC. EarthNC uses Google Earth images to present marine chart data by overlaying the charts on Google Earth satellite images. For $50, EarthNC provided 757 vector-format charts (raster format charts and other packages are also available) for the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the Caribbean. These charts can be used online or offline. When combined with a USB-connected GPS-and the ooPs (www.goopstechnologies.com) GPS software for Google Earth-EarthNC provides a real-time, moving map experience similar to modern chartplotters. EarthNC also has automatically updating weather maps with data supplied by NOAA.

Mailport: 12/06

MARINE INSURANCE REDUXI have been reading with much interest your articles about marine insurance this year (April and May 2006).

The Custom Marine Computer

Compact, energy efficient systems offer an affordable alternative to a laptop.

Chandlery: 04/15/04

Suunto M9 Wristop ComputerIn the trend towards miniaturization in electronics, there's a fine line between true utility and whiz-bang cleverness for its own sake....

Exploring the Ins and Outs of Bowsprits for Light-air Sails

A salty Kiwi named Ross Norgrove once said that the most important tool for the owner of a wooden yawl adorned with a bowsprit is a sharp ax. To some degree, his witty comment holds true for contemporary sailors contemplating a mini-bowsprit.