Every November, Practical Sailor editors celebrate the impending holiday season by reviewing gift ideas for the sailors on your list-or to add to your wishlist. This years wrap-up covers a range of interests and includes something to fit every budget. Looking for a new gizmo for the gadget junkie? Check out solar-powered, water-resistant Eton Soulra sound system, which can play most MP3 players and iPods, iTouch and iPhones while charging them. Or take a look at the SolarTech SolarPulse, a solar-powered device that charges and maintains a ship's batteries. The featured galley goodies from Galleyware and JetBoil will make practical gifts for those galley goddesses, and the Sailor's Solutions wireless remote switch for 12-volt devices is a good stocking-stuffer for creative boat owners and those looking for convenience.
Ordinarily Practical Sailor is loathe to apply a $100 battery-operated solution to a problem easily solved with a chunk of lead and some 3/8-inch line. However, portable depth sounders take the leadline to the next level. Resembling small flashlights, these handheld sounders are designed to be portable, easy to use, and reliable. They are good tools for probing creeks and narrow passes in a dinghy, and also can serve as backups to a primary sounder. This series of tests took a look at the Hawkeye 22PX from Norcross Marine and the Speedtech Depthmate SM-5A. On-the-water testing comprised a series of six tests in specific locations. Each unit was tested in murky shallow waters with a soft mud bottom; moderately clear waters with grass bottom; and clear waters with sand bottom. Testers also evaluated whether the sounders could read through hull materials, their durability and waterproofness, and whether their digital displays could be read in bright sunlight and at night.
Joe and Lee Minick added an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver to the nav station of their Mason 43, Southern Cross, and have used it for several years in some of the most heavily traveled waters of the world. Required on large commercial vessels, AIS devices add a whole new dimension of collision avoidance, transmitting dynamic information about a vessels speed, course and position plus static information including a vessels name, call sign and Mobile Marine Service Identity (MMSI). With a Class A AIS and a more recent Class B AIS system for small craft, AIS changes the landscape in marine navigation. The Minicks report in Practical Sailor proves how useful AIS can be for cruisers and other small boaters.
While it sometimes seems marine electronics marketers are piling on unnecessary features just because they can, anyone who has watched their $300 cell phone disappear over the rail or has missed a call from the boss while they were playing hooky on the water can appreciate Cobras newest handheld marine VHF. The MR HH475 FLT BT is a full-feature, floating handheld VHF that can also link up to any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. The radio uses a tiny wireless Bluetooth transceiver (the same technology used to link cell phones to wireless ear buds) to synchronize with your cell phone. When you go for a sail, you can put your cell phone belowdecks and use your VHF to monitor and receive any incoming phone calls.
The June 2010 issue featured letters on subjects such as: spiders, addition of color to handheld electronics, DIY boatyard recommendation and propane fridges.
After testing navigation applications for Windows-based smartphones and PDAs, Practical Sailor focuses on three apps available for the iPhone. iNavx, Memory-Map, and Navionics can each be downloaded for a reasonable price and used as backup to primary navigational aids such as a chartplotter or handheld GPS. Cellphone-based programs are not recommended as a standalone approach to navigation, but the iPhone apps are a great way to investigate, plan routes, and set and send waypoints at a very low cost for cartography.
We know the drill now. If we feature a Mac product, we have to appease the PC crowd, and vice versa. Otherwise, the earth spins off its axis and our inbox starts smoking. So while the iPhone crowd gets their fill with our review of navigation apps (page 24), heres a morsel for readers using Windows Mobile devices. After testing several navigation programs for Windows Mobile handhelds in December 2009, we had the opportunity to evaluate Memory-Maps Weather Radar for Windows Mobile cellphones.
Anyone who has tried to steady a camera aboard a boat knows how difficult it can be to keep the equipment dry, compose the shot, and level the horizon, all the while keeping yourself and your camera on board. Given hull vibrations, wave action, and the unevenness of the deck, setting up a stable work platform presents challenges that marine photographers try to solve using a variety of camera mounts. Practical Sailor recently tested three types of camera mounts: a beanbag camera mount from Omnipod, the Camo-Pro 7; two flexible devices from GorillaPod, the heavy-duty GorillaPod Focus and the GorillaPod SLR Zoom; and specialized, self-leveling camera mounts from Horizon True.
Practical Sailor recently spent a week experimenting with three handheld products geared toward performance sailors. These portable tools are for tracking and improving sailboat speed. Unlike conventional portable GPS units, which have relatively small displays and deliver a wide range of navigational data, these products display large digits that can be read from a distance, and the view options are limited to those that relate exclusively to speed and racing performance. Practical Sailor tested the Speedwatch and two GPS units, Velocitek SC-1 and SpeedPuck. These instruments make good training tools for young sailors and will give all around-the-buoy sailors the ability to quickly quantify performances.
The February 2010 issue of Practical Sailor has letters on the following topics: requests for more used boat reviews, foggy electronics, hard varnishes, propane fridges and Iphone apps.