New Handheld GPS Plotters


No sooner had we wrapped up our review of three GPS plotters in the May 1, 1998 issue than we got a preview of some of the latest technology in the field. Here’s a quick look at some alternatives in the land/marine navigation field.

Garmin GPS III
One of the hottest new products flying off the shelves of marine electronic dealers is the new Garmin GPS III. This handheld 12-channel GPS set is an incredible performer with an output jack to handle the NMEA data-stream to a companion marine charting program. You can also pipe in the Garmin GBR 21 differential beacon receiver data, and spot your position down to +/-10 feet. It can be powered from an external 12-volt source, and there is even a PC-kit with data cable so you can output the GPS III data-stream onto a lap-top for marine chart navigation.

So why is this unit such a breakthrough? It has roads. There are millions of miles of highways, interstates, rivers, and shorelines imbedded into the Garmin GPS III flash memory that automatically align with your present position as soon as the unit quickly locks onto the GPS satellites.

You can watch yourself travel down the interstate as you leave your home and head for the boat down at the docks in dry storage. When you enter the big city, the built-in mapping, which requires no chart cartridges, reveals all of the major roads to get you around town. And when you get down to the shoreline, the Garmin GPS III will usually show that interstate highway that runs up and down the beach.

But the Garmin GPS III does not do small roads or city streets. Just the big interstates and major thoroughfares. But this doesn’t mean you can’t create your own small roads by turning on your electronic trail system, and drive that little tiny road down to the yacht club or your anchorage or dry storage to get ready for your upcoming trip out on the water. We also found that many of the larger marinas and launch ramps were also imbedded in the electronic map that reads out on the 2-1/4″ wide by 1-1/2″ high screen. The little Garmin GPS III screen features a high-contrast electroluminescent back-lit FTN display, and you can switch it so the orientation is either horizontal or vertical.

But back to the maps-thats just what they are, land maps. Garmin does its own cartography in-house, and now imbeds all of the United States highways, lakes, and rivers in a land map base map. These maps are intended for those of you out on the highways.

But once you cast off, your best bet is to NOT depend on the Garmin GPS III for ocean or harbor navigation. Here is where we need marine charts, and the Garmin GPS III doesn’t have them imbedded into flash memory. Yes, you will see an island or two offshore, but what you wont see might really get your attention in the fog. Missing are details of harbors, missing breakwaters, missing aids to navigation, missing sandbars, missing everything once you leave the land mapping on shore.

Mariners should tie their Garmin GPS III into an electronic chart plotter that runs our G-map ocean cartography, Garmin told us at the Miami Boat Show in February. Good advice. The output of the GPS III works quite nicely on anyones charting, including G-map, C-map, and Navionics. It could also work on big yacht chart systems running on CD-ROM, too.

So don’t rely on the Garmin GPS III for ocean details. But do consider the Garmin GPS III as a great way of navigating down the super highways that are imbedded into flash memory. The Garmin does not accept any type of chart cartridges. Everything you see on the screen is built into flash memory.

The Garmin GPS III has been seen selling for under $369, and the land mapping of highways, expressways, freeways, lakes, rivers, railroads, and interstates is fascinating. The coast lines are marginal. Ocean cartography is non-existent. But for land use, the Garmin GPS III is wonderful.

Eagle Map Guide Pro
Lowrance has done it again when it comes to being first in portable mapping techniques. Its new Eagle Map Guide Pro contains an updated built-in flash memory base map of the entire world with enhanced detail of lakes, rivers, streams, and highways in North America, including northern Mexico, the southern Bahamas, Hawaii, and Canada. Okay, so the Lowrance/Eagle unit has the same kind of base map capabilities as the Garmin GPS III. But there is more for Lowrance.

The Map Guide Pros built-in base map is easily expanded and supplemented with Lowrances innovative inland mapping system on CD-ROM. The CD-ROM is included free with the unit, including the patch cable that goes between your computer and the Map Guide Pro. It will retail for under $450.

You load the CD-ROM into your computer, click on the initialize from map feature, and then select from over 100 inland mapping system databases to easily download up to 2 megabytes of additional map overlay detail of your choice into the base map presentation.

In Southern California, the base map gave us a much better presentation of Newport Harbor than what we achieved with the Garmin GPS III base map. We then selected our CD-ROM close-in view of Newport Beach, and downloaded this information from the supplied CD-ROM inland mapping system to our little portable Lowrance/Eagle Map Guide Pro.

Once we unplugged from the computer, Newport Harbor came to life with highways and many smaller streets leading to yacht clubs and anchorages, plus good detail of shoreside facilities for mariners like launch ramps, fuel docks, public moorage, and selected aids to navigation. When we electronically prowled around the harbor, we saw many familiar aids to navigation that we were accustomed to viewing on the more traditional C-Map cartridges or Navionics chart cartridges.

We didnt see all of the detail that C-Map or Navionics could give us on the ocean, but nonetheless, there was plenty of detail to keep us off the rocks-and yes, both with and without the CD-ROM information the breakwaters that Garmin missed were prominently displayed on the Lowrance/Eagle screen.

The inland CD-ROM mapping system from Lowrance includes all of Lowrance/Eagles inland mapping system smart maps, inland mapping system world maps, and their new nav aids databases. No separate cartridges plug into the new Eagle Map Guide Pro. Everything downloads from the supplied CD-ROM.

We were also impressed with the high-definition super-twist display that gave us exceptional screen contrast and visibility, and has 160 x 104 pixels for outstanding mapping graphics that you pull down from the CD-ROM, or have on the base map that comes up on turn-on without the need of any CD-ROM load.

After our sea trials, we were also able to store our harbor and roadway plot trails of up to 3,000 points per trail, 3 savable plot trails, and up to 99 different routes to record our sea trial and land trial routes.

We had heard that Lowrance was making some major changes within its corporate structure, and plans new ways to market its products to marine consumers (at present, it’s difficult to find Eagle/Lowrance products in the major discount catalogs. Lowrance is also heavy into aeronautical cartography, just like Garmin.

Bottom Line: This is one area where Lowrance is staying ahead of Garmin. While the GPS III can be made more useful by tying in with another electronic charting program, the Eagle Map Guide Pro, as a stand-alone, is much more versatile.

And finally…just when you thought portable GPS cartography was settling in with a set number of cartridge players, we now see aeronautical cartography giant Jeppesen Marine of Aurora, Oregon entering the marine market. What this competition should mean for users is better cartography, and a continuing lowering of prices on GPS charting equipment. (Garmin, 1200 E. 151st St., Olathe, KS 66062; 913/397-8200. Lowrance Electronics, 12000 E. Skelly Dr., Tulsa, OK 74128-2486; 800/324-1356.)

Economical Cruiser Blocks
Blocks have taken up a good bit of space in your Practical Sailor magazine-new designs, improved materials and even those that have failed or worn out (they appear in Gear Graveyard fairly often).

Most recently, we have reported on what we call hollow blocks, ratchet blocks, those that offer two-phase loading and, not long ago, the unusual Swiss-made Oxen block, which is both a block, a jam cleat and expensive.

Stimulated by all this action, Eric Braitmayer, of Imtra, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was moved to send along a sample of a line of blocks recently introduced by Barton, a veddy olde British company.

Barton sometimes seemed in recent years to cling to designs and materials that carried the day at Trafalgar. Not so the new Cruiser blocks.

These brutes come in three sizes, with safe working loads running from 1,984 lbs. to 3,086 lbs., and two versions with plain vanilla stainless spacer bearings or the more interesting ball bearing models. The Delrin bearings are held captive within the sheave. Assembled with bolts so the sheaves can be replaced easily, the blocks also have glass-impregnated nylon cheeks in a currently fashionable flat gray finish.

The Cruiser blocks have forged and cast stainless parts in the proper places-machined swivel posts, forged shackles and hefty internal straps linking the swivel to the bearing post.

For single swivel blocks with ball bearings, the 2-1/8″ sheave model (for up to 3/8″ line) lists for $48.85. The 2-3/8″ version (for up to 7/16″ line) goes for $53.20. The 2-7/8″ size (for up to 9/16″ line) is $62.20. Doubles, triples, fiddles and cam cleats are more, of course, and all versions without ball bearings are a bit less. (Imtra, 30 Barnet Blvd., New Bedford, MA 02745; 508/995-7000.)

Software Source
We get a fair number of requests for sources of computer software. While more chandleries, nautical bookstores and mail-order catalogs now carry a reasonable selection of games, digitized charts and other programs, Captn. Jacks Software Source specializes in such stuff and can speak knowledgably on various products. President Joe Kawaky says his firm tests every product they sell and is happy to pass along their knowledge to customers. A free 24-page catalog is available. (Captn. Jacks Software Source, PO Box 65119, Port Ludlow, WA 98365-0119; 360/437-9550.)

Transderm Scop Is Back
Last November we received word from Novartis Consumer Health, Inc., marketer of the Transderm Scop patch that has given many sailors relief from seasickness, that the product is once again available in the US. Shipments were voluntarily stopped in 1994 due to an unspecified production problem. Though its safety was apparently never in question, the problem could have resulted in lowered effectiveness. Having modified the production process, the product is again certified for use by the U.S. Government. The company is offering a $5 rebate, plus a travel health brochure. Call 1-800-452-0051 for a copy.

Transderm Scop is a dime-size patch worn behind the ear that delivers medication into the bloodstream at a fairly constant rate over a three-day period. Some users may experience dryness of the mouth, drowsiness and occasionally blurred vision. In our personal use of the product, we experienced only dry mouth, and did find it effective in combating nausea. It is available by prescription only.

Novartis AG was formed by the merger of Ciba-Geigy Ltd. and Sandoz Ltd. in 1996. Its world headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, while the main US office is in Summit, New Jersey.

Fat-Free, Powdered Soups
One of the best things about working at Practical Sailor is that almost everyday is like Christmas-you never know what goodies the UPS driver will deliver today. And yes, were a bit like kids opening the boxes to see what products manufacturers have sent today.

Last summer we received several samples of powdered soup from an outfit called Cook-in-the-Kitchen, Inc., a natural foods company in Vermont. The cover letter said they did not set out to make meals for boaters or campers, but that happy customers suggested they ought to market to sailors and backcountry folks.

Seven gourmet mixes are available. We taste tested the Mediterranean Lentil Soup and Welsh Potato Soup. The editor eating lentils was not too impressed, noting that To me, hearty means lots of solids. If one likes lentil soup, as I do, this one falls quite short of good old Campbells because it has not enough lentils. Lentil soup, like bean soup, should have a lot of that for which its named. By adding more water, some noodles and diced tomatoes, he did, however, doctor it to the point he could admit to liking it. Note, too, that he has a sensitive tummy that does not cotton to spices.

The editor dining on Welsh Potato thought it excellent, not minding the absence of solids. Consistency was sort of like a souffl. No additives were needed. Then again, he didnt try to make a complete dinner of it as did the other editor.

Because their shelf life is lengthy, they would be good to carry on a cruise. Packaging is very attractive and so long as you don’t let your guests see you dump the pouch of powder into the pot, youll keep foolin em.

The only problem is price. As our lentil taster said, For $4.95 vs. maybe 50, the choice for me would be no choice at all. Others, with cash to spend, might find the gourmet taste a bargain. Its worth five bucks to learn which camp you are in. (Cook-In-The-Kitchen, Inc., PO Box 3, Lake Fairlee Rd., Post Mills, VT 05058; 802/333-4141.)

Nick Nicholson
Nick Nicholson is a boatbuilder, racing sailor, and circumnavigator. He began his career at Practical Sailor as an Associate Editor in 1979, and has been Editor-at-Large since he left full-time work in the early 1990s to finish building a 40’ cutter in his backyard, and subsequently sail it more than 40,000 bluewater miles. The voyages of Calypso were chronicled in the Offshore Log section of Practical Sailor during that circumnavigation. He has also raced from the US east coast to Bermuda more than 20 times, winning numerous navigator’s trophies in the process. In recent years, he has primarily worked as a race official and technical rules advisor in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup. He also chairs the Technical Committee for the Newport Bermuda Race.