iSailor Navigation in Cyprus

Another great story from our client about sailing with iSailor.

Mid-February and leisure sailors are all thinking about the new sailing season and hoping for better weather. In Cyprus we have had our share of storms, but nothing like the UK and North America. This blog entry is not about what we've been doing over the winter, but a review of a cool piece of kit that you might want to get for the new season... iSailor.

I spent a lot of time looking for charting apps on my iPad, downloading and testing. Although I've never developed apps for iPad, I have developed software for other platforms and I'm specifically involved in the user interface design for software, so I'm very fussy and demand a good user interface. Some years ago I wrote the algorithm to convert the US military Digital Chart of the World (DCW) to something user friendly for a commercial GIS company so I'm also pretty fussy about my charting.

Secondly, I want it to be relatively cheap. By that I mean, I'm not looking for free, but as the Americans like to put it, good 'bang for the buck'. I tried out a number of apps and eventually settled on iSailor. You install it through the normal Apple App Store. The software is free, so you can try before you buy, but the charts have to be bought as 'in App purchases', in other words you can select what charts you want within iSailor when you want them. The price of each chart or folio is reasonable - about 17 GBP which is just over 20 EUR. Chart updates, which also happen online, are free.

I was specifically wanting this system as Tim and I were making a delivery of a Lagoon 56 catamaran from Mykonos, in the Aegean, to Cyprus last August. Although we had a full and integrated dual screen/station Raymarine chartplotter, I wanted to use the iPad for navigation to see how it fared. This, then, is the story of how we used it! I should add that these screen-shots are from the previous version of iSailor. Since then they have upgraded it, and it's an even better product. For this trip we needed two chart folios - Mediterranean Sea, Eastern Part and Aegean Sea - Dardanelles - Bosphorus.

Flying over to Mykonos on the plane, I turned the iPad to aeroplane mode and Tim and I could sit there at 30,000 feet looking at various route options for the trip.

I had set the 'Average boat speed' for the Lagoon in the settings, so iSailor was telling us the various predicted times for the different routes. At that stage our thinking was to get to Rhodes as fast as we could, then on to Kastelorizo and finally to Larnaca.

When we got to the boat we then chatted with the skipper as to what his thoughts were. He'd been at Mykonos for most of the summer, so he wanted to move... now! So where to? We plotted a day sailing south, and then overnight somewhere protected from the northerly wind: Koufonisi Island.

I left iSailor recording all the tracks for the sail. Mostly it sat on a shelf in the saloon, and picked up GPS from there with no problems. It was always covered by the roof of the Lagoon, which is fairly substantial as it is also the floor to the flybridge above. There are windows just in front of the shelf and I didn't try a lot of different locations... except I did always take it to my cabin overnight, covered by the main deck of the Lagoon, and it worked there too.

You can set an anchor alarm, so it's comforting know you're not dragging overnight, especially in a crowded anchorage.

As I said, I left iSailor making a track for each leg. It's useful to be able to add annotations to the charts too... well, maybe annotating the location of Tim's 'once in a lifetime' tuna catch is a bit much, but you get the idea!

You can see from the track where we had to keep changing course to 'play the fish' till it tired and was brought on board.

Sitting there at the dining table on the stern deck, with the sun setting over the Aegean, it was easy to see the track where we'd been and plan the options for the route for the following day. Primary objective was to find sheltered mooring from the northerly winds down the Aegean sea.

The second leg to Astypalaia was uneventful and so planning for the leg to Rhodes gave us two options: To Simi and then to Rhodes or straight through to Rhodes. iSailor made it easy see the options, although you can only display one route at a time. It would be cool to be able to see multiple alternative routes in different colours to make comparisons.

From Rhodes we decided to do a single leg all the way back to Larnaca. The detail shown on the charts is appropriate to the scale, so on that leg it was more like a regular route planning chart.

The predicted sailing time for this leg is 2 days and two nights, so we divided the crew into watches.

Tim and I are both RYA Skippers and so although there was a professional skipper on board I really like to know where we are and what is happening even when off watch in the cabin. I really liked the ability to wake in the night and look at where we are and the speed we're doing. We didn't have the WiFi link to the Raymarine, so I couldn't see AIS targets or other navionic information. Olivier, the professional skipper, was quite envious and said he really missed knowing what was going on in his cabin overnight!

I ended up with night watch while we passed Paphos. iSailor has both day and night settings like most chartplotters, so as not to ruin your night sight. I used the radar and AIS on the Raymarine more than iSailor as there is quite a lot of shipping around the Cyprus, and some of it behaves very strangely.

These are vector charts, so clicking on a detail (like a buoy with a light on the military firing zone south of Akrotiri) will bring up detail about the flash rate of the light. Though, there was nothing annotated about the fact it's a firing/exclusion zone. I knew that already, I'd had a run in with the military some years ago sailing through it!

I suppose as well as annotating our own charts it might be useful to have 'information to share with other sailors' that could be sent back to the chart supplier next time the iPad is connected to the Internet. My iPhone SatNav App for the car does that - you can tell the map supplier of inaccuracies in the mapping while you're driving, or at least your passenger can!

Coming in to Larnaca you can see the detail and accuracy of the chart plotting. We moored in the visitors area - you can even see where we turned and backed in to the mooring.

I don't normally set a waypoint that close to a marina/port but between half and one mile off shore. A yachtsman crashed his boat into the marina at Limassol by setting his waypoint at the marina and then falling asleep at the wrong moment! iSailor wasn't driving the autopilot so it didn't matter.

All in all iSailor passed the voyage with flying colours. It's not my primary charting system, which is Raymarine integrated into the autopilot on both our yacht and the Lagoon, but it's both an excellent backup and a supplementary tool I would now not be without. The professional skipper was using charting software on his laptop. iSailor was both simpler to use and more powerful.

This is our dinghy sailing ground - just north of the commercial port of Larnaca. It's also where we sometimes take the yacht for a quick coffee, protected by the port breakwater. I'd be very surprised if all the buoys are correctly positioned, but since amongst the buoys there are black floating pipes in the water at times, anything is likely to be an approximation.

I should add that although the exclusion zone was missing on the chart, iSailor has a clear liability warning 'All displayed charts must be used in conjunction with a recognized nautical paper chart of a scale appropriate to the area being navigated'. We keep paper charts on our yacht. We bring them out to keep ourselves up to date with paper navigation, but we generally now do electronic navigation and I didn't see one paper chart on the whole voyage from Mykonos to Larnaca.

iSailor happily exports data in formats usable by other programs - so on the blog entries for the voyage I loaded the track data into Google maps for displaying on the blog allowing visitors to zoom into the track and see exactly where we went.

On this version using the ERBL (Electronic Range and Bearing Line) was difficult and a bit clunky, so I never used it. The new interface is great and the ERBL very much easier to use.

Richard Fairhead

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