Thursday, 1 December 2011

More 40th Birthday Decorations

Little Red Corsa

A UAE Fan in Sharjah

My Fav so far - an old mini with a frilly top!
Beach Road, Dubai

Check out the hat!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Forty Years Old And Loving It

It's strange to be living in a country which is younger than you. Later this week the UAE celebrates its fourtieth birthday, in fact to be accurate it has been celebrating for the past few weeks but the climax is on Dec 2nd National Day. Everywhere and everyone seems to be in on the act. In one supermarket flags, bunting and patriotic stetsons (yes really, large felt ones in green white and black stripes with a bit of red tinsel round the brim) and coloured lights were piled high.

In a mall car park we spotted a black Honda sports car whose bonnet sported diagonal stripes of electrical tape in green and white, trimmed with red to represent the national flag. I expect that will take some removing afterwards. Houses, car showrooms and government offices alike sport blocks of coloured illuminations and the number forty appears in lights everywhere as does the UAE flag. We even saw a museum lawn in Al Ain being spray painted with a flag ahead of the big day

The imagination of marketing teams across Dubai knows no bounds; at the Egyptian themed shopping & restaurant complex WAFI they are offering free henna and Arabic coffee in a majlis tent as well as stilt walkers. Google are planning a special doodle drawn by Emirati schoolchildren. Even Costa Coffee locally has joined in as you can see from the photo I took yesterday (Costa are in fact a UK brand but their first non-UK shop was opened in Dubai some 12 years ago).

However the best tribute yet has to be the following one as featured in yesterdays Gulf News:

I'll post some more pictures of the weird and wacky ways this nation is celebrating as I find them! Perhap we Brits could learn a lesson or two in patriotism! Meanwhile for those of you who love trivia the Gulf News has been busy digging up the nations past.  In their picture gallery you'll also find some great photo's showing how oil wealth has transformed the Emiratis from tent dwellers to lovers of anything with a superlative or a sense of adventure (cf the bungee jumping shopper complete with carrier bags), there is even a shot of real snow in the UAE that fell on the mountains not on the MoE ski slope!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Delightful Weather

Acres of New Sailcloth
"Sailing in the UK? In November?" most people who asked our plans for the recent Eid holiday thought we were mad and there were moments before we left Dubai when we wondered if it was the right thing to do. We had originally planned to drive to Salalah in Oman during Kevin's week off but Temptress' new sails were ready and needed a final fitting before we settled the sailmakers invoice.

As it turns out the forecast was for easterlies going round to the south. It rained on and off during friday but the banks of grey clouds meant that the above average temperatures didn't fall far at night. After a day manhandling acres of sail cloth our crew arrived and on Saturday morning Glyn & Sheila had their first taste of the Solent. We headed for the boatlift in Gosport for a quick scrub to remove several months of growth, actually much less than we had expected, just a generous coating of green slime). Then on to Cowes and a convenient supermarket for the week's provisions. From there it was down the Needles Channel with the tide for Poole and Weymouth.

The secret of keeping warm is layers and none of us got too cold, the eberspacher heater was usually fired up an hour or so before we tied up and then turned down to low all evening. There were delightful walks along fringes of Poole Harbour and the Isle of Wight footpaths south of Yarmouth, the latter with blues skies and winter sun whilst the former offered a spectacular sunset over the Purbeck Hills. Oilies, fleeces, thermal vests, fluffy salopets, socks and boots ensured each crew member was snug on deck, t-shirts and jeans all that was required below in the evening, Glyn was even spotted wearing shorts!

View from Poole Town Quay
In Poole Temptress demonstrated that if it can go wrong it will go wrong even in the most benign conditions. We tried to achor off Brownsea but our hefty CQR wouldn't hold in the hard sand so we picked up a nearby mooring whilst we ate lunch. Close by was a small pink buoy, marking a fish pot maybe? The tide turned and the wind dropped off a bit, suddenly the buoy became a mortal enemy, yards of rope catching on our rudder. Kevin and Glyn pulled up several lengths of rope tied together at intervals and attached to not one but three fishermans anchors! It took a while to disentangle the rudder. The Brownsea Island ferryman promised to pick up what proved to be someone's mooring tackle which had been washed down from further up the harbour, if we chucked over when we left. It may still be there for all we know!

Boatlift, Gosport

Happy To Be Out Sailing
We were pragmatic in our passage making a day or so later. The wind failed to free off as forecast on the beat back from Weymouth, then south of St Albans Head an unfavourable west going tide resulted in us tacking and covering much the same ground as we had just sailed  The confused sea had by then despatched one of the crew to sleep in the saloon with a bucket and a blanket. So we furled up the genoa and motorsailed through the drizzle to the Needles. Reaching Yarmouth was a relief and the four of us were soon seated comfortably in the Bugle for pre-supper drinks.

From there we offered our crew a choice of destination. The tide would be favourable mid afternoon so a night sail to Newton Creek with its tricky entrance or the Hamble and a chance to experience busy shipping lanes at the entrance to Southampton Waters? They selected the latter and eagerly planned the navigation. All went well, we saw lots of ships and ferries including a liner leaving on the evening tide from Southampton, they marvelled at the numbers of boats moored in the river as Glyn at the helm picked his way through the reds and greens. Then at the top of the Hamble there was a moment of minor panic. The Skipper took the helm, his local knowledge preventing Temptress from becoming a large garden ornament on someone's front lawn as he made the sharp left hand turn. In the mornng we realised that a vital mark indicating the dogleg just prior to Swanwick was unlit.
Southsea Marina on a Grey Day

On our last day we anchored off Stokes Bay for lunch, tried and failed to get up Southsea's narrow channel an hour after low water, picked up a harbour mooring and waited. The next morning was a flurry of removing sails, cleaning Temptress inside and out and emptying water tanks. We felt extremely privileged to have had a relatively warm week's sailing in great conditions so late in the year.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ups and Downs of ExPat Life

I read today a list of pluses and minuses of life in Dubai,which got me thinking. I've made a precis of the original and added my own comments on these:

On The Down Side
  • This is NOT a tax free country.
    My take: The UAE has found all sorts of methods of taxing expats - Salik, hotel services, ID cards, even the compulsory exchange of a UK driving licence for a local one attract charges.
  • Expats are treated as second class citizens, something to be tolerated in order to get the country built. My Take: That is to be expected if you are living in another's country without becoming a citizen.
  • Banking is difficult
    My take: I'd say different to the UK but not difficult once you take time to understand the process
  • Despite local claims, it does not treat male and female equally.
    My take: men and women are different and in Arab culture have very different roles, we are in their country and part of the novelty of expat life is getting to know the culture and people you are living amongst
  • Aside from the desert, there is little beauty.
    My take: Look up - nature does not hold a monopoly on beauty, many of the buildings around you in Dubai would be landmark towers in another city, simply because there are so many so close together does not mean that many are not attractive. And then there are the parks, the sailing dhows, even the wonky concrete artwork that's dotted around The Greens 
  • Forget "great" food establishments
    My take: Yes Dubai is full of clones of famous restaurants & chains from all over the world but if you are serious about your food and take the time to look you can find wonderful food from all corners of the planet. 
  • Blocking of basic internet services such as Skype
    My take: Agree that you can't download some software and that some websites are blocked but a little ingenuity such as downloading when visiting your home country and the restictions are gone.
 The Pluses
(I've left this part almost unedited except to anglicise it as they speak for themselves)
* It is very safe. Because the locals are very well off and the expats are here to work, crime is very low.
* If you love the heat, you will love the weather.
* Cheap petrol.
* Great selection of produce.
* Almost every food service can be ordered and delivered to your front door (me: and almost anything else like bottled water, dry cleaning etc).
* Road systems are outstanding (me: Agree but it comes with a health warning - with over 500 traffic cameras in the Dubai Emirate alone it can be costly driving on the open road! And driving standards are often appalling).
* Easy accesss to the sea.

So to any who are contemplating expat life or are feeling jading with it - be open minded and remember that you are only here/there temporarily. The "UAE Glitz" as the author of the original coined it is something exploit, reach out and embrace. Dubai provides the opportunity to experience many different things that you will never find in one place again including some wonderful fellow expats from all over the world.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sand Rescues

Being out in the desert is much like being on a boat at sea, preparation and self-sufficiency is key to survival. In both cases you need to take with you everything you require - plenty of water, food, safety gear, plan the route in advance and wear the right clothing. It might sound a bit dramatic for a drive of less than 20 km but this week we had another reminder of how safety and recovery gear are as important as life jackets and dan buoys.

Desert drives are not done alone, it's good practise to have at least one other vehicle with you if you are heading into the dunes. When (and not if) one gets stuck or breaks down then the other can recover you. During a recent trip not one but two cars popped tyres off during the course of the morning but thanks to plenty of experience a team effort ensured these were soon fixed without even resorting to changing the wheel in either case. With the car jacked up to raise the offending wheel off the ground (some digging was also required) the tyre was rinsed in water to remove as much sand from the inside as possible, then reinflated until it was firmly in place on the rim before deflating back to the lower pressure used in the sand.

For this weeks dawn drive we were just two cars. Someway into the huge dunes close to Madam, Martin in his Landcruiser, found himself digging the rear wheels deeper into the sand on the steep slope of a bowl with his front wheels almost over the top. As JJ came back over the top to provide an assisting pull from inside the bowl the sand fell away under her grounding JJ on the crest, front wheels high off the ground. Martin extricated himself by sheer persistance and good throttle control but his next attempt to get up and out of the bowl crested the Toyota on the top too.

Martin managed to get out of this one
Both cars stuck now what? Would Kevin & Martin get to work in time, worse would we actually extricate ourselves before our water supplies ran out? We were too far from the road or habitation to walk easily anywhere, my brain was in overdrive as I took pictures of both 4x4s perched at the top of a huge bowl.

High and dry!
Sand ladders make good shovels.
(Spot Martin's Landcruiser well and truely stuck beyond Kevin)
After a quick assessment out came JJs bright orange sand ladders and, using them as shovels, Kevin & Martin started digging away behind the rear tyres. I joined in with my arms sweeping away the sand from the nearside wheel. Sand ladders are simply moulded plastic boards with lots of studs on them like a crocodile's back. Once enough sand had been cleared a ladder could be jammed under each wheel with the retrieval straps (bright pink so we can find them again) spread out away from the vehicle. Kevin got back into the driving seat, put the gears into reverse and within seconds JJ had clambered over the solid ladders back onto drivable sand. I heaved the now buried ladders out of the sand by their straps and stuck them upright nearby so we didn't forget them.
Sand ladder under the wheel ready to go

Battered sand ladders

Joining the tow straps
Attention now turned to Martin's vehicle. Kevin reversed JJ in front of the stranded 4x4 positioning her about half way up the slope. A couple of towing straps were joined using a soft shackle made of kevlar rope. The shackle is extremely strong but at the same time soft enough not to damage the loops in the towing straps. Then it was simply a matter of JJ heaving the Toyota Landcruiser sufficiently further forward for gravity to take effect. The front wheels fell forward, the back lifted out of the sand and the 4x4 slithered down the sand face effortlessly.

Another cresting later that morning
Phew! The relief all round was enormous, we were not going to be stuck here through the heat of the day dying for want of water. The rest of the drive was less eventful and all too soon it close to 7am, time to reinflate and speed back to Dubai.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dawn Drives

During the heat of the summer driving at dawn seemed a sensible way to get a fix of desert driving at the weekends without suffering dehydration and or heat exhaustion. Then we realised a drive could be fitted in before work if you are prepared to pack the car the night before and leave the apartment around 04:30. A bit like having to catch the tide out of Southsea if you want a Bank Holiday weekend in France, a little sacrifice has big rewards.

Dawn in the desert is magical. The light on the sand is amazing, the colours all sorts of hues from the violets and blues of the sky to the orangey red of the sand in the new day's sun. The low angle shows up the wind swept tops in sharp relief and even the pylons rising out of the misty distance appear beautified. Here are a few pictures from this weeks drive in which I have attempted to capture some of the magic (click on the pictures for a larger view):

05:45 - Just getting light as we deflate
Between Madam and Schweib the dunes are high

The light seems to hang over the dunes

A sea of sand
Virtually no grass or shrubs - rare in the sands here

A big bowl scoured clean to bare rock
The sand is red in the morning light

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Sea Fever

Grandpa & Lilli
It has been a while since my last post as we've been busy travelling again. Kevin has been crossing the time zones again zig-zagging across the African continent from Egypt to Nigeria (via Dubai) then to Jo'burg for a week's holiday, on to Cape Town and back to Jo'burg. On returning to Dubai he almost immediately departed for a week in Ghana arriving back this morning at 7am.

Bathtime at home
 Meanwhile I was able to spend almost three weeks with the JvN's, lazing by the pool, playing with granddaughter Lilli and generally enjoying the cooler Spring weather on offer. During the Eid holiday we all decamped to a static caravan by the river in Sabie, a lovely quiet spot with monkeys in the rain forest covering the hilltops across the river (actually they qualify as mountain tops as we were so high up!).

Holiday home from home at Merry Pebbles, Sabie
The "Merry Pebbles" of the Sabie River
Back in Dubai we are once more getting into the swing of things as the temperatures begin to fall to levels more hospitable to outdoor activities with sailing, camping and BBQs events already in the diary. Returning home reminded us that much as we love Jo'burg and its fairly equable climate, it is just too far from the sea. I don't need to be in or on the sea every day, just a glimpse of it sparkling in the distance will satisfy but better to be at sea with the stars etched across night sky overhead. Swimming pools, babbling rivers and massive thunderstorms over 300 miles inland just aren't an adequate replacement for what John Masefield aptly called "Sea Fever":

I MUST go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Ups and Downs Of An Air Mile Millionaire

Kevin is away travelling this week for the first time in several weeks and as often seems to happen circumstances have conspired to make a punishing schedule. He is not complaining, it's his job and he loves it.

This time though the reality of living and working outside of Europe is seeping into our lives a bit more than usual. He left yesterday for a long planned trip to Egypt, a country experiencing more unrest but nothing to really worry either of us. He'll be back late on Tuesday night, in fact it'll probably be Wednesday by the time he walks in the door. Then due to visa difficulties a week or so ago he sets off early Wednesday morning to a delayed set of meetings in parts of Nigeria where he is required to have an armed escort. Recent reports of kidnapping and shooting in more northern areas are worrying but he is confident about the arrangements made for his safety. The itinery is airports, hotels and government offices in a couple of major cities along the coast so hopefully pretty low risk .

[Meanwhile the Gulf Widow is amusing herself with more mundane things like housework, making some Christmas presents (yes really!) and a coffee and craft morning on Tuesday. Having said that I don't miss the travelling I used to do when working. I too enjoyed it but brief sojourns in airports, offices and hotels can't be said to introduce anyone to the culture and people of a nation.]

After his rather unscheduled trip to Nigeria, Kevin will return to Dubai for another brief overnight stay before flying to South Africa for our Eid vacation week followed by a week and a half of work there. He will have clocked up a good few thousands of air miles by the time he lands in Jo'Burg on Sunday lunchtime. The good news is that I get to spend almost three weeks with our granddaughter Lilli (and her parents) as I am flying out to Jo'burg as originally planned on Friday at four o'clock in the morning. I might even return to Dubai on the same plane as my husband unless of course his travel plans change again over the course of the next three weeks!   

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Navigation Aids Part II

On Clarionet there is a switch marked Decca which nowadays ensures the bilge pump runs in reverse (a story for another day!). Long before I ever stepped foot in a yacht, Decca was as hightech a navigation aid as they come. Prior to that most leisure sailors including offshore racers, relied heavily on their navigator's calculations of course to steer and if the mark or destination was upwind, on the strategic decisions of when to tack. Always aim to be both upwind and uptide of your destination!

On approaching the French coast the crew would lookout for recognisable signs that they were where they thought they should be. Even as recently as a dozen years ago despite the advent of GPS I can recall peering through the fog at the wall off Cherbourg wondering whether we were at the easternmost section or the central part. The skipper decided not to risk it and rather than turn to port in search of the eastern entrance turned to starboard. There followed a long uncomfortable motor into wind and tide until we eventually located what turned out to be the western entrance but better that than pile into the rocks to the east of the other entrance.

All of my sailing has been done with a GPS to hand ensuring with a few exceptions like the infamous incident when Temptress alarmingly appeared to be flying above Dartmoor for an hour or so, we know exactly what our longitude and latitude are. Since we bought Temptress, a chart plotter through electronic wizardry displays the boat and its track through the water on an electronic version of Her Majesty's Admiralty's charts.

Temptress' original green and black chart plotter gave up the ghost ages ago. So for the last few years we've pressed into service the boat laptop as a subsitute, using a variety of navigation software to plan routes and record our progress. Our faithful Toshiba almost reached its eleventh birthday despite a life spent entirely in a salt-filled, damp environment, a testament to Japanese manufacturing both in terms of longevity and in terms of ability to survive such an environment. This summer it was time to source replacement technology. The laptop part was fairly straightforward - low energy consumption dictated by long periods on 12 volt batteries means no unecessary peripherals so a netbook is ideal and easily fits the space above the chart table. Kevin sourced a little Inspiron Duo at cost from his colleagues at Dell whilst I as Chief Navigator and software "guru" was tasked with finding our next navigation program, a task I approached with relish as its ages since I've had to review any software market and even better not to be doing it in a professional capacity! So what was I looking for:

What chart formats are supported and how much of the world do they cover?
There are almost as many chart formats as there are navigation software publishers. There are pros and cons of each which I won't bore you with here. My main concern is coverage for our potential sailing area with plans for a future including sailing around Scotland then onwards towards The Falklands and South Africa before turning east (or even west) towards New Zealand. And the cost of future purchases must be sustainable on a limited income. In some countries like the USA charts are virtually free, in others the authority concerned keeps their production, sale and updates on a commercial footing (HM's Hydrographer being the chief example). A program that suppports as wide a range of formats as possible is to therefore be preferred to ensure best coverage at least cost.

Does it contain a tidal database and what source is this?
This point is related to the next so I'll just mention that using a US tidal database to calculate predicted tidal heights and times for UK ports can lead to some differences due to diffiering input data and algorithms used. In turn this can catch out the unwary sailor expecting it to be highwater with 3m above chart datum on their arrival at a port. Knowing the underlying source and its potential accuracy of predictions for a region can help avoid running aground or worse.
Will it perform Course To Steer (CTS) calculations?
GPS navigation is point to point ie the GPS determines the angle and distance in a straight line from your starting position to your next waypoint. This though fails to take into account the impact of six hours of east going springtide off Cherbourg which may help or seriously hinder your voyage across the Channel. If you can work out when to leave and what course to steer to ensure that the tide helps the boat along rather than fight it then the voyage will be faster and you'll potentially cover less ground. It's all a matter of vectors for those of you mathematically inclined but rather than use the Admiralty Tidal Atlas plus simple sums thrown in with a bit of trigonometry, it's faster to use a computer to calculate all the possibilities and provide you with the best time to leave and the CTS. This all assumes too that the wind is in your favour (see below).

Does it display info from the cockpit instruments?
Nothing is more irritating than to have to heave yourself out of the navigators seat to check the trip or the wind in order to record it in the log especially if as cook/navigator you have yet to put your oilies on! On Clarionet too, the helmsman usually will complain that you are either in the way or the red light coming up the companionway is destroying their night vision. So having everything at hand at the chart table makes it much faster to record the necessary in the log. BTW on boats over 14m in length SOLA requires that a log be kept except when in waters like the Solent so on Temptress this means we have to record even short hops to Brighton.

Can it overlay weather data? 
Wind forecasts form an essential part of the navigators toolkit ensuring that the boat stays safe as well as sails efficiently. To see the wind overlaid on the chart and see what you can expect some many miles down the track is useful especially in conjunction with tidal data when deciding when to tack or whether to seek shelter in a closer port.
Ditto AIS
AIS stands for Automatic Identification System which in this case means ships not aircraft (it's not a hugely intuitive term). Info from transmitting boats, ie all commercial shipping and some leisure boats, includes useful items such as course and speed as well as interesting stuff like last port, next port and cargo. The real interest to the average sailor in the middle of an ocean is will it hit me? By overlaying the AIS data on the chart with our track, the closest point of approach can be calculated by the software and not some addled navigator. Useful especially when the vessel is somewhere over the horizon or lost in fog and making 25 or more knots (nautical miles per hour) in your general direction. The horizon is usually about 20 nautical miles from the deck so a boat doing this sort of speed can be on you in less than an hour giving little room for manouevering by a yacht doing 6 knots or less.

Similar to AIS, this is data from the radar which enables collision avoidance, if the radar can be configured correctly, a problem we have yet to resolve on Temptress.

Can it calculate Great Circle routes?
When sailing across oceans the Mercator projection commonly used in local maps or charts becomes inaccurate because the sphere has been flattened to make the the map creators job easier. The great distances involved mean in turn that a straight line between two points on the chart is no longer the shortest distance, a circular route roughly following the Earth's curvature is. Software that can automatically create this arc between two points on the Earths surface is useful though not essential as long as the navigator is aware of the issue.

All this at what price?
The average cruising sailor, and we will be no exception, has a very small budget. Savings are for retirement and our potential future income small just covering day to day expenses with a little bit to spare so we wouldn't want to have to pay large sums to buy charts for new areas nor for chart, tidal or software updates. Some charting packages are aimed at the professional user, some at the local (mainly USA or UK ) sailor. I was looking for a program that is somewhere in the middle - affordable intially but easy on the purse later (even if we have to forego updates) whilst providing the features and chart coverage we might require. As with many things on a boat there are bound to be some compromises.
After looking at a round dozen of software products, some were discounted quickly on coverage being either too USA or too UK oriented, and some on price leaving a handful of contenders: Software on Board (SOB) from Digiboat, SeaPro from Euronav, and Maxsea. The first was discounted as it did not calculate a CTS and help is provided in .PDF format, not the easiest thing to have to look through when at sea in a tight spot plus the interface was hard to use. The latter Maxsea for not having CTS or Great Circle unless you purchase an expensive add on, and a user interface that is anything but intutitive especially at sea (I've used this one on other boats). That just left the reviewer with EuroNav's Seapro, already tried and tested on board Temptress in rough and smooth conditions. I did objectively try to find another tool as I love new gadgets but this time it seems I failed! Sea Pro, even allowing for our familiarity with its slightly non-Windows standard mouse handling, installs and finds your instruments without too much configuring of com ports, it has a fairly affordable chart coverage of most of the world at the level of detail we'd require, has almost all the features we were looking for and the UI is easy to use at sea. All in all a close race but won on some key features and the price was right.

It does leave us with plotting great circle routes by hand but I'm sure it'll be a useful skill to acquire. An honourable mention should also go to Navsim's SailCruiser which had one of the best user interfaces I've come across in PC software (intuitive and easy to reach the things you need at sea) plus a unique tool for calculating time to go based on wind angle and tacks required. It was a just little too USA oriented for my liking.

Below is a summary of the findings (sourced from software publishers own websites, demo copies and reviews). It is as accurate as I could get at the time of publishing this survey but I bear no responsibility for an inaccuracies that might have crept in. In fact if any publisher of navigation software would like to provide their product a fuller trial I'd be happy to hear from them:

Product  Price  Chart Types Tidal Data CTS GPS Inst AIS ARPA GRIB Gt Circ
OpenCPN  £ FOC   1,2,7 N N Y Y Y N N N
Nuno  £120.00 NA N N Y N N N N N
Neptune Planner +  £195.00 NA Y Y Y N Y N Y N
Maptech  £256.00 4,2 Y N Y Y Y Y Y N
SOBv9 (Digiboat)  £302.00 1 Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y
SeaPro  £360.00 2,6,7 Y (£39.95) Y Y Y Y Y Y N*
Maxsea  £420.00 5 Y Y* Y Y Y ? Y Y*
Seatrack UK  £480.00 1,4,9 Y Y Y N Y N Y* N
Raymarine RNS 6.2  £512.00 1,2,9 Y Y* Y Y Y Y Y N
Nobletec Admiral  £850.00 1,10 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y*
Rosepoint  $399  2,3,4,6 Y N Y Y Y Y Y N
NavSim Sailcruiser  $549  1,2,3,4,7,8 Y N Y Y Y Y Y N

Happy to supply my spreadsheet summary to anyone who'd like it. It includes some extra notes on each product, indicated mostly by the asterisks above but left out here to avoid an even longer blog! I would also mention as a retired software product manager that many of the above listed websites leave a lot to be desired in terms of design and navigation, some will try the patience of any who venture there, you have been warned!

Chart Types Key:

1  Cmap  NT+, MAX or MAX Pro (CM93)
2  BSB  (Raster)

3  Softchart 

4  Maptech 

5  Mapmedia 


7  S57 vector 

8  Geotiff 

9  Navionics 

10  NV Charts  Mostly Caribbean

Monday, 15 August 2011

Sorting Out Navigation Part I

Whether in a boat on the sea or in a 4WD in the desert you have to work out your own route to follow. In both cases there are plenty of aids to guide your choice (maps/charts, land/coast-scape, tidal information, prevailing winds etc) but once you are out there you have to make your own decisions and it's useful to have electronic aids to provide your postion in relation to where you are heading. Recently the laptop used for navigation and tracking purposes on Temptress died and as we'd also got a bit fed up having to scroll around the tiny screen on our hand held GPS to review what was coming up, a big navigation aids overhaul has been taking place in the Harris household through the summer.

Firstly what was important about the aids we'd been using and what did we really want to improve on? In the desert our requirements were easy to identify with the first being our main reason for upgrading:
  • A bigger screen, whilst remaining handholdable (if my camera is anything to go by sand and laptops won't mix).
  • A compass screen clearly showing direction and distance to the next waypoint.
  • Support for Geocaching.
  • Interchangable route finding between offroad/marine mode (ie straightline navigation between two points) and on the road navigation with turn by turn directions, sharing waypoints between modes.
 As we've already invested in both BlueCharts and Garmin streetmaps for the Middle East region, the choice of manufacturer was inevitable. It was just down to which model. Garmin promote their GPSMap 620 with the strapline "navigate by land and sea". With both a marine and a road use mode and a huge 11.4 x 6.9cm  screen menaing the device just about fits in the hand, it appeared to meet our requirements based on the specifications and reviews I read. Unfortunately the moment the SD card is swapped, it became perfectly clear that this gadget had a big pitfall. In reality it is two GPS's in a single body. To use seacharts it needs to be in marine mode which doesn't recognise the street maps and vice versa. Any waypoints entered are unique to the mode in use confirming the split personna. The lovely people at Marine Superstore were happy to give me a full refund and I headed back to my laptop for some more research.

Garmin Montana 600 (credit: Garmin)
Since I'd done my original search back in early June Garmin had released in the UK the chunky, industrial looking Montana 600. The screen is slightly smaller than the GPSMap620 at around 9x5cm but that is still almost three times the area of our trusty GPS78s. Basically the buttons have been replaced by a big touch screen so you can choose to have menus or map on display and as the display can be in potrait or landscape it should be easy to see as far ahead as you need.  Cotswold Outdoor at Hedge End had an offer including a complete set of UK Ordnance Survey maps. At last, only a month late, I had a birthday present from Kevin! The Montana's billed as a go anywhere product - street, water or offroad and Kevin happily played about swapping our various SD cards when I returned to Dubai with it but the acid test would always be actually using it .

I took the Montana driving without a auto-cradle as there were none in stock  (so no lovely-Emma voices to guide me) and it got me safely to my brother's home in rural Gloucester from Southsea and back via non-motorways, the Montana's beeps alerting me to an upcoimg turn. Back in Dubai we've been for an on-road drive around and about. Within the accuracy of the maps we failed to get lost even on the rapidly being reclaimed by the sand remains of the uncompleted Tiger Woods golf development (roads here tend to appear or disappear faster than the map-makers can keep up). Changing mode even within a route seems fairly easy and there are lots of gizmo features still to investigate like the barometric plotting.

On Saturday we took our new best friend shopping to buy it a suitable carry case. An military-styled kharki camera case from National Geographical fitted the bill with the added bonus that the beltloop is sturdy enough to fit round the passenger hand hold on Jeanie Jeep's dashboard...who needs an auto-cradle? One small niggle still to iron out - on plugging in the USB 12v charger also purchased on saturday (the power input is different to our other Garmins) the Montana insists on saving all the waypoints and tracks then going into "PC connect mode". Guess I need to read the manual downloaded (there is only a quickstart guide in the box).  

A couple of trials left now - a  drive in the desert and a sail off the coast of Dubai both of which need offroad or marine mode. Plus I need to download to it all our Geocache and desert driving waypoints from my laptop.

In Part II I'll share the results of my review of chartplotting software and how we made the decision not to rock the boat!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Summer Cruising

Dawn breaks over Brighton
Before leaving Dubai we promised each other that once the Classic Channel Regatta was over, our summer holiday sailing would not include long overnight passages and would include plenty of anchoring and generally messing about in boats, in short a lovely relaxing time together. So how come Monday morning found me sitting in Brighton marina having just undertaken a nineteen hour passage mostly under spinnaker from St Peter Port, Guernsey leaving with the tide at 10:30am the previous day? Fresh as a daisy - definitely not!

Has Temptress spent a night at anchor since leaving her berth last Sunday? Not a chance, wind and weather have generally conspired against us. Two squally nights in St Helier were preceded by a damp trip north west from Paimpol trying to avoid the wet and windy weather forecast for Brittany. We had headed south from Swanage originally to "get below the low" that was almost stationary over Ireland and the UK. But whilst in France we did have a great day out on the "Train Vapeur" up the Trieux River to Pontrieux.

Train Vapeur
Sitting in a fifties carriage pulled by a coal burning, steam and smut belching little engine from the nineteen thirties the views across the river valley were beautifully green and sunny. Included in our ticket was a halt at an infamous house for crepes and "cidre" (an alltogether different drink to English cider) together with some Breton music.   The house, now a visitor centre, was the potential motive for a crime with no body and no witnesses only circumstantial evidence. The victim vanished without trace on a business trip and his friend Seznec was sentenced to a life of hard labour because it is claimed he stood to gain the house and land from the deed. The family fight on for his pardon even though he has been dead for many years.

Seznec's Motive?
Then it was onto Pontrieux where we took a horse drawn carriage from station to town. A slightly scruffy hotel with no sense of colour (the dining room had leaf green window frames with bright ochre and dark red walls and was furnished with thouse awful '80s blond wood chairs upholstered in pale pinks and greens) offered a cheap, four course lunch with more of the local cider.
Somehow we dodged the worst of the showers and even managed a walk along the moorings down by the station. We both felt slightly sad that Temptress will never reach this lovely spot as her air draft is too high for the 17m suspension bridge just above Lezardrieux.

Breton Musicians

The Lovely Trieux River


Stormy Skies Approaching St Helier, CI
Trying to avoid more wet weather we headed for the Channel Islands. In St Helier we made it to a lovely fish restaurant Barqueiro run by a Madeiran family, arriving like drowned rats but made very welcome despite dripping all over their floor. This gem of a place is hidden away inside the back of the Fish Market and well worth a visit. Kevin had a tasty steak and I devoured a large helping of Monk Fish pieces wrapped in ham on crushed new potatoes, all washed down with a bottle of Agentinian Malbec. So crossing the Channel for a second time (the first crossing was as I mentioned earlier with the Classic Channel Regatta) during our sojourn in Europe has provided some memorable moments even if it wasn't quite as envisaged.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Crossed Wires

You can't escape British Gas even in Dubai.... my UK mobile, switched on because I needed a UK number it contained, rang this evening. At the other end was someone trying to sell me a gas contract for a house we've not lived in since early 2006! Are their dialing systems the source of the annoying missed calls from Glasgow & Liverpool yesterday and today, when my phone has rung once and then hung up before I could reach it several times?

Meanwhile with hubby away (again) I was bored with cooking for one so ordered a takeaway. Having repeated the address for delivery several times even spelling the name of our building "Al Arta 1" twice, I was told it would be 45 mins minimum probably an hour, which suited me as I needed to pop out to the ATM before paying for my supper. As I drove back into the underground parking some 20 mins or so later I spotted a delivery scooter from the Copper Chimney arriving, I just beat him up the lifts to the apartment door. Not only was it delivered promptly, there was sufficient to feed me several times over, delicious and fragrant vegetable biryani together with fish in a lovely cashew cream sauce. Supper anyone?

Finally the intriguing tale of some crossed lines. When I switched on the aforementioned mobile a day or two ago it was sent a text;
"Hi  sent email with details of flights etc for sat 25 jun. Cheap deal on monarch has2 b booked today 9th 2 get good rates! hope you make it! Cherry x"
Not certain that Monarch fly to or from Dubai and the only Cherry I've known was unlikely to sign an SMS with a kiss so it definitely wasn't meant for me so being a good hearted citizen I responded.
"Think u snt txt re flights to wrong no."
Then when I turned my phone on again today another text arrived:
"I did then we spoke on phoner earlier in week! Still ok if u want 2 change yope u are feeling better now. Cherry. x"
Ah well, it left me wondering who Cherry is and who is the friend who might have been visiting but now it appears isn't!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Somethings Remain The Same Wherever You Are

Jeanie Jeep
Took Jeanie Jeep in for a service at the main dealers Trading Enterprises yesterday. "We'll call you when it's ready." We left them my mobile number, exchanged JJ for a piece of paper and took a taxi home before Kevin left for the airport. By 5pm no contact from the garage so I called. No answer. They open at 7am so at 8am this morning I try again;
 "Yes ma'am your jeep is ready, the service is done but they couldn't find a problem with the "jerking" so perhaps it's the way the customer is driving. Please come here at 9am and one of our technicians will drive with you if required."
They won't win any prizes from me for tact but as Kevin is the official owner and here I am always a "housewife" (as officially designated on my visa) it was to be expected!

Collected the car shortly after 9 this morning and decided a test drive wasn't needed, it was already 40° outside. The staff were friendly, efficient and extremely helpful, explaining everything that had been carried out in detail rather than simply handing over the bill. I quickly forgave the smiling, quiet Ranesh for not calling me back yesterday and for his lack of tact this morning or was the latter faux pas down to my misunderstanding his Indian English? The cost was just 888 AED (just under £150) which seems quite cheap compared with the extortionate amounts BMW Mini used to extract from me in the UK. Or does it appear value for money given the difference in size between the two vehicles?

My Much Loved Mini Cooper S
The garage BTW is in an anonymous, dusty grey industrial unit just off the SZR on Al Manara St East. Step inside and there is an inside parking area, sparkling plate glasss windows with a smart reception beyond and behind the desks views of servicing and repairs being carried out. Coffee and the papers are provided as is comfortable seating in the waiting area. UK dealers could do worse than visit Dubai on a field trip.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cooling Facts

We've realised over the past few weeks that there is a world of difference between 23° and 24°. The latter feels decidedly warm and cosy like a winters evening by the fire and the former slightly cool but not overly chilly when in a t-shirt and shorts.

To obtain this sort of climate indoors when outside it is hot and muggy with overnight temperatures rarely as low as 25° air conditioning is a must. The recirculating fans hum their low thundery rumble day and night as warm air is drawn in from the apartment, chilled, effectively dried as any moisture condenses out (this is what went wrong in Bahrain last year when we returned from a few weeks away to a disaster), cleansed by filters that remove pollen and dust then blown out again.

Usually the open plan kitchen/dining/living area is set to 24 and the bedrooms to 23, the latter being about the warmest you can get a comfortable nights sleep under a thin duvet. The apartment's two systems don't always understand our requirements for comfort properly and often waver around 22.5° when set to 23 or a sticky 24.2° - 24.5° when set to the higher temperature. Opening or closing bedroom doors helps - a balancing act we are learning to play!

However we apparently should be grateful as many in Dubai are on a district cooling system where chilled air is produced centrally and then piped into homes. This results in a flat fee per square metre plus an additional electricity cost for circulating the air. And the air isn't always as chilled as it might be depending on the overall demand from all the users on the system. At least we are only at the mercy of our erratic thermostats and our DEWA bill which is surprisingly low considering the aircon is on 24x7 at present. The reasonable electricity bill is in part down to the compact size of our apartment (1,021 sq m) and the fact that being an apartment with neighbours all round means we mutually benefit from each others cooling as well as the icey blast that the buildings' owners fill the common areas with.

But I am already looking forward to that moment in the Autumn when the wretched noise can be turned off for a few months and the windows opened. I have sympathy with tinnitus sufferers, if we're busy or the TV is on the noise seems to disappear but sitting quietly reading or right now writing this, the constant thundering drives you mad.