A Blog about a Log

A Blog about a Log

I am "a Bear of very Little Brain", and when sailing singlehanded, beset by a squillion different calls on my attention and bombarded by un-coordinated information from wind instruments, GPS, GRIB files, barometers and AIS, I am not all that good at keeping a detailed log of events. To overcome this I have bought clockwork egg-timers to remind me to make regular entries, set up spreadsheet templates to fill in, and tried in vain to remember things once safely back in port, but all to no avail.

All that has changed recently following the discovery of Apps which will automatically record all manner of data - whether from the sensors on your mobile phone, or even from NMEA sentences over WiFi. Whilst I haven't used any of these in anger yet, and I am sure that there are many pitfalls (including running out of battery, losing the phone to the briny deep, or simply forgetting to turn it on), I think these tools may revolutionise my ability to deconstruct things which I experience when on a voyage, and to identify sequences of events such as changes in barometric pressure, wind speed and sea state.

There are undoubtedly numerous alternatives available, including some which are available only for Apple devices (which I detest); however, after looking at quite a few which also run on Android, I have started experimenting with Sail Expert, and I think it is simply brilliant (and dirt cheap). I use a Huawei Mate 20 X (EVR-N29) running Android 10, which is able to maintain decent mobile coverage up to 15 miles out into the English Channel, and also displays on my 22 inch 12v Smart TV on the chart table (either via HDMI or wireless projection). By splitting the screen I can run both Sail Expert and Navionics side by side (including the AIS overlay), in a format large enough to be seen clearly from the cockpit. The App does not need internet access to function, only to download GRIB files and to synchronise with the Cloud servers and other devices.

In addition to displaying free (and totally brilliant) OpenSeaMap charts, Sail Expert automatically imports free ICON 7km grid GRIB files (which cover pretty much all of Europe from Iceland to the Aegean, updated every 12 hours) and also supports the typical static data about the boat, maintenance schedules, the Crew and various waypoints - all of which can be shared across devices, exported to Excel .csv files, and automatically backed up to the Cloud. There is Anchor Alarm, MOB and Passage Planning functionality (but, sadly, no sophisticated weather routing incorporating Wind and Tidal factors, nor a Watch Rota with corresponding alarms).

The automatic Log function records GPS position, Heading, COG, SOG, Distance, Temperature, Atmospheric Pressure and (via NMEA) Depth, Wind Speed & Direction and Engine RPM, every 30 seconds (or manually on demand). Manual inputs can include any of the above, plus Sail Plan, Lights in use, observed Weather and Sea State, Visibility, Humidity, Skipper & Helm, and estimated Wave Height, plus a free-text field for Comments (which is where I would record VHF traffic or interesting AIS targets). All of this can be exported via Bluetooth, Email, WifI and ********, or saved as a CSV/GPX or PDF file.

As mentioned above, I have yet to use it at sea, but trialled it earlier today during a 2 hour drive around Kent, and I am deeply impressed.

Does anyone else have any experience with such tools, or any observations to make about exchanging NMEA messages across a WiFi bridge? (Sail Expert supports

GGA, GLL, GNS, RMC - Positioning
HDG, HDM, HDT, VHW - Heading
VBW, VHW, VTG - Course, speed
VLW - Trip log
DBT, DBP - Depth
RPM - Engine revolutions
MDA, MHU, MMB, MTA, MTW, MWD, MWV, VWR, VWT - Meteo/weather conditions

but sadly not the !AIVDM & !AIVDO sentences output by my QUARK QK-AO26 AIS multiplexer)