Friday, June 22, 2012

Downloading GRIBs to an iPad over Iridium

It took me a few goes to get this to work so it might be useful to give some tips on what to do, which are:

1. First get the iPad configured to talk to the AxcessPoint. Switch it on and then in the iPad settings under wifi select it. To use it with web there are also some http proxy settings - look under the iPad App help as to the server and port to use.

2. Connect the AxcessPoint to the Iridium phone and switch it on and wait for it to say registered

3. On the iPad open up iNaxX and centre the chart on the location you want GRID data for

4. Select the "Forecast" tab and then go into settings.

5. It is very important to grab as small a file as possible. Go for (say) 3 days with resolution 12 hours / 2 degrees over an area 20 x 20 deg

6. Select get data by AxcesPt then save

7. Select "Request GRIB": it will appear to dump you into the AxcessPoint App without doing anything but actually it has created an email for you.

8. When you're ready select send/receive email and it will send off the request

9. Wait a couple of minutes

10. Then do another send/receive email and you should get an email with the data as an attachment. If you select it then you should be able to open it in iNavX

Eh voila!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Iridium 9555 phone

For this trip we're taking the Iridium 9555 phone.

At the London Boat Show I asked around for packages and the cheapest option seemed to be to hire it. In the end I've got it for 2 months from these guys which was a bit longer than need be but it gave time to get used to it.

As explained in the previous post we're using it to download GRIBs onto an iPad. As the USB connection doesn't work with iThings we had to get an Iridium Axcess point wifi node together with Apps for the iPhone and iPad to drive it.

The Apps give email and web browsing tools that optimise use of the limited data rates available.

In addition you can send and receive texts which is useful so don't have to have the phone on all the time. There's even a web site to send texts which is very useful:

All these boxes require power, so it was important to get car charging adapters for all of them.

However now, fingers crossed, should be able to download GRIBs and find out what sort of weather we can expect to receive.

Full review on return.

Blogging from SPAAAACE

Ok not from space, but via space. This blog post went from iPad to wifi box to Iridium phone up to one satellite, bounce its way between a few more, download to Iridium hq, route through their server to and hence to a post.

All that technology just to say "hello"

Monday, June 18, 2012

Software review: iNavX for iPad

For the sail we're planning this summer we're planning on using a range of navigation tools, including paper and chart plotter, but also iNavX for the iPad.

The reason for not using a laptop was two fold: firstly we didn't have one available and secondly the iPad is actually easier to make waterproof (touching wood at this point). Combined with the iNavX software it seemed to give a pretty flexible tool.

So far, checking it out on land, I've been impressed. Its not like Navionics just a chart display program as allows you to define waypoints and routes plus download GRIBs of weather information including wind strength and direction and wave heights.

To get the GRIBs while offshore a satellite phone is needed and in this case we used an Iridium phone. The standard USB cable doesn't work so instead we used the Iridium Axcess point which turns the phone into a very slow wifi hotspot.

Again a bit of practice was required but it seems to do the job.

To download charts for Europe you need an X-traverse account, but then its pretty straight forward. You have to buy online and then download within the application and then they get backed up to you computer which is a bit backwards but I'm blaming Apple's 30% AppStore cut for that.

My only grievance is that you have to buy them twice if you want it to be both on your iPhone and iPad which is a bit cheeky if you ask me.

Anyhow looks like being a good option for offshore sailing and will report back after return.

Updated: see comparison with paper charts and chartplotter here.

Blogging by email

I have spent the day buying 175 litres of diesel and stacking up four Tescos trolly loads of food and water so feel I deserve a "gud" (as its pronounced up here) cup a tea.

It also seemed like a "gud" time to try the promised email to blog feature while waiting for my lemon lemon cake to arrive.

Tomorrow we set sail, though I'm hoping for an hour or two to see highlights of the Orkney, in particular the pre-historic monuments.

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Off sailing....

... will post again where and when its possible.

There's also a couple of posts scheduled during the week.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A visitors guide to Helsinki

What should you do if you're visiting Helsinki?

It's a pleasant city to just walk around, admiring the buildings while eating an ice cream, and a good starting point is the Kauppatori where you'll find the Havis Amanda statue, regarded as a symbol of the city.
Here you can get ferries out to explore the islands, and top of the list of must-dos is the superb fortress island of Suomenlinna which is a Unesco World Heritage Site:
Back on the mainland first head towards the impressive Orthodox cathedral with its characteristic onion topped domes, gleaming in the sunlight.

Nearby is a harbour with a number of lovely old wooden boats. I never did work out how to get trips on them, but guess they might be reserved for parties from the many cruise ships that dock here.
Towering over the city is the Tuomiokirkko, a neoclassical Lutheran cathedral (top of page). Inside its plainly decorated with the exception of its magnificent organ:
If you get a chance its definitely worth the 20 minute or so walk to the Temppeliaukio church cut into sold rock it has the feel of a James Bond set:
A little further away in the Sibelius Park you'll find the Sibelius Monument:
You can walk almost the whole way around Helsinki by the sea which gives you great views of all the boats bobbing in the cool dark waters of the Bay of Finland.

There's a lot of art and music in Helsinki too. When I was there (summer 2012) the Ateneum art gallery (near the station) had a major exhibition of the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck and you can usually hear live bands playing in Esplanade Park.

I managed to eat in a number of good restaurants, namely:

  • Elite: this is a bit off the beaten track and I stumbled upon it by accident, but it was a treat, my favourite. Worth making an effort clothes-wise. Classic Finnish cuisine well prepared with great atmosphere
  • Toscanini: a city centre Italian which understands that Italy cuisine is more than just pizzas. 
  • Salve: at the south of the city this sailor themed restaurant is Finnish cuisine based but more relaxed than Elite. I had the two course special that included a free ticket to the Atenium art gallery.

All in all a very pleasant city with much to see and do.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Helsinki's sea fortress: Suomenlinna

What's this? A ship appearing from the mists? Could it be the enemy?

Man the guns!!
Take aim....
Requesting permission to open fire!

Actually these pictures are from the sea fort off Helsinki called Suomenlinna. It hasn't exactly won glory in battle: when it was attached by an Anglo-French fleet in the Crimean war it apparently had the wrong sort of guns or something.

Anyhow its a highly recommended excursion 20 minutes or so boat ride from the city. Some more pictures below, starting with the big dry dock that was meant to be full of old sail boats but wasn't:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Shopping for sailing

Tillerman spotted I haven't done much sailing this year.

But I have an excuse - I've been shopping, including the following:
  • Charts from three countries
  • Almanacs & tide tables ditto
  • Assorted pilot books 
  • Life jacket (above) and harness
  • Musto base layers
  • iPad and iPhone waterproof case
  • iNavX for iPad with electronic charts
  • Iridium 9555 satellite phone lease
  • Iridium AxcessPoint and iPad software
  • Cigarette lighter adapters for all widgets
  • Additional camera battery & memory card
  • Findfast 210 PLB and buoyancy kit
  • Gloves and hat
Since then I've been busy getting all the widgets to work together and next I'll have to write some proper blog reviews (obviously).

There's surely no time to go sailing, is there?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Helsinki photos

Some photos from Helsinki where the weather has turned out rather nice.

More on photography

Some more thoughts about photography, in particular DSLR vs. point & shoot or phone cameras.

1. DSLRs give greater control - for example to get the photo above I played around with a range of shutter speeds and ISO settings. A point and shoot would think "its night" and over expose the moon (which is in daylight if you think about it).

2. DSLR sensors are larger, so have lower noise. This means better quality pictures or you can take pictures where otherwise you wouldn't (e.g. low light conditions)

3. DSLRs have a choice of lenses which extend beyond the range possible for a single point and shoot i.e. you can get specialist lenses that are wider or have more zoom than any point and shoot

4. DSLR lenses are generally better quality, which should lead to sharper images and less distortion, though point are shoots are improving here a lot.

The two points above go together. Lens quality is helped by specialising on particular zoom ranges. You could have one that is (say) 28 - 200 mm or two from 18 - 55 and 70 - 300. The pair cover a greater range and will be better quality.

5. DSLR lenses can include image stabilizers which can reduce motion blur, particularly if you zoom in a lot

6. It used to be the case that there was significant shutter lag for point and shoot cameras compared to DSLRs, though that is becoming less of an issue.

7. DSLR style controls can be more ergonomic as some point and shoots are too small to hold easily

8. Cameras on phones are improving all the time and seems likely to eat away at the point and shoot market

9. I find optical viewfinders easier to look into when its bright and screens get washed out.

10. O'Docker's post on the subject is great

Overall, recent mirrors less designs using the micro 4/3rds standard offer a range of lenses plus manual controls while not being as big and bulky as DSLRs: this makes them very tempting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

iPhone vs DSLR

I was standing on the shoreline this evening looking out at the Gulf of Finland and there was this rather nice old boat sailing by.

I took a picture with the iPhone (above) and then with a Canon 550 DSLR with 300 mm lens (below) to see what how they compared to help Tillerman with his question.
While the DSLR might be heavier there is a good reason why I lug it around.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Photographic tip

Most old towns look even better with a couple of tall ships moored in the harbour.

Also helps if its sunny.    

Friday, June 08, 2012

The BBC's Diamond Jubilee River Pageant Coverage

The BBC has taken a lot of flack for its coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant - but was it justified? Let's find out with this transcript of an exert:

Sassi Tweet

Fab, thanks studio, Canaletto was a painter, who knew, I thought it was an ice cream! But wow isn't this great, like, I dunno hundreds of boats are like heading upriver!! I mean look at that!

Blurred shot of rain drops

Sassi Tweet

Look at that one - its really big, goldy and red. 

OMG I am getting soooooo wet! My hair is a mess!!

In the background the Queen's barge passes by

Sassi Tweet

But who cares? I'm an old Glasto hand! So isn't this exciting! Let's talk to some people chosen completely at random.

Cut to family with faces painted with Union Jacks

Sassi Tweet

So are you excited? Do you think this historic?

Family with faces painted with Union Jacks

Yes, we are very excited, its so historic-

Sassi Tweet

Wow, there you go, what real people think!! Ok, back to the pageant thingy!

In the background more boats are going by.

Sassi Tweet

I dunno, do those rowers look fit or what? OMG lets talk clothes - is this dress right or what? It's red, white and blue - geddit!!

In the background more boats are going by, bells are ringing, horns blowing.

Sassi Tweet (finger in ear)

I've been told we've going to listen to some of the music on the barges

Cut to the barge playing Handel's Water Music. After two bars cut to

Sassi Tweet

Wow, that's like classic or something, like really historic, like some of those buildings. They're, you know, like ironic or something.


No I mean iconic, not ironic! Almost messed up there! We'd have to come back again next week!!

But seriously, isn't her Highness the Queen absolutely fabulous!! She's a bit like Madonna - don't you just luv her!!

Ok, now what's going on right now? Lets to turn to our boat expert Tim someone

Tom Cunliffe

Well that's a really interesting boat that's passing now, it was built-

Sassi Tweet

Wow, thanks Tim that was great, thanks, but now lets talk about tomorrow. I'm told that Kylie and Cheryl will both be singing live - I can not wait!!

Puts finger in ear again.

Sassi Tweet

Its been living history here, spectacular, joyous .... er... historic.... er but now its time to go back to the studio to mention Canaletto's picture again!!

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Finlaggan and Islay

As O'Docker correctly spotted the previous days post was of the CalMac ferry on the way to Islay with the Paps of Jura in the background .

One of the top clues was the name of the ship, namely Finlaggan.

Finlaggan, the ruins of which can be seen in the photo above, is at the centre of Islay and was once the seat of the Lord of the Isles who ruled the Scottish isles from Islay to Skye. They controlled the sea lanes with Viking style galleys for around four hundred years from 1098.

The house we were staying in was nearby and often we'd walk down there in the evening, our heads enveloped by a cloud of midges.

During the day we'd go to the beach, for unlike the washout in London, we were lucky with the weather:
A wonderful island.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Picture puzzle: where and what?

Time for another picture puzzle.

Using the clues in the picture and the itinerary yesterday:

1. Where was I for the weekend?
2. What are those hills in the background?

And for a bonus point, if I tell you there's a clue somewhere there as to what my room looked over, where was it?

Oh and Tillerman wants us bloggers to say something about good photographic technique. Well obviously the answer is ask O'Docker (natch) but three tips here:
a) Plan ahead: the ferry cross-over that made this pic possible could be predicted by the time table
b) If you didn't actually plan ahead as I you should, don't spend all your time head in a book but every now and then go on deck to have a look around
c) Pictures with both something in the foreground and background are usually more interesting than just having one of them.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Back again

So now I'm back after four days away from London. The journey home took just over 12 hours and included travelling by car, ferry, coach, bus, plane, tube and taxi.

Did I miss anything?

Monday, June 04, 2012

Diamond Jubilee: Buff's sad story

G'day all! Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Jeez, what can I say? It's not my fault, really, its that Laser.

It was all going so well despite the pommy rain, nipping in between the boring motor boats, having a laugh about how those rowers "do it backwards" until just after going under Tower Bridge (how cool was that?) I realised we were about to pass the Queen.

Obviously I wanted to do the right thing so stood up to salute at which point the stupid boat tipped over. I mean, honestly, who designed such a ridiculous thing?

So I goes head first into the drink - no dry capsizes here - but Buff had done this before, sort of, so knew the drill. Something about standing on the dagger board and then clambering in as it comes up.

Well I got back on-board ok, but felt this cool air around my privates and rain drops on my bum: my shorts and boxers had stayed in the Thames!

Fecking jeez was that police boat angry. You'd have thought the Queen hadn't seen an arse before.

Before you could say "transported for life" I was hauled away and spent the rest of the afternoon "at her majesty's pleasure".

This is a humbled Buff Staysail, just wanting to hand back to JP asap, over and out!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Diamond Jubilee: Buff's Web Cam

G'day all! Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature.

Well yours truly is unable to give a live commentary as I'm out there sharing the Thames with royalty! Yes that's right, Buff has a starring role in the big event.

But fear not, because Buff has set up a Web Cam thingy so those not actually in London today (yes I mean you JP) can watch the proceedings.

If it gets stuck just hit F5 to refresh.

Now I've got to go - there's a Diamond Jubilee out there with Buff's name on it.

This is Buff Staysail, over and out!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Diamond Jubilee: Buff's in the flotilla!

G'day all! Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Yes, you heard that right - Buff has a place in the once in a lifetime - jeez, who am I kidding - once in three hundred years event!! The 1,000 boat Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames - or regatta, I'm so excited I can't work out which - will now include yours truly.

I was just doing my journo bit, pounding the towpath getting quotes from the organisers and participants when what should I hear but "Laser for Mr Tillerman? Laser for Mr Tillerman?"

As a celebrity sailor and one time attendee on the Tillerman Laser Master's Course it was clear where my duty lay.

"Here I am" I said. "I'm Tillerman."

After signing a few forms the Laser was mine and I headed out onto the Thames, ready to play my part!!

Come back tomorrow to hear how it went!

This is Buff Staysail, Queen's Diamond Jubilee pageant participant, over and out!!

ps - sorry JP, won't be able to do that live commentary. But don't worry, I've a web cam all set up

Where to watch the Queen's Jubilee Pageant

There's a lot of riverbank to choose from, so  here are some thoughts on how to select your spot.

Firstly it looks like its going to be wet, so the best places will be buildings by the river, apartments and offices i.e. indoors. The trouble is they'll be in hot demand so its time to have contacts and pull in some favours. One organisation I know with offices by the Thames is having a family day - how cool is that.

Then remember its a long way from Putney Bridge to Cadogan Square where the Queen boards her boat, so if you're upriver you'll miss a lot, though there are big screens being set up.

Another problem is a lot of the good locations are off limits, like the bridges obviously, for security reasons. Then some places have been reserved for functions, like around the Tower:
That still leaves a lot of choice.

Couple of things to think about are:

  • is there shelter?
  • what's the backdrop for photos?
  • how crowded will it be?

I'd have thought somewhere with an icon like the Houses of Parliament or London Eye the other side of the river would be good but again that's likely to be crowded.

Maybe somewhere further down stream around the Millennium Bridge with the big poster, the Globe and the Shard as background?

Oh and there are lots of portaloos appearing on the bridges.

Good luck!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Boats and Bunting

Today I had a meeting in town, a tough one, but there were two silver linings.

Firstly the time and location meant I could get the Putney river bus into central London, following the same route as the Queen will on Sunday. Both banks were lined with red, white and blue, what must have been miles of bunting.

Secondly after it finished I could spend my lunch hour wandering around London and Tower Bridges camera to hand where the first of the Parade of Sail were arriving.

So here are a couple of pics for you:

Bonus marks for identifying the boats and their history.

It was all a lot quieter up river between Putney and Hammersmith, where the boats are due to arrive tomorrow: