I was a bit of a latecomer to the iPhone. So by the time I powered up my 3G, headed to the App store, and typed in “sailing,” the results page was filled with more than 100 eager candidates. At first, the sheer number of offerings seemed daunting, but there’s a lot redundancy among sailing apps. For instance, you probably only need one of the 13 available knot-tying apps, if that. And once you download US Sailing’s Racing Rules of Sailing, you won’t need for a separate signal flags app.
There seems to be a wide performance gap between some of the more playful, turn-your-iPhone-into-an-anemometer gadgets and the fully developed, chart-plotter-in-your-pocket options. Of course, because apps are so inexpensive—or free—there’s no reason not to download the ones that interest you and trash the ones you dislike.
Among those I’ve tried, I’ve come to rely on the aforementioned rules app as my go-to rulebook—it’s actually easier to navigate than the hard copy—and I’ve developed something of an attachment to Radio NOAA. There are faster, more precise ways of finding out your local weather forecast, but I just love the sound of Perfect Paul‘s synthesized voice. He calms the nerves on race day.
Here are a few other sailing apps I’ve downloaded: the first two are extremely useful, the third is just for kicks. (Did I miss your favorite sailing app? Email me to let me know. I’ll give it a whirl for my next roundup.)
In the economy of iPhone apps, $9.99 is a small fortune. And there’s no better way to spend your fortune than on the Navionics app. It turns your phone into a handheld GPS chart plotter, with many of the route planning features you’ll find at your nav station, plus some clever, smartphone-specific additions. Once you’ve downloaded the specific app for your region (I went with U.S. & Canada), you now have a library full of detailed digital charts at your disposal. You can save your favorite waypoints, scope out new venues, and keep a log of your distance-race heroics. I like the track sharing feature, which lets you email your routes, or share them on Facebook, for viewing in Google Earth. **(In fact, that gives me an idea: How about a free SW prize pack (year’s subscription to the magazine, T-shirt, and 2012 Dr. Crash calendar) for the first person who can draw the letters “S” and “W” with their Navionics track? You can share your track on our Facebook page, or email it to me. Just don’t hold me accountable when you run into the breakwall staring at your iPhone.) **
Beyond the basic chart-plotter features, the Navionics app has a few add ons racers will appreciate. You can call up tide and current information for a given location, access the latest weather forecasts, or find the nearest waterfront bar. The app’s user-generated content allows you to geo-tag your photos or share your knowledge about specific ports with other members of the Navionics community. The local-knowledge database seems to be in the fledgling stages just yet, but it’s a concept that could be very useful down the road. Another bonus is the NewsStand database, which lets you read articles relevant to your location on the chart. Sailing World isn’t yet one of the publications you can access, but you’ll find stories from our sister publications Cruising World and Yachting.
Even without the multimedia add ons, the Navionics app constitutes a great value. It won’t replace your traditional chart plotter, but it’s a remarkably powerful tool, something you’ll be glad to have as back-up or simply as a vehicle for armchair exploration. Of course, now that you have every venue you’ve ever sailed—or dreamed of sailing—at your fingertips, you REALLY have no excuse for running aground on the way out the racecourse.
There are zillions of weather apps available, but when it comes to measuring and forecasting the wind, the best source is WindAlert, from the folks at WeatherFlow. The free app pulls detailed data from 50,000 weather stations. Pull up the map, zoom in to a specific location, and view past, present, and predicted wind readings. You can set alerts for your favorite weather stations, so, for instance, you’ll get a text message when it blows above 15 knots at your local buoy. Depending on your settings, the alerts can get annoying pretty quickly. I prefer to just add the relevant weather stations to my favorites list, which lets me see multiple reports at a glance.
Upgrade to FX membership for $9.99/ month to access data from the 435 coastal weather stations that WeatherFlow maintains. “These are located on piers, nav aids, jetties, and are aimed to get the best possible readings for the areas they cover,” says WeatherFlow’s Matt Corey. “It’s these high-quality stations that enable our real-time virtual algorithms to be so accurrate, as well as our high-resolution forecast model.”
The app now lets you view wind reports overlaid on nautical charts. On the WindAlert website, users can overlay wind forecasts, too; that capability will soon come to the iPhone app. “You can overlay several different forecast models and scroll through time to get the highest precision forecasts available,” says Corey. “Some of our models go down to one kilometer resolution.”
Extreme Sailing Series**
A lot of the well funded regatta circuits and campaigns have been creating free apps to make it easier for fans to follow along. The Extreme Sailing Series app is essentially a repackaged version of www.extremesailingseries.com; the free app gives you access to all the news releases, photo galleries, and video updates you’ll find on the website, in a format that’s easy to navigate on the iPhone. Initially, I thought, “What’s the point?” But I can see how the app would come in handy if you were headed to watch one of the stopovers (the ESS came to Boston in July, and continues in Nice, France, on Sept. 30). Sitting in the grandstands, you could easily pull up background information on the Extreme 40 teams you’re watching, or even follow along on the live race viewer.