Review of the Bad Elf GPS Pro Bluetooth GPS Reciever

Bad Elf GPS Pro

Bad Elf GPS Pro

I love paper charts- the look, the feel, marking where I’ve been, practicing dead reckoning, all of it. I was planning my Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa trip which was already requiring the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound chart books, as well as the 3311 chart set for the Sunshine Coast. To also purchase large scale charts for all the nooks and crannies I wanted to visit would have cost hundreds more dollars. I have a handheld Garmin GPS, but last year in Canada I found I preferred the Navionics US and Canada App which was easier to read and operate on my phone or iPad than the Garmin, and in some instances was more accurate.  I knew I would be in locations with no cell reception, so the accuracy of the Navionics would be lower, and buying a fancy chart plotter was out of the question. My solution was the Bad Elf GPS Pro which is a satellite GPS receiver that will Bluetooth to other devices and allow me to turn my iPhone, iPad or iPod into chart plotters.

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf App Map and Display

Bad Elf has several different versions of the GPS with different features and capabilities. The Pro model cost me $149.99 through Amazon and it provides latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, time, a downloadable track and can be paired with up to 5 devices at a time.  There are higher grade models provide that barometric pressure readings and more precise location services for surveying applications. There is no monthly subscription fee. I paired it with my iPad for a bigger picture display, but also my phone for when the sun made the iPad hard to see or I needed to enlarge something quickly without moving from behind the wheel to reach the iPad. They can be used for aviation, vehicle navigation, biking, hiking, geocaching, cycling – pretty much anything you can imagine where you might use a GPS.  You can use the simple map that comes with the app, or use other apps such as Navionics, Google Maps, etc.  The accuracy is reported to be as good as 8 ft, although mine usually read about 15 ft. It’s also water resistant, although not waterproof.  Mine took a little spray and a few sprinkles, but it’s not meant to be submerged.  A small zip lock bag would take care of any worries in the rain.

At the moment they are only compatible with iOS devices.  The website says you can use them on some of the apps that Android supports, but you still need an iOS device to do your initial set up or to download your trips.  The website lists an incredible number of apps that it is compatible with for various activities.  There are 18 marine based apps (you should check first if you are considering a purchase), including one for an anchor alarm that I hope to try out soon.

Bluetooth Display

Bluetooth Display

I’ve had no problems bluetoothing to my iPhone, iPad or iPod (I plan to try one of the compatible hiking/walking apps), and I’ve been very happy with the battery life.  I’ve been able to use it through three full cruising days without recharging, and it recharges very quickly – I’m estimating about an hour. A 12V adapter comes in the box, so I could leave it charging the entire time I’m traveling, but I like being able to scroll through and look at my latidtude/longitude, heading, time, etc.  If I were going to leave it charging, I would probably want it mounted to a window in case that affects satellite tracking.

Position Display

Position Display

You are able to change how you want the latitude and longitude to be displayed, and I breezed through this part during the setup which was a mistake. When I was trying to mark my position on the paper chart, I discovered that I had gone with the digital format which completely confused me.  It took me a few tries and an internet search to figure out I needed to go into the app on my phone to change how lat/long were displayed.

App Display Screen

App Display Screen

Being able to download and share your tracks is a nice feature and it will record up to 100 hours of trip data before you have to download the trips onto one of your devices.  Once you’ve turned the Bad Elf on and paired it to your device, simply press and hold the GPS button until it says GPS LOGGER STARTED. If you repeat this process yo have an option to record a POI (point of interest) or to turn off the logger.  Once you are finished with your trip, go to the Bad Elf app on your device and it will tell you how many trips are available for you to download.  Once they are downloaded on your device they will be cleared from the Bad Elf to free up more trip memory. There will then be another bar on the App telling you how many trips have been downloaded to your iPhone or iPad. Tap this tab to view and name the trips – there will be a default name like “Monday Morning Walk” so you will want to keep up on the renaming.  As you can see from the photo, I had to rename 18 trips at once. With the Navionics app you can view the trip either as as standard map or as a satellite image.

Standard Display

Standard Display of a Saved Track

Satellite Display

Satellite Display (Before Renaming) of Saved Track

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once this is done you can share the trips as a GPX file, KML file, Twitter, Facebook or via email.  I emailed a trip to myself to see what it would look like, and it actually gives you all of the trip data as well as a screenshot and the two file versions.

Email Sharing

Email Sharing

What could they do better?  The compass only reads in true, not magnetic.  It took a little research to figure out why it wasn’t agreeing with my autopilot or the compass on my binnacle.  I would prefer to be able to switch it over to magnetic, although technically I’m able to navigate in true with my charts and a little math.  However I think for most things I would want it for, magnetic would be my preference. For those people with a proper navigation station, being able to view it on the actual Mac so that those below could see as well as those above would be a convenient addition. Apparently the high end survey model is able to display on Mac or PC with a USB cable.  All of the versions I searched were splash resistant, but not water resistant.  This isn’t a deal breaker since it’s small enough to put into the tiniest of dry bags, but would be a great feature. Lastly, adding functionality for Android users would be a nice touch as well.

In general I was very happy with the Bad Elf GPS Pro for this trip and I’m looking forward to trying it out with SafeAnchor and the Navionics Hike and Bike apps in the near future.

Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia

Crossing Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia (Navionics)

 

August or Fogest?

The tropical feel of my playlist, filled with sounds from Cuba, Brazil and Portugal, was in sharp contrast to the loud, foreboding tone of the fog horn every two minutes. I like that playlist, I call it Tapas. I don’t like the fog.

Rather than basking in the August sun of a Pacific Northwest Summer, I strained to see the two other boats in our group about 25 yards away. We had already lost one day of our individual trips, partially due to fog and partially due to too much pirate party the evening before.

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

17th Annual Pacific Northwest Cruisers Party

This time everyone had turned in early and agreed to be leaving Port Townsend at 8 a.m. to take advantage of the last couple of hours of the ebb tide and a bit of slack before the flood poured in again. Between the three of us, we had one boat with broadcasting AIS, radar, an automatic foghorn that could rival boats 5 times the size, and a bubble maker, one with radar she doesn’t totally know how to use, and one with the largest cooler of Rainier I have ever seen.

Fogust

Fogust

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is 102 miles long from the east entrance to where it connects with the Pacific Ocean on the west. It’s about 18-20 miles from Port Townsend to the beginning of the San Juan Islands which is where we were headed. Usually the water is relatively flat in the fog, and it’s nice to not have to battle visibility and large waves simultaneously. Reports from vessel traffic said that the fog was lifting about halfway across, so we were hopeful we would have good visibility in a few hours. I queried if this was normal for August and was asked if I had heard the term Fogust. I hadn’t. I will never forget it.

The fog did indeed lift enough so that the fog horn was silenced, but at the same time the waves started to build. That 102 mile fetch can create some angry waves when the wind is from the west and that is what we were now running into, and what I like to call the Strait of Juan de Puka. We bounced and rolled and were somewhat forced to head more northwest than we wanted to lessen the effect of the waves on the boats. RollyPolly

We had been staying in a relatively close formation when I noticed that Boo’s boat had stopped and he was on deck in the rough waves. I hailed Captain Bubbles about it as I turned back to see what was happening. Their diesel engine was no longer working and he was raising the sails to continue on. Once he was sailing, he was almost as fast as I was motoring, so I pulled out my jib (I was solo and had no desire to go on deck to raise the main in those waves, but I would have been better off with the main up from the start) and Capt. Bubbles came back to us and raised his sails as well. About a mile and a half from Cattle Pass the wind died and Boo could no longer make much progress. I was closer, but Bubbles had the much larger boat (and towing experience) so he dropped sails and came back to set up a tow while I became the escort. That was a rough ride.

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

Uncomfortable Tow Through Cattle Pass

Our untintended timing had landed us in Cattle Pass at max flood, which is not many sailors’ favorite time to cross. The waves are steep and confused, powerful eddies everywhere. Even with a slow tow in progress, the boats were doing 8-9 knots over ground through the pass. Once through, Bubbles found the closest place to anchor and troubleshoot Boo’s engine.

The theory was that it was a clogged fuel filter due to debris getting tossed around from the waves we were in. A new filter was put on and the engine started. Since that was the back-up, Boo made a VERY long dinghy run to Friday Harbor but was unable to find the type that he needed. We had a variety of other friends meeting us in the San Juans, so possible filters would be flowing in the next day.

We settled in for the night at anchor, grilled pork chops, asparagus and apples with cinnamon for dessert, and started looking at the charts and going over our plans for the next few days. I was making a break for Canada in 2 days time to pick up crew while the others were going to stay in the San Juan Islands a bit longer.

The next morning our bay was crystal clear with flat, reflective water, but I could see the fog in the pass and beyond, with some of it creeping into San Juan Channel. I only recall this much fog one other August in the 9 years that I’ve been here, so perhaps I’ve been lucky with Fogust. The good news was that Boo’s engine purred to life the next morning as if nothing had happened, and I got a mini-lesson on some of the features of my radar from Capt. Bubbles. I got lucky again and rafted with Boo on the transient dock in Friday Harbor. They saw me coming and hailed me on the VHF to say there was no other space. We all got showers and ran errands, and we all ended up in Reid Harbor that evening in different spots, but to me, we were all together. Paddle board and dinghy visits…we are a rag tag family.

Life and sailing are always adventures, and I’m glad to have been with a group of boats and friends this time around rather than on my own. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’ve paid our fog dues this year and are done with it!

ARGGH

ARGGH

Downsizing-Learning to Live Smaller and Better

Home

Home

Here’s an article I wrote that was published in LifeEdited.com about a year and a half ago, inspired after Deborah Bach of ThreeSheetsNW asked me to write about learning to live aboard as a single woman. http://lifeedited.com/woman-plunges-into-deep-end-of-downsizing/

Both http://www.LifeEdited.com and http://www.TheMinimalists.com are great sites for people interested in ways to de-clutter and free up space for better living – check them out.

Starting the Boat with a Paperclip – Neutral Switch Woes


imageAbout a month after buying Rubigale, and with a boat full of crew, we were ready to leave the fuel dock after a day of sailing. After pumping out I went to start the engine, turned the key, and nothing. Not even a click. I knew nothing about engines-zero, zip. I could find the alternator and the dipstick. My knowledge of cars surpassed that of boats only because I knew where to put in windsheild wiper fluid.   I didn’t know how I was going to get back to my slip and had a half dozen people that needed to go home. My boat mentor J had his own boat full of crew and couldn’t help at the moment. Fortunately, T lives aboard a few docks away, and after I fished out a mystery set of wires with clips that I had found in the bowels of weird boat storage (had this happened before?), he jumpstarted the boat by connecting the battery to the start switch. Success!

I thought the crew would disappear as soon as we were back to the slip, but J and T started troubleshooting the starter and half of the people stayed, rapt with the process. I didn’t understand much of what I was hearing, but I was mesmerized by the problem solving. I photographed where to connect the wife to the starter just in case. Final diagnosis, probably a bad starter switch because there were loose connections and a little corrosion. J showed up with a new starter the next day and showed me how to put it in. It was much easier than I had expected and I photographed that as well. As a bonus, he connected a new engine hour meter to the  switch so I could keep track of hours since the previous meter had died at just under 4000 hours at some unknown point in the past. Everything seemed to work great and I put it away in my mind as a solved issue.

Shiny New Starter

Engine Hour Meter

Engine Hour Meter

A few months later I took Chilly and her friend on a day sail to Kingston to have lunch at one of our favorite pubs. When we returned to the boat, I turned the key, and again, nothing. Fortunately for them the marina was next to a ferry dock so I sent them on their way home. Fortunately for me, J hopped the same ferry in the opposite direction to find out what was wrong with the starter switch he just installed.  I tried not to think about the fact that I was going to be doing my very first solo sail the following morning out of necessity.

We checked the wire (happily labeled starter) from the battery to the starter switch – 12V. There was also current coming out of the starter switch wire which we traced to a bundle that took a dive under the sole and was lost to view. Next we went to the starter solenoid and again found the white wire which here had zero voltage. The wire which powered the solenoid had 12v. What I learned was that meant something was between the starter and the solenoid that was bad, but there was a lot of mystery territory in between.

Tracing that particular white wire was a bit more difficult because it disapppeared into a Chinese fingertrap holding a bundle of wires together. J thought perhaps there was a bad fuse or a loose connection. After an hour and a half of carefully slicing the webbing, and avoiding the wires, we hadn’t gotten very far.

Bundled Wires

Bundled Wires

Frustrated and tired, we took a break, and by a stroke of luck saw another white wire lower on the aft portion of the engine. Actually, there were two white wires terminating on separate screws. Based on the multimeter readings, one had current, one didn’t. Fortunately, J recognized this was a neutral switch, and suspected it was going bad. I had chartered at least two dozen charter boats but had never encountered a neutral switch. The current was getting to the neutral switch, but it wasn’t getting from the neutral switch to the solenoid, so the starter thought the boat wasn’t in neutral. J bridged the two screws with a screwdriver and Shazam! with a spark, she started!

Faulty Neutral Switch

Faulty Neutral Switch

There were plans to bypass this, but the problem didn’t recur so other projects took precedence. Didn’t recur that is, until a year later, just minutes before the start of the Leukemia Cup Regatta. We had done really well fundraising, had a blast decorating ourselves and the boat, and were sipping champagne from pink flamingo straws while preparing for a no-wind beer can race. I turned the key, and yet again, nothing, and my heart sank. Why did this always happen away from my dock? I jiggled the gear lever, nothing. I jiggled the wires at the neutral switch, nothing. I phoned J-these 5 ladies in grass skirts (one his wife) and flowers in their hair needed to get out there on the course ASAP and celebrate our hard won victory.

I went through what I tried already with J, and he told me to find something to bridge the two screws. I found a paperclip and put it on the two screws while Chilly turned the key. There was something about having my face next to a 50HP Perkins when it roars to life while holding a sparking paperclip in my hand that made me scream like a little girl. I yelled over the engine noise and cheers to L, “I LOVE your husband!” With a big smile she yelled back, “me too!” J was laughing over the speaker phone. We were off the dock in a hot second, and although DFL as usual, we had a great time being “spirited” and tossing candy packets that L had made with a tag saying “Kick Leukemia’s Ass! Team Rubigale”.

As usual, I procrastinated  again because the problem stopped happening. Then two months later, and also away from home it happened again. Remembering the big spark led me to be a little timid with the paperclip so I decided to tape it onto the end of the wooden dowel I found nearby, the other end of which held a pirate flag. My hastily created invention lent me more bravery and the engine started as soon as M turned the key.

Quick Fix Switch Bypass

Quick Fix Switch Bypass

My habit for procrastination had to stop here because I was leaving for an extended trip alone to Canada the following weekend.  Based on J’s instructions I moved both wire terminals to one screw and of course dropped the other into the bilge. Fortunately I had forseen this problem and placed a cloth underneath the area I was working on so the screw was easily retrieved. I was feeling quite proud of myself for this tiny little project, until I turned the key and heard a thunk and then silence.  I put the wire terminals back onto their original screws but the engine still would not start.

First Attempt to Bypass

First Attempt to Bypass

J came by the following day with Waterproof Heat Shrink Butt Connectors and made the two wires into one. No big surprise, but the engine started with the first turn of the key. A quick online search of neutral switches on boats leads to a large number of results of “why won’t my boat start?”.  Apparently this is a rather common problem and one I really hope I’m finished with. I learned a good deal about my engine as well as a little on troubleshooting wiring. I am very grateful to have patient friends helping me with the process along the way.

The Hopefully Permanent Fix

The Hopefully Permanent Fix

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