I do hope that you have found this series of articles delving into optimal routing software interesting. My personal objective was to learn a lot about routing – and I certainly think I did that. I also thought I would find what was the “best” system on the market – no chance – I am afraid life is not that simple!.
One thing I have found is a new and deep respect for the software developers behind these system – as well as their obvious skill and passion for sailing. While I realise that there may well be teams of developers at some of these suppliers – their is always the original author – so all credit to Nick White (Expedition); Dave Brayshaw (Advantage); Peter Schofield (Seatrack); Brice Pryszo (MaxSea); Brad Christian (Coastal Explorer); Graeme Winn (Deckman).
One of the criteria I set for myself was that I wanted to find the system that I, as an amateur and “average” sailor would find was “easy to use”. Perhaps that would be the clue to finding the best. BUT even here I found that all the TableA and TableB products, although they have different user interfaces, are all understandable – once you put some effort into understanding the inputs and outputs. So the “easy to use” test almost doesn’t apply since you need your brain switched on anyway to understand the objectives and the dynamics of what is going on with optimal routing in the first place.
In terms of the routing algorithm, there is a key difference between all the systems and Advantage by Dave Brayshaw – as you can see from his article on routing algorithms in Seahorse . Even though Dave’s argument is appealing, there certainly are a lot of expert sailors using the alternative isochron based methodologies.
It is also very evident from the examination of “inputs” into the routing calculation that the main weaknesses here, would probably not be the accuracy of the GRIB and weather forecasting data – but are more likely to be your own boats sailing characteristics (or lack of them), the quality of your instruments (have you got a $2,000 wind sensor, and more than one of them? ) and finally, of course, your ability to actually sail a course, tack and gybe efficiently, and to do all this at the optimal moment.
BUT – if I was pushed into a corner, to award an honour….lets say an Oscar even!…
Club Racer – Seatrack
If you are a true racing sailor I dare say that these articles will not have been of any interest, since you will already be on top of all the factors involved in sailing an optimal route. If however, you are a club racer with a competitive streak and actually use your boat for racing round the cans or strenuously competing in your club regatta then I think you probably would find Deckman or Expedition too “complex” or even “obscure” for your needs. In my opinion Seatrack is as good as you would ever need with excellent support for racing tactics and race planning from the start line to the finish, as well as a great sailing display to help you reach fast decisions even while racing. To top this you can also get excellent and knowledgeable support from the supplier, and free video tutorials. Everything you need to get up on that winners podium and make that tearful speech ..
Ambitious Cruiser – MaxSea TZ
If you are a cruising sailor, who likes to try and get the best from your boat, or likes to beat “that other boat going your way” …then you are spoiled for choice between MaxSea TZ, SeaPro 3000 Performance, and Seatrack. In which case the choice may be influenced by other factors outside the specific issue of optimal routing functionality. SeaPro have an excellent product with very clear navigation screens, and very capable routing calculation. However, MaxSea TZ wins, based on their comprehensive range of input data including sea state; its superb graphics; and also its learning support enabling that competitive urge to be “educated” while beating that strange yacht on the horizon 🙂
Top Cruiser & Overall Winner – MaxSea TZ
If you broaden the scope of what your are looking for in a system, and also factor in that an amateur cruising sailor will be on a steep learning curve if they are really trying to get the best out of their boat by using the various input data, and output data efficiently – then I think you would be hard pressed to find a better interface and exposition of the art of computer graphics than MaxSea TZ.
To help with the learning curve, there are literally dozens of YouTube videos in English, French and Italian that amply illustrate the user interface, the functionality, and instruct you on how to get the best from your system.
When you also consider the long term support; future development and integration of the products in which you invest your hard earned cash it is hard to beat the power of the Furuno group of companies which owns SigNet S.A.; MaxSea; MapMedia, and Jeppesen’s Nobeltec division. They should be able to realise a dream of totally integrated electronics / firmware / software / Web 2.0 technology to provide the best overall support for a cruising sailor.
Studying how the systems work and trying to understand the routing issues that they have been designed to cope with, is a valuable education in itself. In addition the better systems have all got copious papers, examples and videos to check out.
I must say that MaxSea are way out in front in terms of communicating how to use their software. Apart from the many videos on their web site – they have a presence on Facebook; YouTube; Twitter and also numerous blogs.
The use of social networking to support communities around the navigation software is a really strong trend and is being exploited by Maxea and also Coastal Explorer to very good effect. Not only is the software system another member of the crew but it is as if you have the benefit of hundreds if not thousands, of other users of your software when you are passage planning or making routing decisions – A problem shared is a problem halved 🙂
I will be testing MaxSea TZ in earnest this year on a passage across the English Channel and to the Channel Islands. There are enough variables and currents on this passage to test any software and weather forecasting system. I will be doing one journey in April on a power boat – the Sealine 35 – and then in June on a 32ft sail boat a Compromis 999
I will be reporting on my experiences…so watch this space 🙂