Boating App: Navionics Boating

“Wow, where can I get that?”

That’s what boaters ask when I show off Navionics Boating.

This $9.99 app gives lake sailors features that our coastal and Great Lakes cousins use on chartplotters costing thousands of dollars.  You can even get some features in a free version of the app but the included government charts are lower detail.

I’m not saying I need full-featured charting on my lake (about 2 miles at its widest), or that the iPhone screen is a substitute for bluewater electronics.  But it is pretty cool to have similar data when I’m tacking around Lake Travis for an afternoon.

Last month I used Navionics to set the anchor for a race committee boat when we couldn’t find a spot shallow enough to drop anchor.  The onboard depth finder was fine for measuring depth where we were.  Finding where to go – now that’s better!  Using Navionics we motored around to a shallower spot and dropped anchor there.

Local readers will know that Lake Travis’s depth changes dramatically (up 50 feet this year alone).  So it’s great that Navionics has level adjustment.  Just look up the current lake level and punch in the adjustment (minus 11 feet, for example) before your trip.  Now all the charted depths are accurate for the current level.

I used Navionics on our family charter in Puerto Rico this summer and the charts were a nice backup to the boat’s chart plotter (Puerto Rico was an extra $14.99).

Boating is available for iPhone and Android.  Although I haven’t used it much, it also has crowd-sourced charts that include updates on marinas and other points of interest added by fellow boaters.

A screenshot below of a trip this summer using Boating.


Chart of Lake Travis, Austin, TX on my iPhone.  Notice the dramatic depth contours in just a few hundred feet.  It’s nice to know where the deep (and shallow!) spots are.



Moving On

Wild at Heart, my Hunter 25.5, has served me well over the past two-and-a-half years.  It’s been a short but intense run.

The previous owner, Doug, who moved to Panama recently, owned her twice.  His ownership is more storied than mine.

Doug was married aboard  Wild at Heart on Lake Travis, anchored off Starnes Island.

I had Doug on the boat with me a few months ago.  In fact, it was that day she sailed her best speed under my ownership, 5.9 kts.  Not bad for a mid-eighties wing-keeled cruiser.

I’ve had a ton of fun over these past two-and-a-half years.  I got to sail her more frequently than I deserve.  And I was fortunate to see Lake Travis IMG_5941rise over fifty feet after the Memorial Day rain.  Well, I should temper that.  That was a brutal flood.  We sat stunned in front of the TV when those storms came through in May.  Several people died in the Hill Country that weekend.

I had my own drama on Wild at Heart.  Early in my ownership, I nearly ruined my right hand swapping outboard motors.   In a freak mishap, my hand got stuck between the 90-lb. motor and the mount, resulting in a trip to the Round Rock ER, several stitches, a visit to the hand surgeon, and luckily no severe surgery-requiring damage.  I have a nice scar to show for it.  I sometimes tell people it’s my “shark bite” scar.  More than a few have believed me (at first).

I’m happy with cockpit paint job I did with the generous help of my friend Dave Huber.  After reading about fiberglass deck refurb in Sail Magazine and other places, we launched into the job last year.  As always, it took more time and effort than I guessed it would.  After much sanding, chipping, vacuuming and brushing it came out pretty good.  And so she’s cleaner and shinier than most other mid-80s boats.

I guess they call it “two foot -itis” for a reason.  I’m moving up to a larger boat with a few of the features I’ve been wanting.  The one I have my eye on is twenty-seven feet, exactly two feet larger.

I’ll miss that little boat, but I know she’ll make her next owner happy too.



Guest Post: First to Cuba

Editor’s note:  Russ Hoadley, my friend and fellow sailor, graciously wrote this story about sailing to Cuba in the Pensacola a la Habana Race.  Please enjoy this very first guest post on Sailing with Steve.  You can reach Russ at

HAVANA, Cuba – This sun-drenched island has changed from 15 years ago when I first raced here aboard Mac Smith’s 44-foot Lafitte Twilight (from Daytona Beach, FL).

This time I’ve had the privilege of being on a crew of eight on XTC, Tom Glew’s 46-foot Beneteau (from St. Petersburg, FL) that made a clean sweep in May of a race to Isla Mujeres, MX (1st in class, division and overall).

The event that has brought us here is the first-ever Pensacola a la Habana

Russ Hoadley at the helm

Race, one of a growing number of yacht events to the Communist isle since the Obama State Department began to relax the embargo. 

Havana shows signs, albeit halting, of rebirth from the 50-plus years of decay which came with the Castro Revolution, Russian missile crisis and subsequent U.S. embargo. Some elegant old-world buildings have been buffed up. Many others still are moldering away.

We’ve just finished five days of hard sailing, hammered by squalls, plagued by electronic and mechanical gremlins, and still we will collect first in class and division at the awards party.

We are at the enormous but deteriorating Marina Hemingway, 15 miles west of the storied old city. Hemingway International YC is our host, with

Street musician Angel Kindelan

Comodoro Jose Escrich doing his effusive best to make us feel welcome. A roast-pig dinner and exotic entertainment by undulating dancers are to follow. 

The 500-mile slog here started in uncertain weather in Pensacola Bay at 0800 Saturday, Oct. 31. Twenty-one boats in five classes reached east across the bay, then beat out the channel in 15-20 knots from the southwest. Squalls were predicted as we eventually locked into a long starboard tack, and the forecast was not wrong. Through three days, sporadic downpours occurred with winds into the high-30s.

Day 4 brought an expected southeast shift, allowing a tack onto port past the Dry Tortugas, Havana now just 90 miles away.

XTC heads into more squalls

After pounding through the night across the Florida Straits, we finished in a squall at the hard-to-find sea buoy. Soon we were led through the reef-shouldered channel to smooth water, a lengthy but courteous Customs check-in and a berth with modern hook-ups. The nearby hotel was visibly doggy (crumbling façades, uncertain water, no toilet paper), but the marina itself was quite satisfactory.

Our five days in Havana were a kaleidoscope of colorful old Chevys, Buicks and Fords, deluxe night clubs, sensuous dancers, magnificent cigars and rum, lyrical music and historical and revolutionary stories.

Cubans we met seem pleased with their country’s progress even as they acknowledged the scarcity in their lives. “Money isn’t everything,” said Carlos, a philosophical 47-year-old father of two. He is a taxi-driver, a self-educated man who takes quiet pleasure doing triathlons with his sons and his girlfriend.

Cubans were cheerful, fit, hard-working, friendly, smart people who love their land, their culture and music, their families and friends … and their languid, long-playing way of life. It rubs off easily on us.

Visits to the Museo de la Revolucion and the Plaza de la Revolucion underscored how important the six-year uprising was to these people 50 years ago. They seem to revere the Castro brothers, along with Che Guevara and Camilo Cinfuegos, the leaders of the conflict that toppled Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

A tidal wave of change appears on its way to them now, as tourism swells, and thousands – perhaps millions – of Americans jump the barriers to visit this land of sun, rum and music.

As we cleared out of Cuba Customs and looked back at the Havana skyline, a gunboat shadowed us, reminding that normalcy has not fully arrived.

We felt the pull of the island. We were pleased to be in the vanguard of sailors who are leading the way. We will be back.

Crew celebrates victory – front: Loren Hoffman, Adam Gautier; rear: Hank Brautigam, Russ Hoadley, Ron Gagne, Tom Glew (skipper), Tony Dimattia; not shown: Charlie Marts


(feature photo:  Flying Junior dinghies at AYC.  Photo credit:  Steve Ward)

“Are there any adult boats?” my wife asked.  Laura remembers the dinghy Anna sailed when she was five.  That boat, for kids up to 14, was the 8′ bathtub-shaped International Optimist – or, Opti as everyone calls it.

A few days later I’m standing on the same floating pavilion where Anna had sailing camp at Austin Yacht Club.  A couple dozen dinghies line the docks:  Flying Juniors, Lasers, Picos and Optis.  A handmade wooden Opti at the end hides under a canvas cover.  These boats are for kids in the junior program but on “free sail” Sundays in the summer member adults can sail them too.  Well, all but the Opti which is too small.

AYC's dinghies are used in the junior sailing programs. The University of Texas sailing program is also based at the club. (Photo credit: Steve Ward)
AYC’s dinghies are used in the junior sailing programs. The University of Texas sailing program is also based at the club. (Photo credit: Steve Ward)

For years I’ve wanted to sail a Laser – this was my chance.  The Laser is a popular, Olympic-class boat (over 200,000 boats in 140 countries according to the International Laser Class Association).  A winner from last America’s Cup, Tom Slingsby, took the gold in Lasers at the 2012 Olympics.

I stood in the 95 degree sun while an AYC coach graciously rigged the tiny mast, boom and white sail. I hop down, sit on the gunwale and put my feet in the cramped footwell.  I have to take off my water shoes, with all the lines and hiking straps in the way.

In the light breeze the boat inches away from the dock.  It’s easy going at first.  I’m only using two controls, tiller and sheet.  When I sheet-in, the skinny mast easily bends back, tightening the draft of the sail.

Whoa!  I have to be careful where I sit.

If I sit squarely on the gunwale in light wind the boat tips over.  I start to learn the motion and the controls.  It’s light air at first, then five minutes later the breeze builds.  When I push the tiller the boat carves smartly through tacks.  I’m all grins and laughing now.  The leeward “rail” dips into the water and I hike out to windward.

I have no idea how fast I’m going, but it feels like flying.

The Laser I sailed at AYC (Photo credit: Steve Ward).
The Laser I sailed at AYC (Photo credit: Steve Ward).

The next weekend I take Laura and Anna with me.  Together we sail on a Flying Junior (or “FJ”).  It’s bigger than a Laser and usually sailed by a team of two.  A few years ago the The University of Texas Sailing Team moved to AYC and trains on FJs there.

The girls loved it.  They sat up front and handled the jib sheets.  I sat in back and handled the main and steering.  Later Laura tells me she learned a lot in just that short time on the FJ.  I’m happy to hear it.  Small boats give such immediate, tangible feedback that you quickly feel what’s happening with the wind and the boat.

A Pico dinghy of the AYC Junior Sailing Program
A Pico dinghy of the AYC Junior Sailing Program