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.




(Feature photo:  Flying Juniors in the Austin Yacht Club Centerboard Regatta, Sept 12.  Photo credit:  Steve Ward)

The white Hobie 16 catamaran is flipped over on its side, one hull floating the other seven feet off the water.  The righting line is supposed to help us flip it back over.  So I’m holding the rope and hanging with all my weight.  It’s not working.

The Hobie Cat 16 is the classic beach catamaran designed by Hobie Alter in California and first sold in 1969.  It’s a rocket ship of a boat, fast and light.  More than 100,000 were sold, bringing fast, fun sailing to the masses (source:

Without gloves the rope is biting into my fingers.   I can bear it for two minutes before I have to let go and drop into the lake.  We climb back on the overturned hull and try again.

I’m here because I offered to crew this morning at the end-of-summer AYC Centerboard Regatta.

The second floor clubhouse was electric when I arrived at 9:30 on the breezy, sunny Saturday morning (I’m keen on logging racing hours to meet the club’s 15-event minimum for new members).  Kids are running around in life vests, rash guards and flip-flops.  Hot coffee and donuts are being consumed by all.  The emcee has to call for quiet over the mic more than once to settle the crowd of sailors eager to get on the water.

The commodore and race committee talk us through the rules for the day.  They talk about the floating race markers, which direction to round them (left or right), fleet starting sequences, penalties and more.

On the water Evan and I get a rocky start.  We’re both new to this type of racing, so we have a lot to learn.

A Nacra Catamaran in the AYC Centerboard Regatta.

Minutes into the first race we have two problems:  the mainsheet* traveler is binding and the sail’s not up all the way.  We unhook the block and sheet and try to figure out what’s wrong.  After struggling around the course, we sail back to the dock to work on the problem.  This is Evan’s very first time sailing the boat, so he doesn’t have a hang of the rigging yet.  When we haul on the main the traveler should slide smoothly – but it won’t.  It’s binding and making a mess of our sailing.

On my iPhone we find a groovy 80s video on “Rigging a Hobie 16.”  I watch while searching for water and a snack.  About two-thirds into the grainy video the host demonstrates rigging the mainsheet through blocks, fairlead cam cleat, traveler and finally a padeye on deck.

Back on the boat we follow the instructions and the sheet works smoothly now.  We sail back out and instead of re-entering the race we spend the rest of the afternoon learning the boat.

Evan’s Hobie 16 started as a Hobie Mexico Worlds Race boat in 2004.  He bought it on the secondary market for a great deal.  The hull and sails are covered with big name sponsors (e.g., Dell, Coca-Cola).

A foiling Moth, rumored to sail over 20 knots.

With the boat properly rigged we gradually improve our tacks and other maneuvering.  Evan’s on helm and main, I’m on jib sheets.  Hobie Cats are notoriously hard to tack, so we spend several rounds trying to perfect the move.

Finally, we start to get the hang of things.  As the wind puffs we get more confident and start pointing higher which makes the boat lean way over.  We have to hike out to windward, using our weight to counter the boat’s desire to dunk us again.  Now the speed is really coming on.  We slice through the water, passing other boats now (we’re not racing, just cruising around the lake).  We’re catching power boats and gaining on much larger sailboats with ease.

“This is why I got this boat,” Evan yells with a big grin.  It’s my turn to grin and yell when I hike out over the water from the trapeze for the first time.  It’s like dangling in a child’s bucket swing, skittering a foot above the water, nearly spinning out of control.


The secret to righting the boat was:  climb on the floating hull, stand, pull the righting rope down, clip onto our body harnesses and lean back.  In that position our weight is most effective and the sails slowly peel away and rise out of the water.  “Watch your head!  Unclip!” I said as the boat flopped over and stood upright.

I can’t wait to do it all again.


* A rope that controls the bottom of a sail is called a “sheet”

Sunfish and FJs competing in the Austin Yacht Club Centerboard Regatta.


(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

Lost Halyard – DIY Solution

(Featured photo credit Andrew Dawes via Flickr)

My boat, Wild at Heart, was leaning over in the breeze and so I moved up to the high side, which I have to do when the wind is blowing in the high teens and I’m sailing alone.

Then the jib sagged five feet from where it should be.  I reached for the halyard that’s meant to hold the sail tight and yank.  Well, that was a mistake.  The sail wasn’t loose – it was completely off the shackle.  The top started flailing in the fresh wind.

Now I couldn’t raise the sail because I have no way of reaching that high.  Fixing it would be a job for another day when the boat is tied comfortably at the dock.  I took the rest of the jib down and sailed back under main only.


Plumber’s type PVC pipe was too flexible at twenty feet. See the carabiner in the photo nearby I added.

I was surprised Google didn’t yield better results for a halyard lost up the mast.  I thought some salty sailor would have posted a YouTube video or blog post by now.  I’ll have to make my own solution which I spend a couple weeks mulling over.

I had to reach a rope thirty feet high.  Finally I have a sketch in mind and drive to Home Depot for PVC pipe.  After trial and error and help from my marina neighbors — Reid and Josh  — I have the halyard down.  Nearby is a sketch and the PVC pipe I used to create a lasso.

The lasso atop twenty feet of PVC pipe. I added the tape two inches from the top to keep the lasso from cinching closed on the way up. Also, note the metal snap carabiner on the right. I clipped it to the forestay to guide the pipe, otherwise it was too hard to steady.

All of which got me to thinking, “there has to  be a better way.”  This cost me time off the water!  The size of my boat makes this tricky.  Too small to climb the mast (I weigh too much) but too big to unstep the mast or lean it over.  And since I keep her in the water, putting her on a trailer and driving next to something tall like a building or ladder would be a hassle too.

Drop me a note if you’ve found a better way to do this.

Sailing Through a Drought


Thankfully not my boat.  I took this picture in October 2014.  The owner needs to watch out because the water is rising again.  Lake Travis, October 2014. (photo credit: Steve Ward)


(Note: beginning with today’s post I am using a new format.  I hope you like it.  — Steve)


In 2007 a baby girl arrived and put my sailing on hold.  We sold the boat shortly after Anna arrived.  If anything could compete with my love of sailing (and win) it was this child.  By 2013 I was desperate to get back on the water and now that Anna was nearly six we had more time for boating.  But Lake Travis was so low I reluctantly stopped the boat search.

No substitute for sailing.

Water was so low that all but one or two boat ramps were closed.  Many ended several feet short of the water’s edge like the cliffs in a Looney Tunes episode.  I even considered buying a pop-up camper for my outdoor itch (I didn’t).

Then one day at lunch high above Lake Travis we saw five or six boats sail by on the lake.  I couldn’t believe it.  The bad news I heard had me thinking no boat could sail on that thin water.  (sadly that restaurant, Iguana Grill, is now closed, another casualty of the drought).

I was obviously wrong.  In fact, parts of the Colorado River bottom are over 100 feet deep, even at today’s low level.  My Navionics Boating iPhone app shows a spot a quarter mile from my marina that is 95 feet deep.

My search was back on.  By May I had purchased Wild at Heart, a Hunter 25.5 and bigger brother to our old Hunter 23.

Shopping for sailboats with Anna.  This is Wild at Heart which we eventually bought from a great guy named Doug.
Shopping for sailboats with Anna. This is Wild at Heart which we eventually bought from a great guy named Doug.

Now two years later the lake is looking even better.  The spring rains have raised the lake ten feet this year alone!

I look forward to even more sailing with my girls Anna and Laura this year.

Anna helping with the lines. The girls generously took me sailing on my birthday.



First mate Anna helping with the tiller.


A wonderful birthday for Daddy on Lake Travis.