BRIGHT SPARKS 408 - Holiday eKitbag

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Taking along a kitbag-full of handheld navigation and communication devices is great insurance for a fly-in cruise in paradise

BRIGHT SPARKS 408 - Holiday eKitbag
BRIGHT SPARKS 408 - Holiday eKitbag

Making ready for my long-waited overseas charter trip got me thinking about what gear to take in my kitbag. As I remembered a trip of a few years back, when the charterboat turned out to be sparsely fitted with electronics and the gear it did have malfunctioned, I thought this time "let’s take a few basics".

Familiarising yourself with charts of the holiday cruising grounds — New Caledonia in my case — can be easily done with an electronic chart downloaded onto your laptop, or iPhone and iPad users can install the Navionics charts.

But for those sailors wanting a decent-sized screen to look at, a laptop is ideal for the holidays and it can also be used for watching movies, connecting to the internet and checking email.

As someone who travels a bit with work, I prefer a lightweight laptop, so a few years ago, when the new mini laptops pioneered by Asus hit the market, I went straight out and bought one. The Asus Eee PC was originally invented for school kids so was designed as a small, rugged unit with internet wireless and came with a solid state hard disk, to avoid the vibration suffered by traditional hard disks.

I’ve taken my Eee PC 900 on raceboats, motorbikes, hikes and to some very damp, humid spots in SE Asia and it hasn’t missed a beat. Its only drawback is a tiny 9in keyboard, so I use a roll-out rubber external one for article writing.

Nowadays, the latest Eee PC’s come in 10in and 12in models with large keyboards. The 12in 1201PN costs $629 and the 10in 1005PE, $499 from For those wanting a full-sized marinised model, the latest Panasonic Toughbook (model CF31-MK1), a later version of the one Jessica Watson successfully circumnavigated with, has recently been released so check out

Your next step could be to plug a handheld GPS into the laptop, giving you a portable navigation system, ideal for holiday time. Screen size is important when looking at handhelds and their general usability. Simple menus, quick waypoint creation and daylight-readable displays are other features to check. Handy options include an electronic compass and most importantly charting software. Also ensure the unit is corrected for GPS differential errors by being WAAS/EGNOS capable.

Garmin’s latest handheld, the GPS Map 78s, ticks most of the above boxes and even has an anchor alarm to ensure sound sleep in unfamiliar anchorages. It sells for about $456 plus the $239 for the chart for New Caledonia-Fiji region. (Contact Johnny Appleseed GPS, phone 1800 477 477 or visit


Communications can be a challenge on charter so a satellite phone is a wise idea. Buying a unit with prepaid credit keeps costs down and you can do this with the new Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro.

Launch partner SatCom Global’s David Campbell said he expected the price to be around $900 (including GST) and call time $1 per minute. The IsatPhone Pro can text and will have 2.4kpbs data capabilities connected early next year.

Another handy piece of gear for the holidays is a basic handheld VHF, useful for checking local weathercasts or when you’re drifting around in the rubber ducky and want to call up the mothership. A useful VHF tip is to use only the Simplex channel for local chats rather than Duplex that is relayed to a repeater station (and everyone else!).

Selling for only $169 at the waterproof GME GX620 VHF is great value and has triple-channel monitoring and is worth putting in the kitbag. Another item I usually take is a small FM/SW radio for local news and entertainment.

On the safety side of things, check if your bareboat has an EPIRB installed (and up-to-date) but taking along at least one personal EPIRB, or PLB as they are called, is a sensible option. Remember to register it with AMSA before departure.

Ideally, choose the more expensive GPS enabled models, produced by ACR, McMurdo or the locally made GME — the latter are popular and the GME MT403G sells for $799 from

With the kitbag filling up, there’s only room left for a few small bits such as a good head torch from marine brand Silva perhaps, and finally a camera. Choose a sturdy waterproof compact model, such as the popular Olympus MJU range or more recent newcomer to the market the Canon Powershot D10. My tips. The rest is in the lap of the weather gods.

Photos: Isle Of Pines, New Caledonia; Garmin's GPSMap 78s handheld has a compass and anchor-watch mode; The compact Asus Eee PC can be hooked up to a handheld GPS; The Silva Trail range of head torches starts from about $99 from; The new Inmarsat IsatPhone heralds a cheaper era for satellite phones; The GME GX620 is compact and has triple-channel monitoring; The Canon PowerShot is waterproof to 10m, has a 12mp lense and costs around $260.


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