BRIGHT SPARKS - Tropical Trials

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Gear testing is a tough gig, particularly in the azure blue waters of New Caledonia. KEVIN GREEN reports...

BRIGHT SPARKS - Tropical Trials
BRIGHT SPARKS - Tropical Trials

Christmas came early for Bright Sparks with a grab-bag full of goodies to play with. So putting the glossy brochures aside and getting down and dirty, this is what we found...

Garmin uses its own charting, BlueChart g2 Vision that come on micro SD cards. These are detailed marine charts that give high-resolution satellite imagery and include currents, photographs, marine services and even coastal roads. Displaying all this on a tiny screen is a challenge for handhelds, however, the Garmin’s 5.5cm by 3.5cm screen managed it well.

Screen legibility, though, did struggle in bright sunlight, even with backlit settings fully turned up.

Physically the unit takes up the palm of a man’s hand, its size dictated by the need for buoyancy, and its curved sides with rubber strips make this a robust unit. During my usage it was taken on kayaking camping trips, bashed about on yacht tests and its detailed charting capabilities used on an overseas sail charter.

Waypoint setting is often the most useful task given to a handheld GPS and the Garmin is relatively straightforward. On the go, you simply use the arrow keys to move the cursor to the target, hit the Mark key, which generates a waypoint. You then hit Find and select the waypoint and the compass arrow directs you. A route is defined by inserting your list of chosen away points and away you go.

Good features include proximity alarms for waypoint notification, a three-access tilt-compensated electronic compass with bright graphics and the menu system is pretty intuitive. Another big plus is the Man Overboard panic button, which instantaneously inserts a waypoint when pressed.

Battery life is quoted as 20 hours and I’ve only used one set in several outings. There is a battery-save mode and reducing the backlit brightness also conserves energy.

Communications — linking to your PC for easy waypoint inputting is via a USB but the 78s also has wireless. It supports data files from BaseCamp or Homeport. As standard the 78s comes with an integrated global base map, when you switch on, and 1.7GB of internal storage. It’s a fully featured unit and pretty user-friendly.

RRP: $499
Charts: $249

The D10 is special because it’s Canon’s first dedicated waterproof camera and during my underwater and land usage found it to be a very capable unit. Its ruggedised exterior comes with a screw hole on each corner for attachments and it’s capable of descending to 10m depths, which puts it ahead of its main rivals, the Panasonic FT1 and Olympus’s Tough 8000. Picture quality is good with 12.1 megapixels and both underwater and land shots came out well on Underwater and Auto modes. A good variety of other modes includes Night, Kids (for faster shutter) and several others such as a dedicated Sunset setting.

The proprietary Li-ion battery easily outlasts several megabytes of picture taking, the largish flash is more than a mere accessory and start-up time is quick. On the minus side, zoom is limited. The D10’s menu system is taken from the intuitive Ixus range, as is the large 5cm viewing screen, so these features work well. And finally, it’s excellent value for money with street prices as low as $395.

RRP: $499

As reported in earlier editions of this column, satellite provider Inmarsat entered the handset market last year with its IsatPhone Pro and Australian launch partner SatCom Global supplied me with a phone to check out. As a latecomer to this area, behind handsets such as Iridium’s 9555 and Thuraya XT, Inmarsat needed to make an impact. And they have done so with a bargain basement price of $712 (but global internet prices might be as low as $500 to $600) and call charges of around $1 per minute.

Taking it on a voyage recently, the rugged handset performed well. As one of my crewmates sailors commented, "It looks a bit of brick, mate!", which is due to its waterproofing and strong case. Perhaps a sexier body for the next version would be good. In terms of usability it did the job — unfold the large antennae, wave it at the heavens until the satellite locks on and simply begin calling. I was able to dial up Australian numbers quickly, though voice quality varied from good to poor. However, text messaging and text-to-email worked very well and was pretty instantaneous, meaning the recipient had the message right after I’d sent it.

Menus are similar to mobile phones, with simple button operated selections, and an obligatory USB port is provided for firmware upgrades and data exchange.

Other good features of the IsatPhone Pro include Bluetooth connectivity, Microsoft Outlook synchronisation and the GPS button gave accurate latitude and longitude. Data capabilities will be modest (2.4kps compared with competitors offering 9.6kps), when they come on stream in 2011. Overall, this is a very good value-for-money satellite phone and remembering it comes from industry leader Inmarsat, global coverage and network connectivity should be top notch.

RRP: $712
Contact: Phone (07) 3257 7309 or log on

The Icom IC-M35 proved its worth on my recent charter thanks to its ease of operation and ruggedness. It was used for picking up the local weather forecasts (its 5W output gives a good range), and navigation chat with fellow yachts. Also its toughened body allowed it to be taken along in the kayak, a handy safety link with the mothership as I paddled in the tidal lagoons.

Good features of the M35 include its dual/tri scan button and its ability to send/receive clear speech even when wet, thanks to its Clear Voice Boost technology. Charging is only via 240V-AC base, so 12V input would have been useful at sea when inverters aren’t always available. Cost is another good feature with street prices seen as low as $280.

RRP: $385
Contact: Phone (02) 9939 1055 or go to

Photos: Enjoying a charter in the reef strewn waters of New Caledonia is made easier if you take some good portable electronics along with you; The author using the Garmin GPSMAP 78s on a charter trip with local charts installed; Using Underwater mode the D10 works well for those quick shots among the coral; The Canon Sure Shot D10 is rugged, powerful and easy to use; Inmarsat IsatPhone in action recently at a remote island in the New Caledonian archipelago; The Icom IC – M35 is an ideal holiday VHF due to its waterproof and buoyant casing.


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