How to lose your faith in Garmin GPS … Mexico Maps … GPS … and reality!
I am a little peeved at my GPS system. You will see why. I have two Garmin units worth close to a thousand dollars when new. Both failed in the same way on the trip from La Paz to La Cruz. The failure was something we all talk about in Mexico but I had never had happen before. It led to an interesting set of pictures and a truly hair- raising night of sailing a couple of days ago.
We crossed the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico with almost no problems. But when we entered Chacala which is a very, very nice little bay/harbor, the GPS units both showed us a very interesting picture. We had purposely crossed with times set to get us to the mainland during daylight hours so what you see had no real time effect other than disbelief and dark spirited humor.
Here is our location after anchoring at about 10 am in the morning . The image is from my Garmin GPS Map model 545.
We used a smaller Garmin GPSMap 76C X as an anchor drift alarm. I will try to pull the nice pic of the anchor drift pattern as we ‘sit’ on the dirt .8 NM inland of our actual position.
You will note that I am zoomed in to 20 feet. The area around the boat marker is brown/tan because according to the GPS drift alert we are behind the parking lot with all the buses. But, hey at least we set the anchor well. The blue part of the map … or as we sailors call it … the ocean is .8 NM to the west. At least, it is on the GPS.
I was not happy. Both used BlueChart G2 map chips … they are not accurate. I believe there is no excuse for this, as even the most basic piece of technology can now access better info than apparently my expensive GPS charters can do.
Let me say this again! I am not a happy customer.
My point. Below is a picture from my iPad 1 … of our location. It uses cell towers to calculate your position and displays it in real time on Google Earth. It is not a specialized navigation suite. It cost $150 used.
To say that this shook my confidence in the accuracy of our GPS system and its back up is putting it mildly. I am an avid Garmin fan … maybe was is a better word.
It gets better. With my mind all astir about where I really was, we headed off that evening about 6 pm for La Cruz which is about 46 nautical miles away. Again, I like heading into new harbors in the daylight. So, I have bottom imaging sonar. Additionally, I have a decent radar unit and two GPS units–so off I go.
I get to about 15 miles north of La Cruz and start using the unit– in earnest–because we have a series of navigation problems ahead. Several (according to my GPS) buoys, some rocks, two islands, and some submerged rocks.
As we approach the navigational aids, I cannot reconcile them with what the unit says should be there … there are two yellow markers where none are shown on the GPS Map 545. Where there is supposed to be a beacon .. there is none. We decide to swing way outside the easy route because we cannot confirm what the plotter is telling us with our eyeballs and end up adding 15 miles to the 45 mile route in the dark.
I finally make my way past obstacles shown on the GPS , all the time remembering that earlier in the day it had been off by .8 NM (that is a really big off-by). We make a 90 degree turn in the dark past two islands and head for La Cruz, Mexico. Guess what. La Cruz is not on the map ….!
That’s right! Not only is the marina not shown– the harbor, the city, a name …. Nada … that is Spanish for nothing at all! Google Earth shows La Cruz, because I checked when I got there. But with out cell towers at sea … I am limited to my Garmin and my common sense … which are now definitely in conflict. It is two in the morning … We planned on being there about 5 am .. it will now be 7 am .. and. thank God because with daylight I can at least see the coastline.
I decide … not by choice, but because it was not time to sit around in the dark …. to dead-reckon to where I know La Cruz is supposed to be. It is in a crook of land as you enter Banderas Bay in Mexico. It is just north by 8 miles or so from Puerto Vallarta. It has to be there. When Carolyn got up for coffee …. she was not pleased to hear those words in that way. “Has to be there?”
Dead-reckoning was within half a mile of the harbor entrance. Beginners luck.
Puerto Vallarta is covered in exceeding detail. But not La Cruz.
I am not a happy sailor right now … I am looking at the rest of my GPS info for the rest of our trip south and considering another solution. We have paper maps … not great in the dark … we have an iPad so Navionics is a possibility but I don’t think it will work on and iPad 1 because it takes IOS 6.
I would scratch my head, but I am too busy pulling my hair out!
A couple of thoughts. The Mexican Navy has new charts of most of Mexico. Perhaps a company that sells GPS location-technology might want to talk to them about Mexico. It’s a concept!
The chips, I am presently using, appear to be the newest …
In fairness, and because Lady Spitirus said I was ranting, I decided to make sure I did indeed have the newest maps. I did the whole Garmin thing, load software, create account, find cable and plugin the GPSMap76x C. Nothing. Loaded the shiny software disk from Garmin. It asked for an upgrade. Loaded it. Ok … what is supposed to happen after the hour online I just spent and will never get back. Finally added my devices serial number by hand … Oh …. NO MAP UPGRADES AVAILABLE FOR THIS DEVICE!
Having been fair …. I am now back on a rant. Tomorrow I will post a iPad cell tower location pic. I already looked at it … it even shows the slip in the Marina … in La Cruz where Spiritus is now tied up. Then I will post after it the shot of the face of my Garmin GPSMap 545. I already looked at it too. I can’t find La Paz. It does show me sitting somewhere in Mexico north of Puerto Vallerta. I think I may keep this up as I sail the coast of Mexico … side by side product comparison of accuracy and features . Will compare more than $1000 GPS system and back up to the $150 used iPad (you need to understand I am not an Apple fanboy, so this hurts).
They say the very best advertising is word of mouth and that a picture is worth a thousand words. Stay tuned.
As you can clearly see, we have arrived somewhere in Mexico. It is some number of feet deep. And, once again we appear to be aground. The only reason you do not see an anchor alarm is we are actually sitting in Marina La Cruz.
But, you could probably tell that with a glance if you are an experienced sailor.
The image below is from the used iPad 1. Note it even shows the slip and dock we are currently tied up to.