• GPS to go

When I packed my cases in January 2008 to get ready for a round-the-world trip as a passenger on  board the “Rickmers Jakarta” one item was at the very top of my packing list: a PocketPC with an in-built GPS receiver.

Now, being home again I can summarize that this little companion contributed very significantly to my travelling pleasure. How this happened and what preparation I had to do before will be the focus of this chapter of my Website. The experience I made is,  of course, not limited to travelling on a cargo vessel but can be shared by everyone who likes to go to unknown places, be it by walking, by bike or by ship.

Since most of the ports the ship was going to where already on the schedule before it left Hamburg I could have bought city maps before boarding. This would not only have been difficult for some places but expensive too (besides of having added more weight to my luggage).

What I did instead was finding out the places where the Rickmers ships usually go to which is quite easy with their “Purplefinder” system on the Internet. Having that information I searched the Internet and GoogleMaps for maps showing the ports and the cities close to them. So, with quite some effort I collected the maps for all the ports on the route, even for those which were not on the schedule but had been visited by “Pearl String” ships before. For cities like Singapore, Shanghai and New Orleans I bought travel guides which had maps and scanned them in for later GPS usage.

Before you can use any of these maps with a GPS you have to calibrate them which means you have to find out the exact longitude/latitude information for two spots on the map and type them in, using a special software on your desktop computer.  After some intensive search I discovered a software  - MapCapt - which can take up to 25x25 snapshots from a huge area in GoogleMaps and combine them into single JPEG file. This makes calibration much easier of course compared to doing it for every single maps displayed.

There are many ways to find out long/lat data for a certain place on the globe. For me the easiest way to do it was using GoogleEarth: No matter what type of map I wanted to calibrate I went to that place on GoogleEarth and typed the information displayed there into the calibration window of MAP Calibrator. This software can download maps from EXPEDIA and adds calibration data to it.

Here are two examples showing an area of Miami, the first on an EXPEDIA map the other on a GoogleMaps map.

 

 

Map Calibrator comes free from the makers of GPS Tuner the great piece of software on my PocketPC which by using the information from the in-built GPS receiver, exactly showed me were I was. It even selects the right map form the collection you have (on a memory card) if you configure it for that.

On my card there were maps not only for cities but even for a whole country or an area e.g. Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Since modern GPS receivers are very sensible to even poor signals coming out of the sky I was able to look up the ship’s position not only when outside but also when I was in my cabin on the ship.

So, what is the advantage now of having such a mobile GPS?  Here is what it did for me:

    • It always showed me where the ship was, not only on the open sea but, of course, in the ports as well.
       
    • It told me with an surprising degree of accuracy how long it would take for the ship to arrive at a certain place, e.g. the entrance to the Panama canal. Thus I always knew if I had to stay up at night or if I would not miss interesting things when taking some sleep.When going off the ship and downtown I marked the ship’s position on the map. In many cases this was the only way to get back without taxi drivers driving around miles and miles just because they are not familiar with the port area.


      The picture below was taken while checking if the taxi driver in Nagasaki was on the right way towards the ship's berth. The yellow projection shows that he was. The little flags indicate the ship and the bus stop and were set when I left for downtown.


 

    • Downtown in places like Bangkok or  Ho Chi Minh City it always showed me the track I had already made. When I found a place I wanted to return to later, e.g. a Café, I just placed a point with it’s name on the map.
       
    • In many places I could walk around or hop on a bus without worrying on my whereabouts at all. I knew, I would not get lost.
       

The kind of GPS I am talking about is not meant to tell you where to go like a GPS used in a car does. It just presents a map showing your position, your direction and – most important for me – where your ship (or your parked car or your hotel or ....) is.

Since GPS Satellites do not send invoices you can use their service all over the world for free.