Beer Can Racer

I took this picture during the start of the Newport-Ensenada Race a few years ago.

**please read the updates to the right for the latest features and how to use them****

BC Racer.  Why the name?  Why Wednesday Night Beer Can racing, of course.  This app will give you the advantage on Wednesday Nights, and, best of all, after the race, in the bar or at the dock, show those iPhone users what a real sailing app can do. 

First, let me start with a little history.  I'm a lifelong sailor.  I am also an engineer and can do a little computer programming.  So when I bought my Droid, I looked for any app on the Android Market relating to sailing or yacht racing.  I found nothing.  Beer Can Racer is the result.  Thanks for buying it, or for at least taking a look.

**please read the updates to the right for the latest features and how to use them****

The instructions below were for the earlier versions and needs to be updated to the current version, but it will give you the basics......

Detailed Instructions:

Let's start with a screen shot and explain all the fields.

The top left and top right are, of course, latitude and longitude.

The next line is the Mark Title.  You can enter up to 25 marks, which are a title, latitude and longitude.  BC Racer stores your marks on your SDCARD in a file called /bcr/marks.txt.  If you are good, you can edit this file and type in all your marks from your PC.  Just match the delimiters and formats and you'll have no problems.

The third line is the current time.

Line four has TACK on the left and HEAD on the right.

The TACK is a unique field representing the angle off the wind you are sailing.  The options menu has a selection which allows you to enter the wind direction (0-360 degrees).  Once entered, BC Racer will calculate your heading and give you the angle in degrees from the wind direction you entered.  The word TACK will change to either PORT or STBD telling you if you are on port or starboard tack.  The angle shown is between 0 and 180.  So, dead downwind, the PORT/STBD will flip back and forth and the number will show 180 or so.  This feature helps you set your optimum sailing angle which you may know from experience or from the polars for your boat.  Knowing the angle off the wind is great for jibing downwind at the best VMG.  Of course, headers and lifters become easier to detect and quantify knowing the angles.  The heading calculation uses the bearing function of the GPS, so the unit can be in any orientation.  If you have enough crew, steer with one hand and hold this with the other....but get a waterproof case.
The HEAD field will actually be either gCOG or mHEAD.  The g is for GPS and the m is for magnetic.  Use the options menu to switch between the two options for this field.  I'd recommend the GPS, unless you mount the unit.  If the field is blank, you don't have bearing.  Either you are not moving or don't have a GPS signal.

The next line is SOG and VMG.

SOG is Speed Over Ground.  The GPS system provides this and it's how fast you are moving in knots.  If you are drifting or going slow (less than 2 knots) it will say SLO.  Under that speed, it's not reliable.  Besides, if you sail that slow, you don't need instruments.  SOG measures your movement by satellite, so it will read differently than a knotmeter.  A knotmeter measures your speed relative to the water.  So, in currents and tides, they will be different.

VMG is Velocity Made Good.  It's the actual velocity (knots) you are moving towards your mark along a straight line to your mark.  Read your old geometry book for the details.  If you are heading exactly towards your mark, this will match the SOG.  If you are heading directly away from your mark, it will read the same, but be a negative number.  You can use this to optimize sailing angles both upwind and down.

The last line is mBEAR and mDIST. 

mBEAR is the bearing you need to use to get to the mark you selected.  So match the gHEAD number to this number and you are headed towards your target.

mDIST is the distance in nautical miles to your mark.  Pretty simple.

So now let's talk about how to get around in BC Racer.  Hit the options button on the bottom of your phone.  This will show a menu with the following items:

1)    Add/Edit Marks

Here's a screen shot :

Simply press the screen and use the popup keyboard to enter all the info.  

****Enter the Lat and Long very carefully. I know, if you are on a boat in the middle of the race, good luck.  It's better to do this beforehand. The format of the lat and long are critical to prevent force closes of the app.  Use the format given by the grayed out samples and you will be fine.  The format is DDD:MM:SS.SSSSS, use all digits.  Just enter zeros on the end to fill.  The bottom bar that happens to say QWERTY in the screen shot above is the drop down menu that lets you pick where to store the mark.  You have 25 places.  If you enter it wrong and the system doesn't like it, it will automatically delete the mark and replace it with a blank mark.  A popup will show that tells you this.  You can always enter the marks in the decimal format, like 89.12345, but no charts show this, so I've gone the traditional route.  The Mark Here function using this notation, so just be aware that if you edit a mark you created using Mark Here, then it will show decimal format.

2)    Mark Here (GPS)

Screen shot:

Since the system provides the lat and long, just enter a title and select a storage location.  This is quick and easy.  This is also nice if the race course is not fixed.  First time around the marks and you have the locations for the following races.

3)    Pick Mark (GPS)

Screen shot:

This is how you tell the system which mark to navigate towards.  You must select a mark for the VMG, mDIST and mBEAR to show values.  This is where you will find your errors if you mistyped the lat and long.  The app will force close if you select a bad mark.  Just restart and edit that mark.  Or, use Mark Here and then select the bad location to overwrite it.  Another way is to Add/Edit, select the bad mark and leave all the other fields blank.  The system will enter a random lat and long that will work and not force close.  I could spend may hours and hours programming to catch these errors by the user, but, honestly, I'm not a software company, I'd rather be sailing.   

4)    Set Wind Direction

Screen Shot:

Here, just enter the degrees, 0 - 359 or if left blank, it will default to 0.  The accuracy of the wind setting determines the accuracy of the TACK/PORT/STAR field.

5)    Tracking (GPS)

BC Racer will record data to your SDcard for later analysis.  It records the data fields, not lat/long.  It's useful to look at the numbers and learn your SOG versus the sailing angle.  You could even use the data to make your own polars or target sailing angles.  Be careful here.  It records ALOT of data and will make big files.  You've been warned.  It's best to remove the file after a race.  The system will make a new file if it's not there, don't worry about deleting it.  The format is CSV, comma separated values.  Excel and OpenOffice can read it directly.

6)    Change Compass

Changes between magnetic and GPS bearing compass.  Just a toggle here.

7)    I've been updating a few items lately.  I've added a status bar at the bottom which shows if you are tracking (logging data to the file) and shows which compass is currently active.

Be sure to read the column of updates, since some of the above has changed.

Copyright © 2010 Beer Can Racer. All Rights Reserved.

Android's FIRST app developed for the sailing community.

Displays the following:                                        Latitude / Longitude
                                        Sailing Angle - Tack Indicator
                                        Mark Here Function
                                        Compass Heading - Magnetic or GPS
                                        SOG - Speed Over Ground
                                        VMG - Velocity Made Good
                                        Bearing to Target
                                        Distance to Target
                                        200 Target Waypoint Storage
                                        Data logger for sailing performance
Start Timer
Rolling Start Timer
ETE to the starting line
Starting Line Mode (time & dist to starting line)
Metric and English (meters and feet)
All Three GPS Formats
Much below for details

///        UPDATES        ///

Sept 2010

Version 5.1  Rolling Starts !!  Simply select to have rolling starts in the options menu and the start timer will start over at the preset.  Don't forget to do your homework and read the Mode Sheets for full instructions.  There are lots of features hidden away.  A fix was required for GPS formats for those folks at 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude.  

Updated Mode Sheets (Instructions)  Mode Sheets

July 2010 (yet again)

Version 4.1 is uploaded.  Added a Lift/Header Indicator.  Added more Timer functionality.  You can go up to 99 minutes, sync to the nearest minute, add or subtract minutes while the timer is running.  Also added DDD MM.MMM GPS format, so we now have all three GPS formats.  We also fixed a few small screen issues, including the darkness of the Droid X.  This app really does nicely on the Droid X.

Updated Mode Sheets (Instructions)  Mode Sheets

As usual, we welcome any and all comments and suggestions!  Please report any bugs you find so we can get them fixed quickly.

July 2010 (again)

Just got a Droid X today and am excited to use it.  However, I'll need to do another update to fix a problem that I think is a bug by Motorola.  Look at these screen shots:

Droid on the left and Droid X on the right, exact same code!  The button background is an Android default.  It's going to be fixed, I'm just waiting on a response from Motorola.  This also shows up on Google Maps and any other app that uses a default button (like most all apps).

July 2010

We're working on another update to include a lift/header graphic.  Here's a preliminary screen shot:

The ball in the graphic represents your 2 sec average COG, while the scale is +/- 20 degrees with the center being your 20 second average.  So, it will show lifts and headers quite well.

I've also been informed of an error in the DDD:MM:SS.SSSS formatting for South latitudes and West Longitudes (negatives).  This is fixed and will be undated soon.  Using the DDD.DDDD format gives no errors.  

The timer can now go double digits (up to 99 minutes) instead of single (9 minutes max).  It will also count up after zero.  Also the SYNC function always you to sync to the nearest minute, so if you missed it, just sync it the next gun.

June 2010

Version 4 is uploaded.  Lots of changes.  Start timer has been incorporated, lots of touch screen action.  Swipe the screen left and right to change between Nav Mode, Race Mode, Start Mode and Timer.  Here is a quick reference sheet to help you understand how to use all the new features.  

Be sure to email me your comments and if you find any bugs.  I will try to fix them quickly.

Here are some screen shots of the Version 4:

May 2010....

BC Racer Version 3.1 is being worked on.  Adding and refining a few things.

I was sailing my Laser last week with one of my kids and really wanted to know my speed.  So, I wrote SimpleSailor and just published it on the Market.  It's a large high contrast display of speed in knots and course.  It also records you max speed.  I've had a user ask for this so he can be legal in classes that don't allow certain GPS devices.  So it gives just speed and course.

I have a report from Germany that the app may cause issues with lat/long formatting, comma versus period.  I'll do a minor update next week to address this.  In the meantime, try changing the language on the phone to english and it should work fine.  You need to use periods, not commas for now.

Version 3 is uploaded. Mid-March 2010. All the items listed in blue are new to Version 3, and I've fixed some math errors and bugs on distances.  

GPS Accuracy is noted in the Mark Title Field, please make sure it's nice and low before expecting good & stable response.

GoTo Clickable.  You can now long press the mark title field to choose a GoTo mark, or stop GoTo altogether.

Erase Mark.  You can now clear a single mark.

Tracking.  The tracking file now includes time and lat/long, plus most other screen values.  A new options screen allows you to select the time interval to save the data.  This is not kml or gpx, use My Tracks in the background to record your tracks.  This is for data analysis and it's a comma delimited text file on your SD card.

Mid-March 2010 Version 3 in testing.

I've gotten some great feedback from sailors trying out the app, and am 
trying to add as many of the requested features and suggestions as
possible.  Version 3 is being tested now and should be released within a
week or so.  New features are:

MOB - Man Overboard menu item.  If you have a good GPS signal, just two
clicks, Menu > MOB marks your position, saves it at the top of the marks
file and sets BC Racer in the GoTo mode to the saved position.  It also
works great as a way to mark, then find your car.  If you accidentally 
close the app, the mark should be there when you restart the app.  The
only time this would not happen, is if your SD Card is not functioning
or your closed the app too soon (less than 10 seconds) after hitting the
MOB key.  This feature is added with a "Best of Intentions / Best Effort"
caveat.  No guarantees, but it's a lot better than nothing.  Please don't
go sailing expecting a $4 app to save your life, wear a life jacket.

Performance Mode - This optionally changes the TACK field to show degrees 
either HI or LO from your target marks.  A new menu item has been added
to allow you to enter one upwind target and one downwind target.  These are
TWA only, not AWA.  The title of this field also is tack-aware, so it shows
you the direction to steer to return to your target.

VMG to the wind.  Another menu item allows you to change the VMG
field to show VMG to TWD.  You will see wVMG versus just VMG in the 
field title.  Using this instead of VMG to the mark, avoids calculation
problems as you get closer to your mark.  This field is upwind/downwind
aware, so if you are sailing more than 90 degrees off the wind, the math
is still correct.

Wind Entry- Much improved wind entry options.  You can still us the menu,
but if you have touch screen, just long press the TACK field, then the 
screen changes to show you the magnetic compass, the TWD and four
touch areas -1, +1, -10, +10 to rapidly adjust the TWD.  Also, once in this
screen, the volume rocker switch will adjust by 1, volume up, volume down.
Or, just point the phone directly into the wind and press the mHEAD and
the app will store the compass heading as the TWD.  Just don't do this
while you are sailing forward, or you will get the AWA.

Lat/Long Format - You can now choose +/-DDD MM:SS.SSSS (Use + for N, - for S, + for E and - for W, + not actually required) or DDD.DDDDD as your format.  You could always do this, but it's better  documented now.    

Saving Preferences - We've added a file that saves the setting upon
exiting, so you can restart the app with all your saved settings.

Screen Mode - The app now releases the screen to dim as usual to help 
with battery life.  The setting to keep the screen always on has been removed.  You now have the option to choose your setting, always on, or dimable.

50 Marks - Doubled the number of marks available.  As such, the start
line mode stores the Committee Boat and Pin in 48 and 49, at the bottom. 
Updating the app will not remove the marks you already have stored, they 
will be in the same storage locations.

Price - The price will probably be increased with the update.  It's worth it.

Mid-Feb 2010 Version 2 released.

I've uploaded an update for BC Racer.  The update includes the following:

-Day/Night Mode.  The original version is now the night mode.  I've added 
a high contrast color scheme so it's MUCH better in bright sun.

-Race Start Line.  This is an awesome feature.  During the prestart, you
mark both pin and committee boat.  Turn the startmode on, and as long
as you have motion towards the starting line, the screen shows you time
and distance to starting line.  TIme in seconds and distance in feet.  Here's
the kicker, I've stored the pin and committee boat marks in the 24th and 25th
storage slots for marks, so after the start, you an select one of these marks
as a goto mark and you get distance, VMG and bearing to the finish or pin if you are rounding the pin.

-Fixed some misc items.  I simplified the wind entry screen, I just have you enter the wind direction manually from your compass.  It's easier and more accurate. 

-Added all the screens and code required to allow phones with V1.6 and up with all screen sizes. 

I'm be placing updates and other items of interest here.  Stay Tuned.......

Please email me issues, ideas and suggestions for the new revisions of BC Racer.  Also, any good experiences with the app are always appreciated.

Also, to all the other sailors who have weighed in with comments, questions and suggestions, thanks and keep them coming !  On a personal note, I've really enjoyed getting feedback from sailors all around the world, the Germans, Swiss, English, French, Aussies, Italians, Canadians, etc...