Everything the dedicated instruments can do (and much more) for only $20
Reviewed Dec 2016
I've been using iRegatta for 5 years - mainly on larger yachts for round-the-cans races. But screen visibility in sunlight on mobile phone screens had always been an issue when trying to find small buttons to press. Some of my suggestions to Thomas, the developer (who races an A-Class catamaran), have resulted in a product which is much easier to read and use - as well as adding more features with every update which have mostly been free or available for a small fee.
Also improvements in screen display (particularly the iPhone 6/7) provide bigger displays with higher contrast and modified polarising filter (as tested at Geek.com http://www.geek.com/apple/iphone-6-polarizer-finally-lets-you-view-your-phone-in-the-sun-1604967/) - allowing you to read the screen wearing polarised glasses.
Of course on larger yachts you can place the iPad below deck out of the sun (on a swing arm, for example) so it can be viewed from the cockpit, but that option isn't available to dinghies.
Two years ago I purchased a Weta Trimaran which I liken to my "mid-life-crisis Ferrari" - only instead of buying a fast red car - I bought a small, fast and fun multihull. The Weta has often been described as "a skiff with training wheels" and has provided the most fun I've had on a sailboat in many years. In fact the Weta will be used for the World Masters Games in Auckland in April 2017 and we're shipping over a container of Wetas from Australia to augment the charter boats available.
Using a phone on a boat like the Weta means you need a way to waterproof the phone without affecting the display and still make it work with wet fingers. Recent developments in waterproof covers that seal around the edge of the screen leaving the screen uncovered ( e.g. "Topless WetSuit" developed by Dog&Bone in Australia and "Nuud" from LifeProof, USA), have made it much easier to read and operate the phone in a wet, sunlit environment as it makes the device less prone to reflections as well as more sensitive to touch.
The Weta stows in the space of a Laser on the trolley but it's a very wide boat (3.7m W x 5.4m L fully assembled). This is great for stability (which has also meant that it will now be used for the Paralympics) but if your device is attached to the mast and you're sailing single-handed, changing the phone display and entering data (countdown start, sync, bouy location etc) requires a scramble to the middle of the boat to change he display and reach buttons every time. And the same issue arises on larger boats which have mast-mounted displays or have the device below deck. The solution is to have a remote control to be able to enter data and change the display.
iRegatta resolves this issue with an app for the Pebble Smartwatch ($99) which has a sunlight-readable display and buttons for functions which means you're less likely to accidentally change something (unlike the Apple watch, for example - although the Apple Watch is also supported by iRegatta). The Pebble app allows you to switch between the various iRegatta screens (startline, countdown, racing, routing) and set the inputs for the app - for example starting the countdown or pinging the start-boat location as you pass.
So having installed iRegatta and obtained your cover, your next option is to decide where and how to mount it so you can read the screen but not have it caught-up in sheets. Ideally, the screen needs to be near your line of sight in the middle of the boat since you cannot afford to be looking into the boat on a crowded startline.
My experience has shown that wearing a phone on your arm isn't ideal since you need your hands to steer and trim the sails and its usually out of your peripheral vision. While this may work on larger boats with a dedicated tactician, it's better if more than one crew member can see the device screen.
On larger boats, instruments are typically mounted on the side of the cockpit- but that can create issues with reflections since you can't adjust the screen angle and it's better to mount the device out of direct sunlight. On smaller boats such as the Weta, and on larger ones too if you're using a tablet, the best solution is usually to mount the device on the mast as it's easier to keep an eye on the display as well as other boats.
There are brackets for instruments available which strap, wrap or are screwed to the mast - although most seem to still be from marine instrument suppliers and specific to their products (although they can be re-purposed for a phone/tablet). The alternative is to look to the suppliers of generic mounts such as RAM mounts who provide a vast range of mounts for almost every action/marine sport environment.
Beware of cheap "Action mounts" from China bought online as often they use low-quality mild steel which doesn't last long on a boat. My solution is to use a RAM-mount strapped to the mast with a short arm to bring it clear of the Cunningham tension system (the Weta has no Vang) and a phone cradle that has few parts sticking out (so it doesn't catch the sheets).
Iregatta in Use
On larger boats with digital instruments (speed through water, wind direction/speed) you can use NMEA data inputs so that iRegatta can obtain its data from them. On smaller boats you can use the built-in GPS of your device or an external GPS connected via Bluetooth/WiFi - although the GPS of most modern phones combined with WiFi signals is accurate enough in inshore waters.
Firstly iRegatta needs some data about your boat so you enter the length, offset from the bow for the device (if using the built-in GPS), taking and gybing angles (you can import this from a Polar diagram if you have one - or iRegatta can create the Polar for you as you sail).
You also need to enter the wind direction (by entering the wind angle, using the camera to set it as you point the phone into the wind or using data from your digital wind indicator) and then enter the wind speed (iRegatta can obtain this from an external anemometer).
You can enter Waypoints manually from map co-ordinates, by using the built-in map or by importing them from an external file.
I've used the latter to import all the fixed marks in Sydney Harbour using Google Earth. I saved the map of the marks from my club as a JPG image then imported it into Google Earth as a layer and resized the image so it exactly fitted the contours of the land. Then I changed the image opacity so I could see through it and dropped Google Earth pins on the mark locations. I then exported the mark locations and imported them into iRegatta.
You can also create temporary marks by clicking as you pass, or using the camera to take two bearings and iRegatta triangulates the location.
You need to also set how close you get to the next mark before iRegatta automatically switches to the next waypoint in your route.
For Olympic style courses with no fixed marks, iRegatta has a quick screen to set up the windward, offset and leward mark.
You can select saved waypoiints and then save them as a Route (e.g. Wednesday Beercan Race) if you have a course which uses the same bouy sequence. Saved routes can be loaded and edited as required.
Input the location of the start boat and pin bouy by pressing a button when close to each (you can also used fixed waypoints).
Once you've setup your Route and start line parameters, you can set the start time (up to 99 minutes) and then at the signal set the start sequence going (or set a pursuit race start time from the gun).
The display shows which end of the line to start, time to start, time to line and distance to line - based on the Polar diagram of your boat which can also be overlayed on the screen to indicate how long it will take you to get to the line. The sidebar on the start view uses a red/orange/green indicator to show if you need to slow down/stay on course/speed up to start on time.
After the race has started, iRegatta switches to race view which has 4 configurable displays. The standard set is COG (course over ground), SOG (speed over ground), VMG (velocity made good) and Distance to Mark. However, these can be changed to any of the internal data sources (e.g. Pitch, Roll, Compass, Distance to Layline, Optimum TWA, Optimum Speed, Turn degrees) or any NMEA data source (if connected).
Race view also has constantly updated charts for Speed (Green is faster) and VMG (Green is a better direction to the next waypoint) as well as a lift indicator (showing if your course if lifting or heading).
iRegatta has settings to allow for tidal drift, and a map mode for long-distance racing which overlays the race data on a course map (Transas Maps subscription for better accuracy). It will also overlay the laylines on the chart and give you a warning when you reach them.
Recordings and Review
iRegatta can record your track and performance data and export them for external analysis or you can buy an addon which analyses the data. It also can use the track information to derive a Polar diagram which improves accuracy.
For larger boats (using an tablet) there is a screen with a grid of the majority of the available data displays, a compass rose with vital course readouts and a display of nearby ships using AIS data.
Race instruments for sailboats used to cost thousands and each was a closed system with no access to external data and no chance of an upgrade except by ripping it all out and replacing. IRegatta gives you all the power of the dedicated hardware at a fraction of the price and it can integrate with your existing legacy systems using NMEA gateways.