Sunday, 2 June 2013

Canal maps that are better than mine!

One of the stands we visited at the Crick Boat Show this year was Waterway Routes. Paul Balmer, who owns the business, is supported by his wife, Christine, and they have a boat with the same name. We’d been following their blog for nearly a year before meeting them in mid 2009 when on a two week canal holiday. At the time we were going down the Tardebigge flight of locks and they were coming up. Paul was on the towpath with his video camera and Christine appeared to be doing all the work! It was a brief; but very pleasant conversation.  Perhaps all the more so because we’d been regular readers of their blog.
Paul and Christine produce maps of the inland waterways network in Memory‑Map (qct) and Acrobat (pdf) formats. Both formats can be viewed on a computer but the former can also be used on a gps whilst the later can be printed in colour on A4 paper, or A5 if your eyesight is good enough.
My interest had been aroused because I’d also been mapping the waterways whilst living in Australia. In my case I was spending my free evenings squinting at a computer screen and laboriously tracing the routes of canals and rivers in Google Earth not knowing if the data was accurate. I would then use Google to search for boatyards to find out contact details and services. The Waterscapes website was another source of information. Meanwhile Jan had purchased the full set of Pearson Canal Guide booklets. I keep our canal data in two formats. The original is in a Google Earth template. However I’ve also converted the Google Earth data to Garmin Mapsource format using GPSBabel software.
The nagging concern I had with all this information was “Accuracy”. I didn’t trust my own data and guessed the Pearson’s Guides may not be much better. So I was interested to know how accurate were the maps from Waterway Routes. Paul told me he cycles hundreds of miles of towpath every winter checking, rechecking and collecting new data.  Additionally, many users of his maps helpfully email him with details of recent changes which can be added promptly. It’s rather obvious his mapping data is more accurate than mine! I would anticipate it’s probably more accurate than the Pearson’s, Nicolson’s and other electronic maps as I suspect they would not be devoting the same level of resourcing to keep their maps current. The advantage of electronic maps over paper is they can easily and quickly be updated for download compared with waiting years for a new print run.
Essentially Paul produces the data in two formats – For printing and for electronic use.
For printing. If you don’t like the idea of navigating with a gps then the cheaper option is to buy his Acrobat (pdf) format maps and print copies of the areas you need. These could then be protected from the weather by inserting them into a folder of clear plastic envelopes. Alternatively, they could be laminated. This is what we’ve done with our Pearson’s guides.
Electronic. The data can be imported into a Memory-Map compatible gps which then allows you to follow your location in real time. It’s also possible to upload and save your gps recorded track back to Memory-Map.
The following screens show the difference between Paul’s maps and my own.
Paul’s canal information in Memory-Map
My canal information in Open Street Map
You can see the significant difference between the two maps. Paul’s is obviously a map designed for boaters which is overlayed on some base data. The canal information is very apparent, including the location of the towpath. My map contains all the detail of a topographical map with some canal information overlayed on it. The canal information isn’t nearly as obvious, however there is other information such as shops, parking, etc. None of the latter is critical when boating. Paul has informed me if anyone knows of a source of canalside pub information which covers the whole network and is kept bang up to date he would like to hear about it.
The Network
Paul and Christine have mapped much of the network. The following screen dump was taken from their website.
Paul told us the canals and rivers in grey have yet to be mapped and they intend to make a start on that this summer.
As you can see, Paul’s maps are more legible and canal boater ‘user friendly’. They are also more accurate. Each number on the above map represents an available set of maps. It’s possible to purchase maps for individual canals, cruising rings or the entire network. A set of maps for a canal can cost as little as £4 and the entire network costs £49 in Acrobat (pdf) format or £79 in Memory-Map (qct) format. If you purchase the maps in Memory-Map (qct) format you also get the Acrobat (pdf) version.
The Waterway Routes maps seem very good value for money, especially as you can have some confidence about their accuracy. The only limiting factor for me is the Memory-Map data is incompatible with our Garmin GPS. For that reason I’d excluded it from serious consideration. However that has changed after Paul pointed out there was another option.
Memory Map Compatible GPS Devices
Memory-Map is actually compatible with many old PDA’s, iPads and Android devices. Many of these can be purchased second hand from eBay. I personally wouldn’t like to be using an expensive iPad on the back of the boat, especially in inclement weather. Our Garmin gps is quite valuable and I wouldn’t leave it lying around at the back of the boat.  However I would be prepared to consider using electronic maps on a cheap PDA or older smartphone. Some of these are sold on eBay for as little as £20. I’m now researching compatible PDA’s and smartphones as I’d be prepared to accept the small financial loss.
When compared with my own electronic maps, the Waterway Routes maps are laid out in a boater friendly format, are likely to be the most accurate available, and to me are good value for money. My earlier concerns regarding their incompatibly with our Garmin gps have been overcome by the suggestion of using a cheap PDA or smartphone. I’m a convert.
Please don’t buy a second hand pda or smartphone from eBay before we’ve grabbed our bargain. Smile

No comments :