Post Card from the Azores, Flores

After five and a half years planning we are here in Flores, the most westerly point of Europe, surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, next stop the USA. The scenery is truly amazing and we find ourselves repeatedly exclaiming WOW. With Waterfalls over half a kilometre high and volcano calderas two a penny here it’s hard to describe the beauty. Geocaches however are a contrast often a small fragile plastic bottle from a popular local non alcoholic drink being abandoned in strategic locations, without the respect of private property or stone walls. Our lack of Portuguese is a handicap even with google translate often the text and hint are often incomprehensible.

Our GPS history and why we still use them along with our phones

We have been using a GPS since we started Geocaching way back in 2010. Our first GPS was the eTrex 10 with no maps, we just ‘followed the arrow’, it did however support downloading Geocaching GPX files via USB which made it ideal for Geocaching. A testament to the eTrex’s toughness and simple design is that this model, although revised is still available today. It was bomb proof had no touch screen just a thumb-operated joystick, monochrome display and a pointer to where the destination was, and how far away it was. The eTrex has exceptional battery life but was slow to get a signal and its accuracy was truly hit or miss under tree canopies. This little unit spawned many adventures for us.

Garmin eTrex 10 Patche99z, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After a few years of finding ourselves on the wrong side of a river or having to make a long hike due to a dual carriageway or some other obstacle blocking our progress we decided on the Oregon 450T which had Ordnance Survey maps 1:50 k. This was a revelation and for the first time allowed us to see a map which allowed us to plot a route unhindered by obstructions. The Oregon 450t had a touch screen, a SD card slot for maps and extra data, an electronic compass, a barometric altimeter and could store thousands of Geocaches. We got about 6 years of use and abuse out of these units. Maintenance, mainly due to rough handling, resulted in screens being replaced, buttons fixed and other sundry parts replaced until they both were beyond repair. I recycled parts from both and with some bits off a Russian GPS breaker on eBay, a ‘Frankenstein’ Oregon 550 GPS was created, this had all the same features as the 450T it now sported a 3.2 megapixel geotagging camera. Although this unit has now slightly out of date OS maps it is still fully functional and in constant use to this day.

By Garmin - garmin.com, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Garmin 450T By Garmin – garmin.com, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I personally own a Garmin GPSMAP 64s now, I never liked the touchscreen which with my big hands didn’t work so well for me, I love the buttons and simple menu system. The unit has a good sized display that can be read in bright sunlight which was always a problem with the older models and mobile phones. The reception is great even under trees, and the unit is quick to get a GPS lock. The 64s uses GPS + GLONASS + WAAS although not Galileo. I also 3D printed a simple mod that allows rechargeable batteries to be used and charged in the unit whilst connected to USB. Bluetooth is available and in reality only useful for transferring Geocaches to another compatible unit, it’s a battery killing extra I don’t need and is designed for external sensors like heart rate, therefore remains switched off.

Garmin GSMAP 64S By Virgilinojuca – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

So why do we still use this old tech? We get at least a couple of days battery life out of both the 550 and 64s which is a lot more than our mobile phones. If the battery runs out we just pop in another couple of AA batteries and off we go. They survive rough treatment much better than mobile phones. Detailed maps can be downloaded from sites like Open Street Maps and preloaded on SD Cards, these are always available even when there is no phone signal, this is also great for caching abroad where maps can be preloaded. They accurately track our route which can be examined in Garmin’s Basecamp software when we get home. I’m not saying GPS units are more useful than mobiles, but a phone with apps like Geocaching, C:geo, Looking 4 Cache is a perfect compliment to a GPS.

CITO 14th August 2021

This CITO (Cache in Trash Out) was our first post-covid lockdown official geocaching event since 14 March 2020 and a chance to restore some normality. The weather forecast was iffy so kudos to all who defied the Met Office forecasts and turned out, as on the day, we had only the occasional light shower to contend with. This location was selected because: we have picked here before and know the location, it is fairly child friendly, and above all there was some litter to be picked. It was great to catch up with friends some of whom came from as far as Macklesfield and Oldham. It was also great to see some new faces and junior cachers who made a great contribution. In all 23 assisted with the litter pick including Diapason16 who happened to be in the area looking for a cache, he rolled up his sleeves and mucked in, unlike his daughter, who like a stereotypical teenager rolled her eyes and sat on the wall with her mobile phone :-). We cleared from Penygroes to Groeslon and collected about 12 bags of rubbish from the cycle path. The litter was sorted and taken to Rhwngddwyryd, Garndolbenmaen Recycling Center for disposal.

Many thanks to Inigo Jones Slate Works for letting us use their car park as a base for the CITO

Geocaching – 5 things you need to know

Geocaching HQ, Seattle

Geocaching is both a game and a business
 Groundspeak who manage Geocaching are a business. Groundspeak shows adverts on their website if you are not a premium member but this is minimal and restricted to a couple of small ones in your sidebar. They don’t get into big contracts to promote other people’s wares, so the money has to come from somewhere! Premium membership is their primary source for funds and about 7p a day, it isn’t a bad deal for Website in 26 languages, iPhone and Android Geocaching App, Adventure labs & Wherigo. Hours of fun for a few pence a day!

The orginal design of a Geocache

Play Fair
Don’t be a Geocaching tyrant, it’s a game played by many people most of whom you will never meet or know anything about. When Caching, it’s helpful to remember that the cache belongs to the owner, and if they say no photos of logs, signatures required, they are perfectly within their rights to delete your log if it doesn’t live up to the requirements set out in the geocaching page. If you don’t like this, then avoid that users caches, there are millions more out there. While there are rules, people’s interpretation of them may differ from your own. Rules like leaving a throw down when the cache is obviously there goes without saying, but deleting someone’s log for not signing because it’s too wet isn’t fair play IMHO.If you are a cache owner, please try to be understanding. People from all walks of life and all abilities cache, not everyone is as perfect as you might like. When submitting a new cache remember that reviewers are people, volunteers, and fit Geocaching in around their lives. Reviewers try to be objective and ensure everyone follows the same rules, but they are Cachers, like you and I, work with them to get your caches published. Check what is required before you submit a cache and make sure all the required information is on your submission, missing information is the largest cause of rejected caches. It’s not the reviewers job to do the leg work for you when you submit your new entry, if a reviewer rejects a cache and you don’t understand why, ask them.

Damp conditions at Cwmorthin

Go equipped
Having the right equipment makes for a great day of geocaching running out of battery or getting soaked is not. The primary item of course is a pen or pencil, and maybe a spare or two, there must be thousands of ‘lost’ writing implements left by Caches each week. Spare batteries or a power bank is essential for a day’s intensive caching, constantly using the GPS on your device is a heavy drain on batteries, and there’s nothing more infuriating than coming towards the end of lengthy series, only to have your phone die on you.
If you are heading up to the moors or into the mountains, appropriate footwear and waterproofs are the absolute minimum, snacks, water and a whistle should be carried as well. There are many articles on what to carry in your day bag online that can help you better than I can. Check the weather before you set out, because in the UK, it’s not unusual to have 3 seasons in one day. If venturing up a mountain or moors, it is worth noting as you gain altitude, the temperature drops surprisingly fast, around 1°C for every 100m, cold, wet and miserable isn’t a great day and possibly the quickest way to put someone off caching. If you are going into the wild and off the paths for a day hike, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, it might just save your life, and don’t forget to let them know you are back at the end of the day.
Carry extra logbooks and pencils. We all know that it’s the Cache Owners’ responsibility to keep caches maintained, but sometimes life gets in the way, if you discover a cache with a full or wet log, please be kind and drop a new log in for them, don’t forget to message the cache owner and let them know what you have done. Please don’t slap a “Needs Archiving” on straight away, a simple message to the cache owner or a “Needs Maintenance” log is sufficient.

Ready for any weather

Get Social and meet other Cachers
Geocaching can be a lonely game, it is usually played in secret, and that’s half the fun. There are lots of events where Cachers gather and share stories of their adventures and great finds. There’s all sorts of social events from Cache In Trash Out which could be a litter pick or working with an environmental group to remove an invasive species from an area to a get together for a chat. It’s a great way to make new friends and catch up with old ones.

SWAG
People who cache with kids love SWAG (Stuff we all get), it makes the day more exciting searching for treasure and primes the next generation of Cachers. The golden rule about SWAG: if you take something, leave something of equal or higher value. Kids and some adults love to find treasure, and it’s so much better if they can take a new toy away and leave something behind for others. If we want to keep the sport alive and growing, it’s our responsibility to pass our enthusiasm to the next generation.
Ideas for what to put in: Small toys, Key Rings, souvenirs like woodies or path tags, Trading cards (in a waterproof seal easy bag), foreign coins, rain ponchos
Do not put in: Perishables, e.g. sweets that go horrible quickly and mess up a cache, non family friendly items, fireworks, lighters, drugs, alcohol and any illegal materials should also not be placed in a cache, although if someone is considering placing any of the above items they really need to have a word with themselves.

A well stocked Cache

Lastly it’s a game have fun and help each other, it’s not that difficult 🙂

Cwm DJ’s favourite 10 caches (to date)

Cwm DJ’s favourite 10 caches (to date)
Who, other than geocachers, would repeatedly put their hands into nasty disgusting crevices in search of a container to log a smiley face? Such is the ‘sport’ of geocaching.

Though I’ve been caching since 2007 my find rate has been relatively low compared to my friends (1,384 finds as of June 2021). However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t had great enjoyment out of Geocaching.
Also, despite the fact that my caching area has been slight, it has taken me to numerous places I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve seen some spectacular views, visited historical locations, places with industrial heritage, geological features, engineering, chapels & churches, & not to mention the birds & animals encountered on route. In fact, my first wild deer sighting was while doing the Rhobell Fawr series & my first otter sighting was also while out caching.
So here are my ten favourite caches which I’ve listed in the order they were found.

No. 3 – Folly Foot Castle (GCG7BH) – BESS’S FRIENDS – 5th Aug 2007
How often have we seen in a log ‘Thank you for bringing me to this location that I never knew existed’. To prove this, my first choice is with only my third ever cache find. Though it is less than 4 miles from home, I never knew it existed until geocaching brought me here, so thank you Bess’s Friends.

No. 325 – Yllethr Cache (GC19FN2) – thefortytwa – 12th March 2013
Though dry, there had been a really cold spell prior to me getting this cache beside Llyn Bodlyn (Reservoir). Combined with a strong wind, which had blown the reservoir’s water over the dam, resulted in an icy spectacle. Ice had accumulated on the rushes as though they were frozen fingers.
Ice clad steps & guardrail.

Extent of the overtopped ice formation.

No. 474 – Suitable for Miners! (GC4YHHG) – A Mine Explorer – 24th Feb 2014
Though only a small section of the mine was encountered the spectacle that greeted you as one ventured underground to find the cache was mesmerising. The toil the miners endured to retrieve the copper from the mine must have been backbreaking, their legacy now mainly forgotten. The vivid colour of the percolated copper bearing rock was worth seeing.

No. 556 – Dee Bore Earthcache (Cheshire/Flintshire) (GCND09) – Jan and the percey boys – 14th July 2014
Though I now know what pillow lava is & what it looks like, the signs left by receding glaciers & various geological features due to earthcaches, this is the earthcache I chose as a favourite. It may not be as spectacular as the Severn bore & definitely nowhere near the scale & grandeur of the Grand Canyon (give it another 5 million years, who knows), it is still a spectacular natural phenomenon.

No. 599 – Sunny Day at Siabod (GC58XCM) – meltdiceburg/the Magna Demarooner – 17th Sept 2014
This was a film cannister cache on the island in Llyn y Foel, to the east of Moel Siabod. It hadn’t rained for 3 weeks (What? Yes, I know this is Wales) so I was hoping that the water level in the lake would be a bit lower than normal, to make for an easier crossing to the island.
The water level was certainly lower than usual, by about 60 to 90 cm I’d say (2 to 3 feet). This exposed more rocks to make the crossing easier, but you still had to get your feet wet. The water never reached my knees though on the route I took, but you had to be very careful of the very slimy & slippery submerged rocks.

No. 603 – Gwyddno’s Mountain Challenge (GC1D3GX) – Gwyddno – 24th Sept 2014
The challenge consisted of finding clues from one multi-cache & four traditional caches scattered in remote locations across Eryri. Once all the clues were found you needed to work out the location for the final mystery cache. Not only was this a memorable challenge series but my first 5/5 also. There are still only 24 finds of this cache in its 13-year existence.

No. 747 – Crag Lough (GCJ3QF) – THE SMILEYS – 24th June 2015
I’ve not ventured as far as many of you have & my favourite, out of the few I’ve done outside Wales, was while walking a 3 day walk along the central section of Hadrian’s Wall. Situated at Sycamore Gap, made famous for its scene in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.

No. 885 – Tyrau Mawr (Great Towers) (GCQFE6) – climber1958 – 17th Sept 2016
This was a letterbox hybrid cache on the modest peak of Tyrrau Mawr; a western outlier of the Cadair Idris range. Spent some time here admiring the spectacular views while having a bite to eat. Llynnau Cregennen below & Barmouth & the Mawddach estuary beyond. Still only 36 finds in its 15 ½ year existence.

No. 929 – Halloween tunnel – day or night – it will be dark (GC6W42F) – sionyn68 – 13th Nov 2016
I doubt that any local cacher wouldn’t have one of sionyn68’s caches in their top 10. The ingenuity, workmanship & trickery in his caches are renowned across this fabled land. On this occasion it was the location & what greeted you which stands out. Since I mainly cache by myself, venturing into those dark & forbidding places brings the heightened sense of adventure.

No. 1073 – 9 Usual Suspects Go Swashbuckling on Cei Ballast (GC76XBB) – 9 Usual Suspects – 15th July 2017
It was difficult to pick out an event that stood out amongst all the others, as they have all been superb. The hospitality, hearty fare, comradery & friendship, with puzzles, games & quizzes. Not to mention all the Nosh & Natters, CITO’s, GIFF’s & Christmas parties (pre-Covid).
There’s one constant in most of these events that needs special attention I believe & that is to Ann & Pete’s dedication & commitment in showing us all a good time; & Ann’s scrumptious cake of course.
In the end I picked this event as it involved us making an effort by dressing up & then the expedition to Cei Ballast. The fact that I won the award for the best event log of 2017, at that years’ Christmas party, tipped the balance.

For the video of 9US pirates raiding and plundering Cei Ballast click here

As you can probably tell from my choice of favourite caches, I tend to cache in some of those remoter Eryri locations.

Submitted by David – Cwm DJ.
If you would like to share your top caches or locations please let us know.

GPS Systems

GPS is now a part of everyday life, the ability to know exactly where you are on the planet was the dream of every navigator for millennia, now this is available at the press of a button. GPS is widely used in a variety of technologies such as mobile phones apps, cars navigation for both mapping and incident reporting, wildlife tracking which has yielded some interesting results for migratory birds and mammals and preventing crime by tracking desirable objects. This tech has only been available to the public since the year 2000 and has since become the most popular method of accurately establishing a location within metres. 

Introduction

A short history of GPS Systems

The first publicly available Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) was the USA’s Navstar GPS satellite constellation. This was a satellite-based radio navigation system owned by the United States government established in 1978 for the USA military and made public in the year 2000 by the Clinton administration. America’s newest GPS system is now just one of many that provide geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere on Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. Other GPS systems include Russia’s GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo, and China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System which offer varying degrees of accuracy, the Galileo system being the most accurate at less than 1 metre for public use and up to 20 cm accuracy for paying customers in 2021.

NAVSTAR Global Positioning System satellite
Artist’s concept of a NAVSTAR Global Positioning System satellite, a space-based radio navigation network.

How does a GPS work?

GPS systems use sets of dedicated satellites, called constellations, these are not stationary but are circling the earth so ‘rise and set’ twice a day, the satellites constantly send out signals, the GPS receiver listens for these signals they don’t transmit anything back to satellites. To determine the location of the GPS satellites two types of data are required by the GPS receiver: the almanac and the ephemeris. The almanac contains information about the status of the satellites and approximate orbital information allowing the receiver to see which satellites should be visible. After establishing what satellites should be available for you to get a fix, your GPS receiver requires additional data transmitted by each satellite, called the ephemeris, this data gives very precise information about the orbit and location of each individual satellite. The GPS receiver uses the ephemeris data to calculate the location of a satellite within a couple of metres and then by using the information that was transmitted to the GPS, your position can be calculated by triangulation using the delta in time signal transmitted and when it was received plus the location of the satellites. The ephemeris is updated every 2 hours and is usually valid for 4 hours, so If your GPS receiver has been off for a while, it may take up to several minutes to receive the ephemeris data from each satellite, before it can get a fix, this is known as a cold start. Obstacles such as mountains and buildings block the relatively weak GPS signals, this will ‘lengthen’ and therefore distort the time to receive the data or even give a false location. On a Mobile phone, there is an additional A-GPS mode which uses the cell towers to calculate the initial position of the user very quickly but with less accuracy, unlike pure GPS this may send information back to a server where that might be helpful to process position. Once the receiver calculates its distance from four or more GPS satellites, it can figure out where you are to approximately a 7.8-metre accuracy and depending on the system in use the accuracy might increase. Using GPS for locating a point of the earth is a key component for Geocachers in their quest to find caches, hence the saying follow the arrow.

Photo: ©GSA, ©European GNSS Agency
One of the Galileo Satellite Constellation

Tips and tricks
1 Having obstructions between the GPS and satellites causes issues where 3 – 4 satellites cannot be seen simultaneously, this is most often seen in cities and forests where accuracy quickly degrades.

2 Multi-path or Signal reflection occurs when the GPS signal is reflected off buildings or other objects, this can delay the time-clock signal sent out by satellite and cause a miscalculation again resulting in degradation of accuracy.

3 In the Northern Hemisphere Face the internal Antenna toward open Southern, SW, SE, in the Southern Hemisphere revers this, most of the satellites are clustered around the equator, this will make getting a fix and maintaining on easier.

4 Low batteries invariably cause issues with GPS systems, make sure that your batteries aren’t on their last legs.

5 When you switch on GPS after moving more than 25 miles or replacing batteries keep it in one position in the open air to allow the ephemeris data to update, it will get a fix far quicker than moving with it.

6 Keep firmware up to date, if there are any bugs in your GPS program an update will fix the issues. If there are more up-to-date base maps in GPS standalone system, an update will repair that, too. 

7 GPS systems are not infallible so use common sense and your Mk 1 eyeball to check what you are being told by the system matches reality, learn to read a map and research where you are going. Most Geocachers will have stories of reaching a river or cliff face and being just meters from a cache that could not be reached without retracing their steps and trying another path. 


Favourite Locations

Some areas have it all, great countryside and some of the best geocaches. If you have a favourite location and would like it to be included here, please contact us.

The Moseley’s Recommend Kentisbeare

If you are ever in Devon, you must visit a little village called Kentisbeare! This area is filled with fantastic geocaches placed by a geocacher called heartradio. 

We travelled to Devon for the Mega in 2017, but decided against camping on site because we dragged along a then 6 month old Moseley_Bach with us, so we stayed in a static caravan near Kentisbeare, and accidentally stumbled across these caches nearby. 

In this village and the surrounding area you can find traditional caches, multi caches, a devious mystery cache geo-[he]art, earth caches, letterbox caches and wherigos! And within these caches, there are Church Micros, Village Halls, Little Bridges, Village sign and a Fine Pair!

We spent days exploring the numerous paths and finding the varied containers and some near impossible caches. 

We had to message heartradio a few times for some help, and he always obliged. He passed us one day as we searched for a particular difficult cache and stopped to say hello!

We didn’t manage to complete his caches, and will hopefully return to the area one day to find more! 

Kentisbeare, definitely worth a geocaching visit. 

Kentisbeare Geocaches

Contributed by Lon Moseley, Welshgirl11