I may have been fortunate in my employment as a sailor on vessels sans electronics, where I had to sail day and night and in all types of visibility. Most recreational sailors can be more selective about when they sail and choose fair days. My sail-training grounds were the coast of Maine, a place where the fog can roll in so quickly you have only a half of a moment to confirm your position on the chart. If you aren’t quick enough, soon you are lost in a blinding cloud of white near a rocky shoreline who’s irregularity is as sure as the rise and fall of the eleven foot tides.
Your eye instantly begins to penetrate the fog, searching for breakers, rocks awash, or navigation aids. In a moment, your ear becomes attuned to the sounds of troubled water, birds, or horns and whistles. Your nose draws in scents of evergreen, fish, and fuel. And with a slight of hand, maybe you can weave all the data together and finally take a restful pause knowing your position and avoiding the sharp dangers of rocks and shore. Or, in that same half of a moment, you could glance at your chart plotter, see an icon of a little boat, and turn toward a favorable and safe route.
As mentioned in my recent posts, I am exploring the use of technology aboard Daphne. On one hand, I have a deep appreciation, almost an obsession (which I hate to admit) for traditional navigation. On the other hand, the technology is becoming more accurate, easy to use, and affordable. Currently I have an AIS, VHF, and a GPS that has always been broken. I never made it a priority to fix or replace the GPS for worry that I would become reliant on electronics like some sailors have. “I know how to use a chart and to triangulate,” they say. And I’m sure they do.
But when it comes to navigation, having the skills is more than just “knowing how.” A sailor’s internal compass must be calibrated with the changing current or the wane of the boat when the wind shifts two degrees. Their eye must be trained to spot buoys lost in the never-ending horizon, identify a ship’s lights against city lights, and using ranges in their peripheral vision to ferry across a bay. But many sailors go to sea greatly deficient in these skills.
With their eyes glued to a chart plotter, and their senses plugged in to technology, the sailor’s sixth sense is weakened rather than cultivated. I have met few sailors who have skills to rely on when their equipment fails. And many miss the enriching experience of using all their senses, and seeing the interconnectedness of the boat working with the entire ocean environment.
When I went from sailing recreationally, occasionally, and with crew, to living and cruising solo aboard Daphne, navigation went from a pastime to a chore. I decided it would be helpful to have a small hand-held GPS that would give my coordinates. I contacted the folks at Magellan who suggested the Triton, which now has a place, safely snug in a gym sock and tucked in the navigation table. I pull it out to double-check my positions, monitor my speed, and determine the moonrise. But the Triton offers much more than that. In fact, as I was reading through the manual I realized that I may never utilize all its features! Not only is it a GPS but its also a camera, voice recorder, flashlight, barometer….to much to remember. The only trouble I had was that because it is a land-based GPS, I had to manually convert the Lat and Long from decimals to degrees and minutes.
During my sail from The Bahamas to New England, I became interested in predicting the weather. Every few hours I logged weather information such as the cloud cover and type, precipitation, or wind speed and direction. Now, with the Triton I also have a barometer aboard and my weather prediction is becoming much more accurate.