Sail Away

Five ways to have fun nav­i­gat­ing on a char­ter va­ca­tion

SAIL - - Contents - By Zuzana Proc­hazka

Keep­ing the nav­i­ga­tion sim­ple while on char­ter

So you grad­u­ated from nav­i­ga­tion class where you prac­ticed dead reck­on­ing, dou­bling the angle on the bow and maybe even ce­les­tial nav, and you now feel well pre­pared for your first char­ter trip. Well, you won’t be do­ing any of that on va­ca­tion—not past the first day, any­way.

Most char­ter boats to­day have chart­plot­ters near the helm, and there’s a brief­ing be­fore you cast off, so char­ter­ing isn’t as salty as it used to be. I’m not say­ing that nav­i­gat­ing while on va­ca­tion should ever be hap­haz­ard, but there are some short­cuts that will get you through the vast ma­jor­ity of char­ter cruis­ing grounds with­out cal­cu­la­tors, calipers or even a roller plot­ter. 1 The Must-Dos: There are a few must-dos even on va­ca­tion. Do re­view the charts of the whole area and also the de­tails of any an­chor­age you’ll be us­ing dur­ing the week. Do at­tend the chart brief­ing even if you’ve sailed in the area be­fore. Storms take out mark­ers and cre­ate shoals, new rules may be in place, and pe­ri­od­i­cally, a new haz­ard like a wreck will make an an­chor­age off lim­its. All these should be high­lighted in your brief­ing. Do learn the nav rules of the re­gion (not all are Red Right Re­turn­ing) and learn the marker sys­tem (car­di­nal marks, etc.). Do read the cruis­ing guide, not only for shore­side en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, but also for any haz­ards to nav­i­ga­tion when en­ter­ing a pass or an­chor­age. Do check that your plot­ter is set to English and to feet be­fore you leave the base. Do get a weather fore­cast and know how to get up­dates. Do use both the plot­ter and paper charts—they don’t al­ways agree. Fi­nally, do put a pair of binoc­u­lars near the helm. I once watched a gal go full speed ahead out of a ma­rina in Tahiti, never hav­ing looked at the charts or turned on the plot­ter, and with no binoc­u­lars to see the nu­mer­ous mark­ers that warned of shoals in all di­rec­tions. She got lucky. 2 Caliper Fin­gers & Bar Karate: Some folks ar­rive at their char­ter base with a full com­ple­ment of nav tools, and that’s great for prac­tice. How­ever, un­less I’m do­ing long pas­sages or work­ing with tricky en­trances, I usu­ally re­sort to caliper fin­gers. That’s when you mea­sure the dis­tance to your next an­chor­age with your thumb and in­dex fin­ger, and then trans­fer said es­ti­mate to the side of the chart to read the dis­tance on the lon­gi­tude scale. The same ap­plies to a rough course es­ti­mate. I put the side of my palm on the di­rec­tion to go, put it on the com­pass rose and get an idea of which way to head ini­tially, then I dial in the course more pre­cisely as I ap­proach. Palms on the charts are sort of like bar karate when rac­ers dis­sect all their moves ver­sus the com­pe­ti­tion at the bar af­ter the race. 3 Es­ti­mat­ing Time/Speed/Dis­tance & Sun­down: Time x Speed = Dis­tance. Sim­ple enough. You don’t need se­ri­ous al­ge­bra or a cal­cu­la­tor when plan­ning the ar­rival at your des­ti­na­tion. A round­ing cal­cu­la­tion in your head should do. If you sail at 6 knots and your an­chor­age is 8 miles away, plan on 90-100 min­utes be­fore you have the hook down. (You’ll cover six miles in 60 min­utes and another two miles in 20 min­utes for a to­tal of 80 min­utes. Af­ter that you’ll need a few min­utes to get the sails down and se­cured be­fore mo­tor­ing to the an­chor­age, find­ing a spot and drop­ping the hook. In this sce­nario, you’ll have 10-20 min­utes to get that done.) A mis­cal­cu­la­tion could have you nav­i­gat­ing a tricky en­trance at sun­down or later.

Speak­ing of the sun—a very ba­sic rule for sun­set time is to hold your arm out straight and tilt your fin­ger so it’s par­al­lel with the hori­zon. Mea­sure how many fin­ger widths it is from the sun to the hori­zon. One fin­ger is about 15 min­utes. A fist is about an hour. Yes, peo­ple have dif­fer­ent sized fin­gers, but they also have dif­fer­ent length arms, so the sys­tem works. Be­ing able to es­ti­mate the time un­til sun­set should warn you to get some­where safe quickly as the day gets long. Do pay at­ten­tion to sun­rise and sun­set times, and do get of­fi­cial stats dur­ing a weather fore­cast. 4 Keep­ing a Log: Keep­ing a log is op­tional, but a good idea. On char­ter, it pro­vides a record of places vis­ited, which is es­pe­cially help­ful when there are mul­ti­ple an­chor­ages in a day. On my own boat, I keep an hourly log when un­der­way. At the top of the hour I mark down lat/lon, wind speed and di­rec­tion, whether mo­tor­ing or sail­ing, baro­met­ric pres­sure and sea state. I also do a quick vis­ual of the en­gine room, bilge pump counter and bat­tery charge. This way noth­ing sneaks up. I’m not that strict on char­ter, but it’s a handy teach­ing tool when peo­ple are tak­ing turns at the helm. The log is com­pleted on the hour or at watch change. 5 Chart­plot­ter Ba­sics: A chart­plot­ter at the helm is al­most a given on char­ter boats to­day. Get to know the ba­sics like the magic but­ton that brings your cur­sor back to the boat in­stantly so you don’t need to hunt around to find the ship. Use it to get quick dis­tance and course in­for­ma­tion. Note the course needed when do­ing an en­try and use the re­cip­ro­cal to get back out. When en­ter­ing an un­marked chan­nel, use it as your sec­ond set of eyes, but also re­mem­ber that the charts may not have been up­dated or the in­stru­ment may be un­cal­i­brated. So get your eyes out of the boat and don’t rely solely on the elec­tron­ics, be­cause what you see is usu­ally what you get.

Nav­i­ga­tion shouldn’t be too tricky on char­ter, so re­lax, em­ploy the ba­sics and you should be fine. In the words of the im­mor­tal Cap­tain Ron, “I don’t nav­i­gate boss, I just steer.” s

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