Yachting Monthly

Blame the GPS!

- Justin Morton

Some years ago we left Salcombe very early one glorious spring day to sail to Alderney. We had our biggest sails up and still managed to lay out a buffet lunch in the cockpit. My perfect day.

I had timed our passage to arrive at Alderney harbour around slack tide. About an hour before arrival, thick fog descended. We didn’t have radar, only an old, slightly unreliable GPS system.

With my GPS confidentl­y telling me I was in the middle of the island, I popped below to talk to Alderney Harbour. They couldn’t see me, nor could they see a boat that had left harbour 20 minutes ago.

As I popped back up, I heard a fog signal. Seconds later a yacht appeared, but from behind us. I asked if we could follow him in. ‘But I’ve just left’ he shouted, pointing behind him, ‘harbour is that way.’ Whilst I had been below, the helm had become disorienta­ted and had turned the boat 180° without noticing!

I slowed down and counted down the distance. With a few hundred metres to go I put the engine into neutral. Almost immediatel­y, we drifted past the submerged tip of a sharp-looking rock. I had a moment!

We were definitely among rocks. With a falling tide and a strengthen­ing tidal stream, the rock was our only fixed reference point. We anchored. Every now and then the fog lifted and we made out the wall of the breakwater – I realised I was at Braye Rock and The Follets. Very cautiously, we made it back to harbour and all ended well.

For years I blamed the GPS, but on recent reflection, I realised the fault was mine – I had entered the wrong horizontal datum into the GPS.

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