A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Re: Role of CN at sea, was Re: Averaging sights ...
From: Bill B
Date: 2004 Oct 13, 16:15 -0500
From: Bill B
Date: 2004 Oct 13, 16:15 -0500
> Just sloppy seamanship, really. Well said. Having partied with a good many fighter pilots and flow with a dozen-or-so private pilots, their first rule of navigation is to have a good feel for where they are in time and space. Then drill down to the finer points. I am aware of many groundings on the southern shore (and breakwaters) of Lake Michigan (several HEARD over the radio during a Chicago to Michigan City race a decade ago. Their is very little that is tricky about that sandy shoreline. Sure they had a full compliment of instrumentation, many with-high end racing instrumentation. (We were bareboating and planned to go to Chicago, but wisely decided to go the other direction when we encountered <100 yd visibility due to fog--and it lasted all day). Plain foolish heading INTO 50-100 boats racing toward us in that visibility. Like most crash and burns, pilot error, not mechanical error. Paying attention to the depth meter alone could have prevented those groundings. Their Loran or GPS may have given them a lat and lon within a 100 yds of their position, but they never checked that against a chart to determine where that position was in relation to land. As an amusing sidebar (at least to me) we were sailing with another boat that day that was coming out of New Buffalo (approx. 7 miles ENE of Michigan City). Their young guest crew, GPS in hand, was constantly on the radio, asking our GPS coordinates and directing us on which way to steer so we could meet up. After a half hour of our boat enjoying his attempts to get us together, I inquired as to his coordinates as he now had us steering west. I located those on the chart, and asked him if they were at a bar. He was a bit peeved, and wondered while I would ask a foolish question like that. My response, "I have reason to believe you are not sober, and your reported position is two miles inland." When I simply gave them a lat and lon to meet at, we saw each other through the fog as predicted. So their unit was functioning properly. Garbage in, garbage out. Note I have never made an navigation error.
The real problem with GPS IMHO is it is so seductive. Just steer by the arrow. Really no need to even look at your track or bearing. (Gets a bit more complicated when beating on a sailboat.) Before GPS big vessels had how many redundant navigation tools? Omega, Decca, Loran C, gyrocompass, radar, RDF, some satellite coverage and ...? Even so the Exon Valdez managed to auger in. The lose nut behind the wheel... Another obvious problem with a GPS unit is that it is electronic equipment. And as the old saying goes, "The question is not if it will fail, but when." I remain amazed by how many friends that have moved up to 30'-40' sailboats from Catalina 22s have no idea of how much leeway to expect under different conditions and points of sail on their new boats after several years of ownership. With a compass you sailed a course, got a fix, and then determine leeway, set and drift etc. With a GPS, it is constantly adjusting for those factors, simply pointing to your waypoint at any moment in time. You can put up the "highway" screen and can calculate the previously-mentioned elements from your off-course readings, but when beating and adjusting course for headers, lifts and persistent shifts, who pays attention to how far off the highway they are? As an analogy, after the invention of the six-shooter it was dubbed, "The great equalizer." Owning one did not, however, make one a gun fighter (at least one that lived for long ;-) GPS is just another tool at the disposal of the serious navigator. To treat it otherwise may lead to the same fate that a new owner of a Colt revolver, believing himself to be a gunfighter, might expect. As a sanity check, look at requests for crews on blue water passages. A surprising number require skills in celestial navigation. Maybe just a device to separate experienced sailors for wannabes, but my sense it is still considered a relevant skill by serious navigators on small craft that must be self sufficient. Bill