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    Why not GPS, was: Taffrail log and an alternative
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2002 Jun 22, 21:13 -0300

    Bernard Bishop wrote:
    > My first post to this list --and maybe I'm missing the
    > point --but what's wrong with using an inexpensive GPS
    > for SOG and other purposes, if you are really concerned
    > or to back up other nav methods.
    I'm not sure whether you intended that question for me alone or the list
    as a whole. If the latter, I expect you will get multiple and varied
    Answering strictly for myself:
    GPS is an excellent system and I use it routinely when working at sea --
    as I have since 1987, when a GPS receiver cost $50,000 and only worked
    for part of each day -- the satellite constellation being left
    incomplete when the "Challenger" exploded and NASA found itself without
    an adequate launch vehicle. When I have a job to do, I have no objection
    to using the best tool available (and I'd apply that same standard if
    the "job" was the winning of a race).
    However, I don't go to sea in small sailing craft to do a specific job.
    I'm not out there to get from A to B quickly and efficiently. When those
    are my aims, I rely on airliners, rental cars and, if necessary, a
    chartered power boat. Nor am I out there to take life easy and relax. I
    can do that better by slinging a hammock between the trees in my back
    garden and settling in with a bottle of fine wine. I'm not even
    interested in formalized racing any more.
    Rather, I sail for the satisfaction of practising a complex skill-set --
    thereby combining my abilities with such elemental forces as wind and
    tide in order to achieve something that the elements alone would have
    denied. Getting to windward against a foul tide is immensely satisfying,
    whether you are catching every zephyr on a light day or coping with the
    challenges of gale-force gusts. It is even more so when your boat uses
    such simple technology that you could, if needs be, rebuild and re-rig
    her yourself from nothing more than timber, cordage and sailcloth. (OK:
    I'd have to add metal fastenings and a number of simple fittings.) Then,
    weathering some headland and making safe harbour is your own
    achievement, not something you can purchase as a "turn-key" package from
    the local boat shop.
    I guess I could apply the same standard to my navigation and confine
    myself to the sorts of local knowledge that Medieval pilots had. But
    that would confine my sailing to waters I knew well and would lack much
    intellectual challenge beyond memorizing. So I prefer to play at the
    level of navigational techniques available in the early 20th century,
    before electronics arrived. It just gives a point and a challenge that
    is lacking when you have a GPS feeding your position into a digital
    chart display, with a radar linked in and assorted alarms set to tell
    you when you are going somewhere you shouldn't be.
    Yes, those are great systems. Yes, they are very practical. Yes, they
    improve safety (if you don't lose the skills to function should they
    break down). Yes, I would use them if I was heading out with a job to
    do. But they defeat most of my purpose in going out on recreational trips.
    Some day, I want to find my way home through thick fog using nothing
    more than watch, compass and taffrail log because I want to know that I
    can face the ocean on those terms and match the skills of men who once
    had to navigate that way for a living. I would hope to have a GPS on
    board so that I could nasty accidents should I lose my reckoning. But if
    I was to rely on that GPS, what would be the point of being out in a
    cold, clammy fog? I might as well sit at this computer and play video
    games -- or else charter a local fishing boat with a skipper who knows
    all the Loran numbers for the harbour entrance. After all, why command
    your own vessel if you are only going to pass most of the interesting
    tasks to a box full of circuit boards?
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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