‘Old school’ navigation

Venture Jet jet boat in Ramsey Island caveI had a glorious walk to the beach with the dog across the fields in thick mist this morning. Whenever I see the mist come in I think back to one particular crew, now working in sunnier climes.

The mist was coming in. My crew started to look anxiously at the GPS. Suddenly a ghastly thought hit her: “What do you do if fog comes in and the GPS fails?” Yes, she knew how to use the compass but it wasn’t her instrument of choice – it has no screen …

I replied that since I wasn’t planning on using the GPS anyway it really didn’t make much difference but that we had a handheld GPS as a spare in the locker. Tech is great and anything that can make things safer is welcome but we all know it’s not a good idea to rely solely on anything with a screen!

There followed a discussion between two different boating generations: Tim and I are pre-GPS, pre-mobile phone and of course pre-DSC. We worked around Ramsey and sometimes offshore for many years without these things and while they are sometimes useful to double-check something, we rarely use the GPS inshore and tend to use it offshore to quickly log cetaceans more than anything else. GPS is of course brilliant as a backup in the event of fog coming in but while these things are wonderful sometimes you can’t beat the low tech fog horn, whistle and basic navigation by what you can see, however limited. For a start the GPS doesn’t know about some of the little rocks around Ramsey. When GPS first came out for commercial boat owners Shaun White was at a boat show and had to point out to the GPS developers that they had forgotten to include Ramsey Island on their charts at all! There were some red faces.

After we had discussed the compass, determining simple navigation points, the position of the sun, our drift in relation to landmarks we recognised, the track of our wake etc, she grinned, “Cool. That’s very reassuring. You are seriously old school, though. Do you know that?” Yeah, I do 🙂 .

I am so grateful for all the ‘old school’ training I was given not only by the skippers I worked with but by other skippers happy to pass on their experience. They were particularly generous in inventing complex emergency scenarios over coffee, settling down in the sun with a knowing smile and “So what do you do if…” Dear Lord may I never need all that they taught me!