Last evening, in beautiful weather, Mosey On & Crew completed our longest passage ever – Cape May, NJ to The Great Salt Pond on Block Island, RI. It took us 34 hours, 60 gallons of Diesel, several pots of coffee, and at least 12 hours of lost sleep. We had planned to leave Cape May on Sunday, but the weather window opened early on Saturday with beautifully benign (read somewhat calm) seas and promised to close again on Monday. As we sit here snug on our anchor with gusty wind and rain squalls sweeping the anchorage, I can attest to the timeliness and accuracy of that forecast.
We learned several things from this passage. It’s truly important to maintain a disciplined routine while on watch and make those regular log entries. The chores keep the mind focused when the body would rather be asleep. And a focused mind is critical to safely navigate around other vessels in the dark of night or fog. As our route took us perpendicular to the main shipping lanes into and out of New York harbor, we also logged some practical experience with our two radars and an electronic collision avoidance system called AIS. Commercial vessels are required to transmit their GPS position, speed, course and other data via a transponder just as commercial aircraft do. A receiver on Mosey On can read this data and display it on our navigation computer screens. Incentivized to avoid any close encounter, we spent hours exploring the features that clever software can provide from such data. Not to get too arcane, but my personal favorite is the dynamic solution of “Closest Point of Approach”….or by how much will we miss each other? (The hairy computations can be found at http://geomalgorithms.com/a07-_distance.html .) On Mosey On, we just select a data display. Do we hold our course, or turn to pass behind them? At our stately 6 knots, scurrying across in front of large ships is not a sound choice. Before we travel much further, we will be adding the AIS transmit feature to Mosey On. It just might help some bleary-eyed sailor avoid running into us!
Which brings me around to the title of this post. Colleen and I have long used ‘paper charts’ wherever we’ve gone. (We still carry AAA maps in the car.) Their electronic derivatives are marvelous: easy to use, easily updated, packed with useful information. They are as accurate as the paper charts from which their graphical data is loaded. Soooo….as part of our navigation planning for this passage, Colleen and I chose an ocean buoy that essentially marked an entrance off Montauk Point, Long Island to Block Island from the Atlantic. Technically, it was a ”Safe Water” buoy: red & white with a whistle…..no danger, just a “you are here” sort of reference. And that’s what we were looking for to plot our course and measure against our progress (distance to go) on this passage. We could measure that progress with the traditional navigator tools of parallel rules and dividers, etc. Or…we could select it by touching its graphical representation on our electronic charts. In this way we could see both our position and desired course and distance to this buoy off Block Island. And so we set off. For the next 33 hours, everything coincided: paper charts, derived positions, radar plots, and electronic charts. But in that final hour, something was amiss. For all our diligence, we could not see the buoy. It was not where it was supposed to be. It was…missing. We had wanted to photograph it as a memento of this, our longest ocean passage. A let-down, not a disaster. Like a base runner, we touched on the spot (Lat. /Long) where it should have been, then turned for the entrance to The Great Salt Pond.
Knowing where you are and where you are going is more valuable than the signposts along the way.