Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Navigation and cruising gear

I have a chart of the northern part of the western Mediterranean but the scale (1:645 000) is impossibly small for the area I sail in. From Santa Pola, Alicante in the south to Montpellier, France in the north and east beyond Minorca it gives a comprehensive view for passage making from the Catalan coast to the Balearic islands. The chart boasts (in English translation) ‘water protected paper’ and features ‘harbour planes’ and ‘ampliated marine reserves’.

Striving to be a responsible sailor I felt that OB should have a chart aboard but apart from the issue of scale the chart cost me 24 euros and is far too expensive to get wet (despite its 'water protected paper'). Although I know the coast well—years exploring the windsurfing possibilities of the shore combined with the long term habit of stealing moments to visit new coves or bays—some sort of reference was necessary.

I took two 1:50 000 topographical maps that covered my route. Being maps of the land the sea was simply represented as a uniform blue. Spanish maps are notoriously bad but I figured that their inaccuracies wouldn’t extend to the physical geography of the coast. Using my chart and Google Earth I transposed all useful information (wrecks, lights and buoys) onto the road map. I used the map once or twice to remind myself of the usable coves I’d marked.

The GPS also contains all the information regarding hazards but I use it mainly as a speedometer, keeping it switched on to record the complete journey on the trip computer.

With good visibility, negligible tides and deep water local navigation doesn’t present many problems.

I installed a compass aboard knowing that on the return journey from the Delta I’d be steering a course of 046º. I also carried a hand-bearing compass as a back up which I stowed with the other safety gear; the flares, the signal mirror, the spare mobile phone, torch, gas bottle and batteries.

I set the boat tent up every night and it served to keep off the rain and the dew. Indirectly we still got wet though, as rain or dew trickled in off the decks. A permanent state of damp is an unavoidable feature of small boat cruising and, if you’ve been dreaming for as long as I have, it’s part of the fun. The problem I have with the tent is that it blots out the night sky. Lying in bed looking up at the stars is one of the treats of sleeping outside and although I will still carry a tent I think a bivy bag would better serve me.

Amongst the other gear still needed to make OB an efficient cruising machine is a solar charger for the phone, a waterproof handheld VHF and a navigation light. Recently row sailing after sunset, the sea suddenly becoming more populated as lights flashed on, I wore a head torch. On a trip after dark last year I hoisted the torch on the main yard, but as the light’s beam doesn’t cover 360º its worth is debatable. While it’s better than nothing it maybe more use on my head than on the yard as, were we to get dangerously close to another craft, I could shine it on the sails, or into the eyes of the approaching skipper.

No comments: