Re: Don't read this unless you have time . .
I did a circumnavigation from 1970 to 1979. I used a sextant, a compass, a couple of stop watches, a taffrail log, an RDF and my brain. I scored free cancelled charts from the freighters in port and in the process made lots of friends and we got to do laundry aboard, usually while being served a great meal.
For the first half a dozen deliveries on yachts with a SatNav, I checked it against my celestial navigation, just to be sure. Then I put my sextants away with the advent of reasonably priced, reliable GPS units.
The last two times I've entered Bermuda the chap at Bermuda Radio has read me the riot act because I don't have registered EPIRBS, PLB's, a DSC VHF and a host of other equipment I don't need or want. I was finding Bermuda on celestial navigation, probably before the a**hole was born!
But I love my Garmin 10" chartplotter (networked w/ weather and radar) mounted above the compass at the wheel; it gives me many more hours of sleep on a crossing vs. celestial navigation and so far has been spot on except in the ICW. I love my RayMarine wind instruments, though there are still bits of yarn on my shrouds and a Windex aloft. I LOVE my stabilized binoculars; they work!
I only use the VHF when necessary; it is not on all day & night as on most boats we meet. I doubt I'll ever have AIS, use DSC or a PLB.
Lost is the art of Dead Reckoning, feeling the change in the seas as a current or back wash from a nearby unseen island affects a vessel, or finding a tiny atoll by looking for the green cloud that will surely be above the lagoon. How many today know the formula for finding distance from a steep shoreline by sounding a horn and counting the seconds of the echo?
I've even met a boatwright schooled in a prestigious New England boat building school who caulks by putting the cotton inside the oakum.
I'm hoping to pass on as much of my knowledge as I can to Nikki, my sailing companion, but I'm not serving, caulking, slab reefing or hundreds of other things that made sailing any more difficult, tedious and fun, any more. I haven't been asked to or had a baggywrinkle party in over 40 years, something that brought almost everybody in the marina together several times a year, as boats prepared for an ocean crossing. We sail with all roller furling sails and Nikki has never been on deck in a gale to bring down the main or a headsail that has been left up too long. Harnesses and safety lines have replaced "one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself", a system where one relied on one's self and a mate, if two hands were needed.
Many of the modern innovations are indeed advances in safety, convenience and ease but without a solid foundation in the basics, people are getting into perilous situations where their only hope of survival is being rescued. I read "Once is Enough", by Miles Smeeton and some years later it saved my life and the life of all those aboard when we were capsized three times in a hurricane off Fiji. I knew exactly what to do when, in 50' breaking seas, we were without the companionway hatch; no need to think or experiment. Even with extensive damage, we sailed to a safe harbor after the storm. I have never called for help, asking anyone else to risk their life to save me from a dangerous situation that I have gotten myself into (on a pleasure vessel); nor would I. Everyone who makes a crossing with me is informed of this long before we leave, in case they want to change their mind.
I do not sail willingly into gales or hurricanes and will avoid tempests whenever possible, but if caught, I know we will be fine, if not too comfortable for a time.
The toys are great, but if you can't sail without them, perhaps you shouldn't sail until you can. Even a small lake can become a dangerous place if the conditions deteriorate beyond your knowledge and experience. Each day, during the season here in the West Indies, we see people dragging anchor, crashing into other boats or docks and making foolish choices that imperil the boat and those aboard.
Every time there are boating fatalities, it encourages governments to regulate our sport, thereby restricting one of the last experiences of true freedom; sailing on the wind.
"Any idiot can make a boat go; it takes a sailor to stop one." Spike Africa aboard the schooner Wanderer in Sausalito, Ca. 1964.
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