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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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  #1  
Old 09-16-2014
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Newbie Reef Navigating

Early this coming February me and a dozen of my closest friends are chartering two boats in Antigua. We want to visit Gravenors Bay on the south side of Barbuda (White Bay in particular) but both cruising guides suggest that the anchorages there are best left to “experienced reef navigators” and note that the charts available for the area are sketchy at best.

Most of our collective experience is in the waters of New England on the US East Coast (1000nm+ as skipper for me so far this season) where the water is not at all clear so we have very limited reef navigation experience. For the most part the charts for New England are accurate but we still have some additional gear for checking out unknown anchorages that we could bring. Most commonly we use my handheld depth sounder from the dinghy to check out anchorages.

Any tips for getting started reef navigating? Should we stick to what we know and figure our course in by dinghy and sounder? Any other tips? There has to be some preparations we can manage between now and February but I’m drawing a blank.
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Last edited by vtp; 09-16-2014 at 06:41 PM. Reason: grammar
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Old 09-16-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

I can be intimidating at first but if you use common sense you should be OK. In some ways it is not all the difficult as long as you are good at seeing things and responding quickly in a non-panicy way to what you see.

Couple of things that help: you want to have a high sun, preferably behind you so the glare is reduced. For the areas you are talking about it would early afternoon. Polarized sunglasses are a big help too. You need to know how to handle your boat, for example if you have to stop quickly and backup what are the tendencies e.g. with prop walk. You will be going dead slow so need to know it handles then. You want to have one crew forward with a good measure of common sense. One of the interesting things when the water is really clear is knowing how deep - sometimes 6 feet and 25' look pretty much the same. You need a good means of communicating from bow to helm. A lot of yelling back and forth is not helpful when conditions get dicey. My wife and I have developed a set of hand signals for things like speed up/slow down, go to neutral and so on (beside left and right of course). In the old books they talk about going up to the spreaders to look. Not very practical on a charter boat, but I have noticed that my wife likes to stand on top of the windlass - even the extra foot seems to help. Also when you are going in turn on a track on your plotter, it helps when you are coming out and visibility might not be so good (e.g. early in morning).

Overall, discretion is the better part of valour. If you don't feel comfortable with the situation, don't do it.
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Old 09-16-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

Generally charter companies do not let you go where you are likely to run aground. The boat will have a decent depth finder and perhaps a chart plotter.

However, the general rule in the Caribbean is to go slowly in good light so that you can 'read' the waters and judge the depth by the color of the water. We often use the dinghy and a hand held but we never trust the chart plotter because once you leave Miami they are not sufficiently accurate for 'blind navigation'

Enjoy Phil
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Old 09-16-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

Thanks guys. The boats definitely have chartplotters. I'll be sure to record the track on at least two plotters in case we need to beat a lower visibility retreat, that is an excellent tip!

I wonder about a compromise for getting a good view: standing on the boom travelered out to one side might get one a better viewing angle? I expect the helm position of the cockpit will have a much better view than the mono-hull.

Regarding sun angle, is "overhead" more important than "behind"? If noon is right overhead is 10am better than 4pm even if you're headed east?

Anyone know of a resource better than google maps for getting a sense as to what different depths look like?
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Old 09-16-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

We've been into that anchorage on a boat that drew 7 feet - it was a very slow go getting in and out.

Killarney makes some great points.. a forward observer, good hand signals that both/all parties understand, mid day, etc.

From what I recall that anchorage is very swell-dependant.. if the swell is running large there won't be enough depth to ride it through the troughs either entering or perhaps even trying to stay there. As it was I managed to dump a coffee filter full of boiling water on my hand as we rolled in there - a nasty burn/scald that put a crimp on the swimming that trip! (That and the fact that our hosts are still finding coffee grounds here and there from time to time!)

Pretty, scenic, but not much shelter from wind or swell.. I'm a bit surprised that the charter company is OK with that destination. If it works out for you, watch out for the donkeys, the bumpy cab ride and boat ride to the Frigate Bird colony is a worthwhile daytrip, the debris all over the eastern beaches is a little depressing, but the beaches are otherwise deserted!
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Old 09-17-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

During previous charters we've avoided the areas they've expressly forbidden but other than that I think we can sail and anchor wherever as long as we don't leave the allowed area. I guess we'll see what they say in the briefing.

Can't see any other way to become an experienced reef navigator other than to navigate some reefs
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Old 09-17-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

Reef navigators mantra: Blue, blue go on through, Brown Brown go around. Eyes on the water, color change.
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Old 09-17-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

Quote:
Originally Posted by vtp View Post
Can't see any other way to become an experienced reef navigator other than to navigate some reefs
I don't think the charter company would have quite that level of enthusiasm with the use of their boats . That said, if there are questions as to whether they would let you go there, you could always inquire ahead of time. That way, if it is off limits you could adjust your planning accordingly, rather than waiting for the briefing...
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Old 09-17-2014
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

As to time, it all depends on the glare conditions. Before you get in the shallow bit you can go on course and see what the glare is like. Something nasty is when there is cloud and little glare and then sun appears just when you don't need it.

Not sure I am a fan of the standing on the boom trick. What happens if you do hit something. At best, the person falls into the water (video running?), at worst they fall on the deck. Also if they are swung out to one side they are even further away from the other.

In most ways it is not that hard as long as you are really careful and take your time.
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Re: Newbie Reef Navigating

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Originally Posted by killarney_sailor View Post
Not sure I am a fan of the standing on the boom trick. What happens if you do hit something. At best, the person falls into the water (video running?), at worst they fall on the deck.
That could make an entertaining video.

I envisioned standing on the boom with one arm wrapped around the mast, shoulder pressed against the mast, as high and forward as practical. Travelered over just to put the boom underfoot a bit. Wherever you stand the plan is to move slowly enough that a collision doesn't knock anyone down.

I guess at the spreaders you'd be sitting in the bosun's chair not standing on a spreader...

Last edited by vtp; 09-17-2014 at 03:12 PM. Reason: grammar
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