Monday, July 13, 2015

Paper and Plastic

I frequently see long and acrid online forum argument threads about the superiority of digital charting vs. paper charts. However, like with most things there is no single correct answer for every situation. Can you be all-digital and be safe? Yes! Can you go all-paper and be safe? Yes!

But why do you have to go all one way or the other? Just like sailboats equipped with powerful diesel engines, most of us choose to have both. There is nothing finer than a long sail when the wind is right, the sails are trimmed and the boat is gliding silently across the bay. But when it comes time to work my way in or out of a fuel dock or a marina, I prefer to do it under power. Could I instead sail up to the dock? Sure, in an emergency — but why does it have to be one or the other?

I feel the same way about nautical charting. I like to have the chartplotter running when offshore, silently keeping a continuous note of our position, speed, progress and relation to hazards. But at the same time, I like to have a folded paper chart nearby showing me the big picture at a glance so I can think more broadly about the route, where we are headed, possibly how to deal with an upcoming wind shift, etc.

Scale matters
This one small example indicates one of the major downfalls of most digital charting systems: Due to the available screen size, you can either look at a small area in good detail or a large area with insufficient detail. You simply need more real estate than most chartplotters provide in order to get the big picture with decent detail. Are bigger screens and monitors available? Yes, they are, but I have yet to see a pleasure boat equipped with one 3-by-4 feet, which is near the size of a typical chart.

There is nothing quite like spreading out the big paper chart to plan your offshore route to Bermuda and beyond. Without scrolling or zooming you can see everything from the East Coast out to the islands, including the route of the Gulf Stream, which is critical to your planning. I keep some older charts around the house so I can draw up planned passages or even just summer cruises. A little bit of planning can make a cruise so much more enjoyable.

On the other hand, using digital charts on my home PC is a fantastic asset for making those same plans. I can look up any harbor I want to in the USA for free using NOAA's online chart viewer , or I can use one of several charting programs that can utilize the free chart downloads from NOAA (http://www.charts.noaa.gov/). OpenCPN is one of the free navigation programs, and there are versions for most operating systems (http://opencpn.org/ocpn/).

I find the PC charting program invaluable for picking out waypoints, which I like to do prior to being underway, and together with my big paper chart they make for a great planning tool.

Get the big picture of a small harbor
Another area where I like to have a paper chart handy is when approaching a tricky harbor. Yes, the chartplotter can be great in providing detailed views of every place you might visit, but again that view will be centered around where your boat is located. While winding your way up a narrow channel with side channel offshoots, rocks to dodge and possibly funky buoyage, it is great to once again be able to hold a paper chart that provides a bigger picture of everything coming up. Not only can you see the red nun coming up, but you can spot that water tower shown on the chart that creates a perfect range for homing in on the town wharf hidden behind all the boats.

The same applies in the Intracoastal Waterway. Use the digital charting to keep track of where you are and use the paper charts or a chartbook to plan ahead for the next anchorage or fuel stop. It is far easier to flip back and forth through a paper chartbook than it is to scroll up and down the electronic screen.

The more tools the better
When I am repairing something on board it often saves time and money in the long run to go out and purchase the right tool for the job. The same applies with paper charts and digital charts. Have both available and use the best tool for the job at hand.

This article was originally published by Ocean Navigator. Check them out for lots more great stuff like this!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Getting attached

Have you ever found the perfect waterfront boaters’ bar? I’m still searching, but I know what it looks and smells like. It’s right on the waterfront — you can dinghy right up to it, hop ashore and stumble back to the dink at the end of the evening. The clincher: when you’re in the mood for mischief, you can bring up a story about your favorite anchor and before you know it there will be a near riot!
Strong men and women have fled from many a boating forum in tears after near-death experiences in anchor threads. Why is this? Like one’s religion, or lack thereof, it is part nurture, part experimentation, part preaching, part experience and part blind faith. Most boaters move back and forth through these stages in their voyaging careers, but many settle in one category or another and will defend their positions vehemently, just like their religions.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? The “nurture” folks are the ones who learned to use anchor X and will never even look at another. They probably have their favorite anchor tattooed on their biceps. The experimenters are the ones who are never quite sure they’ve found their true love. The preachers are the ones who have experimented and now KNOW IT ALL! The experienced ones are likely to carry an array of steel and aluminum that makes their decks look like the beaches of Normandy covered with tank traps. The blind-faithers often have a single enormous anchor perched on the bow shackled to oversized chain and backed up with a windlass that could lift the entire boat.


To read the rest of this article go to Ocean Navigator where it was originally published in the May/June 2015 issue.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Anti-anchoring bill is anti-safety

Once again Florida boaters and cruisers from all over are fighting an ill-conceived anti-anchoring bill (SB 1548) that purports to be about “safety,” but in reality would limit the number of safe harbors to a handful in much of the state. The main thrust of the bill prohibits overnight anchoring within 200 feet of most developed parts of Florida. As has been discussed here and in many places online (see the Salty Southeast Cruisers' Net), this measure would essentially outlaw all overnight anchoring in many popular places such as Manatee Pocket, anywhere in Ft. Lauderdale, most of Miami, Marathon, and most of North Lake Worth.

All of these locations, and many more, are where cruisers routinely anchor safely while waiting for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas, or just to ride out a stretch of bad weather. I have done so in all of these places. During the peak winter season it is highly likely that there would be no marina berths available in these same locations, mooring fields would be full, and there would be no alternative but to keep moving night and day despite the weather. Even with the current availability of anchorages it is very difficult to find a marina berth or a mooring in high season.

Sure, there are safety exceptions in the proposed law, for “mechanical breakdown or when imminent or existing extreme weather conditions impose an unreasonable risk of harm.” Who is to judge whether or not the weather is “extreme,” and whether or not it poses an “unreasonable risk of harm?” Am I supposed to move on in a gale because it isn’t “extreme?”

Even in good weather what would an ordinary cruiser do? It is impractical and dangerous to run the ICW 24/7, and sometimes even if the weather isn’t “extreme” it is very difficult and uncomfortable to proceed outside down the coast while fighting the Gulf Stream. In short, this bill makes safe and comfortable cruising all but impossible in south Florida, and makes it very difficult in the entire state.

Cruising boaters are above all else safety conscious. We spend thousands of dollars on safety equipment far in excess of any Coast Guard or other regulations. We do so to protect our lives and property, often valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, we enjoy visiting new places where we can anchor safely, go ashore, enjoy restaurants and shopping, re-provision our vessels, and purchase marine equipment. On various trips to Florida I have spent many thousands of dollars specifically on safety equipment: liferafts, epirbs, radios, safety harnesses, anchoring gear, satellite phones, etc. etc. Most cruisers will not go where they would be forced to operate their boats in an unsafe manner, which is what this law would do.

To anyone who has cruised Florida it is obvious that this bill would “impose an unreasonable risk of harm” to boaters on a regular basis. This is more than an anti-anchoring bill–it is anti-safety and anti-boating.

This guest editorial was first published on the Salty Southeast Cruisers' Net.

A true number two anchor

Want to start an instant argument in a waterfront bar? Just bring up anchors and anchoring and you’ll regret changing the topic from politics. Nothing brings out more heated opinions than the best choice of anchor and how to use it. And don’t try changing the subject by asking how to rig a second anchor, or you might be thrown out of that bar by the bouncer.

Being a safe distance from that bar and that cruising crowd at the moment, I get to now write a few carefully chosen words on the subject of how to choose, rig, and use that second anchor.


Read the rest of this article at Ocean Navigator.

Anchor test in the Chesapeake

In August 2014, Fortress Anchors conducted scientific anchor testing in the Chesapeake, utilizing the 81-foot research vessel Rachel Carson owned by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Testing was observed by Chuck Hawley, the former Vice President of Product Testing at West Marine, and Robert Taylor, a U.S. Navy anchor design and soil mechanics expert for over 45 years, consulted on the project. The bottom condition was soft mud, which is common in the Chesapeake Bay. 
I have long argued that a lot of anchor testing is done in unusual bottom conditions that create odd results, whereas mud is the predominant bottom found in most harbors all around the world. Yes, there are extremely rocky bottoms in Chile, and some people never anchor outside of the sandy Bahamas or the coral-strewn waters of the South Pacific, but still the majority of harbors found up and down the coasts of North America and Europe are mud, which goes for most of the rest of the world, too.


Read the rest of this article at Ocean Navigator.