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"There and back again"

by Alex Blackwell

This was the title of a book written by Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, characters in the very popular novels about Middle Earth by J.R. Tolkein. I would, however, argue that this title is really about the story of each of our lives. And much like Bilbo and Frodo, the important part of the story is keeping a written record of where you intend to go and what you saw underway. If you do not know where you are going and where you have been, how are you supposed to know where you are? And, what about getting home again? Should you at some time stray from your intended track or go off course, if you keep records you can easily see where you are and where you should be. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Frodo had not gotten back on his course and had not been able to destroy that cursed ring. Would we be here today? Would we be enjoying the freedoms we have? Of course, there are the tremendous added benefits of being able to relive your adventures and to tell your stories, just like Frodo and Bilbo did in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

We live for the moments and days we can be out on our boat. We jot stuff down as it hits us – thoughts and notions, observations and deductions, but also where we are, where we are going, where we have been and what we have done. Since our memories are not what they used to be, a little nudge from our notes about where to find the dinghy dock and where we left our boat has on many an occasion proven helpful.

There and back again
The First Rule of Boating
Navigation displays for the rest of us
Patchy Fog

Tools and more info

The Importance of Practicing MOB Drills and Crew Training
Tools for coastal navigation
What is the meaning of Zulu time?
Lots more Navigation Resources


Top 10 Online Boating Resources
Top 10 Challenging Cruising Waters in the Northeast

We were once quietly sailing out on Long Island Sound, when a roaring cigarette boat came thundering directly at us. We were sure it was going to T-bone our boat, so we blasted our air horn and tried to hail them on VHF Channel 16. In the last instant they slowed down and came alongside. Now, we were really curious. What could the owner of this bright red speedster possibly want from a couple of slow-poke blow boaters? Here we were drifting along at 0+ knots in a flat calm, but splendid, day with not a care in the world.

“Could you tell us how to get to New Rochelle ?” was their question. I am sure they must have thought us mentally deficient as well as just plain slow when we stared at them incredulously for a moment. It did take a while for the depth of this unfathomable question to sink into our startled minds. We had been at peace with the world as we know it and were then catapulted into action by a red missile coming straight at our midships. So, yes we were a ‘little’ slow in reacting to their simple question.

When we came to, we tried to give them a bearing and distance to the navigation aid at the entrance to the desired harbor, and were rewarded with totally blank stares in return. Now we were befuddled. Did they have a chart, we asked? A what? OK, got it. Then we pointed in the direction they should go and told them to turn right at the third large red buoy. A thunderous roar and they were off. Good-bye and good luck.

Heading home at sunset. Be sure you can find your way back! A handheld GPS with waypoint for your anchorage can help should fog settle in.
For us that was once again an affirmation that not everyone out there has an open chart in the cockpit, an electronic gps chart plotter displaying position, course and speed, a radio tuned to the required hailing and distress frequency, and forget about a radar, or even a person on watch. Here was this boat going very fast; they knew how to make it go, and where they wanted to go, but not how to get there. How would they recognize it when they did get there?

Another time we were listening to the radio as a report of a boat beached on one of the islands came through. Seems the skipper put in waypoints and went below with his honey, until the island he didn't notice on the chart between the two waypoints came between them.

We have on more than one occasion been out at sea in restricted visibility, when various systems (engine, electronics, etc) decided to fail. Our log entries, with position, course and speed, as well our penciled chart annotations, enabled us to know pretty precisely where we were and what we needed to do periodically to confirm this information so we could safely carry on - slowly and safely. But as I mentioned before, it is not only for safety that we write things down. It is also very nice to be able to go back to the log book or chart to see where we have been and to remember what we did (given that our collective memories are not reaching as far back as they used to).  We rely on our navigation skills and record keeping to take us “there and back again”.

I am not sure why someone driving a boat would not have a chart on board. Surely they would have a street map in their car – or would they? GPS chart plotters are neat gadgets, and I would think any boater would want one. Then there is the question of having a driver’s license – but perhaps we should address that at some other time. (NJ has already done that, and other States will surely follow suit.)

Free Downloadable Booklet Charts from NOAA being tested
Thanks to NOAA, having current charts should really no longer be an issue. They now offer free, top quality, raster and vector charts that are updated with the weekly Notice to Mariners, and are intended for navigation. We download new charts before every longer trip. To make things even better, NOAA has been developing products such as their booklet and pocket charts, which are targeted at recreational boaters, like kayakers, who need to have something akin to a street map in their boat. Of course, if the current administration decides to limit funding to NOAA, these wonderful safety resources may be among the first to go. So download now while you can.

There are no more excuses.


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