Wind, Waves and Water
12 January 2009
So, dear readers, for those of you who are interested, a short lecture on modern marine electronics and navigation. Sea Sharp has enough gauges, instruments and dials to make a 747's dash look like a 1962 Volkswagen. In the cockpit, at the helm (steering station) I have five instruments, plus a steering compass, vhf radio and other accoutrements. On the bulkhead (the "wall" of the boat) I have another three. Down below there are numerous others. This plethora of instruments really start with a basic few bits of information but with the marvels of Bill Gates' genius, turns this into a cornucopia of information; enough to get you where you need to go or, if you don't know what to do with the info, into serious trouble.
So, what are the basic elements of information? Where are you heading, how fast, how much water and how strong is the wind. Add this to the marvels of GPS (Global Positioning System) and you can pretty well do everything but figure what the stock market will do tomorrow.
Now to debunk GPS. It's an amazingly simple yet complex beauty, provided to us as a by-product of the US military. It's really simple. There are a whole bunch of satellites roaming around the sky, whose exact positions relative to the earth are predetermined. So, these satellites send constant signals down to us saying where they are at very precise instants in time. If you get three of these beaming down their merry signal saying where they are, a pretty simple antennae coupled with a small computer can then figure out where it is on the face of the earth - the GPS receiver (now available at Crappy Tire for a hundred bucks). So all the GPS knows is where it is at a particular point in time. But when you string together these bits of information, you get a veritable bread crumb path of points. This can then tell you what direction you are going, how fast, how high, how long to the next predetermined point, etc. Combine this with the artistry of electronic charts and you get to see your own little vessel on a computer screen, happily sailing its way along the ocean blue.
Before I make my point of all of this, contrast our voyage here today with that of our predecessor adventurers. The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, had none of these things; nor did they have even paper charts. In fact, they were worried that once they got to the horizon, they'd fall off into the place where "there be dragons". Today, we can see our progress on high definition charts, figure out how much fuel we've used, and when we get to our destination, the phone number of the local Marios's Pizza. We're some intrepid sailors, aren't we?
O.K. now to my point...... We leave Port Lucaya this morning at exactly 7:00 a.m. We have slept soundly and peacefully in one of the small 'nubs" of the canal after having been booted away from another area of the waterway the evening before. We motor the 15 minutes or so into the inlet into the ocean and start the rolly passage from Grand Bahama to our intended destination; the Berry Islands.
The guide books admonish us that this is an ocean passage and we should prepare ourselves accordingly. We take it seriously but figure, it's only 57 miles, a straight shot pretty well east and no obstructions. What can be easier. Now to my point.... That 57 charted miles turned out to be more than 70 miles "through the water". How can this be, you ask. Well, to the title of this blog, wind, waves and water. Our traditional instruments: compass and knot log (speedometer) kept saying you're doing fine, this speed in this direction. The old "truth teller" the GPS was saying, "sorry you're really going in this direction at this speed". Why the discrepancy? Wind, waves and water. We were heading into an incessant east wind which had been blowing for days. This combined with the inrushing water of the tide meant that we were being belligerently denied the progress we intended to make towards our destination; Great Stirrup
So, long story made short, our modest day turned out to be an arduous day o crashing into head seas, strong current and brisk winds, Chopin assumes his usual defiant persona. Looking at us from the minimal comfort of his little "house' with a look of distain and near hatred. Judy, is a trooper. She does not complain and, in her usual fashion, vacillates between preparing her and her captain interesting morsels to chew on and...... napping.
It's 5 o'clock and we're tired of being tossed and turned like some sport socks in a Laundromat dryer. We finally see the huge cruise ships anchored outside of this cay (pronounced key) which is our destination. We bash our way into the harbour produced by the assembly of the various cays (Great Stirrup and Little Stirrup - sounds either like my cousin's Ferrier business or the instruments of torture that Judy has always told me about when she needs to get her PAP test done). We round the corner into this anchorage and are immediately tempted by four very prominent and substantial moorings. Well, I can't tell you anything more salivating for a cruising boater than a "free" mooring... and these were the acme. Great big floats, huge painters, free of crud; the hallmarks of serious boat holders. So, our boat buddy, Breeze Hunter, us and another boat from Toronto, Ti Matou, pick up these bits of manna.
Well, as they say, 'if it's too good to be true...." Pretty soon the landing craft from the cruise ships begin their way in looking for their moorings. Guess who's on them? These landing craft are the vessels which transport the melanoma-craving tourists fro m their floating cities to the "pristine beaches" so they can fry, buy t-shirts which say "They went to the Bahamas and all they got me was this lousy t-shirt" , and drink $15 watered down rum punch with little umbrellas (why the umbrella? We've not had a drop of rain in weeks). They politely, but unceremoniously kick us off their moorings..
We're tired but resigned to move and work our way to a supposed anchorage by the shore. Our depth sounder (one of our various aforementioned instruments) starts wailing that it has no water under it and soon we are aground. No amount of forwarding or reversing gets us off so we succumb to the ultimate humiliation; we ask the cruise ship tender to help us. This launching ramp roars up to us, grabs our line and tows us out of this place; we've just created a new channel!
No harm done, we move to another location an drop anchor . No fancy supper tonight; we're all three exhausted and Chopin has that evil, ' why have you done this to me" expression on his face.