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Skipper’s Tips

Amazing things are happening in the navigational realm.  Doctors are using GPS technology to locate and treat cancers of the prostate, for instance.  Now, lest I become the butt of some asinine humour here, let me say that not only have I been accused of not being able to find my own posterior depression with the aid of both hands, I have been known to shout on the odd occasion, “Take your GPS and shove it where the sun don't shine.”  Which makes me some sort of ahead-of-my-time researcher, I suppose.

 

Further to this, and also on a navigational note, it has recently been discovered that domestic cattle are inclined to align themselves in a north/south orientation about 70 per cent of the time.  The implications for nautical navigation are immense—provided you have room enough on your vessel for several of the beasts to randomly align themselves.  As to whether they are aligned to the magnetic poles remains to be seen, but so long as you know the local variation (is a cow subject to deviation?—room there for further research I should think) you're half-way home.

 It might be possible to combine these two recent areas of research and implant a GPS system deep inside the dark bits of a cow.  Very handy should you lose your way when conducting that deviation research.

 

Yes, modern navigational tools are things of wonder.  Recently, though, I was out on the water and one of the crew commented that none of our three main navigational aids seemed to agree.  The GPS said one thing, the steering compass another and the autopilot something else again.  The question was raised as to the one essential piece of navigational equipment should we be allowed only one.  Now, a GPS system is great but relies on a consistent electrical supply in order to work.  A good ship's compass is an excellent thing but is subject to deviation and other vagaries that make it potentially unreliable.

 

For me, the one essential is a good quality hand-bearing compass.  By moving it around the vessel you can check on the reliability of the information it is giving you.  You can climb part way up the mast or stand at the bow and get a reliable reading whilst improving your view.  It's the perfect tool for taking bearings and providing fixes (provided of course you have a decent set of charts) and it can accompany you in the dinghy when you go exploring.

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If the parameters were expanded I would take a cheap hand-held GPS—particularly one that took AA or AAA batteries, but that would be in addition to the hand-bearing compass.  In navigation, as in much of life, keeping it simple is often the key to success. 

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