Monday, October 3, 2011

Hemingway's Boat- A book Review

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
        Third verse of "Sea-Fever"
        By John Masefield (1878-1967).
        (English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

There is something universal about the sea. We long to be near it, in it or on it. Hemingway was one who reveled in being on the water. Aside from being a famous writer, he was an avid sportsman. Hunting wild game in Africa and running in the Gulfstream in search of marlin, wahoo, dolphin and other game fish, Hemingway pioneered new ways of fishing and new gear.

He ran his boat, Pilar, out of Key West, Bimini and Cuba. Fishing the purple waters offshore in search of ever bigger game fish. Inspiration for the book “Old Man and the Sea” came from his friends in Cuba from whom he learned much about the habits of the big fish he sought.

Paul Hendrickson’s book, Hemingway’s Boat, takes us aboard the famed Pilar and uses the boat to help define the Hemingway character from a different perspective taken in the nearly one hundred books that have been written about the writer and his life.

I have read about twenty of those books over the years, including Hemingway’s letters from the collection by Carlos Baker. What better way to get a handle on Hemingway the man than to read over his shoulder, in his own words, his explanations of his reactions to events in his life. Many books have tried to psychoanalyze him over the years, and most of them are rubbish filled with the author’s own prejudices either for or against Hemingway. If you have the time and interest, read his Collected Letters. However, if you are interested in a completely different perspective towards his life, read Hemingway’s Boat.

The book offers an insightful perspective into what made Hemingway tick. From all that I have read, Hemingway was quite a jerk in real life. A bully, misogynistic, braggart, liar, drunk and father, husband, friend and supporter of those he liked.

Hendrickson fills out Hemingway’s profile by not concentrating on his reported foibles but by defining him by the people around him. Letting you see Hemingway in a new light by featuring some of the people that he associated with on daily basis. His wives, his children, his girlfriends, his fishing buddies and his publishers, all of which with whom he had very mixed relationships,.
Hemingway's writing room behind the main house.
He liked to teach but did not like to be taught. One of the easiest ways to get on Hemingway’s bad side was to try to correct him, especially on his writing. Or his choice in women. Hemingway learned, whether he liked it or not, at the knees of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. When he was finished with them, he often attacked them, as if to say he was now a better writer than they were, although he later defended Ezra when he was jailed for treason. With Hemingway, it seems that the better writer he became, the worse he became as a person. His fame made him a bully and royal pain. He liked writing about friends and people he knew because in his writing, he could control them. In real life he couldn’t and it frustrated him quite often.

A major turning point, and some say rejuvenation of his writing, came when he bought Pilar. As Hendrickson points out on page 145, “I believe Pilar was part of the change, allowing him to go farther out, where you don’t see the shoreline.” Farther out indeed. In his writing, shorelines were never good for Hemingway. He needed the boundless horizons of the ocean and human experience on which to create his most memorable writing.

Hendrickson examines Hemingway through the people around him, and corrects several misconceptions involving some of Hemingway’s exploits. Mr. Hendrickson’s research goes so far as to verify the temperature in Havana on a given day to collaborate one of Hemingway’s tales about his exploits in Cuba.

In other areas, Mr. Hendrickson’s research is a little less thorough. He tells a tale of Hemingway having guests on board and how Hemingway managed to make love to a young woman onboard the Pilar while anchored out in some secluded anchorage. While I don’t doubt Hemingway’s WANTING to have sex with the young lady, I can tell you from personal experience that it couldn’t have happened the way many authors imply, including Mr. Hendrickson.

If you have spent any time around boats, you would know that on a 38-foot boat with a small cabin forward and the rest of the boat open, there isn’t much privacy. With six or seven other people on board, in quiet anchorage, at night with no mechanical noises like air conditioning, you could not have a loud thought in your head without some overhearing it. Having sex with a vigorous young girl would be impossible unless no one else cared. This tale persists in the Hemingway legend in spite of its near impossibility.

The other place where Mr. Hendrickson stumbles is in that in several places he has Hemingway checking maps for upcoming trips aboard Pilar. They are charts, not maps. Maps show land details, charts show water features. A typical landlubber mistake, but not too serious. The only reason I mention these two gaffs, is that the rest of the book is so well researched and some old myths are laid to rest quite effectively.

The book, overall, is a very interesting and informative read. Well worth it if you want to know more about the Pilar and the role it played in Hemingway’s’ life and writing. It does go off track when it delves into Gregory “GiGi” Hemingway’s desire to dress in women’s clothes and his subsequent operation that transforms him from a man to a woman. I assume that the author and Gregory formed a friendship that lasted quite some time.  While interesting, and the author blames Ernest Hemingway for the identity crisis of his son, it has little to do with the boat, which is the title of this work. It should have been left to another volume, not included here. It slows the story and takes the reader far off course.

To say you will not read Hemingway because of how he lived his life is a laughable conceit. You are depriving yourself of some of the best writing in American literature.

This is a wonderful book overall and a good read. If you are interested in one of America’s greatest authors and like boats, the sea and fine writing, you'll like this book.

Three out of five propellers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Go Out and Annoy The fish

You’re sitting in your living room enjoying some quiet time with your family.  Suddenly there is a loud humming sound and a large pizza with extra cheese drops onto the coffee table.  You put the taped reruns of Gilligan’s Island on hold and start to chow down on a great slice with everything on it.
Suddenly, and without warning, you are yanked from your seat, pulled out the door and your family never sees you again.  Unless of course, they try the pizza too.  Then they may see you again, but they probably won’t be happy about it.
I think this is how the fish must feel.  There they are, out for a Sunday swim with whole family in the Gulfstream.  They cruise along, enjoying each others company.  Then WHAM!  Aunt Martha heads for the surface like a ballistic missile, never to be heard from again.
Why do these terrible things happen?  Are the fish wondering if their relatives are being kidnapped by aliens for exotic scientific experiments?  Are they shooting episodes of The X- Files in 90' of water?  We may never know.  I suspect that it must be quite disturbing to be a fish these days.

When I was young, I worked on commercial fishing boats in the Great Lakes.  That will tell you how old I am.  We actually HAD fish in the Great Lakes and you could eat them without worrying about glowing in the dark afterwards.  And we caught fish.  Enough so that about twenty people had a livelihood.
We used some very basic equipment in those days.  I still remember how my father’s friend, Bill Parishon, would go outside around 4:30 a.m. to smell the air.  Half asleep, I would stand at the end of the dock with him, trying to figure out what this crazy old man was doing.  His coffee steamed in a blue steel cup with white porcelain specks. He’d stare at the sky and smell the air like a hunting dog looking for the scent, and then make a decision.  Everything was so quiet out at the end of the dock.  The waves softly lapping at the pilings and maybe the fluttering of wings of some early rising bird were all you heard.  The burnt orange of a false dawn would light up the water for a few moments.  The nets piled on the dock smelled of fish and creosote. Stars sparkled in a last effort to hold off the dawn.  This was my world.
While I never attained the level of skill that he had, I did pride myself on trying to match his choices by looking for the signs he did.  He would announce to the fishing gods that today, Today, we fish to the Northeast. And by gosh we did.  That we seldom came back light was a testament to his skill.
We now have all sorts of sophisticated equipment to help us in our quest.  Some outfits use planes to find their catches.  We have side scanning sonar, water temperature gauges, color graph recorders, and salinity testers.  We have G.P.S. and LORAN, fast-freeze fish holds, and motherships that can process 20,000 pounds of fish a day.
But we’re missing two important things.  First and foremost are the fish.  We have depleted nearly every commercially viable food stock in the waters of the world.  Haddock no longer swarm the Great Banks, Whiting have disappeared, and lobsters are nearly on the endangered species list, as is their habitat.  We have become so good at using our machines, it has taken the element of chance out of the search.  And in doing so, we have almost eliminated what we were looking for.  No longer does the prey have a fighting chance.  They can run, but they can’t hide.
And we have lost something as equally important, but not nearly as obvious. 
We’ve lost our ability to appreciate the world around us.  Our sense of smell, after being assaulted for thousands of years by urban pollution, is a mere vestige of what our ancestors probably had.  We have learned to tune out the constant racket of our lives.  Horns blaring and planes screaming overhead.  Quiet disturbs us and we immediately fill the void by climbing into our cars and blasting the radio so loud that the windows actually flex in and out.
I am not a Luddite nor am I a techno-phobe.  I’m using a state of the art computer to write this while listening to Patsy Cline on the same machine.  I drive a beast of car that has a stereo that can drown out the landing of a 747, and insulates me from most of the bumps in the road.
But sometimes, when I’m stuck on I-95 in morning rush hours, I long for the days when at the break of dawn, all you would hear is old Bill saying, Today, we fish to the Northeast.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Merry Christmas, Captain!

I know many of you are getting nervous as the Christmas season approaches. “What do I get the captain this year? That gold Rolex I got him last year seems so inadequate.” Well, you’re right. Be that as it may, you don’t have to be a dog this year.

Buying for your captain can be wrought with hazards. He runs this really big, really nice boat and has all those toys to play with. What could he possibly want? Quite a bit actually. Remember, he RUNS the boat, he generally doesn’t own it. Even if he does, he has probably put so much into its upkeep, he can’t afford to buy gas for his Lamborghini this week.

In an effort to make the season a little less stressful on you this year, I’ve compiled this list of items that will be appreciated by myself and other captains on your Christmas list. Just start at the top and work your way down. No need to buy them all this month, but by Halloween, you should have everything, except maybe the shirt, safely wrapped and hidden.

Remember, your captain doesn’t ask for much from you, that’s why this list is rather short. Unless there is smoke coming off your American Express Black card, you’re falling behind.

Weems & Plath Clock  and Barometer– Every captain worth his salt needs a barometer. We are out in the weather all the time so it affects our daily lives. What with the weather services being so horribly unreliable and full of lies, we must fend for ourselves. With a barometer we can more accurately predict approaching storms and stock up on rum and limes. The clock makes for a nice set and since you were too cheap to buy us the Presidential Rolex last year instead of just the gold model, we need something to tell time on. This clock will get us to the bar in time for happy hour. Nothing worse than a sober captain at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Shirts from Outdoor World – Nice selection of shirts for both guys and gals. Help your captain dress better than some smuggler from the 70’s.
Capt. Ron DVD – The quintessential instruction manual for all captains. Prepares your captain for everything from “gorilla” attacks to storms at sea. A must see DVD. 
Pay his or her cell phone bill for a month – If you don’t have a lot of money, this gift will still be appreciated very much, Believe me.

Boat shoes – If you can get past the odor, look at an old pair for the correct size. But don’t be surprised if they want to wear the old ones. You know, the ones that are just now getting broken in even though their toes are coming out the front.
Flip Flops - Like boat shoes, the olds will fall apart before the new ones are worn. Don't take it personally.

Pelican Box - Nothing works better at keeping the captain's potato chips from getting soggy. Or even his expensive camera.
Leatherman with a saw – One off the best tools ever devised for a captain. Just make sure to get the one with a saw blade. It can do stuff that a regular blade cannot. If you are superstitious, get the captain to give you a dollar in exchange. Some say a gift of a knife will cause an argument in a relationship.

Sandless beach blanket -  Boats and beaches seem to go together unless you drive the stew up the wall by bringing the beach back with you to the boat. This blanket will leave the sand where it belongs. Now, if they could make a swimsuit out of this stuff, maybe that rash would clear up.

LED flashlight from the kids – The kids want to give the captain something but are low on funds and you have to pay that speeding ticket or you are going to jail…again. Home Depot and Lowe’s have LED flashlights that sell in four packs for less than ten dollars. You can never have enough flashlights on a boat. I worked on a tug boat in the Hawaiian Islands and the captain had three requirements for his crew. Don’t wake him unless we were sinking, every crew member had to have at least one personal flashlight and you had to have sharp knife or you couldn’t step on board.
Dehooker – If he or she fishes, this is an essential, and in some places mandatory, item to have on board. No more teeth marks on the wrist or missing finger tips.
Hook sharpener –Great for tuning up new and used hooks. Even the new ones right out of the package are not sharp enough for the true fisherman. You might want to throw in a box of Band-Aids also.
Hand scale – Weigh your catch to make sure it’s not a record before it wiggles it way over the side again. Buy a good one though. Read the reviews.
100% cotton shirts, try and stay away from blends.
Jimmy Buffet – Almost everyone deserves boat Drinks Get all the most popular songs in this 4 cd collection.

Well, don't just sit there. Let's go shopping. Don't slam the saloon door on the way out. Don't want to wake the Captain.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bowditch On Disk

Every boater who has ever run up against a navigational problem to which there is a not a clear answer or whoever wanted to settle a yacht club bar bet has at one time or another looked to Bowditch's American Practical Navigator for the definitive answer. The problem with Bowditch and other tomes on navigation is that sometimes finding the answer can be as frustrating as the problem itself.

The easy way to settle these disputes is on a new CD-ROM from Starpath. Bowditch Plus contains the complete text of Bowditch's The American Practical Navigator, in searchable form, on one CD.

I was helping a friend pick out a radar for his boat and he wanted to know how far away he would be able to see objects. He thought since he was considering a thirty-six mile radar he would be able to see larger objects that far away. I explained to him that it was not just the power of the radar but the height at which it was mounted. The formula for finding the distance to the visible horizon is Distance = 1.17 times the square root of the height of the object (the radar or your eye.) (There is a slight difference between radar horizons and visible horizons, but for most purposes, the amount is negligible.)

We went to the Piloting Tables on the CD-ROM, picked Distance of the Horizon, plugged in the height of the radar antenna (25'), and it calculated that under optimal conditions, the radar would reach out to a usable distance of 5.845 statute miles. My friend is now looking a way to raise the height of the radar dome to get a better view. Unlike the book version, this CD actually computes the distance for you, not only saving time, but also eliminating errors due to mathematical mistakes.

Also included on the CD are all the chart symbols, definitions and abbreviations, US and International, indexed by name and graphical design along with all contact and internet links to all the hydrographic offices worldwide. The whole database is searchable. I looked up the Rule for the proper lights to display if you are aground and the program took me directly to the page with rule and the illustration. The complete Navigation Rules, Rules of the Road, are also included. This is a great reference tool.

You can search for terms and symbols, or you can use the convenient indexes to locate what you need. With more and more boats carrying computers onboard, this a reference tool that will help you find what you need in a hurry. The contents can be run from the CD or loaded on the hard disk. If you have the room, load the Rules of the Road and other modules you think you will, need to your hard disk. This gives you quicker access times and smoother operation.

Boats have limited storage space and this CD removes the need to carry a big reference volume with you. It is easy to use and is great example of technology making a complex subject easier to understand.

Bartender, give my buddy my tab.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bimini Bliss, The App

Apps. They are everywhere. Some good, some bad. Occasionally you run into one that is truly useful. That is the case with the Bimini Bliss app for IPhones, IPads and even my ITouch, 4G version.

This app is truly a fountain of useful information. You can find everything from restaurants to airlines and bars. Historical information and just plain old sightseeing are all included. Did you know Bimini has a library? Stumble in bleary eyed, leave a book and take one out. Want to dive with dolphins, make  contact with Capt. Geoffrey Hanan at the Dolphin Expedition Group.

Are you aware that the historic Complete Angler bar and restaurant burned down? A short history about this world famous bar and a photo of its remains are included. The Big Game Club, which has hosted everyone from Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway to John Travolta and Jimmy Buffet is almost across the street.

The app has over 145 entries. Many have their own photo slide show, a helpful write-up; with interactive links, YouTube videos, built-in maps, hours and days of operation, and cost. There a few changes such as the fact that Captain Bruce Robbins and Captain Toye Stevens are no longer at the Neal Watson’s Dive Bimini, but changes happen quickly in the tropics, so this a minor point and an update is planned in the next few months.

I worked in the Bahamas for a number of years and spent many weeks in Bimini. I found this guide to be useful and informative. If you have never been to Bimini, this guide will help smooth the way. If you have been there before, it may open doors for you that you did not know existed.

This is from the APPShopper Site:

• Explore swimming with wild, Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
• Snorkel or dive the famous Bimini Road (possible site of the mystical isle of Atlantis)
• Find the big, fast, angling catches: marlin, sailfish, tuna, Wahoo, and bonefish.
• Dive with Caribbean Reef and Lemon sharks
• Tour the world-famous Shark Lab
• Kayak through the beautiful mangroves and flats
• Handle the harmless, indigenous, Bimini Boa
• Munch on sweet Bimini Bread
• Discover the freshest Conch salad, and best lobster spots
• Dance with the best bands with original island music

The app runs just $3.99. That is less than a bottle of beer, and much more informative.

Old hand or newcomer, you owe it to yourself to try this app.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Leatherman Blast

You’ve just climbed to the top of your tuna tower. You have wonderful bird’s eye view of the pretty girl on the bow of the boat two slips down. She’s not wearing her top again while getting a tan. Thank goodness for sun tan lotion. And youth.

You can finish up the last part of that new cable run to the repeater for the GPS as soon as you cut the old cable ties and snake the data cable into place. You look around and all you have brought up with you is a Phillips screw driver. You look around for anything with a sharp edge to cut the old ties. Nope. Nothing. You look at the pretty girl and figure it’s going to be a long, sweaty climb back down and then back up once you get a knife before you can go over and offer her a beer and some help applying more sun block. In addition, you are not going to look your best. Resigned to a long climb in both directions, you get ready to lower yourself to the first step and then you remember that you have your Leatherman Blast on your belt. Life is suddenly very good.
You open the sheath and select the blade, which cuts through the ties as if they made of spaghetti instead of hard plastic. You run the new cable, retie the cable run and think about SPF factors and cold beer.
Again, your Leatherman has saved you time and effort. Founded by Tim Leatherman and Steve Berliner in 1983, the company has grown dramatically for one very basic reason. Their tools work well. I’ve personally carried a Leather man for over twenty years and have found them extremely well made and easy to use.
I’ve been on boats that had a limited tool inventory and found my Leatherman to fill most niches with ease. The tool is not designed to be a full replacement for your regular tools, but it can step into the breach and save your day more often than you may expect. I cut a hole in an aluminum roof to install a hatch for light and air using nothing but a battery operated drill and a Leatherman. It was one of those situations where I only had a small window of opportunity to do the job and the Leatherman performed flawlessly.
I have learned over the years carrying one on boat is extremely handy. I have also found that you want to have one of the models that has a saw blade on it. The serrated teeth can do things more safely and easier than the regular knife blade, that comes on most models. The knife is extremely sharp. I cut myself to the bone right behind a knuckle when I wasn’t paying attention because my then girlfriend was rushing me to open a plastic clam shell package. The finger has healed and the girlfriend is gone.
The Blast has 15 different tools. Some are double duty, like the needle nose and regular pliers, but I don’t mind. If it works, it works. And these work. Download the user’s blade guide to get a good overview of the versatility of each model you are interested in.
At first glance, some of the tools may seem to be an odd choice. For example, the Phillips and Flat Tip Eyeglasses Screwdriver Bit. How many times have bought one those repair kits for eyeglasses just to get the little screwdriver to repair you glasses? If you are out to sea on a delivery and crew member needs to tighten the screw that holds the arm of her glasses to the frame, you could save the day with your Leatherman. You will find there are not too many places you can just pull over and buy a kit to repair her sunglasses.
The wire strippers, regular screwdrivers and even the scissors will find many uses. Longer blades make it easier to slice, saw, file and turn a screw. When you need a quick fix or a way to just tighten something, there is nothing as handy as a well-made Leatherman Blast.
Now get off that tuna tower, grab a couple of beers and the suntan lotion and get down the dock. Youth doesn’t last forever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Manatees, Not Just For Dinner Anymore

          It seems that the venerable manatee is not only good for stew, but can also be the source of life-saving research.

            Researchers at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce, Fl. Have discovered that a virus found in manatees is similar to the one that causes cervical cancer in women. 

            By studying manatees who seem to have a great resistance to normal viruses, researchers hope they understand better the disease that kills 200,000 women a year worldwide. 

            Greg Bossart, director of Marine Mammal Research & Conservation at Harbor Branch discovered the virus called papilloma virus in manatees about four years ago. Manatees have never been shown to be susceptible to viruses before. “Natural disease in manatees is almost never heard of. Their ability to fight disease is well developed. Therefore, sea cows may also be a model to investigate HIV,” said Bossart.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nikon Binoculars

You are approaching an unfamiliar inlet just after sunset. You check your chart repeatedly to make sure you are coming in right where you want to be. There is not much traffic so there are no other boats to give you a hint as to where the inbound channel starts. The lights on the buoys are flashing in their prescribed patterns, but you wish you could get a closer look just to be sure.
Only one sensible thing to do. Anchor out all night. Well, that’s not going to work, is it? So you reach for your binoculars and suddenly there is the red number two approach buoy. Now you have your bearings. You turn and enter the channel and the other markers fall into place, giving you a lit path to the marina.
Binoculars are a very handy item to have on board. Relatively inexpensive, although they can climb in price rather sharply, they give you the ability to see at dusk or even into the night much clearer than the unaided eye.
I ordered a new pair of Nikon 7x50’s when I couldn’t find my other pair that I had for over twenty years. As is usually the case, two days after they arrived, I found my old pair, still working as if they were brand new. They have been on so many boats around the world they should have their own passport.
These binoculars are not the highest magnification by any means. However, on a boat less than 80 feet, you will find that these are perfect. With higher magnification units, you can find it hard to hold the object you are looking at in the field of vision. As the boat moves, the buoy or lighthouse will keep jumping out of your field of vision. The seven-power magnification gives you a very usable view. If you use a higher magnification, you can become seasick as your eyes try to focus constantly on a moving object. You are boating, not bird watching.
The objective lens of 50mm represents the diameter of each of the objective lenses (the lenses furthest from your eye), given in millimeters. Therefore, 7x50 binoculars have objective lenses 50 mm in diameter. The better a lens gathers light, the better you will be able to see in dim light. Coated lenses are standard now a days and will give you good usable contrast, especially in difficult lighting conditions.
If you value how your hands are attached to your arms, you will never pick up a pair of the captain’s binoculars without permission. Moreover, if you ask, you are still going to come across as someone without boating experience. Never go up on the bridge and just grab the binoculars. These Nikons have individually adjustable eyepieces, diopters, and once set to your eyes provide a consistently clear view. Change them without permission and you are going to be riding home in the engine compartment.
Some captains prefer image stabilized units. These can be quite expensive for an excellent pair. I have used both and still prefer my Nikons over everything else.
Whatever your choice, get yourself a good pair and hang on to them. They can make your landfalls safer and less worrisome.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why is the water blue?

 After running boats for a while, you find a pattern in the questions that people ask. There is a common thread of curiosity that leads to the same questions being asked by people who come out on boats for the first time.
As a public service, I have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions. In doing this, I hope to accomplish two things: first, to definitively answer some of the more frequently asked questions for those new to boats, diving, the oceans and waterways. Secondly, to provide some peace and quite for hundreds of captains, who after an exhaustive study of the surrounding night life, only want to stick their foot in the spokes of the wheel and get some sleep until they reach the dive site.
Q: How do I get such a cushy job?
A: Really screw up the one you have now. Give up everything you own. Move to a tropical climate. Be prepared to answer this question seriously while keeping a straight face.
Q: Do fish get seasick?
A: Yes, they really do. They can actually die from it. You, on the other hand, will only be able to wish you could get your hands on a gun.
Q: Is the water warm?
A: You just flew in from Bismarck, North Dakota. The air temperature there is -700 degrees Fahrenheit. If you stay here two weeks, you might be thawed out enough for it to make a difference.
Q: Why is the ocean salty?
A: If it wasn't, we'd have to call it Lake Atlantic.
Q: I just saw a fish. It was this long, and had dots. And I think stripes. Can you tell me what it was?
A: a) Blue parrot fish
   b) Stoplight parrot fish
   c) Yellowtail
   d) Nile catfish
Q: What are all those brightly colored rocks?
A: Coral. The rocks are under it.
Q: Can you get me back in time to catch my plane?
A: Yes, we have an agreement with the airlines. We get you back to the dock, they promise US they won't leave without you.
Q: Do you take American money?
A: Try and stop us.
Q: Are there any sharks out here?
A: Yes, but you have nothing to worry about. They're full. They ate the morning trip. (If you ARE the morning trip, you have nothing to worry about until you hear the music speed up.)
Q: Are we there yet?
A: Yes, but we're driving around in circles so you'll think we're really far offshore.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: Since early this morning.
Q: Do you live here?
A: No, the whole crew flies in from Twinsberg, Ohio every morning.
Q: Why are all the fish under the boat?
A: Guess.
Q: Do you carry extra weight on board?
A: Yes, but you can't have it. She owns the boat.
Q: Why is the water blue?
A: Very simplistically, because of the depth of the water. The deeper the water, the bluer it looks. If you are in Royal blue or purple water, you're probably in over your head.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's the problem with electronic navigation?

Almost every boat, from a flats sea grass killer to a megayacht, which leaves the dock now, has some form of electronic navigation. From a handheld gps to full-blown nav systems with twenty-two in touch screens, we all navigate with the greatest of ease nowadays. So what is the problem? We do not think about navigation anymore.

The key word is “think.” Anyone can walk onto a boat, push a few buttons, enter coordinates from a waypoint card or position index and off we go. With enough fuel we can navigate across oceans when some people should not be allowed off the dock. Do we understand what we are seeing when we look at the screen of a plotter? Many people do not.
There are the navigationally challenged among us. Take the case of a friend of mine who is tall ship master. On a break, he took a position as second captain on a 113’ Hatteras, on its way to Nassau in the Bahamas. About an hour off the dock the lead captain confessed to my friend he had no idea on how to get there. My friend took over the navigational duties and kept on eye on things until they got there and then he flew home.
Until fairly recently I was an instructor at a maritime school that trained people how to take the Coast Guard exams for various licenses. I taught the 6 pack through 200 ton courses. With 6 packers you expect a lack of knowledge. Many of them, good captains though they may be, rarely go much further than just out of sight of land. For them navigation is a not a great concern. As you climb the ranks, it becomes a much greater consideration. Just ask the commanders of two, not one but two, nuclear subs that ran aground within months of each other while entering Port Everglades.
I had one student who told me he ran an 85 footer for five years but he might have trouble with the chart work. When I asked him why, he said in all that time they never had a compass on board.
Many captains fail to correlate the fact that chart plotters reproduce actual charts. Raster plotters use a high-resolution photo or scan of an actual chart and use software to move it around and zoom in or out, etc. Vector systems reproduce the chart through a series of crossing lines or vectors, and some chart plotters can use both. (See this quick but clear example of the two here.)I am not going to discuss the relative merits of each here. Study up and see which fits your needs best.
One of the things that bothers me most are people who should know better, but cannot read a chart or navigate using one. Batteries die, electrical systems fail, computers freeze and yet people leave the dock with a complete dependence on electronics with no idea what to do if things go south.
So many captains who came through the classes, even at the upper levels, could not do a simple time, distance, speed computation. An example: Calculate time speed distance. Every captain should own a copy of Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling. At the very least, go the section on basic navigation and work a problem or two.
In order to use a chart plotter effectively and safely, you have to understand latitude and longitude and know how to read a chart. Your plotter will happily run your boat right over a reef if you YOU do not plot a course around it.
Another thing that can get you into to trouble is using charts and computer chips that have two different WGS survey dates. This can affect dramatically the accuracy of your position fix.  Take look here for an explanation. The offset between ED-50 and WGS-84 will typically be in the order of 100 metres. On charts with Norwegian Datum, the difference between the chart graticule and WGS-84 can reach 4-500 metres. With such a large difference between the graticules, it will be very important that the navigator takes this into consideration. If you want the US version an a longer and better explanation, go here. Especially read about how much the thickness of your pencil lead can put your position off.

Don’t know or care what a “graticule” is? Does not matter. What does matter is that the differences in charts can put you off your position by over 1600 feet. Try that on a night approach to Bimini.
Now, lest you think I’m some kind of Luddite old fogey, I’m not. I love what computers on boats can do. I have taught classes on using the various software packages that are out there. I was even on a development team for a large producer of navigational software. However, as much as I enjoy the ease of use, the convenience and interface available with today’s navigation computers, I do not relinquish control of my boat to them.
Get yourself some charts, even a few for you area of cruising and become familiar with them. Besides, you have to have some place to put your coffee cup.
Remember, it’s pointy end first.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I want to be a Captain

Treasure and Adventure Awaits!

Written by a ten year old schoolboy and published in the 1993 March Maritime Officer.

I want to be a captain when I grow up because it’s a funny job and easy to do. Captains don’t need much school education they just have to learn numbers so they can read the instruments. I guess they should be able to read maps so they won’t get lost. Captains should be brave so they won’t be scared if it’s foggy and they can’t see, or if a propeller falls off they should stay calm so they will know what to do. Captains have to have eyes to see through clouds and they can’t be afraid of thunder or lightning because they are closer to them than we are.
The salary that captains make is another thing I like. They make more money than they can spend. This is because most people think that captaining a ship is dangerous, except captains, because they know how easy it is. There isn’t much I don’t like, except girls like captains and all the girls want to marry captains so they always have to chase them away so they won’t bother them. I hope I don’t get seasick because I get car sick and if I get seasick I could not be a captain and then I would have to go to work.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Anchors Aweigh

Leaving the dock and getting underway. We hope to have a lot fun here while providing interesting and useful information. We are going to try and keep the reviews and articles short and to the point. Of course as soon as we get the chance, we will violate this idea, as some subjects require more information.

Check in as often as you can.

Looking for contributors also. Please e-mail me if you're interested in writing for the blog.