Fallback Positions

 dead reckoning

 Prepare your helm and yourself for passagemaking.

If you ready yourself carefully for an offshore passage, you should never have to blindly approach an unfamiliar shore. Preparation starts several months before you cast off lines. sure that you have chart coverage at the proper scales for the entire trip, with no gaps," said Capt. Henry Marx, owner of Landfall Navigation and a seasoned powerboat delivery captain who teaches Safety-at-Sea Seminars and is also a member of the Storm Trysail Club and the Cruising Club of America (CCA). sure you have the necessary coast pilots, sailing directions, tide and current tables, and cruising guides —including telephone numbers —for your route. You may be stopping somewhere you didnplan [to] due to weather, mechanical difficulties or other unforeseen problems.”

For racing sailors, Stan Honey, the director of technology’for the 34th AmericaCup and the winning navigator of  the 2005/2006 Volvo Ocean Race —as well as a former Jules Verne Trophy holder for the fastest nonstop circumnavigation aboard the 103-foot trimaran Groupama 3 —suggests that proper instrument calibration in the right sequence is key He maintains that the navigator is personally responsible for the teamavoiding big blunders.

Honey starts with the knot meter and progresses through the anemometerapparent-wind angle and speed measurements; the computed wind information (e.g., true-wind angle and true-wind speed); the electronic and conventional compasses (performing a compass swing); and the barograph. He ensures that all basic electronics have been properly installed and function as they should. He puts the vesselbatteries and charging system through a full cycle, tests all instrument and running lights, and test-drives all electronics, allowing time to repair or replace suspect units.

While the level of nav-station preparation is similar between a transoceanic race and a long adventure passage, cruisers are usually less obsessive about maximizing their velocity made good (VMG). calibrate speed, wind direction and wind velocity,”said Dr. William ”Piper III, an accomplished high-latitude cruiser and recipient of the CCAcoveted Blue Water Medal for the four circumnavigations he sailed aboard his J/160 Pipe Dream IX. is good enough and exact isnnecessary. As long as the numbers stay constant, theyjust as valuable.”

Pack the right spare parts and tools before any adventure. Capt. Marx sees little difference between preparing a power yacht or a sailboat for an ocean passage. carry a 50-pound toolbox with the usual: wrenches, pliers, screwdriver sets, drill and bits, camping saw, center punches, battery tester, duct tape, hose clamps, a small crowbar, an oil-filter wrench, socket set and a hacksaw,”he said.

Honey”list includes crimps, spare wires, fuses, spare running lights and extra compass lights, a USB memory suck, a butane soldering iron, solder, a spare masthead wand (replete with spare cups and a spare vane), heat-shrink tubing and a fully charged PC battery. Honey also carries a waterproof headlight (red-light option preferable), some clean Ziploc bags, a handheld GPS, a handheld VHF, a few hand-bearing compasses, dividers, two triangles, a digital watch and, for transoceanic trips, a lightweight micrometer-drum sextant and spare batteries for all electronic devices. A lead line and a pitot tube (for dead reckoning) are important, as well as a backup computer (identical to the boatprimary PC, with fully up-to-date software and a recent virus scan) and a backup external hard drive (mirrored off of the laptops).

Some onboard ”are best tackled with redundancy or expert help. While Grand Prix navigator Ian ”Burns, Oracle Racingteam coordinator and head of its performance department, recalls having opened a defunct VHF unit and resoldered it during a weight-conscious ocean race that required a particular position report, cruising skippers typically put their faith in worldwide service and battery-powered backups (and spare batteries, stored separately in a waterproof container to prevent discharge or water damage). carry a few relevant circuit boards and displays as well as a spare chart plotter,”Piper said, also carry a soldering iron and micro-size screwdrivers. However, offshore circuitry repair isnrealistic for me. Instead, I buy instruments that have worldwide service." Marx agrees. go there,”he said. all printed circuit boards, and you don t have the experience or the parts to make the repair.”

For emergency navigation, Marx and Honey prefer celestial and dead reckoning as backups. Piper casts his lot with redundancy and fresh batteries. Pipe Dream IX, Piper said there are at least six GPS units, counting emergency gear, [plus] laptops, satellite communication, iPads and handhelds.”Whichever MO suits you, the best preparation may be to command a working knowledge of celestial navigation and carry spares.

Route-planning also is a major consideration. put waypoints into the GPS, not entire routes,”Marx said. I donallow the GPS to talk to the autopilot.”If you blindingly plot an entire route, instead of stringing together a series of waypoints, you risk cutting a corner or two and running aground.

Weather routing also has become very popular. For serious racing, Honey retrieves and analyzes the past 10 years of weather information for the given route, and then runs 140 route permutations based on the information that he derives from importing this data into a velocity prediction program.

Honey believes strongly in consulting a weather router prior to big races. He also advises that navigators subscribe to an e-mail GRIB-file server, involve a weather-forecasting service, such as Commanders Weather or Meteo France early in the planning, and keep the team involved throughout the preparations and voyage (rules permitting).

Piper and Marx both consult weather-forecasting services for big adventures, and both men pay a lot of attention to weather forecasts the week or so ahead of time, and to developing meteorological situations while theyoffshore. long passages, I start with the government pilot atlases, which give you the wind direction and strength statistics, current (direction) arrows and a gale-warnings history,”Marx said. there are the long-range NOAA weather forecasts.”

Routing software also helps simplify weather, current and route-finding decisions. For sailboat-racing, Honey and Burns trust an array of programs. is good for viewing the weather along the route, while Adrena Tactique is good for including sea state, wind, wave and crossing angles into the routing. Deckman is great for computing reverse isochrones, which make it easier to understand the  of diverting from the route in different areas," Honey said.

Modern technology has enabled meteorologists to create and distribute higher-quality forecasts than those of even a decade ago. Getting information is easy now. , the accuracy of the forecasts has improved,”Burns said, my confidence in weather-routing software has dramatically increased.”

Piper and Marx advise navigators to carry full paper (1:80,000 scale) and electronic charts for their route. Honey, however, takes a more weight-conscious approach and carries detailed paper charts for the start, finish and areas of concern, but relies on full electronic and macro-scale paper charts for the offshore portions. All of the experts I consulted agree that the navigator must know the entire route, its challenging sections and all navigational hazards, and especially the routing that will take the vessel off-soundings. He should consult the chart a few days prior to making landfall and to commit germane details (say, high and low tide for critical areas) to memory. what the entrance looks like arid where the hard spots are, before you get there at midnight in the rain,”Marx said.

Unlike other scheduled maintenance for your yacht, proper nav-station preparation can mean the difference between arriving safely and quickly at Point B or creating your own private Bermuda Triangle.