Cruising Tips - March 2006
This month: "talking" with signals; using signal mirrors; great-circle for GPS.
If you have an on-the-water emergency during the day, keep in mind that a mirror is a very effective signaling device. If the weather is clear and there is sunlight, the reflection from a mirror can be seen up to 100 miles away. While it does need sun, a mirror doesn’t depend on batteries, satellites, or the electronic watchkeeping of a potential rescuer. Reflecting sunlight into the eyes of a person on another boat or a plane should get his attention. You could heliograph an SOS code, but simply keeping the beam on your target should quickly lead the person at the other end to conclude that the flash he is seeing is not a chance occurrence.
Specialized signal mirrors come with aiming devices, but any handheld mirror will work if you do the following: Hold two fingers in a “V” at arm’s length with your target inside it. Now hold the mirror against your cheek just below eye level and adjust the mirror angle so the reflected sunlight shines over your fingers. Turn the mirror so the sunlight plays back and forth across your fingers, and it will also move across the target inside the “V”. Keep at least two signaling mirrors on board. Put one in your ditch bag and the other on a shelf near the companionway. D.C.
NavigationGPS and Great-circle Courses for Ocean Navigators
Most GPS receivers are capable of delivering the bearing to a waypoint as either a rhumb-line or a great-circle course. When sailing along the coast or making an offshore passage, the two are synonymous for all practical purposes. However, when making an east-west ocean passage well away from the equator, following a great-circle course—so far as wind and wave permit—could save a day or more. Thanks to your GPS, you need not immerse yourself in tortuous calculations involving spherical trigonometry or plot new courses repeatedly from a gnomonic chart. As long as you have specified great-circle course on the setup page, you have only to create a destination waypoint, hit the go-to button, and read off the course. The figure you get will be the great-circle heading from your current position. T.C.
Good communication between people on the bow and helm is very important when coming into a crowded anchorage or harbor. My wife and I used a system of hand signals for many years, and communications had been pretty successful other than the occasional confusing moment—for example, are your fingers pointing because that’s the direction to steer or because there is something in the water?
Then one day we watched a speedboat race on a TV sports channel. It wasn’t the standard dash around buoys, but a time trial in a narrow figure-eight channel that ran through a swamp. The boats were so fast that the driver could react quickly enough only if he followed hand signals given by the navigator next to him.
The navigator held his hand out ahead of him as though he were ready to make a karate chop on a board. When a course correction was needed, he would point his arm in the direction he wanted the driver to steer and then make a rapid chopping motion with his hand. We tried this on our next cruise to the North Channel of Lake Huron, and it worked very well. We use the chopping motion to indicate what direction to steer and simply point, without chopping, to indicate a hazard ahead. A clenched fist followed by a pointing finger indicates a rock or obstruction. When we’re pulling up the anchor, an arm pointed in a specific direction shows the general direction of the rode and anchor. A fore-and-aft chopping motion signals that the anchor is under the boat and it’s time to put the engine in reverse. Once your team knows the routine, you can start chopping and stop shouting. B.K.
Words from the WiseOur final night was as dark and wild as any we had encountered during the preceding 73 days. With screaming hail squalls and huge cross seas of an estimated 50 to 60 feet, we sailed for survival only. With winds up to 60 knots, all hands were on deck deploying chains and warps, doubling them up in a loop from both sterns to slow the catamaran and keep it from going end over end. Enza slowed down to 8 to 10 knots. All sails down, torrential rain…time for a cup of tea…curry for dinner. Forty-five miles from the finish line at Ushant we were joined by a French frigate that took up position on the finish line. Then the sirens sounded. We had done it! We had sailed around the world in just under 75 days.
Later, when someone asked me, “What do you still remember about what you’ve described as the worst 24 hours of your life?” my reply was, “Every second.” —Sir Peter Blake, Peter Blake, Adventurer
Contributors this month: Don Casey, Tom Cunliffe, Bruce Kuhn
Click here for the Cruising Tips Archive