Skip to main content

Extrasensory Perceptions Page 2

The night sky over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel flashed white with lightning, like a silent artillery barrage. The storms were so far up the bay the sound of the thunder never reached Sonata, the 1981 Pearson 36 cutter my wife, Liz, and I were living aboard. We’d left Little Creek at Cape Henry, Virginia, late that afternoon and were heading offshore bound for points

A Close Encounter

It’s after dark off Delaware Bay. It’s choppy and drizzling out. My boat is on a northerly heading, sailing close-hauled in a brisk northeast wind. Since visibility has been poor all day, I’ve been keeping a radar watch. I’ve turned on the FTC, or rain clutter control, to suppress the reflected echoes from the rain, making sure not to turn it too high. I’ve also turned on the STC, or sea clutter control, to suppress echoes from the chop, and I’ve set up a 360-degree guard zone at eight nautical miles around the boat. The radar’s transmitting range is also set to eight miles.

As part of my watch routine, I periodically decrease the radar’s range to take a closer look for anything that might be near the boat. I then increase the range out to 16 miles to get the widest view possible.

Suddenly, the guard alarm sounds. Sure enough, a dark splotch appears on the outer range ring on the radar screen about 45 degrees off my starboard bow. Soon it’s clear the target is heading in my direction. I’ve got the echo trails feature on. The angle of the trail behind the target on the screen, the steadily decreasing range, and constant relative bearing all suggest we’re on a collision course.

I now activate the electronic bearing line feature and bisect the target with the EBL. The target bearing appears at the bottom of the screen. I can estimate the range from the range rings, but I want more precise information, so I press the VRM button and move the variable range marker onto the target’s inner edge. Now I’ve got much more exact range and bearing data. It takes the target 10 minutes to travel three nautical miles, so its speed is about 18 knots. The current range is now six nautical miles, so it’s about 20 minutes away.

The target’s bearing remains constant and the range continues to decrease. If I had one of those new units that overlays radar images on electronic charts, I could see at a glance which new courses will keep me clear of all navigation hazards. I make a mental note to consider upgrading.

I decide to slow down and let the target cross my bow. I spill some air from my headsail to decrease speed. A few minutes later, a container ship crosses my bow about two miles out. Knowing how to use radar has made a stressful situation more routine and manageable.

Related

05-DSC_0638

Charter: Lake Tahoe

A sail on Lake Tahoe has been on my bucket list since the day I first laid eyes on it, and come hell or high water, I decided I was going to someday charter a boat there. North America’s largest and deepest alpine lake, Tahoe sits at 6,225ft above sea level and straddles the ...read more

East-River-Rapids

Escape from New York Part 1

I was never supposed to take my boat through New York City. After getting sucked backward through the Cape Cod Canal on my way south from Maine, when the speed of the current exceeded the maximum speed of my little electric auxiliary, I wanted nothing to do with Hell Gate and ...read more

LEAD-Celeste-in-the-Tuamotu

A Watermaker Upgrade

As a classic-boat sailor, I’ve long held that simpler is the better. I still think this is true: a simpler boat is cheaper, she has less gadgets to break down and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re able to handle a bit of discomfort. Thus, for a long time, I sailed ...read more

01-LEAD-IDECsport_180919_032

Sailing Speed Records

Although the 1903 defender of the America’s Cup, Reliance, was deemed a “racing freak”—the boat pushed design rules to their limit and couldn’t be beaten, at least in very specific conditions—designer Nat Herreshoff was nonetheless onto something. A century later, purpose-built ...read more

BVIFeetup

Chartering with Non-sailors

Three tips on managing the madness First-time charterers and first-time sailors aren’t at all the same thing. One group may struggle with beginner chartering issues, like sailing a multihull, catching a mooring or dealing with base personnel. For the other group, though, ...read more

AdobeStock_455372159

A Gulf Stream Crossing at Night

Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen ...read more

00-Lead-549215sJL2uLEa

Summer Sailing Programs

Every year, countless parents find themselves navigating the do’s and don’ts of enrolling their children in a summer learn-to-sail program for the first time. While the prospect of getting your kid on the water is exciting, as a sailing camp program director, there are a lot of ...read more

ntm

Notice to Mariners: U.S.A! U.S.A! (Well, sorta…)

Some thoughts on a couple of recent developments on the U.S. racing scene that are more than a little at odds. To start with, congratulations to the US Sailing Team (USST) and its outstanding showing at the 53rd French Olympic Week regatta in Hyeres, France, with not one but ...read more