Who Needs Radar?!
Living on a boat requires a significant downsizing of possessions. Before Christmas I warned my family that I can no longer accept physical gifts, but gift cards will be gladly accepted. I was delighted to receive a gift certificate from my parents for the Rosario Resort on Orcas Island. I set out on an early Saturday morning and the conditions appeared perfect: glassy water, a flood tide, not a breath of wind, and warm sunlight glancing off the nearby islands.
No sooner did I poke my nose into Rosario Strait than I was completely enveloped in fog. At first I didn’t think it would be too bad, but then a tug appeared 500 yards away on a collision course with me. I had to circle around, hard to starboard, to let him pass and allow me to cross his wake. Once out of the way, I hoisted my collapsible radar reflector up the jib halyard. As I pushed north, the fog got thicker and thicker and I lost my bearings completely. My hand-held GPS accurately told me my position, but is not too accurate at telling my direction. It also doesn’t have AIS to tell me where the other ships are.
Cutting the throttle back to idle, I jumped into the cabin to fire up my netbook with navigation software. I also started looking on the Google ‘Play’ App store for AIS software while I still had cell service. I’d read an article on Sailing Simplicity about AIS enabled apps. The first app I tried was no help, but the second was simple, fast, free, and accurate. It is appropriately named FindShip and showed me all the tugs, ferries, and cargo ships. My biggest fear is having a huge ship appear out of the fog, close by and bearing down at me. This little app went a long way to easing my fears and keeping me safe.
The navigation software I have loaded on my netbook is made by Maptech. The Chart Navigator Pro version of their software is a little spendy, but I was able to pick up a copy for cheap on the clearance shelf at West Marine. A free copy of the Lite version of their software is usually included when purchasing one of their chart books. For me, the only big advantage to the ‘Pro’ version of the software is the anchor alarm, but now you can get that as a free app on your smart phone. Either way you get it, this software is invaluable and certainly worth its price. It keeps me out of the shipping lanes but still in deep water, and is my primary guide out of the fog.
I loaded the software onto an Acer netbook that I was able to buy second hand for very cheap. These netbooks have a 6+ hour battery life, which is essential for long passages. I typically keep it plugged into an inverter, but it’s nice to know I can unplug it and not have it die on me while in a harry situation. A USB GPS receiver can be found for $10 to $15 online. I heartily recommend this same setup to all boaters on a budget.
My handheld GPS is great at tracking my speed, creating a breadcrumb trail (in case I need to double back), and has topographical maps useful for hiking the islands. Between the three electronic devices, I have a pretty solid navigation suite that goes a long way to replacing radar. I admit, having radar would be nice, but it’s outside my budget and the budget for most boaters. Even as socked-in as this trip was, I didn’t feel like I was missing much.
This video wasn’t from this weekend. I shot it the weekend before when sailing to Friday Harbor along the south end of Lopez Island. It was a great sail!