Nautical Charts and Becoming Navigators!
One of the great gifts travellers have given their fellow man over the centuries is the art of cartography.
Great, bold adventurers ventured off long long ago, trying to make sense of the world we lived in and drawing its likeness for others to see and understand. Their endeavours were largely to help with trade and to mark borders and boundaries between empires. In vague lines, often surrounded by images of frightful creatures believed to be lurking in the unknown areas beyond, an image of lands and seas appeared.
Every adventurer and cartographer clarified previously drawn maps. Things became a little less fantastical and a little more real. Nothing changed things more than finally realizing that this planet we live on is a sphere and not flat. Knowing you could not just slip right off the edge of the world must have been a huge relief for sailors!
What a gift those maps and charts are!
Think about the challenges many of you likely encounter just trying to find your way on land, even with maps. Yet, even without such wonders as Google Maps to help with directions, you can, at the very least, see where the roads are, identify some landmarks, read signs and, if you take a wrong turn or two, still find your way. It’s a little more complicated on water where those way-finding cues do not exist.
So, at the start of each new day on the Mediterranean, how are we to figure out where we’re going, how we’ll get there, and where we want to be by day’s end? This will be especially challenging if we move far enough away from the coastline so that we can no longer see it.
The answer, Dear Reader, lies in the myriad squiggly lines of today’s nautical charts.
Now I am no expert, but as I sit on these charts, I see that they are an aerial representation of a body of water and its coast. Depending upon the chart I am analyzing, things change. I can be further away and looking at the entire Mediterranean, or closer and looking at the waters surrounding a single country. The closer I get, the more the charts show me. It’s all a matter of scale. I like narrowing in and suddenly discovering things such as details of the coastline, its tide lines, marinas and ports.
We will need more than one big chart. Our safety and efficiency lies in knowing the little details in the nautical charts for every country. We need to get right in close and see all that we need to see:
- Water depth
- Natural features of the seabed
- Coastline details
- Natural and human-made aids
- Harbours, buildings and bridges
- Low and high tides
- Commercial ship and ferry lines (so we can avoid those!)
- Currents (You should see the mess near the strait of Gibraltar!)
This is all part of what I have learned is called topography. I am learning so many new words and it’s scary how many I still don’t understand. But this one, this one I know![ahem * clearing throat]
Topography: The three-dimensional arrangement of physical attributes (such as shape, height, and depth) of a land or water surface in a place or region. Physical features that make up the topography of an area include mountains, valleys, plains, around and within bodies of water. Human-made features such as roads, bridges, railroads, and landfills are also often considered part of a region’s topography.[tail wags * head held high]
Nautical charts, although much better than they were centuries ago, are still regularly updated. Sailors and map makers are always adding marks, discovering details. That is why old or uncorrected charts should never be used for navigation, and it is also why, as much as we wanted to put charts and maps on our Christmas wish list, we won’t purchase most of them until closer to our travel date. So for now, we use a giant map of the Med for planning purposes only.
Don’t worry, we will have the charts we need. We must; it is the law. Basically, without the right charts, you are not allowed to sail the Mediterranean. The question becomes whether we acquire the charts on paper or electronically.
Recent technological advancements mean even a “leisure sailor” can access and use charts that are available on demand with data that has been downloaded as recently as the night before use. You can choose to have the map on a screen (e.g., laptop, iPad) or on paper. Really though, you want paper.
Electricity and internet are not things you can fully depend upon when sailing. The last thing you want is to find yourself stranded somewhere because you didn’t download the map you wanted and don’t have internet access to download the map in the moment, or you downloaded the map but can’t view it because you don’t have access to a printer or electricity. It is always better to have a paper map of where you want to go and listen for radio broadcasts giving notice of urgent corrections such as a new shipwreck.
If you bought your chart a month or more before your trip, how do you make sure it is up to date? Well, from what Dad has explained to me, you use the Chart and Publication Correction Record Card system. A mouthful, I know. Silly humans. Basically, what it means is that the navigator (in our case, Dad) does not immediately update every chart he has for the Med each time a notice comes in over the radio or from the Notice to Mariners. Instead, the navigator creates a card for every chart and notes the corrections on these cards. When the time comes to use a specific chart, the navigator pulls the card associated with that chart and makes the collected corrections all at once. This system ensures that every chart is properly corrected prior to sailing off.
Today, various Digital Notices to Mariners systems are available. We are looking into the system that is best suited for sailing the Med. These systems send chart corrections by e-mail or web downloads, reducing the time and number of cards needed to sort out corrections for each chart. Also, the chart corrections are sent with tracings to assist with making the corrections. That means the navigator doesn’t have to do the math to ensure the scale of corrections matches the scale of the map. Phew.
My world is now full of concepts my brain is trying to comprehend: things like Mercator projection, longitude and latitude, bearing, magnetic north, compass rose, variation … . I’m finding it all too much. I think that is why I am not the navigator. I suspect it is also why Mom isn’t too keen on being one either. [chuckle]
Dad is both our Captain and Navigator, although Mom will have to learn the skills as well, just in case. It is good to have back-up because the Navigator must:
- plan the journey;
- advise the crew (that would be me!) of estimated time to destinations;
- be aware of the sailboat’s position at all times;
- ensure hazards are avoided;
- maintain the nautical charts, nautical publications, and navigational equipment; and
- be responsible for meteorological equipment and communications.
It is a lot of responsibility. At least now the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) decreases the effort required to accurately determine one’s position. Could you imagine if the bipeds also had to learn celestial navigation in order to navigate the way sailors of earlier days did: by using maps of the heavens, not the earth?
How do you get around? Do you have GPS? Are you a good navigator?