Saturday, June 19, 2010

Steering in Super Slo-Mo

On Tuesday we crossed the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, in the northeast corner of Lake Ontario, and officially entered Canada. 
The sky was pale blue, feathered with high cirrus clouds.  Our route took us past two large islands, Wolfe Island and Amherst Island, and we saw more enormous tankers on the horizon.
I’m getting the hang of our nautical GPS system.  It’s like playing a video game in, of course, super slo-mo.  You place the cursor on some intermediate destination—say, the tip of a peninsula at the end of a bay—and click a button to insert a “waypoint.”  On the screen, you see a tiny boat cruising down what looks like a little roadway leading to the waypoint.  You try to steer the boat so it stays on the dotted line in the middle of the roadway.
It sounds easy in theory—especially since our usual cruising speed is about 4 mph.  But here’s how you steer:  if you want the nose of the boat to move right, you push the tiller to the left.  If you want to move left, push right.  Meanwhile, the little boat on the screen might be pointing in any direction—right, left, up, or down.  So if you veer off course, your brain cranks overtime figuring out which way to push the darn tiller.
Also, when you steer, there’s a lag between when you make your move and when the screen shows your course correction.  So you PUUSSSSH the tiller WAAAAY over, and by the time the screen shows you to be on course, you are actually WAAAAY off course, in the other direction.  
Then there’s the wind, which can push around even our 14-ton vessel.  And then there’s the waves.  And then there's the current.
Bottom line: It’s ridiculously easy to oversteer and end up tracing a crazy zigzag course. That wastes time and fuel.
What IS helpful is the sailor’s old-fashioned method of “coastal navigation," which is:  Find a landmark that lines up with your desired compass bearing (which the GPS tells you)--say, a water tower, a conspicuous building, a tree that sticks up above the treeline--and point the bow at the landmark.  Try to hold ‘er steady. That’s it.

1 comment:

  1. Ay Captain Berger, it sounds like you're mastering the craft just fine! Thanks for sharing your experience. We're following your journey closely.