Monday, January 11, 2010

Operator Error!

Humans like their channels to be reliably in the same place every time, and mark their boundaries with red or green buoys. Mother Nature, though, doesn’t particularly like the dredged channel (“the ditch”) through the shifting sands between the barrier beaches and the shore here. Shoaling – sands piling up as the channel tries to fill back in - is a constant problem. The Army Corps of Engineers, who are responsible for keeping the channel passable for boats, publish maps like this one showing the path through the shoals. So we studied it carefully one night in preparation for passage the next day.

So, Dan was at the helm and I was armed with my trusty Garmin GPS, the nautical chart, and the Corps website and prepared to navigate through this tricky spot. It was a drizzly misty day and we could only see a few hundred feet ahead as I told him how to follow the directions I had worked out, with instructions like “go to red buoy #72B, then sight on #74 and turn 60 degrees left for 700 feet.” We went slowly and carefully, watching the depth meter – if it read less than 5 feet we would go aground.

It seemed longer, but it was only a tense 15 minutes or so before I pronounced us out of the shoals and into deeper safe water. Dan was ready to speed up when he noticed that James & Ellen, who had preceded us, were no longer straight ahead but motoring away at an angle off our port. Congratulations, self! I had done a superb job of navigating him across the shoals staying in safe water … and exited into the wrong channel! No harm, no foul – we quickly backtracked and corrected the error and were back on our way. (But dare I admit to getting a 96% on my Advanced Coastal Navigation final?)

(originally posted 1 November 2009)

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