We have a pretty bare-bones set of instruments on our sailboat. We have a logometer, which tells you how fast you are moving and how far you have traveled. We have a compass. We have a depthmeter, which tells us how much water is under a sensor on the bottom of our hull. Currently, the depthmeter doesn't always work - we plan to replace it next year.

That's it.


When we bought Minuet, she had a LORAN receiver and antenna. This is a navigation system that locates one's position using a network of low-frequency radio transmitters. Our system did not work, however, and it turned out it would be difficult and expensive to get our LORAN receiver repaired. It also seemed it was uncertain that the LORAN network would be maintained. We decided to junk the system.

What we did have was a pile of charts for the St. Lawrence River from our sailing days many years earlier. I thought that after that length of time, we would have to replace them. It turns out, though, that they were all still good. Navigational charts are reissued infrequently. While landmarks like water towers are subject to change, land forms and water depths change very slowly. We are still using charts that we have had for a couple dozen years.

Navigating by charts is called piloting. Reading a chart is different from reading a road map. First, there are no roads on the water. Second, the frame of reference is constantly shifting. You are a dot somewhere in a white space, and the job of the pilot is to figure out where that dot is on the chart.

I've learned how to take bearings on landmarks with a compass and plot our position on a chart. I've also learned that you have to look at the chart, then at the edges of the land, then at the chart again, then at the edges again... when we are sailing in new waters, I don't knit.

Here is an example. This is a part of a chart. The arrow points to a fairly deep bay on the shore of Leek Island, one of the Thousand Islands.

Here is a close-up of what Leek Island looks like on a nautical chart.

This is what the edge of that bay looks like as you approach it.

This is what the bay looks like as you sail or motor past it. Looks like a nice place to anchor for the night. The chart says the water is deep enough, too. That's important if your depthmeter isn't working well. But to my eye, it's still not easy to see how deeply scooped out of the land the bay is. I'm still learning to see the edges.

It's not easy to look at the world and match it to the way it appears from the bird's eye view on the chart. I keep looking, though, because piloting is a learned skill. Our safety and the health of our pocketbooks depends on our ability to pilot.

We are buying a GPS unit, however, before we go sailing on Lake Ontario. There are too few landmarks and too much water to pilot on the lake.


Bonus pics!

Real live loons on the river. We heard them call.

Light gradient on the Canadian Middle Channel, fondly known by sailors as the Forty Acres. I like the little sailboat on the left of the pic.

Me trying again to get a picture of the crows. I'll keep trying.


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