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Never Follow the Boat in Front! Her Skipper Might be a Navigator

There are many things I like about being editor of this great magazine not least of which is the diversity of our writers who month after month contribute to its success. On my watch I have got to know many of them quite well yet have met few in person. Like most sailors everywhere, we have developed a bond, a sort of brotherhood of the sea through the written word. Some of our contributors focus on destinations. Others like to write technical articles or look for inspiration not on the sea but under it. We have writers who have studied the natural world and writer/sailors who like to cook and share their honed culinary skills. Humor plays a big part in our lives and we encourage that in All At Sea. In fact a good sense of humor is as important at sea as a strong boat. Many of our contributors have sailed great distances in small boats, some have circumnavigated and others are about to do so. Through the pages of our magazine we share their wanderings and learn from their experiences. All At Sea is not just about the Caribbean, it is a proper sea-going magazine. If, through our writing, we encourage others to sail and explore this wonderful region then it makes it all the more worthwhile.

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In this edition, author Julian Putley looks back at the time before GPS forever changed the way we navigate at sea. Julian, like me, learned the art of navigation the traditional way—with a sextant, a watch and a set of tables. In his article he even mentions a plastic sextant and that is the very thing I used on my first Atlantic crossing: I bought the sextant at a flea market for $5. As a traditional navigator, I was proud of my skills but on rare occasions I screwed up mightily. I am now going to confess. This is the first time I have told this story and, other than my wife, who was there at the time, you are the only person to hear it.

We were on passage from the States and planned to end our voyage in Marigot Bay, French St. Martin. The voyage had been a mixed-bag of weather and breakages, the biggest of which was the loss of a vital piece of our Aires self-steering gear. That loss meant we had to steer by hand. Already exhausted, we took watch on and watch off until days later the mountains of St. Martin hove into view. Being a good navigator, I constantly checked the chart and pilot books and regularly took bearings on the various headlands. As I laid off out position on the chart, I remember thinking a few things didn’t add up, but by really studying the chart I was able to make everything fit. Okay, so the reef to port wasn’t where it should be, if it should be there at all, and the land to starboard was rather flatter than I expected, but what the hell, the charts were old and what did they know, I was the navigator here.

My wife was now annoying me by repeatedly holding the chart in front of her eyes, turning it from side to side, and making the “Mmm” sound. At one point she even turned it upside-down. How rude is that!?

As we closed the land, I noticed the high mountains beyond the lowland to starboard seemed to be detached from the main and moving at an odd pace.

My wife had by now doubled her efforts and was at the “Mmm, mmm, er … ” stage.

“Enough, woman,” I shouted as we sailed into Marigot Bay. Grabbing the binoculars, I focused them on a flag ashore.

“Well, Magellan?” she sneered.

“Welcome to Anguilla”, I said.

In St. Maarten she bought me a GPS.

 

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