This is the page upon which we will look at the
range of electronic aids available to the modern sailor - fish-finders,
depth sounders, radar, GPS and the rest of the huge range of equipment on
the market but, before we do, we should underline something that the manufacturers
of these items always stress.
'This instrument is an aid to navigation
We all know the chap who fits every new invention the
moment it arrives at the boat show; the chap with three back-up
auto-pilots and the oh-so-bright, L.E.D-encrusted, depth, speed and wind
indicators, not to mention the four GPSs.
That's fine, wonderful even! If one can afford it, why not enjoy having the
'heat' taken out of ones' sailing?
We are keen on any gizmo that allows us to relax with a beer or two
and can't imagine sailing far without our trusty 'Ray' the Raytheon
Radar, for instance. That, incidentally, is a classic example of the benefits of leaving well
alone. 11 years 'Ray' has been making our lives easier and a grease gun is all the help
Returning to the subject, we 'rescued' a couple that were stuck in
Mindelo, on Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands. they were desperate to
reach the Caribbean and we were the only transportation heading that way.
Reluctantly we agreed to give them a lift.
We had not been underway long when the fellow who had talked us into
giving them the lift, taking up his position at the helm, said "How do you expect me to steer this
boat? Where are the wind instruments?" As the mate licked a finger
and held it up, her usual reply to questions about ascertaining the wind
direction, the Skipper pointed at the handsome red ribbon tell-tales
sewn onto the shrouds and said "Here they are".
Our guest appeared to be absolutely devastated at the knowledge that we
would happily sail anywhere with no more than a pair of red ribbons to
point out the wind direction. Strange, because this young man purported to have offshore
On another occasion, a Dutchman, a lifelong sailor or so
he said, hitched a ride out of Venezuela with The Skipper. The depth sounder had
developed a malfunction (a barnacle had probably set up home over the
little 'eye' on the bottom of the hull that peers through the gloom at the
sea bed) so The Skipper suggested the Dutchman swing the lead to gauge
the available depth of water.
He swung it all right, and that was goodbye to a nineteenth century plummet that
The Skipper had owned since 1962! We could go on and on, possibly even giving the erroneous impression that
we shun all forms of electronic gizmo. That is far from the case. Suffice it to say that
we simply don't feel we can afford to become totally reliant on these aids
and we will include auxiliary engines in that list.
When, through power failure, malfunction or plain breakage we are left
without them, we still need to be able to sail into an anchorage, round up and anchor,
regardless of motor failure or the demise of any other piece of mechanical
or electrical equipment. How often are the coastguards of the world expected to
expend scarce public funds on responding to 'Mayday' calls for just such
occurrences of ineptitude in the face of gizmo failure?
We have been on boats that get under way and, within
seconds, on goes the autopilot.
As the wind veers, or backs, and increases in velocity, the owner ignores the
screams and whines coming from the over-worked autopilot trying to deal with all the weather
At least with the G.P.S, people who are not as conversant with the sextant as they might be, tend to back them up by three and sometimes
more. Often those who rely on having everything done for them by machinery
are not able to back it all up and, when things go wrong, they find
themselves utterly unable to get from one place to another through
What we are trying to say is that whatever electronic instruments we may have on
board, we should if it fails, be able to do perform the machine's function
In the meantime, roll on, boat shows. We are just as easily talked into
buying gadgets intended to save time and energy as anyone else but we try
never to lose sight of the fact that there is no substitute for know-how.
Not even the people that manufacture the gizmos would argue with that.
What's your favourite electronic device aboard? What do
you wish you had that you don't, and why? Tell us about your experiences,
good and bad. Share your hints and tips on selecting equipment and
maintaining it. We'd love to hear all about it.
To start the ball rolling, we would like to mention something we learned
from Simon Watson, captain of the S/Y 'Hjollo' when we were
all passing time together in Trinidad in the West Indies, on our last
We noticed that all the cockpit repeaters aboard , which numbered
quite a few, remained permanently switched on, even though the vessel was
at anchor and, later, chocked up in a boatyard. (For the uninitiated:
repeaters are second screens showing information already to be seen below,
at the navigation station. They are placed where the helmsman can see them
and thus avail himself of the information without having to abandon the
When we asked Simon why the repeaters remained on at all times, he
explained that this was to prevent condensation from forming behind the
screens and ruining the equipment and that he always did this when in
tropical climates. His equipment never gave him grief, he told us,
excepting when someone switched it off to 'save' power!
Expensive savings those! A useful tip for which others will doubtless be
It's funny how obvious things seem, when you hear them, that you never
would have thought of spontaneously. Or maybe we're just the Neanderthals
of the yachting world...