Electronics blunt navigation skillsSep 20, 2006
I think one of the biggest problems people have with navigation these days is inherent in what we all use today, namely electronics. We are taught and learn to not trust intuition and instead follow the instructions. In other words, it makes absolutely no sense to hit "Start" when you want to shut down Windows, but that is what we have learned to do.
My whole being rebels every time I have to hit Start to shut down. Those of us who learned to sail without much in the way of electronics had to develop more of a seat-of-the-pants feel for the boat. Instead of learning how to run equipment we learned how to read the weather, judge currents, sense shoals, notice wind shifts. I simply can't imagine being 40 degrees off course (like Gypsy Moth in the Tuamotus) for hours without someone sensing that the boat was taking the waves or the wind at the wrong angle--I frequently find myself waking up when this happens and I am off watch. My first cruising boat had nothing more advanced than an unlit compass. I threw a lead line to determine depth. I'm really glad I did, because I still have some feel for when a slight change in the waves, swells, or surface currents might indicate a shallow or underwater obstruction.
I developed that sense by ramming into things, going aground, missing the channel, etc. But, I did it in a small, inexpensive boat that could be pushed off when it happened. A lot of today's cruisers start out with big boats loaded with all the gear, and they never get the chance to get accustomed to the natural clues that are out there.
I think if you are lucky enough to be able to start out with a modern, well-equipped boat, a great idea would be to do a lot of coastal cruising sans all electronics. Maybe even disconnect everything for a year or two. Without the electronics you'll take a lot more care with your navigation. You'll learn a lot and be a lot safer in the long run.