Monday, February 24, 2014

Navigation? Yes!

In a canoe or kayak, you probably won't use dividers, and
certainly won't use parallel rules, but navigation is no
less important.
A couple years ago I was reminded yet again of the old joke about naval navigation. A young midshipman was feeling the weight of his first stint as navigator. He was hovering over the chart table under the watchful eyes of the skipper when the admiral walked onto the bridge. Turning to the midshipman, the admiral said, “Young man, where did you fix our 0800 position?” The midshipman pulled his 0.5mm drafting pencil from his breast pocket, and at the fine intersection of three lines of position, accentuated the infinitesimal dot, and said, “Precisely there, sir.” Smiling, the admiral looked at the captain and said, “Captain, where did you fix our position.? The captain tapped the chart with his index finger saying, “About there, sir. You know our position though, don’t you, admiral?” “Absolutely,” the admiral said, “We’re somewhere around here,” as he slapped the chart with the flat of his palm.

Doing some preliminary planning for a particular river, I had asked an experienced paddler what maps he would recommend for the trip. I got a response similar to the admiral‘s. “Maps!!?, he bellowed. “You just put the left bank on your left side, the right bank on your right side, and paddle. What maps?!”

A second true example of an unusual example of varying perspectives around navigation involved a friend we had met while out sailing. I asked how he got started in ocean sailing. He related that he was young and traveling about the country when he fell in with a bunch of sailors out in California. They took him sailing a couple times, and he was instantly enthralled. So much so, in fact, that he decided it would be neat to sail to Hawaii. He knew absolutely nothing about sailing, seamanship, pilotage, navigation, rules of the road, buoyage, tides and currents, nothing, but he was a skilled woodworker. He bought a 19-ft. daysailer, enclosed it, and built in some cabinets for storage. He went shopping and picked up some books on the nautical subjects he had no knowledge about, and a plastic sextant. With everything loaded aboard, the plan was that if he started sailing west and reading, before he passed the Hawaiian Islands, he could learn celestial navigation, figure out where he was, and navigate to a landfall. Off he went, and I believe it was 31 days later that he landed on the island of Oahu. His makes a great story, but most folks can’t get away with this. He was especially bright, very goal oriented, and capable of climbing a very sharp learning curve. He was not an example for everyone.

When choosing a wardrobe, everyone has to decide what style, design, and colors suit them best. Navigation cannot be approached that casually. Yet, I’ve met too many people that indeed approach navigation with nearly the same mindset. Why one approach does not suit every application is this. If you walk out of the store and realize in the sun’s perfect light that the pants to your black suit are actually dark blue, you are not going to be shipwrecked and drowned as a consequence, nor will you find yourself lost in a wilderness where you will starve to death, nor will you die before help can arrive because you can’t tell rescuers where you are. Giving serious consideration to navigation, the art and science of knowing where you are and where you are going, can be as important in the middle of a river as in the middle of an ocean. Not every trip requires the same degree or depth of navigational planning, but what may indeed be needed should be determined and provided for. There are those that fly by the seat of their pants and get away with it----for awhile. While it’s foolhardy, it is also viewed by some as macho, and it generates some close-calls that make a great story. It can also make a great book that will be written by a survivor, or someone who is left to freely second-guess your thinking and decision making.

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