Photos by John Wooldridge
wake me, which was lucky because had they, I
probably would have made everything worse by
abruptly changing course. As it were, the swift
Bay of Fundy current swept us unharmed past any
obstructions. Like I said: lucky.
By the time we were venturing offshore, we
had a new ride to pimp. Our voyage to Nova
Scotia was aboard my second boat, a 1965 Cheoy
Lee Bermuda 30 ketch. I transferred my new
VHF radio from my old sloop and installed a
secondhand loran receiver. Now we could hail
other boats and issue security calls during night
and fog passages. Near shore the loran gave us
numbers that could be interpolated and penciled as
a position on paper charts.
This helm represents a mid-step between paper charts and the
multi-function display concept of today. Note the individual
read-outs for navigation and various engine and system sensors.
Note also the prominence of an old-fashioned “wet” compass
with iron-correcting spheres.
BOOM BOX BEDEVILED
En route to Monhegan we stood watches at the tiller.
When I climbed out on deck for my 2 a.m. watch, I
could not believe the boneheadedness of my crew. Our
entertainment center, with its two speaker magnets, was
pumping out tunes from a New Hampshire rock-and-roll station, while sitting right beside the compass! After
hollering and threatening murder, I tried to determine
whether those big magnets had misdirected us, and if
so, in what direction and by how much, but could not.
There was nothing to do but motor on, now with a
heightened sense of uncertainty.
As it turned out, the boom-box effect could not have
been too great because we began hearing the Monhegan
horn (which is actually on adjacent Manana Island).
Keeping the horn ahead and then to port we nosed
around Manana and into the fishermen’s harbor at
Monhegan. In the 19 hours since our departure—all in
dense fog—we had seen nothing until Manana’s bold
shore was dramatically revealed a couple of hundred feet
from the boat.
That’s how we navigated in the 1980s. “Dead
reckoning” is the proper nautical term, though no
one is quite sure where the “dead” part comes from.
Personally I reckon I might have died a few times
were it not for luck in fog...like when the barking dog
warned us that we were too close to the rocky shores of
Vinalhaven Island. Or the time we took the lighthouse
on Seal Island, Nova Scotia, to port instead of starboard
as we had intended; my faithful crew didn’t think to
Many medium-to-larger trawlers today feature a “glass bridge”
of instrument displays—a far cry from the nav table for paper
charts that kept mariners on course just 20 years ago.
The boat had come with an old Raytheon depth
finder with a big circular dial that indicated depth
and was accurate to about 50 feet down. Before
taking the Hong Kong Maiden down island, I took
a course in celestial navigation and purchased my
first GPS. No, not that kind, a gray plastic sextant.
The other kind, the satellite navigator, was still too
pricey even though we were now passagemaking
in the 1990s.
EN TER THIS MAGAZINE
Which brings us to the point of this column, which
you are reading in the 100th issue of PMM. The magazine
began publishing in 1996, at about the same time GPS
was coming to the mass market. In fact, the U.S. Air