Thursday, November 14, 2013

No more printed charts

After being on life support since our annual fall trip, I finally had to euthanize my old Garmin Etrex gps.  Garmin, your product is NOT waterproof no matter what you say.  Its water resistant and the resistance was overcome somewhere between Outer Island and  Red Cliff.  A few waves breaking over the deck, condensation inside the display, and everything went to hell.  Even a spa treatment in a nice pail of quality rice did not revive the unit.  The new one will be in the clear bag, lesson learned.  Fortunately I had a chart on my deck, the big official NOAA chart, folded up and stuffed in a water resistant map case. The difference between the two is that if the map got wet it might be soggy but would still be readable.  Reliable redundant systems are always good.

It was recently announced that NOAA will quit printing navigation charts this spring.  I'm sure they can be downloaded and printed on large format printers, most likely at a cost that will exceed the twenty bucks they charge now.  If you have the time and inclination, a company like West Marine can print it digitally at the normal twenty buck cost and get it to you via whatever shipping method you choose to pay for, from overnight to regular USPS mail.  The graphics and print quality will be better and it's printed on water resistant paper.  Shipping of course can equal chart cost for overnight service. On the positive side, we can zero in on the very area we plan to paddle and probably even print the thing on our own waterproof.....or resistant...paper at some place like Kinkos.  There are a few retail places that don't raise my blood pressure when I enter them and the typical marine supply store where I purchase charts is one of em.  I only hope that this more complicated path to chart procurement doesn't cause some people to just say to hell with it and rely on the gps.  That would be the path of least resistance, excellent if you're electricity but bad if you're a kayaker. 

As a history fan I love the paper charts simply for the tale they tell after numerous trips.  Where and how they were folded, scribbled notations made, and the big picture, an aspect that the tiny gps screen is woefully lacking. Here on the Great Lakes the charts just don't change that much for we kayakers.  We really don't care where and how deep the ship channel into the Ashland coal dock is unless we want to avoid it or fish the edge of it.  On most of the areas that I paddle frequently I have backup paper charts.  I usually have the gps along but very little of the functions it performs can't be performed with a chart, a navigation tool, and a watch.  The gps might be more accurate but how accurate do you really need to be?  Plus you always have the 'waypoints' available on the map.  A few years back four of us did a foggy crossing from the tip of Rocky Island in the Apostles out to the Devils Island light, the northernmost point in the State of Wisconsin.  I had my battered chart and little nav tool with the fish line to calculate a bearing on the map and two of the folks had gps units.  Unfortunately they did not have the waypoint for the Devil's light punched in.  The other problem was they had not sprung for the 'Blue Water chart package' or whatever the extra chip they stick you for is called.  Devils Island did not appear on their tiny screens even though we were pretty certain is was there.  After all it showed up on the chart.  The fog was so thick that we could not see Devils Island until we were about a quarter mile out.  The boys were nervous but we hit it right on the money after a blind three mile paddle.  To her credit the  VOR was confident in my navigation ability......pretty much.  The one place that the gps really shines over the chart is picking ones way out to a deer stand through the forest at dark o'clock.  Getting out to da blind is much simpler with an accurate waypoint, since it's typically far too dark to zero in on any landmarks.

The end of the litho printed charts, printed by the FAA by the way, not NOAA will be a sad day for many of us.  As a printer as well as the owner of some small pulpwood acreage, I must disclose a vested interest in the printed chart.  I wanted my emails to have "please print this frivolously, I got timber to sell" instead of the usual admonition to please not print this email. Higher ups at my company thought this to be a message they did not want to send; go figure.  Nonetheless we need to keep the skill and the joy of navigation alive.  A number of us took John Carmody's course at the Gales event and it was refreshing to see the interest.  Far more people in the Great Lakes region have taken John Browning's navigation course and perhaps even enjoyed a whiskey with him afterwards. For the guy who sets out for Sand Island in his rec boat and flip flops, not having a map or gps is likely the least of his worries.  Whether the map and compass or the aggravating electronic beeps of the gps are your prime method of knowing where you are, just make damn sure that you have the other one for backup.  Also remember the map and compass are significantly more reliable.  See paragraph one above.  Practice those skills as well.  I don't know what either son's phone number is because I just tell Siri, the iPhone wench, to call Erik or Ian.  I do remember my grandparents number from the 1950's however, 835-6041.  This is because I had the hands on experience of sticking my little finger in the rotary dial and actually dialing the numbers.  Keep folding those charts, sticking them in the Sealine chart bag, and calculating those times and bearings.  Not only is it fun but someday it might save your ass.