Four Lessons in Using
Modern Marine Electronics
Auto Routing has a long way to go: A function I got to test on multiple manufacturers MFDs was the auto-routing function. Now, to be fair, each system warns users that auto-routing is not a replacement for proper course plotting and that’s a good thing. Most auto routing had us running on the wrong side of buoys, over shallow shoals, and running too close to shore. This function is best used to create a quick and dirty route that you then change and tweak to ensure safe cruising.
No search function that I could find: Most new MFDs lack a search function that helps you locate a particular marina quickly. This would have been extremely helpful when I was trying to locate Scituate after exiting the Cape Cod Canal. When getting bounced in choppy seas is not the time to be scrolling along the coast in search of a port you’ve never been to.
Keep it simple:Gizmo has dozens of screens across her expansive helms. Information overload is a very real thing, unless you’re electronics guru Ben Ellison. Having forward-looking and side-scanning sonar systems, fishfinders, instrumentation, charts, numerous split-screen radars etc. can easily distract you from the basics of boating, like staying in between the buoys. Just because you have insane functionality doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Hard-key autopilot controls are king in rough conditions: Ben had his upper helm equipped with a hard-key autopilot control, which was easy to use even in rough seas. The MFD touchscreen control was much more difficult (for me) to use when things got lumpy. I’d intend to change our course by a few degrees quickly then accidentally hit the +10 degrees that would send us way of course. I eventually chose to hand steer around lobster pots.
The morning of our last day aboard Gizmo began with a heightened sense of urgency. 106 miles, 4- to 6-foot seas, and almost 20 knots of wind stood between us and Camden, but we were determined, come hell or following seas, to get there. The hatches were battened down, and loose cameras and other assorted gear was stowed away and secured.
Leaving Isle of Shoals, off New Hampshire, in sloppy conditions, it was immediately apparent that we were in for a long day (cruising speed was an average of 9 knots). Our Duffy 37 slipped and slid down the backs of waves; the autopilot was frequently turned to standby as we slalomed through patches of lobster traps. After an hour of standing wide-legged and braced at the helm, fatigue would start to creep in. The casual watch schedule that Ellison and I had been keeping was replaced by a strict hour-on, hour-off schedule. The watch changes allowed the helmsman to be as fresh as possible, and we kept at it for most of the day.
Like many things in life, the challenging conditions we faced made our long-awaited approach into Camden that much sweeter. Conifer-covered mountains protruded from the sea in front of our bow; Ellison’s smile grew as friends threw him a wave in the inner harbor. “Man I really love it here,” said Ellison as he exhaled a deep breath of crisp, clean air.
In short order we tied Gizmo to her floating dock in the harbor, then made our way to the Ellison estate, which Ben himself built in the 1970s. After some much-needed showers, and even-more-needed glasses of wine, we found ourselves, and his lovely wife, Andrea sitting on his porch in the shade of Camden’s Mt. Battie.
We began the time-honored tradition of recounting tales from our five-day adventure. “You wouldn’t believe this burger joint we went to in Plymouth,” Ben would say. “Oh, tell Andrea about pulling into Isle of Shoals, this is a good one.”…“Yeah, then this group on the dock started chanting in unison.” Story-swapping would continue until two bottles of vino—and our remaining energy—had been polished off.
I had joined this delivery to increase my navigation and marine electronics knowledge, which I gained in spades. But the more important take away for me was how time on the water can form the most unlikely of friendships. Before pulling away from Essex, Ben and I were professional acquaintances whose only shared experiences were a couple dozen e-mails. And aside from a similar profession we’re almost as different as they come. Where Ben enjoys listening to countless hours (and I mean COUNTLESS HOURS) of talk radio and spending time with his grandchildren, I prefer country music and often have a friend from college crashing in my cramped apartment. We have very different opinions on the meaning of “optimum cruising speed” and our preferred bedtime differed by a good four hours.
Shared experiences and a common goal at sea have a funny way of erasing all those land-based differences and forming what I hope to be a long-lasting friendship.