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A Curmudgeon’s Cynical Look at Digital Boating

What has happened to us? Paper charts, dead reckoning, and basic navigational methods and skills are fast becoming obsolete due to computerized GPS plotters. Every day I watch boaters attempt to drive a boat looking at a computer screen when visual aids marking a channel are clearly visible 20 feet away.

Heck, I’ve only met one boater in the past few years who knew how to properly cleat a line, the most basic element of seamanship, and he’s retired Merchant Marine. There was a point, in my lifetime, when the tidiness of dock lines and proper cleating of a vessel represented an owner’s or captain’s respect and affection for his/her vessel and neighbor.

Okay, call me Capt. Curmudgeon, but y’all know this is true. Things have changed with the digital age; I’m a late-model baby boomer born in the analog era trying to chart my way through the digital world! I can do it, but do I really want to?

From 2006 to 2010, I worked for a small yacht company that was an early utilizer of computerized joystick technology. We had a home base in Essex, Connecticut, an adorable, quaint New England village that I fell totally, absoltuely, completely in love with, except for the huge annual climate change. I spent my first day in Essex, strolling around absorbing the New England smells of spring, taking in all the town of Essex has to offer, a very enjoyable day.

Upon reporting for work the next morning, I was asked what I thought about this quaint little place on the river. “It’s great, I love it. It reminds me of the waterfront and river towns around South Alabama, not a whole lot different.”


“Yeah, we have delightful little coffee shops, bistros, cafés, gift shops, galleries, marinas, and pubs, same as here. The biggest difference I noticed is the doctors.”

“Really, what do you mean?”

“Well, according to the signage, doctors here seem to specialize a lot in therapy; therapy this, therapy that. In South Alabama, doctors specialize in fish-hook removal, snake bites, gunshot and stab wounds. You see, we all seem to have similar issues; we just deal with them differently in the South, maybe we’re not as digital yet.”

Y’all come back, ya hea’!