Coastal Passage Making: Junior Navigator…..Club Nautique

The junior navigator position, basically, is a hybrid position between navigator and crew. You will assist in sailing the vessel but also you are the assistant to the navigator. In advance of the journey, you will probably be asked to report the weather on a daily basis. You might be asked to draw up anchoring plans, or to obtain relevant current information at each of the potential destinations at the time you might be present. Pay attention to everything that the navigator does in preparation for the sail because, on the next journey, that will be your responsibility.

On the sail, navigation tasks will be assigned. These usually include communications and listening to and documenting vessel traffic service reports. So, be up to speed on the communications language by reviewing the relevant sections of your textbook. You may also be required to mark the chart indicating the location of other class boats during the check-in times. Further, you will probably responsible for rigging duties. I found that junior navigator was an interesting position because you’re doing things that can distract you from other things you need to do and this teaches you to manage multiple high priority tasks at the same time. It is, basically, good preparation for skippering a boat.

It would be wise to show up for the class boat with all of the tools and materials necessary to navigate the boat by yourself should the navigator become incapacitated by seasickness. So, be prepared. Be ready to navigate a sailboat. You will see that, because of the watch schedule, the skipper will also assist in navigation. After all, the navigator can’t be “on“ 24/7 for 2 1/2 days. It stands to reason that there will be plenty of opportunity for you, as junior navigator, to take over navigation responsibilities. This will include chart work, determining fixes, dead reckoning positions, and providing a course to steer to the person at the helm. Again, be prepared. During your sail as a junior navigator you can complete portions of the checklist that is required for the navigator position. Be sure to demonstrate your accomplishments to the instructor so that those tasks you have completed can be duly noted.

Thomas Perry was the instructor when I was sailing as junior navigator. He is an excellent instructor. He has the patience of Job. If you don’t know an answer to a question tell him that you don’t. He asks a lot of questions to find your limits of knowledge and to help you move beyond. he is quite the experienced sailor and knows what you need to know to be successful. Work with him on furthering your education and you will grow tremendously.

Our navigator was Pavel Sokolov. Pavel and I have become friends. He is one of the most intelligent people that I have ever met. His knowledge of sailing is second to none. He proved to be a superb navigator.

My experience is junior navigator was rather interesting. First, there was another junior navigator sailing to complete the responsibilities of that position. It made the boat a little crowded but it was fine. Second, this was a type 2 CPM and that meant we were going to set sail at night after dinner. Lastly, of the five students, I found one to be particularly annoying. We were challenged to be professional and to work together.

We prepped the boat on Friday afternoon. Our instructor insisted that we demonstrate an ability to pull down the head sail and hoist a storm jib. I’m not sure that we really knew what we were doing but we got the job done. This is a critical part of learning to sail and especially if you plan to cross oceans where you might encounter a storm that requires that you significantly reduce sail area. One could argue that you might actually get caught out at sea and need to do same along our coast. In my view, if you have to use the storm jib off the coast of California then you didn’t plan your adventure being mindful of the weather.

I was in the cabin tidying up a few things and everyone else was on deck dealing with dock lines as the skipper called for the lines to be released. The boat slowly started backwards out of the slip. Transmission noises. Forward gear. Then, a loud crashing sound with a sudden deceleration. Chatter on deck. Engine revs. Prop wash. Transmission shifts. More prop wash. We were motoring forward in the alley of the harbor.

I went on deck to see what was the matter. I learned that our skipper had, somehow, not effectively made the transition from reverse to forward gear with the resultant anticipation and the need to steer before adding power and drove the boat into a concrete piling at the end of the slip. The anchor was bent. Fortunately, there was no other damage to the boat. Our instructor determined that the anchor was probably still suitable. So, we decided to proceed on our journey. I didn’t imagine that the accident, within one minute of starting our weekend, would be overlooked and suspected that it meant a fail for the skipper.

The concrete pillar on the slip at Skiron. They’re necessary evils. Be careful.

We did the usual measured mile, swinging of the ship, and anchored in Richardson Bay for dinner. The anchor held for the duration of our stay.

Darkness enveloped us as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. We were settled into our positions and our routines and ready to do some sailing by time we had point Bonita light abeam of us. Pavel was busy with dead reckoning positions, a radar fix to the light, etc. I enjoyed serving the entrance to the Golden Gate at night. Soon, we were able to visualize the first set of bouys that marked the San Francisco shipping lane. I was on watch. After the first hour of sailing I was at the helm. We were sensing the development of a significant significant swell.

After my time at the helm it was my turn to rest. I couldn’t sleep so I tried to keep my eyes closed and relax as much as was possible. A couple of the guys were already seasick…..or at least they looked that way. By this time, the swell was very significant. The rise and fall of the boat was obvious. Unfortunately, for two hours, the folks at the helm weren’t steering the waves properly. The boat would pitch up as it was climbing the face of a swell and fall out of the sky slamming onto the back side of the swell jarring the vessel and shaking it greatly with each swell despite the creaks and groans of the vessel calling for relief. Those of us on board down below were also particularly jarred by the experience. It is important to learn the proper way to sail or motor through the swells. There are established techniques. It’s worth reading about this issue in the two books on heavy weather sailing that I shared in an earlier post. Here are a couple of simple and straightforward line drawings that can help you get a basic understanding of the proper approaches.

I decided to climb out of my bunk and go on deck to take a look outside. It was rather foggy. Dark. Mysterious. There was, however, a periodic “lightbulb in the sky” that seemed really close. And dangerous. Pavel indicated that it was the lighthouse on the main Farallon Island. He indicated that we were a mile away and it was time to alter our course and motor sail to Half Moon Bay. I returned to my bunk glad that I had gone up top to take a look. An hour or so later, after a bit of sleep, I was awakened to take my turn as watch for an hour followed by an hour at the helm.

The boat seemed much more comfortable with the swell at the steen quarter. I was doing my best to watch the sea as I wanted to try to steer “in the flat spaces” to minimize movement of the vessel. I started to get the hang of it after about 15 minutes. I must admit that I was mesmerized by the luminosity of the ocean at night. It was beautiful! At some point along the way we felt a thump. Who knows what it was! One of the guys suggested that it might’ve been a large sunfish. Apparently they weigh thousands of pounds and float on the top of the ocean both during the day and at night. When my turn at the helm was up I had another two hours off. I was awakened as we were approaching the pillar point buoy off the coast of Half Moon Bay. All hands on deck in preparation for our entry into the harbor at 7AM or so.

We chose to anchor in the harbor, had a light breakfast, and then everyone laid down to sleep. Around mid day, we had a light snack and then our instructor held a session of exchange of information. We were each assigned a boat system and were asked so a rough sketch and explain the system. He reviewed Pavel‘s work and deemed that he had basically, after just less than half the journey, completed his navigation responsibilities and would pass the class. That implied that the navigation responsibilities for the journey home would fall on the two of us junior navigators if we approved capable. We were asked to demonstrate our ability to tie various knots. Pavel and I were the only two on the boat who knew how to tie the running hitch. Learn it before your first CPM journey. Much to my amazement, one of our mates began an argument with the instructor over some matter regarding anchors. The student was insistent, rude, impolite and failed to yield to the instructors knowledge. It was wholly inappropriate and the instructor handled it well.

Next, we lifted anchor and proceeded to the docks to demonstrate our ability to maneuver the boat in the harbor and to successfully dock the vessel. At first, I thought we would all get a turn but it seems that the focus was on the skipper. He didn’t do very well. He admitted that he hadn’t sailed much of late. This is the second skipper who was not prepared as well as he might have been because of inactivity sailing prior to the skipper position in the CPM class. I was a little disappointed for the skipper because I felt that he had worked very hard and then a reasonable job with most other aspects of the adventure. I had to, however, step back from that and believe, realistically, that he wasn’t ready to pass the position given the motoring and docking difficulties on two consecutive days. I cannot over emphasize the importance of taking that motoring class supervised by instructor and practicing as much as you can. You must also practice even after you complete the coursework. I promise that you will learn something new every single time you try to dock a vessel. If not, you’re not paying attention.

I can’t actually recall but I believe we anchored again, had our dinner, and then, as darkness fell, we started our journey back to the San Francisco Bay. I was up first. Meaning that for the first several hours I was going to be the navigator. Low light. Red headlamp. Charts. Tools. I calculated and called out the courses to steer. I started doing my work of dead reckoning, a few radar fixes, etc. I calculated and called out the courses to steer. I started doing my work of dead reckoning, a few radar fixes, etc. The instructor seemed pleased. I was very busy at the table trying to navigate correctly. I was going on deck to gain information outside the boat when necessary and to do my fixes. Then, when plotting a fix, out of nowhere, and if struck by a sudden blow, I felt immensely seasick. I thought it off for about 30 minutes and ultimately had to go throw up over the side of the boat. I was fine there after but felt very fatigued.

After about 2 1/2 to 3 hours I turned over my responsibilities to the other junior navigator. He noticed on the charts that I had lined our course to steer, which is conventional, but I also had marked our course steered, as informed by the helm beginning from a radar fix off of Pillar Point. The DR plots put us about a half mile off course. He didn’t understand and felt I had no clue what I was doing. He actually said that to do that they are plots I was supposed to put them along the course that was intended regardless of what course with steered. He also disagreed with plotting DR positions from a known fix. It was clear to me that he didn’t have a clue how to navigate. We were able to see Point Bonita light. I did a radar fix and showed him that we were basically on top of my last DR position at the time he was arguing his point. Of course, this guy is the one who also argued with our instructor. At any rate, I left him with it and went to bed.

I was awakened by the instructor because he wanted all hands on deck as we were entering the bay. I stumbled up to the deck, half asleep, and was granted a most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, appropriately lighted, suspended in the fog at 2 AM. It was an unforgettable vision. We proceeded to the dock in Sausalito, secured the boat, and retired to our bunks. We slept until about 9 AM, had breakfast, and then we were permitted to depart. I had passed my position as junior navigator and was able to take credit for some of the tasks on the navigator checklist. That was really somewhat of a moot point because, navigating my next sail, I would be required to do all of those things anyways.

One of the things I had hoped to accomplish was crew overboard recovery at night. That was not permissible because of the sea state. While it would’ve been essential to have learned to recover a crewmember surrogate at night it is not an exercise one wants to take on in a classroom setting where crewmembers would be put in danger. We did not have other vessels that we were able to check in with so we didn’t learn to keep the positions of the whole team of class boats on the chart. Further, there was not a lot of vessel traffic service activity so I didn’t feel that I truly learned to keep those records. Regardless of the shortfalls, I thought it was a tremendous experience and I learned a lot. I felt somewhat prepared for my next journey as navigator. I had a good time with the instructor and I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with and learn from Pavel. I was motivated to practice docking and maneuvering prior to my opportunity to skipper.

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