Coastal Passage Making: Navigator ……Club Nautique

Prior to sailing as navigator on a CPM boat you should re-read the coastal navigation textbook. Revisit some of your homework problems. Go sailing and do some navigation on the water. I recommend that, if you have not already done so, complete your review of the Annapolis book of Seamanship and re-read the coastal passage making textbook. Also, now is the time to review collision regulations and navigation light patterns by reading through the USCG navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook.

Prior to my CPM voyage as navigator, I had a tremendous opportunity to navigate a sailboat skippered by David Perkins, one of my mentors, from San Francisco to Monterey. The excursion was a club event. I took the opportunity seriously and we treated it as if I was solely responsible for all of the navigation during our journey with an overnight in Half Moon Bay. David looked over my shoulder to ensure that I was correctly performing my responsibilities. He provided keen advice when necessary. The only concern that I had regarding the journey was that we had planned arrival at a weather buoy in Monterey Bay as a waypoint. It turned out we were about a half mile on the shore side of the buoy. That was a bit of a surprise to me. Once the journey had been completed I did a lot of research and learned of the complex currents passing down the coast and swirling in and out of Monterey Bay. I suspected that these currents, unbeknownst to me at the time, resulted in our failing to achieve the waypoint to my satisfaction. On the other hand, we were all but guaranteed to find the Monterey coast as, if we were a half mile on the other side, we might’ve missed the peninsula altogether. I’m sure we would’ve seen it but had visibility been limited we might have missed it. I’ll share this observation so that you can be aware of the fact that there are unknowns that can affect the position of the boat. Thus, it is critical to research everything and prepare accordingly.

I was fortunate to be assigned to a five day CPM where I would function as navigator for the first 2 1/2 days and then a skipper the second 2 1/2 days. Of course, functioning as a skipper depended on successfully completing the role as a navigator. My good friend, Pavel Sokolov, was to be the skipper for the first half of the journey. He and I would be working together. I was delighted. We shared in the functions as skipper with regards to the pre-cruise preparations beginning about 10 days prior to our anticipated departure. Unfortunately, the junior navigator assigned to our journey was “busy” and could not complete the assignments I had requested in a timely fashion. Thus, I did all of the navigation preparation and anchor plans, weather reports, etc for the first part of the journey by myself. We were not provided his preparation work regarding navigation for the second part of the journey until maybe a day or two prior to departure. I was somewhat perturbed because, as you have already read, in my opinion, preparation for these journeys requires utmost dedication and loyalty of and by all the crew so that we have a safe and successful experience on the vessel.

Stuart Hunter was our assigned instructor. I had worked with him during basic keelboat and coastal navigation on the water in preparation for CPM. I was delighted that he was going to be on the vessel with us for five days. We were sure to learn a lot. He was a navigator on a US Navy ship during his time in the military. He has been involved in Sailing his entire life. He understood everything required to successfully travel from one point to another on a sailing vessel

Capt. Stuart Hunter our on the ocean with us during our CPM.

Pavel and I and one other assigned to our journey sailed together a week prior to the class. We worked on motoring in the harbor and went over the vessel we were to spend five days on to know all systems, etc.

We met at the vessel in Alameda the afternoon of our sail. The boat was fully prepped. Our instructor joined us and asked how we would get him out of the water should we be required to rescue him. Up to that point, through all of our classes, we had only been taught how to get back to the surrogate person in the water. Of course, we had read about a number of different options on how to get that rescued person back into the boat and what to do afterwards. We had all of the good ideas but none of us were prepared to do what he felt would be the best option. Our instructor proceeded to demonstrate how to use a block and tackle system of pulleys to lift a person out of the water. Afterwards, he laid on the dock and required us to lift him onto the boat. It was a great exercise. I haven’t done it since and must obtain the proper equipment to relearn this maneuver.

Finally, we were on our way. We did a measured mile in the Alameda estuary shipping channel. Thereafter, we went into the bay, on the east side of Angel Island, and completed our swinging of the ship. We anchored in Richardson Bay for dinner. Then, it was time to sail. We wouldn’t stop sailing until we arrived in the harbor in Monterey. Our journey would take place overnight.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of the specifics about navigating the vessel overnight along our course down the coast, across the expansive mouth of the Monterey Bay, and into the harbor. It seemed relatively straightforward. I do, however, recall a couple of different things that took place. Firstly, two people are required to be on watch at all times. We also had a rotation of sleep. When I wasn’t navigating, Pavel was doing so. Fortunately, when I was awake, I always came back to the navigation table with accurate documentation having been accomplished during my absence. When Pavel was sleeping, I was, in essence, the designated skipper. One quickly learns that senior responsibilities on a sailing vessel are shared. It was a great opportunity to learn to work together. I remembered, in a state of sleeping with one eye closed as they say during my time off, getting the sense that the boat was aggressively maneuvering in the dark, probably at 1AM. I could hear Pavel and our instructor communicating. It seemed that they were practicing crew overboard maneuvers in the dark. When I awoke and asked about the orchestral maneuvers in the dark I was told that the TV antenna dish for the boat (the only one I’ve sailed on with a TV) mounted on the mast, had flown off the boat in the wind. Pavel and our instructor were able to successfully recover the flying saucer. A couple of hours later, when starting my time at the helm, I noticed that the navigation lights were not illuminated. I switched them on right away suspecting all the while that they were switched off as a test of powers of observation and surveillance regarding safely sailing at night. I was pretty tired. I remember having provided a navigation plan into the harbor with two options. Since we had clear visibility for our early morning arrival we abandoned both and sailed straight for the harbor entrance, found the slip we had called for in advance, docked, and secured the vessel. We had breakfast, napped, and spent a lot of time reviewing all sorts of sailing related matters during the day of rest after our 16 hours of work, much of it actively sailing, since the time of our departure the day before.

Monterey and the southern part of Monterey Bay.

There was one other class boat on our journey. We joined them for a walk into Monterey followed by dinner at a restaurant. It was a treat to be off the vessel. It gave us a sense of having arrived at a destination. We felt as if we had freedom on and from the sea.

The next morning, we awoke, had breakfast, prepared the vessel, and departed Monterey harbor in fog. Though visibility was limited it was reasonable and, of course, radar was transmitting. We were awestruck at the presence of a gargantuan cruise ship anchored in the bay near the harbor. We were impressed by its radar signature.

I navigated the vessel, with Pavel as Skipper, on a dead run through the Monterey bay to a selected waypoint by way of dead reckoning. A word of advice……if you’re planning to sail in the Monterey bay be sure to review the Coast Pilot as there are restrictions. The US Navy conducts exercises with mines in the Monterey Bay and you don’t want to tread on their waterway when they are active in the region. Anyways, when we thought we had reached the waypoint we turned to starboard along a new course to the MLA safe water buoy near the entrance to the Moss Landing Harbor. We were under sail and approaching our destination. I accomplished a few dead reckoning positions. After a while, I thought I heard a gong. Then, we saw it in the fog….the buoy…..a full five minutes prior to when expected! I was a bit disgruntled. Our instructor said that it happens and one has to be prepared to arrive early or late and to understand why calculations were off the mark. Five minutes at 6 kn is a half nautical mile so, for some reason, we were well in advance of our anticipated position. Perhaps our turn at the waypoint was incorrect. I didn’t think so as our course took us right to that buoy. This observation led me to believe that current and leeway were not factors. I suspected that I calculated time and or distance incorrectly. It is likely that I had measured distance incorrectly on the chart. It’s an easy mistake to make. Woodworkers have an old saying “measure twice and cut once.“ There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement that can be applied to navigating a sailing vessel.

There is a nice formal visual range established for boats entering the harbor at Moss Landing. We set up ranges in our minds all the time when sailing. We even do it subconsciously. It was nice to have the opportunity to use an official range for once. After we entered the harbor we took turns demonstrating our abilities to maneuver in the harbor. Everyone did well.

Moss landing was the point of transition. Pavel excelled as skipper and passed. He then became the crew member. I passed navigator and became the skipper. The junior navigator became the navigator and the crew member became the junior navigator. We were well rested and ready to continue.

Moss Landing Harbor.

My tale of this journey will continue in an upcoming blog labeled Coastal Passage Making: Skipper. What might have gone wrong? What surprises did our instructor have for us? Stay tuned! You’ll want to read the blog so as to be better prepared for your very own journeys.

The safe water mark or channel buoy MLA near the entrance to Moss Landing. This photo was taken after we exited the harbor. The fog had lifted by the time we finished our harbor maneuvers.

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