Best Nav Skills: Dog or Duck?
We enter a bay where the crosswind is even stronger, heading for a marker at the opening of a canal on the other side. If I follow a compass course, I’ll end up somewhere downwind of my destination, being swept sideways as I travel forward.
To compensate for this, many boaters find a landmark and aim for it — just as a dog would do if it had to swim across a river. He’d get there, but it would be a long swim in an ever-increasing arc. A duck, however, knows enough to correct for the current and angle slightly to windward of the mark, giving him a straight run and the shortest course. So, to compensate, I’ve added about five degrees to windward on my compass course.
Speaking of ducks, when I called john on the radio, all I got were grunts and quacks. He could barely talk as they were pounding along. “Must be way ahead of us,” I say to myself as I put my drink down with no fear of it spilling.
Ultimate Pass or Fail
We enter the canal and are coming up behind a sailboat under power, which means problems. By law we’re now both considered powerboats, but he still has the right of way until I pass him. Also, sailboaters tend to be grouchy. They expect you to pass without leaving any wake.
He’s going about 4 mph, so to pass in a reasonable time, I’ll have to be going a speed that kicks up a nasty wake. I call Channel 16 to tell him that, if he slows down, I can pass without shaking his rigging. He signals back and slows to 2 mph; we go creeping by at 5 mph, and everyone’s happy.
Next obstacle is an oncoming tug pushing a raft of barges. Since the tug’s captain has a high view of what’s going on, I call him on 13 to see which side he wants me to pass on. Down south, in the heart of barge traffic, you’ll often get a confusing reply such as “come by on the one, cap” or “on the one whistle.” This refers to the signal used when approaching port-to-port. Or he’ll say “on the two,” meaning starboard-to-starboard.
Going by something this big in a tight canal is another adventure. The barges act like a huge plunger in a pipe (the canal), moving a lot of water — and you — with it. As we get close to the first barge, our bow gets pushed hard toward the bank before being sucked back in toward the barges as they pass. Then, when the tug passes, the wash from its huge prop pushes us back out again. As long as you know what to expect, there’s no problem. But I’m still glad that’s over with.