Sydney to Hobart Lessons

by Chris Kameen on December 9, 2013

Sydney to Hobart Yacht RaceI’ve done a couple of Sydney to Hobart Races now and seen at first hand the role of the professional navigator. In the past 20 years navigation has changed beyond recognition. GPS, course plotting software aligned with all the data about sail settings, steerer profiles, wind angles etc. make the job infinitely harder in my opinion.

The modern Navigator needs to be an IT whizz managing computer software and all the inputs into it. They are no longer up on deck taking sun and star sights and plotting their position, but now couped up at a damp, noisy computer stations trying to make sense of all the data. However they still need to be able to use the paper charts.

At a Yachting Australia conference a few years back I heard Adrienne Cahalan (navigator on Wild Oates) talk about how she always has a paper chart with her on deck, with her position plotted. When you see pictures of the start you will often see the chartlets in her hand. The point here is that despite all the electronic gadgetry on board a decent navigator still backs up everything on a paper chart and will have pre-drawn things, like clearing bearings for obstacles that might be on the course, or pilotage plans into safe havens. (If you ever get the chance to read her book “around the buoys” – it’s a good read!)

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston with Titania crewIn 2011 I saw this at first hand whilst sailing with Richard Dobbs and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on the British entry Titania. We had been forced to make an unscheduled stop in Eden, but we were still racing and so despite travelling many miles off course we were still going as fast as we could. En-route all our Electrics failed and our navigator Richard Hewson had to immediately switch from electronic to paper navigation whilst the engineer set to work fixing the electrics. Operating many miles off course and yet still racing the preparation of a professional navigator was brought home to me.

So the purpose of this ‘lesson’ is to show that despite the modern advances in boats and technology – navigating the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race still requires paper charts and considerable planning. As a navigator you can’t just step on and ‘wing it’, you have to prepare for a good week before hand. So professional navigators started somewhere, and at Sydney Sailing School we have the perfect intro course, the RYA Essential Navigation and Seamanship Course, an online course that introduces the basics of Navigation and is a good intro before doing the RYA Day Skipper theory course.

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