A while back my blogging friend Ellen over at The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick mentioned that she scored a bunch of paper charts on the ‘free’ table at her marina in Florida. I might have been just a wee bit envious of her score because we really need paper charts on board Galapagos. We can buy charts at about $25.00 a pop, but we need a lot of them, so that begins to very quickly add up to a ton of money, especially as they will not be our primary means of navigation. And especially as we have many other things we need to get. (Hey, I’ve spent some time updating our project list and creating a list of things we still need to buy. Check them out.) I began to double down on focusing on getting charts to appear somehow. Somewhere.
So why do we even want to carry paper charts? Isn’t that going a bit too far? Well, considering that the paper charts will be back ups to our back up to our back up, I can see why people who do not travel by boat might wonder that. But our GPS, great as it is, just cannot take the place of a big paper chart. With big charts there is no scrolling around on an electronic device, no zooming in and out on a relatively small screen, and generally no driving old eyes insane. You can see at a glance and a magnifying glass what the coastline looks like, what kinds of depths you will find, where might be a good place to tuck in for the night. You get the ‘big picture’ fairly quickly. They are also dead best for route planning. No one sits around the table dreaming and planning about their voyage over a hot GPS screen. Charts are required for that. So I want them. We heart charts.
Enter a man named Gary. Gary works on ferry boats and lives on a sailboat at our marina. He also used to work on tug boats where he was in charge of keeping the charts updated. Gary has a garage at the marina; we have a garage at the marina. Gary was cleaning out his garage, I was getting rid of stuff from ours, putting it in the ‘free’ area. I noticed these HUGE rolls of charts sticking out of his garbage box.
“You throwing those away?” I asked, breath held ever so gently, eyes casual.
He says yep, he is.
“We are looking for charts for our trip down the coast. Would you mind if I took them off your hands?”
He didn’t mind if I took what was trash for him, but could be treasure sure as the world for me.
I scurried away, charts bundled tightly under both arms lest he change his mind. Two days later, Mike would deliver a couple of 6 packs of good beer to his boat by way of ‘thanky very much, fellow sailor!’. Can we use his old charts? Why yes. Yes we can.
What a gold mine! There are charts that show the entire west coast of the United States, including up to Alaska. There are charts for the Columbia River and Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, even Hawaii! Mike and I had too much fun looking over each one and sorting them in piles. Want, Don’t Want, Wish we wanted but we probably don’t. We were kind of a little bit in heaven. Both of us love paper charts. There is something, I don’t know, so ‘tactile’ about them.
These charts are several years old, of course. So they need updating, and you wouldn’t want to use them as your primary means of navigation without updating them. Fortunately for us, NOAA has the updates on line and has made it simple, if time consuming. You simply enter a chart number, and a list of the updates will be given.
Most of the changes are minor, such as moving a buoy a bit. But there could be changes in depth in areas, and there are additions and deletions to aids to navigation. I took to the interweb site to update this chart of the coast of Washington State.
Yeah, I could use some actual tools for plotting on charts, but for now this sheet rock square helped. By way of example, I had to move a buoy just a little further from the rocks on this chart. I plotted the new location for the buoy, which, frankly wasn’t very different from the first location and I thought , ‘man if we couldn’t find that buoy without a location that was precise to the minute, we probably have more problems than an out of date chart’. Still, we’re talking crunchy rocks here that this buoy alerts us to, so it’s not like it’s unimportant.
Again, these are back ups to our backups. They are great for getting an overall picture, and for planning, plotting, and dreaming. So if the shit hits the fan and every single one of our other navigation tools somehow fails us, we can take that trusty little sextant out of the cupboard and carry on! (Yeah, we’ll blog about that another day.)
We’ll choose the ones that are most useful to us and then update them. But we’ll also buy a couple of new charts that are the most important ones, just to be sure. This has saved us a lot of money and we’re very grateful! Next, we’d really like to find some charts of the Pacific Coast south of our border, and the Sea of Cortez, Central America, the Galapagos Islands, the south Pacific Islands, you name it. We’ll buy them off you if you’ve done your trip and don’t need them anymore. Pass the word to your friends! We heart charts.