Both Rick and I were scheduled to “test” for the position of “navigator” in our U.S. Sailing certification program of Coastal Passage Making. This would be our fifth time out on the coast for the weekend as part of one of these classes. We had passed the positions of “crew” and “jr. navigator” already, and we had a dry-run as navigator on a “tag boat”. Now it was time to step up and be tested on our navigation skills; this is also a step up to “management” in the hierarchy of boat decision-making.
For the first time since we started sailing together, we were not going to be on the same boat – there is usually only one designated navigator per ship. And the job is a lot harder than just planning alternate courses, plotting your estimated position on a chart, doing a few fixes here and there to verify your location, keeping track on the chart of where you have been and where you are going, making adjustments for wind and for instrument error, monitoring large ship traffic, radioing the boat(s) you are travelling with on a regular schedule, and keeping a log, not that “just” doing those things is a walk in the park. But on top of it, you have an instructor asking you for information all the time, just to keep you on your toes and test your limits, and you have a list of requirements to meet that forces you to take special kinds of fixes, for example, that you otherwise might not take at that location, just so you can demonstrate your ability to perform them competently. You also have to be competent at all of the electronics at your disposal, including RADAR and the chartplotter. And finally, you have some responsibility to provide opportunities for training for the “jr. navigators” along on the trip.
Rick and I dedicated two weekends and almost every night for two weeks, preparing our navigation plans for every possible destination and route, checking weather, preparing anchor plans, etc. I was already exhausted before the trip even began! It was very stressful for each of us, and each of us had different but equally challenging circumstances to face over the course of the weekend. In my opinion, being tested for navigator is absolutely exhausting. By the end of the weekend, neither of us were certain whether our instructors would pass us or not, and it came down to the wire, especially for me. But we both did get us to our destination, Drakes Bay via the Farallones, and back without error, we each had charted well and kept a good log that reconciled with our charts, and we completed enough of the requirements, so, we both passed! We also had the added thrill of seeing whales more than once during our respective trips.
The good news is that coastal navigation isn’t always as stressful, I don’t believe, as it is when being tested for it. When Rick and I went down to Monterey, we had to prepare a navigation plan and follow it, and we chose to chart and keep a log just like you are supposed to. We did fine with it without hardly any stress. I understand the concepts well, I believe, and have confidence in my navigation skills. And so does Rick. We both learned a lot in the process of preparing for the weekend and during the weekend. But I am really glad that test is over!