Sailing in the absence of light

May 19 Thursday on the water somewhere between Santa Barbara and Morrow Bay

It was dark and foggy when I up-anchored from Santa Barbara at midnight in inky black, and my navigation until first light was exclusively by chart-plotter and Radar. Underway, staring out the windows was like looking into a blindfold. They could have been painted black, for there was not a pinprick of light in any direction, giving me the sense of being blind and suspended in space. Gravity was my only orientation.   Throughout the night a blip on my Radar screen was the only indication of a nearby vessel, land or oil rig.   The fog was so thick that I couldn’t make visual contact with a vessel appearing as a blip on the screen 1/4 mile away.

RADAR is an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging It’s history goes back to the 1880’s but the modern version was developed in secrecy independently by the Germans and the Americans during WWII. It actually alerted the Americans in Pearl Harbor about an approaching apocalypse from the air, but Radar was new, and so its message wasn’t considered credible by the brass (bureaucratic incompetence is a more credible explanation).   In any case it has developed into many uses, and mariners use today’s lighter, energy-efficient designs for navigation because it does two things really well:

There’s an oil rig in this picture

(1) it “sees” objects around you in low visibility and (2) it accurately displays the distance and bearing to that object. It sees out the window I can’t and alerts me to the hazards of  oil rigs, cruisers, fishing boats or obstructions. Unfortunately it doesn’t see whales sleeping , cargo containers, small prams or crab pot buoys lying in wait to tangle my propeller. And its blips need interpretation.
Nevertheless as an article of faith, mixed with a little luck, I give my life to it. It’s my “blind luck” and it propels me safely through a dark and foggy night.   I have the same unconditional trust in Radar that I’ve had with my golden retriever (in our 13 years together neither one ever broke trust with the other).

After a while dawn breaks and I get my eyes back and see the magnificence of sea and horizon once more.   In the late afternoon I arrive at Morro Bay.

Welcome to Morro Bay

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