View From A Navigator


I started navigating offshore and point to point races when I bought a boat to do some offshore and coastal sailing years back.  I didn’t have a crew and was counting on friends to come along for the ride.  I had been sailing dinghies the previous ten years prior and did not have a good network of crew to draw from built up.  Working with Harry at Elliot Pattison Sail makers on rig and sail development for the boat I drew on his offshore experience for recommendations on navigation and safety equipment to get started.  We choose Expedition for our navigation software.   There is a steep learning curve to utilize all the functionality and power of Expedition.  As a weekend warrior sailor this would prove to take a lot of my prerace time.  My crew wasn’t formed and I had no one to lean on to be the navigator.  So I took it on and started up the learning curve.   I remember attending a weather and navigation seminar prior to a transpac race and listening to a seasoned navigator explain the basic theory to the race and his prerace preparation.   One of the things that I will always remember was this statement.  “A week prior to the race I start working from the boat.  I am in my pattern receiving all my charts, gribs, and scheds for earlier starts on the boat  so I am in the routine and everything is sorted prior to the race.  I spend six to eight hours a day on navigation during and before the race.”

I thought to myself, wow!  I will be installing the rented broadband unit one day prior to the start helping load and provision the boat, and  worried about a million things including watching the weather.  I must have a smaller program.

Then the race starts.  As navigator you have a lot of things you are responsible for that no one else is going to think about, or give you time to do if you haven’t planned well in advance.  For myself, keeping my head where it needs to be in the 6 hour grib and chart updates along with reporting to race committee and keeping the race scheds up to date is overwhelming most the time.  Working with watch captains on briefing and strategy needs to be brief and concise.  As navigator I have learned you need to do your work and articulate your opinion on race strategy when decisions need to be made.  Staying focused is everything.  To do this and not deprive the crew from information they need to keep their heads in the game I have come up with some ways to use the Ventus Navigation app that  give crew the information they want that might not be something I am working on currently or have available without stopping my train of thought.

Crew are on a rotation, someone new is always getting up and needing information or is curious about something that is not displayed on the jumbos or instrument displays.  It never fails.  So I will setup a couple iPods with some custom pages for the crew.  Ventus Navigation allows you to name the custom pages.  One page I call , “are we there yet”  It’s the joke about the kids, or grandkids in my case now in the back seat wanting to know when something is going to happen.  A guy I sail with did a funny little skit one watch on that and the title just stuck.

On your Ventus Navigation app setup the page with six cells, and put in the following:

Distance to Finish (FinishRng)

Mark Time (MrkTm)

Mark Range (MrkRng)

Layline time on Starboard (TmOnStrb

Layline time on Port (TmOnPrt)

Next  Mark Bearing (NxMkBrg M)


While I am away working on my job or asleep everyone on watch will know basic things that are hours from happening. They can stay refreshed on the information.  Know that a sail change is going to happen 15 minutes after they are off watch and plan accordingly for the next watch rotation.  Plan stacking sails and other activity without having to ask for updates. 

There are other pieces of information that are important also. I mention this as an example.   You can setup six different custom pages on one device that has the app loaded on it.  You can have multiple devices loaded with the app per customer iTunes account. It is a very inexpensive way to get detailed information to the crew.  Keep everyone informed, happy, and a part of the information process.

The alternatives are:

Stopping what you are doing and looking up the information as requested (a lot of crew won’t even ask if they think you are busy), or having the Ventus Navigation app running for them; all the data they want when and where they want it.


Sometimes however hard you try to please and keep the crew informed you just have to say you don’t have the answer... I don’t know if you will make it to your flight on time after the race or what is for dinner tonight. But I do know I can go down for a couple hours and they will still have the best information to sail the boat in the Palm of Their Hand!