Saturday, 11 September 2010

How to Drive in the Dark

One more sea day to go until we reach Iceland. So this is the perfect opportunity for the bridge visits, especially in this kind of weather - visibility is around 50 meters only. So of course everybody wants to hear about FRAMs instruments. And here is what what we learn:
MV FRAM is well equipped with two independent GPS systems, that work "hand in hand" (byte in byte?) with the electronic sea chart. That results in our position always displayed as the center of a circle with precise current position. The navigation officer enters the projected itinerary into the main Nav computer, that means all the waypoints. Waypoints are the dots you have to connect to see our future course as a line on the map. If you do well, this line will not cross reefs, shallow waters, will not take "shortcuts" across land or other obstacles. So, these dots are important, mind. In our modern days, the ships computer is also connected to the steering computer which changes the course automatically. All the information needed is displayed on the central screen: Speed, course over ground, windspeed and - direction, Time To Go, Estimated Time of Arrival, to the next waypoint and to our final destination. And much, much more...Well, great, we can all go and have a coffee, then!
Far from it.
Our ship is traveling in tricky waters, almost all the time. And even if we have all the waypoints right there can be moving objects, like other vessels or, especially for us, ice. That means we need another instrument The bridge has to be manned 24/7, with at least two people at any time. Comes to bad visibility there are seaman in addition to that in order to look out. As Captain Hansen puts it: The two most important instruments for navigation are the eyes of the navigator. Still. All these gadgets are support, improvement - not replacement. As well as the electronic chart is not forcing the good ol' admirality chart into retirement. Every navigator is able to use map, ruler and compasses. Like in old times.