The magic of

I once worked aboard a rusty tramp ship which steamed around the South Pacific at a steady ten knots. For navigation equipment, we had little more than a sextant, chronometer and magnetic compass, but at ten knots there was plenty of time to find our position. At this speed, we had a very simple and effective method of adjusting the course to counter the effects of any tides and currents. It is easily adapted for use on slower sailing craft, and may also be used to calculate the distance off various objects. It is based on the figure of 6˚ and this is how it works. Counteracting a current At ten knots, if there is a cross-current of 1 knot, the course is adjusted by 6˚ in the direction from which the current flows. If the cross-current is 2 knots, the course is adjusted by 12˚ (2 x 6˚). If the cross-current is 3 knots, the adjustment is 18˚ (3 x 6˚), and so on. Just how well these figures match up to the correct adjustments is shown in the table below which assumes a boat speed of 10 knots. Cross current Correction to rate (in knots) maintain course 1 2 3 4 5 6 5.7˚ 11.5˚ 17.5˚ 23.6˚ 30.0˚ 36.9˚ 6˚ shortcut 6˚ 12˚ 18˚ 24˚ 30˚ 36˚

Though a small craft is unlikely to make ten knots, the basic principle is the same. Calculate the current as a percentage of the boat’s speed and for each 10% allow an adjustment of 6˚. For example, a 2 knots cross-current on a craft making 5 knots equals 40% of the boat’s speed. The course adjustment is 4 x 6˚ = 24˚ (Figure 1). The procedure works well up to a cross-current rate of 60%; thereafter, the system, and possibly the boat, are overwhelmed by the strength of the current.

But what if the current is on the bow or on the quarter? The influence is not as strong as that of a cross-current and the correction is reduced to 4˚. So, for a 2 knots bow or quarter current on a craft making 5 knots, the adjustment is 4 x 4˚ = 16˚. Note that the adjustment is the same for bow or quarter current as the vector diagrams in Figure 1 show. The only difference is that the current speeds up the boat on the quarter and slows it down on the bow.

Figure 1: courses to make good Estimating current strength and direction is not an exact science so these two figures of 6˚ and 4˚ should be sufficient for most situations. On a sailing boat, a further adjustment for leeway may be necessary to maintain the intended course. The next time you see a current problem solved by vector solution in a magazine or textbook, try out this simplified method and see how closely it matches the correct solution. Estimating the distance off. The 6˚ procedure with a multiplier of ten provides a handy way of estimating your distance from an object with a known height. On a small craft, it is suitable for distances up to about 4 miles for beyond that distance the base of the object would be obscured by the horizon. For example, when an object with a height above sea level of 100 metres is 6˚ above the horizon, it is approximately 1000 metres away (100 metres x 10).

Working out the distance off for other angles is quite easy as long as you remember the indirect relationship between 6˚ and the multiplier of 10. For example, at 3˚ the multiplier of 10 is doubled to 20 so the distance off in the example is 2000 metres. At 12˚ the multiplier of 10 is halved to 5 so the distance off is 500 metres.

This procedure for estimating the distance off from a vertical height may also be used horizontally when the width of an object, or the distance between two equidistant objects, is known or can be obtained from a chart. Some quick ways of estimating 6˚ The blink of an eye. Hold out a finger at arm’s length and line it up on an object with your right eye. Switch to your left eye and the finger will appear to have moved clockwise through a horizontal angle of 6˚. This is a typical figure but it is worth checking the angular shift of your wink with the help of a sextant. This is also a useful trick for estimating leeway from your wake. A finger sextant. Three fingers together at arm’s length will usually cover an angle of about 6˚. Once again, check out your own angle with a sextant. Binoculars: Many binoculars have a field of vision in the region of 6˚. A Kamal. The Kamal is one of the oldest angle measuring devices and was used by Arab navigators to cross the Indian Ocean. It is very efficient at measuring small angles and consists of a small board with a knotted line passing through a hole drilled in the centre of the board. To make a kamal for measuring 6˚, °drill a small hole in a piece of hardwood 6cm x 6cm. Take a length of line and tie an overhand knot at one end. Pull the other end of the line through the hole until the knot is hard against the board. Tie another knot in the the line approximately 57 cms from the

board. When this knot is placed in or close to your mouth and the line held taut, the kamal will cover an angle of 6˚. A kamal may be adapted to measure other angles by extending the line, adding more knots or by altering the dimensions of the board.

For more articles like this, see The Lo-Tech Navigator published by Seafarer (UK) and Sheridan House (USA)

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