Voyage of discovery

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am

Four years ago I wrote about a sea voyage wherein I was saved by my Mac while sailing a 45-foot yacht. Back then, the only navigation applications for Mac were OS 9. Today, the picture has changed considerably. Here is an updated version of this true tale ...

We set out, only to find ourselves amid four-metre waves and gale-force winds.

The sudden blow had caught dozens of boaters off-guard and the radio was constant with mayday and rescue calls. Normally, we would have turned around and waited the storm out, but since we were taking blue water over the bow, turning the boat around was too dangerous. The only safe course was the one we were on - a secure harbour lay 16km ahead.

We eventually acclimatised to the relentless pounding and bucking of the boat, but as night fell, the storm brought new trials. The radar was useless because the seas were as high as anything it might detect, and the windscreen was so caked with salt and spray that any light we saw was a blur. We were holding a course that took us close to sandbars and shoal-infested islands, and while lights marked both the hazards and our course, it was difficult to tell which was which. If we headed for the wrong light it would mean doom for our valiant ship.

About midnight, my son came up to the helm and, with the saddest eyes I have ever seen, said, 'Dad, I just plotted our position and we are further away than we were an hour ago.' I explained to him that the tide would soon change, allowing us to zoom right along, but he wasn't convinced. It took us 14 hours to cover 16 horrible kilometres and arrive at the next port.

But where is the Mac in all this? Well, it ended up being the hero of a dismal night. When all else was crashing and sliding in the dark, my PowerBook was a rock-steady glow. It was loaded with all the marine navigation charts we would need, so I had only to choose a point then zoom in on it to find out all I needed - that yellow light flashing at five-second intervals bearing 050 degrees meant I was headed in the right direction. On the 15-inch screen, I could see where I was to within a few metres. I could also see where the hazards were. Nothing else could give this reassuring data. My Mac, in its quiet steadfastness, demonstrated that occasionally virtual reality can be clearer and infinitely more useful than a chaotic real reality.

Nowadays, GPS has invaded our mobile phones and dashboards. If you go boating, this technology can be a lifesaver. Here is what I use now. Garmin makes a Mac-native handheld GPS that plugs directly into a USB port. The company recently announced the rest of its product line would be Mac compatible by the end of the year. To translate charts and GPS signals and provide all the bells and whistles necessary for safe and convenient boating navigation, I use GPSNavX (; US$59.95). I don't sail in heavy storms much any more, but it is rare that I go to sea without my Mac. It brings with it that warm, fuzzy, safe feeling.

E-mail Dave Horrigan at with your Mac queries.




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