Printer Friendly

Secrets to being a crack offshore navigator.

Not so long ago, when a sextant, almanacs and dead reckoning were the only tools for determining a boat's position on a wide ocean, the navigator was afforded priest-like status. They disseminated the vagaries of wind, waves and currents, and delivered you safely to an anchorage. Today, this crucial role is a combination of strategist, tactician and meteorologist. In the fourth of our Seamanship Series Lindsay May, a three-time overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, shares some of the ...


LINDSAY MAY has competed in a record 44 consecutive Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Races. He was navigator of overall race winners Indian Pacific (1984), Atara (1991), was skipper and navigator in Love and War's epic 2006 overall win, and navigated Brindabella to her 1997 line honours triumph.

He has also represented Australia at the Southern Cross Cup, the Admiral's Cup and the Clipper Cup, and will be navigating Kiaola II in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race.


Never race on a yacht that you haven't calibrated the log, checked all compasses, and carefully considered its seaworthiness and the ability of most of the crew beforehand.

Locate or create target-speed sheets, sail-selection charts, and safety-gear diagrams. Ensure you are familiar with all facets of HF radio use. Create a sked sheet for all radio broadcasts, weather, and position reports. I have lists for everything, right down to the tea and coffee choices for each watch. Every sheet is laminated. (Note: red ink is invisible under red night lights.)

Download soft copy manuals of all equipment on the boat and familiarise yourself with each device. Locate all safety gear and critical equipment so you can find it in the dark. Display a list of these items and location--it avoids crew being woken with questions like, "Where's the change sheet?"

Also, make relevant checklists from the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, along with a checklist for your personal gear and race day itself.


In the weeks prior, regularly check the weather and current charts to get a feel for emerging patterns. For the Rolex Sydney Hobart, you might be able to broadly answer interminable questions like, "What's the weather going to be doing?" about 4-5 days out, and it firms up each day thereafter. (Sometimes it's best to assume it will be rough until you can be more accurate.)

By race day, you should have the first day down to the hours, and be fairly certain for subsequent days. The unknown will be what time you will be at Tasman Island, and if you will have breeze all the way to the finish (after 11 am), or no breeze (after 5 pm). And even that can be a lottery.


This is my most important variable: I watch it, and I plot it. Using two big charts (now withdrawn) of the NSW and Tasmanian coast, I draw the rhumb line. (I then ignore it, as it's simply a reference, not a fixation.)

Next I plot the current flows, temperature, speed and direction from the IMOS OceanCurrent charts (

I also print out the coloured IMOS chart and during the race, plot my position on to that small chart as a cross reference. This is crucial to see where you are headed--you always try to aim toward a favourable southerly flow, and especially not into adverse flow.


I use Expedition ( and enter my own current flows. Then each day prior to a race, I run a routing and see how that plots with and without current so I can get a feel for the current influence. Closer to race day I run multiple plots as each new grib file arrives. Roger Badham ( is always consulted, and I compare my track with his suggested tracks (they usually cover four different-sized yachts).

On race day, I print the full output from Expedition and, during the race, cross reference what Expedition forecast on Day 1 with the observed conditions and position. This helps to work ahead, further south if the results differ markedly. It also helps to build confidence in the software if both forecast and actual are consistent.

Consult with the brains trust before the race on a broad strategy, then as new data is received, readdress the information. The skipper has the ultimate say, but often the tactician or crew boss will be extremely experienced and that knowledge needs to be considered and a decision made.

That being said, I've been on yachts were the nav station was an internet cafe with crew accessing a host of different routing sites, all with an opinion and all experts--so keep your space sacred.


Make sure that the battery is charged, the sat phone is on receive only, skeds and weather are on time, the crew is hydrated, and any sick or injured crew are treated. Other responsibilities can include ensuring the bilge is pumped, meals are defrosted and cooked, the next sail is located and ready, the ship's log is up to date with the current recorded and the wind trend considered--the list goes on.


The most important input is to look around. Your course or sail selection should be influenced by sea state, anticipated wind shift (southern hemisphere almost always goes left), approaching roll cloud, ability to manage or conserve sails, prior experience or local knowledge.


Have all your sytems correctly calibrated and working accurately. Use checklists to avoid any crucial oversights.

I recommend the Expedition's manual, as well as Will Oxley's ebook, Modern Race Navigation, which is an excellent read.

Now all you need to do is go racing. Enjoy being with a great bunch of people and hopefully bring home the silverware!
COPYRIGHT 2017 OCEAN Media Pty Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:SEAMANSHIP
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Date:Aug 1, 2017
Previous Article:Fastnet match-up.
Next Article:Getting connected.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters