Navigating Northern Europe and the Med with RayTech Navigator

When we ordered our Hallberg-Rassy 46 last year, we decided upon Raytheon electronics for our navigation systems. They’re a staple of the Hallberg-Rassy options list, which shows the builder’s confidence in their reliability. So far, they’ve been right.

Instead of getting our boat shipped to our Florida home or somewhere else on the East Coast, we decided to take delivery of the boat at the HR yard in Sweden, and take the opportunity to sail in Europe for a few years. Our plan for this summer was to spend as much time as we could in Northern Europe, then, at the end of their summer season, to ship the boat from the Netherlands to Spain’s Balearic Islands. While the boat – and the instrumentation – would have been perfectly capable of the voyage to the Mediterranean, we wanted to maximize our cruising time during the most pleasant summer weather in both of our destinations. If you want to know more about our trip, we’ve documented our travels on our web site at www.karenandart.com.

We use the ST7000+ autopilot with a handheld remote, a RL-70 radar and chart plotter at the navigation station and a repeater unit in the cockpit, DGPS, Raytheon ST-60 depth, speed, analog wind, close-hauled, and two multi instruments, one in the cockpit, and one at the navigation station. We also have a PC with RayTech Navigator software installed and a SeaTalk RS232 interface. We use GSM cellular technology on our data-capable wireless phone. This enables us to roam all over Europe with constant access to the Internet. So far, any time we’ve been within twenty miles of shore, we’ve been able to get wireless access.

When we purchased the Navigator software, our original intention was to use it only for the display of databoxes and weather information. We justified the purchase on that basis alone. We didn’t think we could rationalize buying electronic charts in Northern Europe, because of the short time we’d be in each country and the unlikelihood we’d ever sail there again. The Navigator software was among our main sources for weather information. Because we moved from one country to another every few weeks, we constantly needed to find new sources of local weather information. We’ve used SSB, VHF, and PC-based Navtex and weather fax to obtain forecasts. Sometimes you don’t know until you’ve arrived somewhere and meet local boaters where to find weather information. Sometimes the information is not in a language you understand. Most local information is only for the next 24 hours. Weather faxes are useful, but they cover thousands of miles. By the time you narrow the map down to the area you are in, they might only show an arrow or two, not enough detail to plan a trip.

RayTech Navigator solves these problems, with a three-day forecast in six-hour increments, with a visual representation of the weather, and they are always available on the Internet, so you can get the forecast at your own convenience. The GRIB files divide the world into many local regions. With the RayTech map of Scandinavia, for example, we got many more weather points in our local area than we would have from a weather fax. The detailed three-day forecast helps us make planning decisions, even for one-day trips. After all, if tomorrow’s weather is just fair, we need to know whether the next day will be better or worse, and the longer forecast helps us to pick the most protected anchorages. The six-hour step function offers a visual representation of weather movements and trends. Because the software lets you zoom in or out as you wish, we can look at the 6-hour movements to get a detailed forecast for the small area we’re visiting, and then zoom out to look at the isobars and identify trends in the weather pattern.

We have been using the autopilot’s track function frequently. Our previous boat did not have this capability. On a long trip, we’d use the autopilot, but we’d have to monitor the cross-track error carefully and adjust the course to minimize the crab angle that you’d get if you didn’t account for current and/or leeway. Of course, we’d have to set this by trial and error. The track function allows us to let the instrumentation figure out the best formula to eliminate cross-track error. We can also display current and drift as databoxes on the PC, whenever we want to see their effect.

Fate gave us electronic charts in Denmark, bundled for free into a kit of German charts for Denmark, and we were thrilled to see how useful they were. We’ll try to buy electronic charts when we can justify them for our cruising in any areas that we’ll spend enough time. For instance, we bought electronic charts for the Balearic Islands, where we knew we would spend at least two months. Whether we have the charts or not, the databoxes make the Navigator software invaluable. We keep 22 databoxes open all of the time on the PC showing nearly all of the optional information. We have multi units in the cockpit and in the navigation station, but it’s convenient not to have to sort through chapters and pages to get the piece of data you want. Also, it’s helpful sometimes to look at two or more pieces of information at the same time, rather than taking the time to find one, then the other, then back again. With the databoxes open on the PC, we can turn them off on the radar/plotter and look at a full radar view, unobstructed by databoxes.

The elimination of selective availability means that the GPS position is now incredibly precise. We try to be extra vigilant on a course between two navigational markers; we assume that anyone on the same course could very well end up in exactly the same spot that we are, as GPS is creating one-lane marine highways between buoys. In Sweden, the coastline is very rocky. We’d often meet people with stories about their close encounters with submerged rocks. The rocks are well marked on the charts, but there are so many, it’s easy to get confused as to the marker you are currently approaching. We sailed with someone equipped with local knowledge and electronic charts that are no longer saddled with selective availability, and steering the boat became almost like playing a video game. We wouldn’t advise it as a normal cruising routine, but it’s comforting to know that in fog or simply in a tight spot, the accuracy of electronic charts, combined with the functionality of the other instrumentation, can provide information that you simply can’t get from other methods of navigation.

We’ve enjoyed using the electronic charts we have in conjunction with the software. Instead of creating a series of waypoints for a trip to a distant harbor, we create a single waypoint in a safe spot somewhere just outside the harbor. We might set the autopilot to that waypoint for a fifty-mile trip. As we get closer to the waypoint, we can simply go to the PC, zoom in for a larger view of the area, and drag the waypoint to a more precise spot near or in the harbor entrance. As we get closer to the harbor, we repeat the process, using a larger chart and dragging the waypoint closer to our final destination.

At this point, we expect to spend our winters at home in Florida and our summers moving eastward on the Mediterranean for the next few years. It’s comforting to know that we can depend on the instrumentation and software aboard and accurate, timely weather forecasts whether we’re in the densely sailed Balearics or in areas that might not have the boat-friendly infrastructure we’ve found here so far.

 

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