The Zartman Nautical Depository

Navigating on CapellaOne of the best parts of preparing for a cruise on Ganymede (and on Capella before her), was the day the charts would arrive in the mail and we could begin to inspect and organize them.  It has usually been a pretty big project, since we try to buy in bulk and get discounts that way.  Even so, the temptation to open up one chart after another and scrutinize it for possible anchorages and sweet cruising grounds is always irresistible.  Even after hours of carefully folding and labelling several scores of charts, one with a name like “Barra de Catarasca and Approaches” or “Gulf of Fonseca” would have Danielle and me poring over soundings and dreaming of tropical rain falling on thatched palapas.  It would be some time before we could get along and get all the charts in their proper places.

Nautical Chart ColoringIt was even better the first time we bought chart photocopies from Bellingham Chart Printers, which came in plain black and white (they print in grayscale now), and before venturing from one anchorage to the next, would sit down with colored pencils and fill in the land in pale yellow or green, the 2-fathom line in light blue, and the reefs in brown.  This helped us become familiar with the area immediately ahead, and was a pleasant pastime in the days before we had children and all our time was spent in caring for them.

Hand Colored ChartOur paper charts always live in the driest, safest locker on the boat (I built a special, easily accessible chart cabinet on each boat, in fact), with the next series we’ll need stacked in neat order on top.  In spite of all the modern hype about computer charting and navigation software, I can’t imagine going sailing without a proper paper chart to look at (I’ve written about this before), and whenever I have to look at a route or a passage on someone’s computer screen it seems the most uninteresting thing compared to tracing it out on a sheet of paper spread before me.  Call me quaint, but I love the nautical-ness of plotting lines with dividers and rulers; of walking bearings here and there from a compass rose; of a plotting sheet all marked up with spidery pencil lines and a line of ‘Xs’ showing morning, noon and evening celestial fixes.  To me, zoning in on a computer screen is bad enough when I’m writing an article or blog post; I don’t want to be bothered with computers and screens when I’m sailing somewhere, which is supposed to be enjoyable.  Even the prosaic plots off of the handheld GPS are improved by being made with a real pencil on a real chart.

There are some folks who fear that paper charts are going to go away entirely; there are even some who seem to delight in that idea, as though the precense of something physical and reliable rather than data dubiously stored on a fragile electrical chip was an offense to them (they’re like the people who not only use the Metric system, of all things, but are grumpy that the rest of us don’t).  I have no such fears, however; as long as there are sailors, there will be charts.  In fact, with modern print-on-demand technology, it may soon be possible to have printed a chart of the exact size and scale you want, with soundings converted back to fathoms, if necessary, all lights updated, and none of those pesky Loran or Omega lines that are such a distraction on middle-aged editions.

Old Nautical Chart ArtIn the meantime, as those charts of yesteryear age and decay, it seems a shame that they should be allowed to rot away uncared for.  They are, after all, how everybody navigated years ago (and a good many of us still do and always will), and some charts from the 1800s are still the most recent surveys we posess.  I have a soft spot for old chart editions, printed on yellowed paper with old-fashined italic fonts—several worn and wrinkled copies of such charts hang here and there about our house to remind us of favorite places we’ve cruised and spots we still need to go.  But now that we live in a house, I can do something I’ve had in mind for several years now, and that is to offer to take any and all charts that might be burdening our reader’s load; charts that it would be a shame to throw away, but are outdated, worn out, or no longer used.  If you send them to us, I promise to store them safe and dry, to keep them archived for posterity, to love them and look at them and appreciate them, and who knows? Maybe to display them next to my collection of outdated Bowditch editions, the Cuban Coast Pilot (in Spanish), and all the other odd navigational treasures I’ve gathered here and there on our travels.  Call it the Zartman Nautical Depository.  Here’s the address:

Ben Zartman

308 State St. Apt 1e

Bristol RI 02809

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