Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reponses to letter about security zones on the Bay



We’ve had some good responses to our April Cruisers Exchange column in which we responded to a letter from a couple who was concerned about the Bay’s many restricted areas, particularly on the Potomac. In that column, we shared some of our experiences, so now it’s time to share a few of our readers’ stories.

Tom Miles of Heathsville, Va., tells about his brushes with the military while boating on the Chesapeake and concludes with some very good advice he got from his father, a Bay waterman:
I'm sure I don't have nearly the number of hours of cruising as many of your readers, but at 78 years old, I have done a fair amount of it.  I encountered situations only twice where restricted zones or activities came into play.  Once was when running south in the Dahlgren area.  I got a call that I had strayed into their restricted zone and that I should run farther to the eastern side of the Potomac.  They were correct - I had not paid enough attention to where I was.  I corrected my course and proceeded without further incident or communications with the range people.  On another occasion, I was crossing from the Potomac River to Crisfield, MD when I observed a Navy destroyed maneuvering south of me.  I had not heard anything on the radio, but I guess something might be going on around the targets in the Tangier area.  I called the Navy vessel, and they advised me that in fact there were conducting exercises, that they were watching me, and while I was OK, I might want to head a little farther north before continuing eastward.  That way, we'd both be more comfortable.  I did so, and continued without further incidence.
Those were the only two times in my life where I have ever run afoul of restricted areas or restrictions in general.    
As far as cruising around the Naval Base in Norfolk:  I have cruised that area many times.  There was never a restriction in place more than a few yards from the piers and vessels moored there.  A prudent skipper would not want to cruise any closer than allowed anyhow.  I was usually operating a one-engine boat and I always ran such that if that one engine should quit unexpectedly, I would have space and time to react.  Think about Murphy's Law.  My father taught me that:  He was a waterman, and our workboat had one engine - a six-cylinder engine from a '47 or '48 Pontiac (with no marine gear).  We ran the waters of Hog Island Bay on Virginia's Eastern Shore.  As you know, you have to stay in the channels over there.  That Bay is not like the Chesapeake Bay where you can go almost anywhere and still be in good water.  Dad taught me to run on the windward side of those channels:  If anything were to happen, I'd have time to get the anchor down before being blown onto the lee shore.  It's a good rule for boating, and for life in general.
Bottom line:  The Sheuermanns should have no reservations about retiring and boating anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay or the rivers feeding into it.  You might mention to them that they consider the Northern Neck of Virginia as a great place to look for a retirement home.  We live eight miles up the Great Wicomico River, one of the prettiest and pleasurable rivers on the Bay.  Water depth is not a problem.

And this one is from Larry Freedman, also of Virginia, who writes:
I have been cruising on the Potomac River for a long time.  My boat is kept on Aquia Creek about 20 miles north of the Harry Nice Bridge.  The three “danger areas” marked on the charts are not due to test firing from the Dahlgren Lab. Instead, they are due to areas of the river where the bottom is not smooth, but instead has a lot of “towers” that stick up from the bottom. Most don’t come closer than 12 feet to the surface, but there are a few spots where they extend up to 4 and 5 feet from the surface.
In all our years traveling past the Dahlgren Lab, we have only seen them shooting into the river once. When they’re doing this, they have patrol boats out to make sure no one strays into the firing zone and you have the option to wait and watch the action or to skirt the zone to keep on going. 

(Editors’ note: With all due respect, Mr. Freedman, these are, in fact, Danger Zones regulated by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va. The buoys used to delineate the Middle Danger Area are specifically called “Line of Fire” buoys. For a full explanation of the danger areas south of the Nice Bridge, see U.S. Coast Pilot District 3, Section334.230 Potomac River.)

Thank you, readers, for your responses.  Write us at CX@chesapeakeboating.net.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is Bay Boating Restricted by Security Zones?




Dear Cruisers Exchange:

My wife and I are considering a retirement move to Virginia from Western New York and I’ve seen some mention of the three Danger Zones on the Potomac River charts due to the Dahlgren Weapons Lab testing.
Our boating on the Niagara River and Lake Erie doesn’t have the restrictions I’ve seen on the Potomac and the Bay. 

It looks like the Danger Zones occupy the better portion of the river from the Nice bridge south. Is it possible to boat on the Potomac at all? How often do the tests restrict weekday casual cruising?
It also appears that the various military bases toward Norfolk restrict traffic yards from their shore. While I understand this, how often does boating access in the Bay get curtailed due to some military activity?
Thanks in advance for your help. I look forward to your replies.

—Bob Scheuermann

When we received this email the other day, we sat down at once to write the Scheuermanns, assuring them that here on the Chesapeake boating goes on just as it does elsewhere, despite the Bay’s considerable number of restricted zones. And that includes boating on the Potomac, we would say. In fact, we would encourage Bob and his wife to settle themselves and their boat in Virginia, where they could look forward to years of happy, uninterrupted boating.

But then we got to talking over how many times over our collective years of cruising we have been stopped by bright red security boats on the Potomac’s Virginia shore near Colonial Beach and forced to wait until there was a pause in the firing from Dahlgren’s Naval Surface Warfare Center before we were allowed to cross to Swan Point on the Maryland side. There we would have to hug the shore behind yellow buoys in order to continue our trip upriver to the Harry W. Nice Bridge. Or vice versa.

Well, after we’d worn out that subject, we got to talking about how many times we’d been sent miles out of our way in a slow boat under a sweltering summer sun (the description of which, of course, got both slower and hotter, respectively, every time we told it) to avoid the Targets (aerial and surface firing range and target area, U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent), which lie inconveniently along the rhumb line between Point No Point at the mouth of the Potomac and Cedar Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River. By the time we had wrung that subject out and hung it up to dry, we decided it was time to break for lunch. The email would have to wait a few more minutes. 



As we settled down to a light lunch of crabcakes, pastrami and pickles, one of us, who will remain nameless, recalled the time the Navy thought she had strayed too close to one of its moored ships on the York River—even though the chart showed clearly that she was outside the security line. The Navy sent out a well-armed patrol boat to frighten the bejesus out of her and everyone else onboard. Well, that opened up a floodgate of machine-gun-bristling-patrol-boats-vs.-innocent-cruiser stories (we all had one) until the last of the coffee was consumed and we were back in our editorial helm station. Somewhere along the line it had dawned on us that while we could, in all honesty, assure the Scheuermanns that boating anywhere on the Chesapeake—whether on the Potomac, in Hampton Roads, or off the Targets—is sublime, the restricted areas do have an affect. 

So here’s our question: Do the restricted areas affect the way you boat in your area of the Bay? Do you avoid visiting some areas because you’re not sure what the rules are (the Gunpowder and Bush rivers on the upper Bay would be good examples)? Have you got some good “war” stories you’re willing to share? We’d love to have you share your experiences, good and bad. Write us at editor@CrusiersExchange.com

Meanwhile, if you’d like a refresher course on all of the Bay’s restricted areas, check out our comprehensive look at them all, “Don’t Go There,” from our July 2012 issue, which you can find in the Quick Links area on our webpage, ChesapeakeBoating.net.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Towing the Magenta Line





 “Captain Joe,” as he is known at dozens of marinas from Maryland to Florida, has followed the ICW’s magenta line south to Fort Lauderdale 21 times. Single-handing his old 26-foot sloop Compromise, he knows where all the free docks are located, where to turn off to find an abandoned marina, where to get a bargain-price meal . . . and when to stay off the magenta line. “He just shows up at the dock, picks out a slip and ties up,” marina owners will say, shaking their heads with a mixture of resignation and affection. With his white beard and white flapped cap, Captain Joe is a fixture. And over the years, he’s seen just about everything he says. Alligators, snakes, otters. You name it, Captain Joe can tell you about it. He’s also seen a lot of other boaters hard aground. Most of the time, he says, their skippers have just misjudged the channel by a foot or two one way or the other—it’s easy to do if you draw more than 5 feet. But occasionally it’s because their skippers have made the mistake of following the magenta line on the charts rather than the aids to navigation in front of them. “Dumb,” he says.


Dumb, indeed. The famous magenta line marking the route of the Atlantic and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterways has been a boon to millions of skippers, commercial and recreational, since it first appeared in 1912 in the Inland Coast Pilot guide. It keeps them from getting lost in the baffling system of canals, creeks, rivers and cuts that make up the ICW; it gets them safely through crowded harbors; and it aims them in the right direction across large bodies of water such as Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. But, like Captain Joe, over the years, it has become bit idiosyncratic. Not only does it sometimes go on the wrong side of the channel markers, but occasionally it even goes overland like an amphibious vehicle. This leads to a lot of head-scratching and the occasional grounding. The cruise guides warn boaters where to ignore the line, and generally skippers suddenly faced with the contradiction make the right choice. But not always—when you’ve been tracking a line for 500 miles, and it’s gotten you through, it’s hard for even sensible skippers to deviate from it.
Which is why, at the end of last year, NOAA announced that it was going to discontinue the magenta line. It was leading too many people into trouble. The line, as it turns out, hadn’t been modified since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. In 1943, as part of his colossal stimulus program, Roosevelt tripled the budget of the Public Works Administration, which in turn allowed for a substantial update of the nation’s charts, including the inland waterway system and the magenta line. But that was it. The line has remained substantially the same for 70 years. No wonder it’s a little weird in places.

But removing the line would certainly lead to another variety of disaster. Imagine boaters wandering around the nation’s waterways trying to find the route on their own. They’d end up in Tennessee! Well, 99.9 percent of the people and organizations contacting NOAA after their announcement agreed. So early this year, NOAA announced that the magenta line would be updated to reflect recent data . . . though it will still be removed in areas where the navigational information (like chart soundings) are inconclusive. “Today’s decision to reinstate the magenta line is not a quick fix,” said Captain Shep Smith, chief of NOAA’s Coast Survey, Marine Chart Division, in making the announcement. “It will take at least three years to fix problems that were 70 years in the making.” Hooray!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reader question: How restrictive are Chesapeake Danger Zones?

Hi,

My wife and I are considering a retirement move to Virginia from Western New York and I've seen some mention of the 3 Danger Zones on the Potomac River charts due to the Dahlgren Weapons Lab testing. 

Our boating on the Niagara River and Lake Erie doesn't have the restrictions I've seen on the Potomac and the Bay. 

It looks like the Danger Zones occupy the better portion of the river from the Nice bridge south.  Is it possible to boat on the Potomac at all?  How often do the tests restrict weekday casual cruising? 

It also appears that the various military bases toward Norfolk restrict traffic yards from their shore. While I understand this, how often does boating access in the Bay get curtailed due to some military activity?

Thanks in advance for your help.  I look forward to your replies.


Bob Scheuermann

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some enlightening observations




Our readers help set the record straight on the Eastern Shore towers. And we get a little help from the Department of Commerce and American Machinist.


Welcome back to the Cruisers Exchange, where the emails have been coming thick and fast after our plea last month for a definitive answer to the purpose of the towers along the upper Eastern Shore of the Bay. When we had posed the question as a Cruisers Quiz question, we received answers that fell into three plausible categories: 1. Fire towers;  2. Ice flow monitors; and 3. Enemy ship watchtowers. After we had to confess that we didn’t know the answer ourselves, we asked our readers for help. And help they did! Only, of course, they didn’t agree. This time the answers fell into two categories, both of them utterly convincing. Here are just a few excerpts:

Category one

Bill Hurley:
“The observation towers of which you write in the November issue were indeed fire watch towers—gunfire watch towers. They were used to triangulate the impact sites of ordnance being tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The artillery was located miles from the impact areas, thus they relied on azimuths from the observation towers to plot the impacts. . . .  I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' home in Betterton, where the walls would rattle from the shellfire. My grandfather, William H. Fleckenschildt, was an owner of the Miss Milford, which carried firefighters from Betterton to Aberdeen and back while the testing took place.”

Hunter H. Harris:
“I am very familiar with towers, two of them in particular. We have one on the northern edge of our family farm on the bluff at Howell Point and another just south of the farm almost to Meeks Point. They are, or at least were once, used by the Aberdeen Proving Ground to measure the range of various big guns that they test there. They had powerful radios in the towers and some really interesting scopes mounted on rotating azimuths. As a kid I managed to visit the men in the towers occasionally using some fresh homemade cookies as a security pass.”  

Category two

Ken Thorn:
“I have a set of nautical charts from 1971, the year I began sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. The tower in your photograph and two others are clearly marked on the chart, along the Eastern Shore between Fairlee Creek and Rock Hall.  Towers : "A"  "B" and "C" are notated  "lighted during ice flow".”

Roger Taylor:
“My wife and I have cruised the Chesapeake for 48 years, and are well acquainted with the towers in your article. There was a series of these towers built from Swan Point to Howell Point. Some of them have letter designations on early charts. (Tower A, for example at Swan Pt.) They were built to be "lighted during ice flows". The quote is from an official 1978 "Guide For Cruising Maryland Waters" chart, tenth edition which I still have.”

So, fire and ice. 

Now here’s a quote of our own, from the 1919 Reports of the Department of Commerce, p. 922:
“In May and April 1918, several towers had been located by John A. Daniels as far south as Worton Point. These were found inadequate in number and range for the large guns to be tested at the grounds, and the scheme was therefore extended south to Love Point, Kent Island. First a scheme of towers was selected using both sides of the bay (but the towers on western shore were found to be too close to the line of fire). It was then decided to place extra towers on the eastern shore and eliminate the western shore towers. In all there were 42 stations in the scheme, including 7 lighthouses and the 2 range lights on Pooles Island.”

But there’s a kicker in the final sentence of this article from American Machinist, 1919:
“To measure the ranges of projectiles an extensive system of 16 observation towers stretching for 30 miles has been built and equipped on the eastern shore of the bay. . . Observers spot the splashes of falling projectiles from their posts over 100 feet above the water level in the same way that forest fires are located in the Adirondacks, and in fact the towers will also be used for forest-fire location.

So just about everybody was right. We love when that happens. Thanks everyone for joining in, it was a lot of fun. Here is the full text of all of the responses we have received since our cry for help. Feel free to add your own. Email us at cx@chesapeakeboating.net or hit the responses button below.

Responses:

October 21, 2013

Jim Friedrichs:

Believe that I can help to solve the mystery.  The towers are part of Aberdeen Proving Grounds’ firing range test system that triangulates round impact points and also serves as a part of its range security system to protect the facility and to coordinate the safe passage of boats through the Bush River.  The towers are identified as “A”, “B”, “C”, etc.  Tower “A” is the main control tower for the range. I do not know if they are currently used.  I have attached an article discussing Tower “A”.  The other towers are similar in construction.  When transiting the Bush River in the past I would communicate with Tower “B” to obtain permission for a safe passage.    I got a chuckle from the statement in the attached article about the 280mm “small arms” rounds.  That is a round that is just over 11 inches in diameter.

Hope that this helps.


October 22, 2013

Dave Larson:

Three words used in your column discussing the submitted guesses were correct:  “fire”, “World War II”, and “observation”.  During WW II, Aberdeen Proving Grounds would fire developmental munitions into the bay (and probably also at Pooles Island).  The observation towers were used by army personnel to accurately locate the splashes by triangulation and therefore determine range and accuracy.  Ever notice the chart notes that unexploded munitions may exist in the water in the Aberdeen area.  Historical info. came from members of the Glenmar Sailing Association, Middle River, after I started boating in the early ‘80s.  (I had wondered: why so many bird watching towers?). 


Allan Finlayson:

I was very surprised that none of your readers correctly identified the use of the mysterious tower north of Worton Point. As a boy on the upper Chesapeake Bay during the early 50's everyone was very aware of the "Restricted Areas" and why we were not permitted to enter them. Army patrol boats roamed the area constantly keeping boaters outside of the danger zones.

The series of towers that stretch from Tolchester to Fairlee were observation towers used by Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Aberdeen fired newly developed weapons onto the "Restricted Areas" including Pooles Island, Bush River and Gunpowder River. Army observers would man the towers and report bearings from the towers to the explosion. Army personnel then used triangulation to identify the range.  This technique was used for years during and after WWII to establish ordinance range.

I am sure that if you check with Aberdeen they will validate this explanation.


October 24, 2013

Hunter H. Harris:

I am very familiar with towers, two of them in particular. We have one on the northern edge of our family farm on the bluff at Howell Point and another just south of the farm almost to Meeks Point. They are, or at least were once used by the Aberdeen Proving Ground to measure the range of various big guns that they test there. I am not sure of  the details but I believe maybe by comparing triangulation from each tower they could measure how far down range the pumpkin went. They had powerful radios in the towers and some really interesting scopes mounted on rotating azimuths. As a kid a managed to visit the men in the towers occasionally using some fresh homemade cookies as a security pass. 

I can remember on more then one occasion looking across the Bay on a clear calm (but noisy) night from the farm's 40' bluff, first seeing then hearing an orange "pumpkin" flying down range. I was using my tripod mounted spotting scope and could follow the projectile as it ached over the marshes. If I had a phone number I would have probably called in my observations too!

Now that I look back on this, I wonder if those early experiences in these elevated platforms had anything to do with steering me to my eventual occupation as a pilot? Thanks for reminding me of these structures.


October 25, 2013

Roger Taylor:

My wife and I have cruised the Chesapeake for 48 years, and are well acquainted with the towers in your article. There were a series of these towers built from Swan Pt. to Howell Pt. Some of them have letter designations on early charts. (Tower A, for example at Swan Pt.) They were built to be "lighted during ice flows". The quote is from an official 1978 "Guide For Cruising Maryland Waters" chart, tenth edition which I still have.

Another proof is from "A Cruising Guide to the Chesapeake" by William Stone and Fessenden Blanchard 1973 edition. On a chart on page 99 it shows the tower on Button Beach with "lighted during ice flow" noted next to it.

The answer, then, is the towers were built to be lighted during ice flows.


Capt. Bill Hurley:


The observation towers of which you write in the November issue were indeed fire watch twers--gunfire watch towers.  They were used to triangulate the impact sites of ordnance being tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  The artillery was located miles from the impact areas, thus they relied on azimuths from the observation towers to plot the impacts.

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' home in Betterton, where the walls would rattle from the shellfire.  My grandfather, William H. Fleckenschildt, was an owner of the Miss Milford, which carried firefighters from Betterton to Aberdeen and back while the testing took place.  This continued into the fifties.  Sometimes during sunset cruises we would be entertained by the flights of tracer rounds.

I spent many years boating and working in the upper Chesapeake before retiring and moving to Florida.


October 26, 2013

Ken Thorn:

I have a set of nautical charts from 1971, the year I began sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.  The tower in your photograph, and two others are clearly marked on the chart, along the Eastern Shore between Fairlee Creek and Rock Hall.  Towers : "A"  "B" and "C" are notated  "lighted during ice flow".


October 28, 2013

Dave:

All good mariners have a copy of chart#12274. There is an unnamed tower at Howell Pt. Next is a 100 ft tower at Meeks Pt (just north of Still Pond) that is lit at night during firing. The pictured tower is at Worton Pt. showing lights at 93’ &99’. The 93’ is lit during ice & the 99’ is lit when Aberdeen is firing at night. Amazing stuff on charts.


October 31, 2013

Mike Hoyt:

The observation towers along the eastern shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay were built either in the late 1930's or early 1940's as observation towers for submarines.

I had 3 cousins that worked on a construction crew one summer erecting them. I'm pretty sure it was funded by the federal government.


November 1, 2013

Fritz Griesinger:

My understanding is they were spotter towers to do triangulation of test firing of splashes from test firings of projectiles from Aberdeen Proving Ground on the upper Western shore of the Chesapeake.

Not only that, charts showed that area as a prohibited area for boaters.  To emphasize the point, official patrol boats were out in the area to chase boaters out of the range who didn't know what was going on


November 5, 2013

Mer Adams:

Army use, across from Aberdeen proving grounds. Used to take bearings on shells that were shot from big guns (howitzers).

My proof—my dad is a Chesapeake bay pilot and has also probably read every book known to man. Pretty much the smartest and coolest guy I know. 


November 6, 2013

E Lassahn:

While I have no proof as to what I'm about to say is accurate, I can only repeat what was told to me as a young boy while fishing with my father in the upper bay. Dad, what are those white used for? His answer was, they are "range observation towers" used by the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
The Army would test fire different kinds of artillery from APG and the ordnance would land on Pooles Island or in the open waters of the upper bay from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to Pooles Island. The observers in the towers would radio the point of impact back to the range officers at the proving grounds.

I hope this will help.


November 10, 2013

Carl E. Canatella Jr.:

My grandfather told me when I was a little kid that they were used to watch ice flows and build up, along with the lighthouse tenders along the bay! Sometimes the ice would be up to 20 inches thick and the Coast Guard would have to send the ice eaters up the bay to keep the shipping channel open.


November 11, 2013


Douglas Smith:

I'm slow getting to my magazines, and you probably know all you need about the towers, but here's my take on them.

Their location across from the Aberdeen Proving Ground gives one the major hint as to their function.  I have no "proof" for what I have been told in the past, but it makes sense.  The towers primary function in years past was to study and provide information as to trajectory et al when cannon ordnance was being fired from Aberdeen.  I personally spent at least an hour one day about 15 years ago on my boat in the upper Bay (outside the buoy line to the west of which one dare not venture) watching ordnance explode a hundred feet or so above a cleared zone at the shore.  There were two audible blasts with each event.  One was the distant "cannon" origin far to the north; the other the terminal blast in front of me.  The projectile speed was such that the two sounds were heard in reverse order of their creation, or virtually simultaneously, as I best recall.

I doubt that the towers were in use that day, since they probably are no longer in active mode, but I remain of the function view expressed above.





Monday, October 21, 2013

Our clever ploy fails, so now we turn to our readers.


Help!

Well, really, this is embarrassing. When we asked readers in the August Cruisers Exchange to identify one of the old towers that dot the edge upper Eastern Shore, we didn’t actually know the answer ourselves. Yes, we know, embarrassing. Oh, we knew where the photo was taken, because we took it. What we didn’t know was the answer to the second part of our question: What was the tower used for? Perhaps we simply had never asked the right people or perhaps we had never put the right words into the Google search engine, but whatever the reason, the upshot was that we had simply never been able to find the answer. So we hatched the brilliant idea of simply asking the question in the Cruisers Quiz. Someone would answer the question once and for all, putting at last us out of our mystery, and, in return, we would gratefully hand over a coveted CBM tote bag as reward. The trouble was it didn’t work. Oh, we got answers. Lots of different answers, most of them plausible, but none of them conclusive. They fall into three general categories: 

1. It was a fire observation tower. This is a fine idea, except for two things: These are on the shoreline instead of the middle of a forest, so limited in their fire-detection value. And we’ve never seen any of them mentioned in histories of Maryland’s fire-watch towers. Still, it’s plausible.

2. It was used during World War II to watch for enemy submarines trying to sneak up the Bay. Again, it’s certainly plausible and one of the most popular answers. But is it true? Sure, maybe, but we’ve never seen any proof. 

3. It was used as an ice observation tower during the winters. We like this one a lot, largely because we’d never heard it before, and also because it comes from a former Bay resident who says he’s seen plenty of ice in his time off Belly Button Beach (which is between Worton and Fairlee creeks, in case you are not familiar with the place, and in an area where the towers are located). But his evidence is based on what he was told by a fellow resident back in the 1960s. So, we can’t really consider that proof.

Well, now you know all. And that’s why we are still mucking about in the wetlands of indecision carrying a spare totebag. Who’s right? Perhaps they all are. Perhaps none of them is. Help! Do you know the right answer? Please send a line (and ideally some proof) to CX@chesapeakeboating.net or simply post it on our Facebook page or even write us a letter. Thanks.

Light it up


Speaking of solving puzzles, we’ve recently come across a smartphone/tablet app that does just that in a particularly satisfying way. We were looking for an app we could quickly consult while underway with rules for lights, sounds and markers, because, frankly, we don’t always remember them when we need them. We downloaded two. The first, Nav Rules, is pretty much a straightforward reference. The second, Rules & Signals, has a more interesting presentation, with drawings for identifying lights and day shapes, as well as an interesting order of priority for who must get out of the way for whom. (We recreational boaters, by the way, are naturally at the bottom of this list.) 

Then we discovered a modest little app called Boat Lights. The charm of this app is that it has a search function that allows you to simply move lights and day shapes into the configuration you see in front of you. You then hit search and it tells you what you’re looking at. This way you don’t have to flip pictures of various configurations of lights or day marks or read through pages of text until you figure out that you’re seeing a vessel dredging, with an obstruction to port and clear water to starboard. (See drawing above). You can do this with sound signals, as well. We haven’t used any of these apps out on the water yet, but we will and report back. In fact, look for a general review of apps we are using in an upcoming issue. We’d like to hear from you on this subject as well. What apps do you find particularly useful?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waving a Red (White and Blue) Flag





Okay, Commodore Jim Bob Vanderbilt, let’s say you were entertaining a Greek shipping magnate, a French philosopher, a Finnish ice sculptor and an Indonesian chef aboard your boat. How would you arrange their national courtesy flags? Not your biggest worry, you might say, yet there is a strict protocol for that. (Fly their national ensigns on alternate starboard and port flag halyards in alphabetical order by the English name for the country; so French and Greek flags to starboard and Finnish and Indonesian to port. Whew, we know you’re relieved to know that now and can go back to worrying how to fit them all in the cockpit, not to mention why you invited them in the first place. Flag etiquette is a notoriously touchy subject among those who know and understand it, versus most of the rest of us, who consider some of it as arcane as Lacanian literary criticism theory. Yet flag etiquette represents a fine nautical tradition that deserves more attention than it gets. So with that in mind, we thought you might be interested to know a few of the rules that apply to just one aspect: flying the American flag.


Did you know that you have the choice of flying either of two U.S. flags while you’re in this country, but only one outside of it? Domestically, you can use either the standard American flag or the yacht ensign. This latter was designed by the New York Yacht Club to designate pleasure yachts so they wouldn’t be taxed as a commercial vessel when they came into port. Outside the country, though, the only legal flag is the standard stars and stripes. You also have a choice of where to fly it, though the current standard is off a flagstaff at the stern of the boat, which is where it is always supposed to be flown if you’re anchored or in port. Otherwise, if you’re a sailboat, you can fly it at the end of a gaff or two-thirds up the leech of the aft sail or on the backstay. Then there’s the when should you fly the flag question, and the answer is between 8 a.m. and sunset or anytime you leave or enter port, but not anytime you are out of sight of other boats, like in the middle of the ocean. There are lots more rules just for the national flag, but we have room only for one more: size. The recommended size is one inch of “fly” (the horizontal measurement) for every one foot of boat length. So a 40-foot boat should fly a 40-inch flag.

Well, we’ve barely touched on the fascinating but touchy subject of flag etiquette. What about club flags, courtesy flags, private flags and the international code of signal flags? You may be sure that there are rules for them all. Open up your copy of Chapman Piloting to the chapter on boating customs or go to www.usps.org/f_stuff/etiquett.html for the U.S. Power Squadron’s recently revised flag rules for modern mariners (which we’ve used above). Care to comment or argue a point? Write us at CX@Cruisers
Exchange.com.
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