Saturday, February 19, 2011


This is Key West habor--- no Lasers in sight.

This is not a Laser – How to Sail story, but the Navigation thing (challenge) from Tillerman.

When I lived in Key West, we made little deal about sending messages in bottles carried by the nearby Gulf Stream to England and France. So I prepared the bottles and one summer when the Gulf Stream was 5 to 10 miles south of the Keys, I went out in my 14 foot Aluminum skiff with a 15 horse power outboard.

Problem #1. I am on my way and the battery in my GPS died.

Problem # 2 My hand held compass that usually in the tool box has been misplaced.

OK. In the keys, a line of clouds forms over the warm water of the Gulf Stream. Go south till you are under the clouds. To go south in the morning, keep the Sun on your left.

Now you get under the clouds. The water in warmer. Put your hand in to find out. The water looks different. Sargasso weeds flowing in it. The birds, Mother Caries Chickens, flitting over the wave tops. You don’t see them near shore. A couple of 30 foot type fishing boats go by trolling for big fish.

Get the “messages in the bottles” over the side and on their way to Europe.

Now turn to home… Problem # 3. The Sun in overhead. Neither right or left. I could wait till it moved west, but use the wave pattern to pick out north direction. Wind direction can change quickly, but the wave pattern hangs on for a while. Trust the waves.

Leaving the cloud bank behind and after a while I meet the west going freighters. (They run southwest several miles out from the reef to avoid the northeast flowing Gulf Stream.) Going fine and it will be hard to miss the Continent of North America.

Then I start to pick up a light house. Right on target –the Sand Key Light house. No. Problem #4 strange Light House. Sombrero Reef at Marathon. 50 miles up the Keys. I have hung out too long in the northeast flowing Gulf Stream current and/or bad angle coming in.

OK, when following a compass course in from the Ocean not a bad idea to head right or left and then when you get within sight of land you know whether to turn right or left.

So I turn left and head for home, in sight of land.

PS. If you send a message in a bottle to be carried by the current, weight the bottle till it almost sinks. Our bottles were all windblown back to Florida.



  1. Brilliant Sam. The Natural Navigator would be proud of you. Clouds, water temperature, waves... it's all in his book.

  2. I wrote a thing about following the birds back to land late in the day. Written for the Power Squadron and I will add it if I can find it in all my 'stuff'.

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