All the security of a favorite blanket

Published on September 16th, 2020

In the 2020 September issue of Sailing Magazine, columnist Chris Caswell reveals how paper charts hold secrets that modern GPS units can’t:


Didn’t you cut it a little close to Point Loma?” my friend Jon said on the phone the other day.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“I’m looking at the course you laid out to clear Point Loma for a trip from Alamitos Bay to San Diego and I can see from your penciled course line that you didn’t realize that there is often a breaker line off Point Loma and sometimes sneaker waves appear out of nowhere,” he said. “Every San Diego skipper knows to give it a wide berth.”

And then it became clear.

A month ago, I discovered I had three copies of NOAA chart No. 18765 that covers the approaches to Point Loma and San Diego Harbor. If I tossed out two, I could gain huge “clearing out” points with She Who Must Be Obeyed. But SWMBO, being of practical nature, said, “These would make great nautical wrapping paper.”

The room I was supposedly clearing out is my personal bat cave. Packrats got nothin’ on Caswell. Squirrels and their acorns? Small potatoes. I only open the door to toss treasures inbound. In the garage, I have a plastic tub that I keep leftover parts such as a bent shackle. Why? Because I never know when I’ll need a bent shackle to hold up a $20,000 mast or to connect the anchor that is holding me off a rocky shore on a windy night.

Back to the chart. SWMBO had wrapped Jon’s birthday gift in it. He flattened it out and looked at what I thought was a quite seamanlike plot going south, with Xs marking my fixes. This being a night trip aboard a 28-footer, I thought I’d done pretty well. He found that I was daring the sea gods by cutting it too close.

I was so busted.

If I’d had a modern electronic chartplotter, I would have gotten away with it. But I grew up with paper charts and they provide all the security that a favorite blanket has to a 2-year-old. I do not want to give up paper charts. Full report.

Editor’s note: If using this story for your next pilotage into San Diego, also don’t forget about the massive kelp beds that stretch from the sea floor and swallow boats whole.

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