While you are cruising amongst the beautiful islands of the Bahamas and Caribbean and navigating by consulting the usually vast array of screens that adorn a wheelhouse these days, spare a thought for those early navigators for whom making landfall was a celebration of both skill and science.
On a recent visit to the crowded port of Victoria on Vancouver Island on the occasion of its Classic Boat Festival, I came across a motoryacht fitted out with an original GPS unit that I thought would be of interest to the modern navigator.
I’m sure that there aren’t many seafarers around these days that really know what the letters GPS stand for.
Way back in the days of sail, vessels in the interisland trade in the Caribbean always used to carry a pig on board, and they were not there to be company for eggs at breakfast. No, they had a much bigger mission in life, and that was in having the ability of being able to direct the vessel toward land, should it lie below the horizon.
Those pigs with a navigator-y snout were highly prized, but the method used was somewhat bizarre as they had to be tossed over the side for their homing instinct to kick in. No doubt that a stout line was firmly attached to the animal as it took to the water, with the captain carefully noting the direction in which the pig would swim.
A bearing would be taken of that heading, the pig carefully hauled aboard, undoubtedly amidst some loud squealing, and the vessel’s course directed onto the pig’s heading.
But not all pigs could swim, apparently, and ship’s captains were always on the lookout for Good Pigs that could Swim, or a GPS.
Now those pigs are flying in orbit around the earth. Who would have thought it possible? But, if you do go for the old fashioned GPS, make sure that you have a good supply of turnips on board. Isn’t modern technology a wonderful thing?