A Slow Boat Arounbd Sri Lanka

Four invaluable gizmos

There is literally no end to the kinds and types of gear and equipment that can be added to the kit list, particularly for an expedition such as this. If I had a larger boat and was embarking on a more perilous journey without access to shore every evening, I would most definitely have invested in a GPS Plotter, a transponder and a decent VHF radio. Together they would ensure that not only I knew where I was on the face of this Earth, but also other boats in the immediate vicinity would know I was around. This can and has prevented many collisions. The marine radio with a connected distress device means that a Mayday call can be sent out in case of emergencies.

However, since I am not going to be outside of visible distance from shore, I do not require such sophisticated equipment. In any case my inflatable boat would scream in disgust and then let out a last desperate whoosh if I tried to screw the gear into its PVC frame. But I do need some gear that will assist me in the journey. Four of which that are invaluable not only for the basic purpose they will be put to use, but also for the other multifarious tasks they are designed to perform. These four items are a handheld GPS unit, an Atmospheric Data Centre, VHF radios and nautical charts. Let us look at each of these in a little more detail.

First, the GPS or Global Positioning System.

I have used GPS units for as long as I have been in the outdoors and have found it absolutely invaluable. With a GPS unit (and adequate reserve battery power) I know I will never ever be lost. Well, I might get lost, but I will know where I am lost and if properly configured, can come back to the location where I was not lost. The GPS unit provides pretty much all navigation data one can need, the most important among them being the latitude/longitude and a breadcrumb trail that can be followed back. Depending on the unit, it also has a compass, elevation data, trip odometer, speed (current, moving, stopped, average, etc), estimated time to the next waypoint, sunrise/sunset times, time based on coordinates, etc. It can save tracks and waypoints which are useful when fed into the unit prior to heading out into the unknown, to ensure that there are some landmarks that can be used for navigation in an unknown territory.

GPS units have become more and more sophisticated, come with more information, and there are different models from different kinds of activities. I will be using the handheld unit, but these come as complete multifunction display units with the possibility of connecting other devices to make them even more powerful. In fact, I will be carrying three units. Two of them will be used at all times while the third will be called to duty if and when any of the two primary units malfunction. I have used two of these units during the Ganges expedition and thanks to A&S Creations, have been given a third unit. The two primary units will be the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx and the Garmin GPSmap 78S. The third unit which is a great one but a screen that is a bit small from my weakened eyesight, is the Garmin eTrex 20. I just need to ensure that all three of them are calibrated the same.

I have a tentative route that I plan to take around Sri Lanka. Important in that route are the towns and cities where one plans to camp for the night. I will need to feed these places as waypoints in each of the three units. Once done, I will be able to figure out in which direction the next port of call is, how far it is, and a rough estimate of how long it might take me to reach it. I will also need to load the base map for Sri Lanka. This will add other cities and towns beyond the waypoints I feed in providing a little more peace of mind in case one cannot reach the intended destination on any particular day.

Of course, the day’s paddle will be tracked and downloaded at the end of each leg, providing me with a real time log of the route paddled.

A GPS unit has provided me a whole lot of peace of mind in the past, but I am sure those experiences will pale in comparison to the peace of mind I will get while paddling the Indian Ocean. By the way these are waterproof and marine grade, so should hold up to the rigours of the sea. The 78S also floats on water ensuring that I do not lose it in case of a capsize! (I wonder if the others float).

Now to the other unit which I am sure will be called on multiple times a day. It is an Atmospheric Data Center.

A high-faluting term and it lives up to it. The Brunton ADC Summit is the unit I am using. I think its most use will be to measure wind speed. Since we will be just North of the Equator, the weather is going to be warm and humid, so I will not need to check the Wind Chill Factor. Neither will I have to check elevation. What I will be keeping an eye on is the atmospheric pressure to get advance knowledge of impending bad weather. My average paddling speed is about five kilometres an hour. Out in the ocean, with waves, swells, tides and currents, this might change, hopefully for faster speeds. However, if I am faced with a headwind that is more than the speed at which I can paddle, I will be going backward, and that is not something I am looking forward to. Moreover, the Brunton unit also displays a bar graph depicting wind speeds according to the Beaufort Scale. It has other things like lap times, speed, alarms, etc, which I will not be using. It is wind speed that I will be most interested in.

The third invaluable item is a VHF radio set.

The radio set is to be able to communicate with the road support team … if there is a road support team … and with the Navy, Coast Guard or sundry passing ships. I really hope that we can manage a road support team. All our luggage and gear not required during the paddle can be put in the vehicle. This will reduce the weight in the canoe substantially, and the possibility of losing anything in case of a capsize will be greatly reduced. Also, with stuff in the vehicle, I am sure to get dry stuff at the end the of day, even if all the stuff is packed in what are quite adequate dry bags. The driver can and will act as our liaison, translator, and guide. And s/he is the one who will be at the other end of the third piece of gear … the VHF radio.

I do not have a very sophisticated set, just one that is barely enough to communicate about three clicks away, line of sight, but good enough for the purpose. A radio set will also come in handy in case we have to communicate with other people, particularly passing ships that cannot see the tiny dot that we will be on the surface of the water. Or indeed to call for help and rescue in the event that something has gone wrong and we cannot get back to shore. Even if we do not manage to find the funds to invest in a road support team, I will still carry the radio sets for emergencies and contingencies.

Nautical charts are exactly that … a detailed map of the water.

I have invested in one of the finest digital charts out there in the market and this provides a whole lot of data. A complete map of the coast where one is starting from and ending at, water depths depicted as contour lines, hazards, buoys, restricted areas, lighthouses, sand banks, being just some of them. The one I have also provides some weather, tidal, current, and wind data. Unfortunately, this does not load on to my GPS unit which would have been awesome, but will have to work off my phone. Nevertheless, despite the obvious drain on battery, this is one application I will be constantly looking at to decide which way to paddle. Fortunately this works off GPS satellites, meaning that the application will continue to work even if the phone is not receiving mobile phone network.

What I have also done is to print out paper charts using the same application. This as a contingency for times when the phone runs out of battery and I have to have a fall-back. Of course I will not have “live” data, but at least I will have the navigating information required to be able to get to shore safely.

There are a few other items that will be used to address other needs and requirements, but the above four … GPS, ADC, VHF radio and nautical charts … are the ones that will be extremely important. With just 42 days to go for the start of the expedition, the excitement is rising, the adrenaline is beginning to build up and the impending rush is a high that I am really looking forward to.

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