Editorial July 1, 2003 Issue

Watching the Flashers

We don't have cable or satellite TV at home. We have an antenna—an amplified antenna, mind you—and we can pick up, in addition to a couple of channels trying to outdo each other in urging citizens to degrade themselves in front of millions of others, a channel with salespeople shouting hysterically all the livelong day; a channel that features almost nothing but pro wrestling; and a channel with a lectern, behind which drone various religious personalities and hawkers. So we don't watch that much TV.

If that sounds snooty, I would add that we have had both cable and satellite TV, and got rid of them not because we were disdainful of their content, but because we were not disdainful enough—we were gawking away big chunks of time. Given a remote control in a hotel room, I will squander untold hours surfing in amazement. At one Annapolis boatshow some years ago I spent a solid hour watching a show about the mating habits and calls of wild turkeys, and how to hunt them by knowing their inmost psyches and desires.

If a lot of channels are present, I will surf them all, and if a lot of instruments are on board a boat, I become entranced.

Just because information exists doesn't mean that it has to be flashed continuously on a screen in front of our faces. We don't need to know the depth every 30 seconds when we're in deep water, or to see how far we are along our course every minute when we have hours to go.

In high-end racing fleets, integrated instrument systems are common, and offer an advantage if they're well-calibrated and used by people who understand their output and are skilled at making use of the data in the right ways at the right times. And if you think you're pretty hot stuff steering by the seat of your pants, get aboard a fast boat and watch Old Man Ockam beat you all day long—a couple degrees of pinch to windward here, a half-knot of speed-bleed there, all according to those continuously calculated VMG vectors. Pretty soon Mr. Ockam is 10 boatlengths ahead of where you would have been. It can be tough on the ego.

Good helmsmen on racing boats allow the instruments to train them over a long period of time, and it may be that the best steerers are equal to a good integrated system—but they still consult those displays minutely.

Most of us can spare ourselves those pressures.

Our Beneteau 235 came with a Standard wind display on the cockpit bulkhead—a completely unnecessary device in its stand-alone, apparent-wind-only configuration, because the boat is also equipped with a Windex at the masthead and I am equipped with eyes and a pretty good idea of when to add or subtract sail. If I linked the display to a speedo/log, it could tell me about true windspeed and angle. But then I'd forever want to look at that data, when in fact it's more than I need to know, second by second.

The boat also came with a couple of very cool solar-powered Tacktick instruments, one to display boatspeed and depth, and the other compass heading, including indications of lifts and headers tack to tack. These were mounted where they usually are on hotshot boats—on a big bracket on the aft face of the mast, directly in the helmsman's view. To me, this is about like watching a shopping channel co-hosted by Isaac Newton and Cameron Diaz—I don't need to watch it, but how can I help it?

I already love those Tacktick displays dearly, but they're addictive, so I've had to consign them to the compression post belowdecks, where I can still see them easily from the tiller, and they get good sunlight through the big non-opening decklight above the table. They're both fully charged now, to 199 hours each, and any time they need more, I can unclip them from their brackets and bring them outside. And when allowed out, they can sit there nicely and keep quiet.

-Doug Logan

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