Keeping Watch

On the bridge of a modern ship one finds three levels of keeping watch.

The first is the most recent high-tech: computers for data analysis, plotting wind direction, the ship’s course and monitoring every aspect of the ship, satellite phones and screens for communication, electronic depth measuring devices (fore and aft), two different GPS devices, one for our current location, the other for waypoints, the latest radar (doubled) with information of each ship passing, electronic charts (doubled), duplicate controls on either fly-bridge, as well as the slightly older phones and walkie-talkies. All the lights, ballast control, heeling panel, Suez canal panel, alarms and fuses are on another massive counter. And this ship is nine years old, so some of this equipment is ageing.

The second level may have been reduced somewhat since the onslaught of all the gear above, but it has not been dispensed with; clinometer, dials for wind speed and direction, a clock or two, a speed dial, and tow dials, one on each side of the bridge and copied outside on the fly bridge, for engine revs (full is up to 91 rpm, but usually we sit on 81). My favourite is the old style barometer, non-electric, hanging in a corner.

But then, despite all the equipment, new and old, nothing quite replaces ears and eyes – assisted by binoculars. I prefer this last and oldest group, especially on long voyages such as the passage from Australia to Europe via five seas, two oceans and Panama Canal.


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