Geocaching – A Study in Electronic Navigation

381I often pawndered how my humans ever managed to find their way around out on the water without getting lost. I mean there are no roads or street signs to follow at sea. I eventually learned that they have special electronic devices that can display charts of the ocean and where the boat is on them. How very useful. They have several of these visual devices, of varying sizes and capabilities, which are either fixed to the helm of the boat or carried around with them. Even though human mom took a basic boating course which included learning basic navigation, she didn’t really put much more thought into applying those skills after that. To her, it was the captain’s job to figure out exactly where they were, and how to get where they were going, and she was the admiral. That was until we started geocaching.

Geocaching is about finding little containers of treasures carefully hidden all over the planet, in publicly accessible places like parks and hiking trails…and beaches! Well the term treasure is used loosely since one human’s junk is another human’s treasure, but you never know what you might unearth. Like a house has an address, a geocache has a set of GPS coordinates. You plug the coordinates into the electronic device and it shows you where it is compared to where you are on some kind of map, or chart in nautical terms.

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Setting up a geocaching activity for members to play on a cruise.

Since you’re given the exact coordinates of the geocache’s location, it may seem deceptively easy to find, but unlike a road map, you are not given the exact route to it, just a couple of icons showing your location and its, with possibly a straight line connecting the two. The essence of navigation is to get from your current position to a pre-planned destination, and then to return safely. However, there could be forests, hills, mountains, lakes, streams, buildings, or in nautical terms, `hazards`that you have to navigate around first in order to get there. Because of all that navigational uncertainty, the key to a successful find whether it be a geocache or some other point of interest, is education and preparation.

Do you understand what GPS is and how it works? Do you know the different types of maps? Do you know how to load maps and GPS coordinates into a GPS device? Do you know what a waymark is? Do you know how to create a route of waymarks? Can you export a list of GPS coordinates to share with others? Conveniently the Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons  & United States Power Squadrons offer in-depth courses that specifically teach electronic charting, electronic navigation, and navigation by GPS, and you don’t need a boat or be a member to take them. But unlike riding a bike, if don’t use those skills often enough, you lose them. Cue geocaching. The rewards of geocaching go far beyond the material treasures you might find. Lessons in geography, map reading, navigation, nature, ecology, history, physical exercise, fellowship, and the Golden Rule come to life and are far more retentive because of this any-day real world game. Of that I am certain.

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Writing 101, Day 3: Prompts come in many different forms. Sometimes, a single word is all you need to get your mind’s wheels turning. Here are six words: TREASURE, REGRET, HOME, LOVE, UNCERTAINTY, SECRET.  Select one word in this list that speaks to you in some way. Have you always wanted to write about that wrong decision you made? Are you a long-term traveler looking for the right city to settle? Do you want to write a poem about your relationship?vThe beauty of the one-word prompt is that it’s open to interpretation. What do you think of when you hear this word? What do you see? This word is simply the seed for your post: feel free to shape your idea as you see fit.

Gauging the Sea Conditions

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GPS Motion X app for iPhone. Marina top left corner, waypoint marker for geocache in yellow.

There was no cellular service in Gorge Harbour but human mom checked before we arrived and knew there was a geocache in the area. The marina had a strict check out time so she only had about an hour to kayak over to the island, find it, and return before we had to leave. She had manually put the GPS coordinates into her iPhone Motion X app as a waypoint, and was able to navigate offline to the location. The GPS works without cellular service. Unfortunately she couldn’t find it because she forgot to write down the clues. She’s sure she would have found it if she had a bit more time because she was very close. She’ll try again next time.

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Gauging the weather conditions the old fashioned way.

As we left I checked the air and the sky to determine what kind of travel day we were going to have. Even humans used to rely on observation, patterns and folklore to avoid being caught off-guard by the elements before technology was around. This is how I do it. First I determine the direction of the wind on my whiskers. Easterly winds, which blow from the east, can indicate an approaching storm front; westerly winds mean good weather. Strong winds indicate high pressure differences, which can be a sign of advancing storm fronts. Then I take a deep whiff, close my eyes and smell the air. In a low pressure atmosphere, plants release gases, generating a smell like compost and indicating an upcoming rain. I also check for humidity. You can feel humidity, especially in your fur. If it’s curling up and getting frizzy, then the humidity is high, which tends to precede a heavy rain. Lastly I watch what the birds are doing. If they are flying high in the sky, there will probably be fair weather. Falling air pressure caused by an imminent storm causes discomfort in birds’ ears, so they fly low to alleviate it. Seagulls tend to stop flying and take refuge along the coast if a storm is coming. Birds get very quiet immediately before it rains. If you practice these methods you can become very attuned to reading the sky and air to gain the ability to predict the weather quite reliably. I was quite confident that the seas would be favourable as we headed East to Grace Harbour.

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Looking south on the Strait of Georgia heading east.

Just as I thought, the day turned out spectacular for the 3 1/2 hour cruise to Grace Harbour; a flat calm sea and a blazing sun. The humans got quite a bit browner after today, especially mom in her bikini. We met up and rafted with the 4 other squadron vessels that had left a short time ahead of us. Human dad headed off with his fishing gear again while human mom kept cool in the water with the other humans. Before long he was back with a couple more pink salmon. He’s my hero.

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Hanging around the fish cleaning table, watching the 2 freshly caught salmon get cleaned and filleted.

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GeoCatting Anyone?!

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I just became trackable! “What’s that?” you meow my curious furiends. Well for starters, a couple of years ago my mom (Geo-Julee) discovered Geocaching, then last year she took an Electronic Charting course through the Port Moody Power & Sail Squadron …..fast forward to today and guess what, Continue reading