Barb Thomson’s father’s charts are hung on a wall in her office as a lasting memento. Photo by Barb Thomson

BOATING WITH BARB: Nautical chart-making is moving into the digital era

It’s been raining hard for two days. As you navigate through the boats anchored in beautiful Grace Harbour, you recall Captain George Vancouver’s quote on why he named the area Desolation Sound: “there was not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye.”

There are books on boats. There are canonical guidebooks like Ports and Passes: The Pacific Northwest Tide and Current Guide or technical books like How Boat Things Work by Charlie Wing or the holy grail of all boat systems, the Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual: THE Guide to Fixing Everything on Your Boat, a tome by Nigel Calder. But I’m not talking about the trouble-shooting heavy-going hard-copy literature that can put stretch marks on credit limits. No, let Wing and Calder wrap their brains around complicated marine electronics, because while it rains, I’m sliding my finger across an iPad loaded with Navionics, looking for our next anchorage with the greatest of ease.

The digital revolution is the reason Calder’s and other DIY marine texts have swollen in weight and chapters. What applies to virtually every field of human endeavour, applies equally to boating: each new season brings another wave of inventions and upgrades that render marine navigational tools (think protractors and dividers) redundant. Consider the Canadian Hydrographic Service’s five-year plan, the Digital Transformation Initiative, that promises “moving to fully digital collection, processing, dissemination, and delivery of data will significantly improve services to users.”


This means our chart-makers are following the International Hydrographic Organization’s global upgrade towards “e-navigation” and the “growing needs of the blue economy.”

Say again?

The “blue economy” is part of a new vocabulary to describe how the world wants to make money out of the ocean and its resources. Meanwhile, “users” will be safer on the water and how can that be a bad thing?

Yet, there is comfort in the stability of paper charts, a legacy we can hold in our bare hands. In the early 1950s, my father fished for halibut in the waters around Haida Gwaii. Years later, after his death, I framed and hung his charts on the walls of my home in honour of his small, careful pencil marks along depth contours. How could he know those coastal lines first drawn by George Vancouver would one day descend from the sky above the ocean to reach my fingertips?

Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS):

Barb Thomson is a boating enthusiast who writes regular columns for Black Press.

BoatingCampbell RiverComox Valley

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