A map, a compass and not much else....
Strangely enough I learned a valuable lesson about navigation not on the water, but on land. I was 23 and in training for...... the Army. Having been able to postpone for several years to finish school, I ended up doing 'draft 82-1'. That was in January 1982 and I remember it being a cold winter, with not much snow, but lots of wind. After a month or so in classrooms and exercise-yard at the barracks in Utrecht, we were send out on our first bivouac. And part of that two weeks living in a green tent, was being hauled out of bed and dropped somewhere in the middle of the night with a map and a compass.
Four recruits with sleep depraved eyes and shivering in the cold winter air, were told they had 24 hours to get back to camp. And off went the truck, with the rest of the group, who would be dropped a couple of clicks away with - no doubt - the same grunted instructions by the Sarge.
Being bold as ever, I convinced my fellow 'Indians' that I could navigate. I had used compasses before to Sail the Seven Seas (once, going from IJmuiden to Lowestoft), was infinitely knowledgeable on longitude and latitude (52 something by 4 and a half) and could calculate the variation to the second.....
So I got the goodies in my - thankfully with green mittens covered - hands.
I was impressed by the map! It showed amazing detail. Every road, every green field, every house and every tree seemed to be depicted. And the compass had two flaps you could hinge up, to get a hairline sighting. This would be a singe, I thought. Just had to figure out where we were, take a bearing on the map to the place where our tent was pitched and 'Joe was our Uncle....'
Now, it was a bright night. With our eyes getting accustomed to the dark and a half moon, we could see fairly well....... so we thought. We were on a semi dirt road, hmmmm..... dozens of those on the map... close to fields and not many lights (houses)
After some turning and wandering, I thought to have found the place on the map.... and off we went.
No roads, no paths or natural lines. No, straight as an arrow across every, eeeh, well across everything. Fence? Climb over it. Ditch? Jump and don't look back. Garden? Well okay, we didn't enter that many gardens, but that was because we were not eager to get the house owner mad at us.... (and there could be dogs).
By keeping both eyes on that marvellous map, I was convinced we would be back in a matter of hours....
|Yes, the second from the left|
After two hours my fellow 'inmates' started to question my method. Wouldn't it be better to follow this road, they said, so we could get some road signs and check if we were going back to the town our camp was near?
I wish I had listened to them.
But no, I managed to keep my cool and ploughed straight on, never doubting for a second I could be wrong... although something in the back of my mind started to nag...
And that nagging got louder and louder.....
For three hours we wandered trough that cold night in February '82, never anywhere near the place I thought we were on the map, before I got stopped by my 'brothers in arms'. The map was ripped from my hands, the compass was declared superfluous and we started to follow a road until we found a traffic sign with names and distances.....
I remember it took me a while before I could admit to myself that I had failed miserably.
But the evidence was in front of me. We had to go almost 180 degrees back to where we started, before we could reach our camp. The rest of that night and most of the following day, I was walking last in the group, not wanting to have to look into the eyes of my 'brethren'. We came in, dead last of the 5 groups that were dropped that night, just shy of 10 hours later.
Please, my fellow navigators, keep your maps up to date, use every gadget or doohicky you can lay your hands on, but please, take the advice of a fresh recruit, who learned it by the blisters on his feet:
First and foremost, use your eyes and look around!
The world has many many signs - man-made or natural - that can steer you in the right direction.
No compass or map can beat that.
Look for signs first!
And keep looking!
The picture was taken later that fortnight..... They did forgive me enough to trust me with a map again, but not much else.......