Zero Node: Chapter 12: "We not be Men of the Sea"
by Jeff Rand
Unlike most chapters in the novel, there is no hidden message in the title. While the chapter is true to the geography of Michigan, John Howey and family no longer live near New Boston. However, I did verify the landscape of Michigan Memorial Park recently, and there is still space to erect a Neural Virtual Reality housing center there.
Winter Camp has yet to establish the emergency procedures described in the chapter. That may still happen. While the reason will be explained in the next chapter, having a selective lobotomy could be a foolproof method to have procedures that offer protection from all threats. I recall having to send a plethora of documents to the State of New York. Among other things, the state requested an excessive plan for dealing with emergencies at camp. I obliged by including a plan for dealing with an outbreak of stigmata. I never heard if they were read by the health department.
September 15, 2019
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Boarding the raft and departing from the shore was uneventful. Steve and Jeff had fashioned a couple of paddles, which they used to propel the vessel into the bay. Then they were ready to set sail.
"I suppose you earned the Small Boat Sailing Merit Badge and know how to work this thing," remarked Steve.
"Sorry, I did not earn the badge. I did operate a Sunfish on Brighton Lake during a service project in 1981. I recall that another Winter Camper was present, but now he is just a vague memory," Jeff responded.
"Then you must be an expert sailor having once operated a small dinghy fifty years ago," joked Steve.
Once the pair raised the sail, they felt the vessel lean starboard as it turned and headed back to shore. The wind was coming from the east and the stiff breeze caused the raft to turn until the sail was no longer effective in catching the wind. However, the ocean current moved it a bit to the south and they crashed into some debris about 50 tads south of their launch point. Thankfully, there was no damage to the raft.
Not sure of their latitude or their ability to cross the unknowns of the Pacific, they paused to take note of the challenge they now faced. It was more than just knowing some sailing essentials, but realizing the need to be able to navigate. They could make use of a compass with a sextant and maps. Yet these were not possessions of the travelers. However, they did have a wristwatch and had been counting the days to know the sun was at its zenith in the northern hemisphere.
Once onshore Steve remarked, "At a time like this we could use the Wilsons and their engineering knowledge to produce the needed tools."
"All we have now is our own experiences. Perhaps it will be enough," said Jeff. "I do know that the sun should be at 23 ½ degrees north latitude for the summer solstice. Polar winds from the east prevail above 60 degrees latitude. I learned this when I was biking across the Yukon in the old country. We are most familiar with the westerlies that occur between 30 and 60 degrees. Of course, there are trade winds blowing east when you are south of that."
The next two days were spent scrounging the ruins once again and making tools for navigation. Among the treasures they found were a metric tape measure and a carpenter's level. During the search they failed to find a compass, but were able to extract a magnet from an electric motor in order to magnetize a needle. They wanted to find a calculator or trigonometry table but could not read any of the printed material discovered. Yet it was not difficult to find writing tools and string. With these discoveries they had the same tools as the ancients. For the Greeks were known to work wonders with a compass and a straight edge.
Steve set about the task of creating a table of tangents by taking careful measurements of the opposite and adjacent sides in a right triangle. He started with a 45 degree angle and used his homemade compass of string and a marker to bisect the angle. Repeating the process and taking the measurements along the way, he was able to create a reasonable approximation of the tangents of various angles. In addition, he created a table of the sun's latitude at is noon zenith to track its movements to the equator in the next three months.
Jeff took upon himself the construction of a magnetic compass. Not completely satisfied, he set the level with a rod extension in a vertical position to find the sun's shortest shadow to determine true north as if using a sundial. Using this knowledge, the local declination of the magnetic compass could be determined. The wristwatch was then reset to local noon. The level and its rod were installed on the edge of the raft where concentric half circles were marked to assist in determining measurements.
When the apparatus was complete, the pair set about measuring the length of the noon shadow using the vertical level mechanism. Using Steve's table of tangents, they determined the angle to be 36 degrees. Adding 23 ½ degrees from the daily table of the sun's latitude, they determined to be located about 59 ½ degrees north. This they rounded to 60 degrees given their crude homemade instruments, and it seemed reasonable.
Longitude would be a guess. Jeff recalled that the west coast was 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time and would be bit more than 120 degrees west. He knew that Russia extended far to the east and their current location would be at least 150 degrees east of the prime meridian. A trip across the Pacific would span nearly a quarter of the globe. By determining noon with the shortest shadow, they could count the minutes they lost on the watch and know their longitude. Of course, future calculations required sun and calm seas, both uncertainties.
"If this works, we should aim for 40 degrees north and 125 degrees west. That should put us in the redwoods at the top of California," Jeff remarked after their calculations were complete.
"How is that you know the position of California?" asked Steve.
"I do know that the top of California is north of the most southern part of Michigan," said Jeff. "And Detroit is about 42 degrees north."
. . .
The weather remained clear when the travelers made another attempt to launch the raft. They paddled a short distance away from the shore and the floating debris. Steve hosted the sail and turned it starboard, while Jeff operated the rudder. Although the sail caught the wind, it took a few adjustments to find the right course. Once Steve found the right position, he tied the beam to head in a southern direction. Jeff fixed the rudder to hold the course. The rigging of the quadrupod held firm, and the lean of the vessel was marginal.
"How fast do you think we are going?" asked Steve.
"I don't know for sure. Judging by the shore, I would say about five miles per hour. We could cross the Pacific in about six weeks if we keep moving," Jeff responded.
"That would be nice. Since our food and water should last 40 days."
"That's the same length of time for Noah's Ark. Though I am not sure what he fed the carnivores that were on board," Jeff continued.
Steve replied, "If we are lucky we'll sail right into San Francisco Bay, but I suspect we will have to resort to fishing and collecting rainwater."
Inside the small shelter that was the remains of a tepee, Jeff used a food chest as a table and sat the compass on it to verify their direction. Fortunately the breeze had not changed and they were pleased to maintain a steady course. After about two hours, they left the Magadan bay and encountered their first real ocean swells. This caused a moderate rocking of the raft as the portside dipped only to be followed by the starboard.
When Jeff lost sight of the land, the gentle rocking made him nauseous. He crouched in agony for the rest of the morning. He was still feeing seasick by mid afternoon but had not vomited. Not able to alleviate the problem, he asked Steve to hold his legs while he dipped his head in the water. The shock of the cold salt water worked and his queasiness was all but gone for the rest of the day.
When it came time to ingest some food for supper, a mystery can was opened. Unlike their preparations for winter travels, they did not have any means to cook food. The stock would be eaten directly from the cans until such time that they would extract fish from the ocean. All of the water they brought would be for drinking. Although they found a couple of bars of soap in Magadan, any cleaning would be done with salt water from the ocean. Of course they hadn't actually bathed in years.
Rather than trust the uncertainties of the voyage to chance, the small shelter on the raft was intended to hold just a single occupant in the prone position. Steve made the first attempt to sleep on the raft and managed to lose consciousness shortly before he was awakened for his watch. Jeff kept vigil this first night at sea during the short period of darkness. When they switched places, Jeff had not fallen asleep before the early sunrise.
On the second day, travel became more routine, as the pattern was established, and both travelers were able to enjoy a full sleep period. Clouds had moved-in, but the homemade compass served its purpose in helping the now confident sailors keep on course.