Radar Love

How had we come so many miles without this marvel?

September 17, 2012

Del Viento- fog

We have entered the land of fog. Michael Robertson

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel… Don’t know the song? It was a huge hit in 1973 by the Dutch band Golden Earring. There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel… Once it’s in your head, it kind of sticks. And it’s been in my head lately…in the fog…on night watches.

But let me back up.

Radar was installed on our boat before we bought it. Mounted 10 feet up on a 3-inch-diameter dedicated stern pole, the covered radome was the first thing I noticed in the listing photos because it was about the size of the ones you see on, oh…warships. Down below, mounted on its own shelf was a monitor so large it was like a wall that blocked off the nav station. I think Raymarine produced this model in 1948.


“Well, if we buy this boat, that’s the first thing I’ll remove,” I said to Windy.

“What? Why would you do that? It says in the listing the radar works fine.”

“I’ve read about these old units, they’re worthless. You have to plan ahead to use them because they take about 20 minutes to warm up—and then when they do warm up, they suck about a million amps out of the batteries. There’s just no point having it aboard.”


Radar was something we would never really need or use aboard Del Viento. Radar was a nice-to-have item that hundreds—no, thousands of voyagers (all with a lot more miles under their keel than me) have done without. Radar was exhibit one in a long list of “safety” gear that manufacturers have scared boaters into thinking they need. Not me. Instead of purchasing a false sense of security in the form of tens of thousands of dollars of “must-have” safety equipment, I would exercise the sound judgment and practice the good seamanship that served the Roths and the Hiscocks so well. Otherwise, where does the spending insanity end?

Not with Windy.

“I don’t want to get rid of something that works until we’ve lived with it.”


So live with it we did.

For nearly a year I tried to forget about it, but the manual was a thick, typewritten tome that took up space. The monitor seemed to grow every time I bent around it to sit at the nav station. I convinced myself we were losing half a knot from the windage of that AWACS radome. But I said nothing…until one evening in La Paz, Mexico watching the sunset aboard _Nyon_.

I brought it up casually with Rick and Kyra, “So you guys lived and sailed up in Victoria, B.C. and are now cruising, but I notice Nyon doesn’t have radar…” (Do you know why most trial lawyers are smarter than I am? They learned long ago not to ask a question in front of a jury unless they know the response.)


Kyra answered. I remember she said that they did just fine without radar, and largely considered it an unnecessary expense…except for the couple times they were stuck in fog and could hear the rumbling of large ship propellers all around them, fog horns blasting, surf on the rocks, and thought they were going to die.

Windy’s eyes were wide.

Last April, on our bash north up the Baja peninsula, the massive aluminum radar pole broke free of the supporting blocks glassed to the hull down below and two of the bolts securing the deck collar sheared through. Rejoice! The thing was a menace, swaying from side to side and slowly cutting a hole in our transom. Surely it would all have to go when we reached San Diego! Windy never accused me of sabotage, but the thought likely occurred to her.

It felt like the interior volume of our boat doubled when I removed the old monitor. Together the radome and pole must have weighed 100 pounds. All of the old wiring I ripped out formed a huge, satisfying bundle of waste cleaned out of our boat and recycled. Success!

And then I realized that we would replace all that I removed—with new radar.

“Absolutely. We’re likely to find ourselves in fog, in the shipping lanes.”

I just did it. I didn’t resist and nor did I resent; she was probably right.

We bought the new solid-state, svelte Furuno unit in San Diego. Three months later we were in King Salmon, on Humboldt Bay, when I finally finished the installation and powered it up for the first time. The radar seemed to work fine, but the display resembled a green Jackson Pollack painting. It likely looked that way because we were not on the open ocean, all around us were homes and boats and a maze of King Salmon canals–and maybe it still required adjustment for the cable length, I didn’t know. And secretly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care a great deal how or whether it worked. I was glad only that my obligation to install the thing—this expensive thing we didn’t really need and would likely never use—was complete.

Two days later we left King Salmon and motored out the channel, past the break water and back into the Pacific Ocean, leaving Humboldt Bay on our way to Astoria, Oregon. Within 12 hours, the fog descended. It wasn’t thick at first, but with the night it turned to pea soup, one of the blackest nights I’ve spent at sea. I turned on the radar and I played with the gain and range settings. Within minutes I easily correlated buoys on our chart with objects on the radar screen, passing by. Outside I could see little beyond the glow of our running lights at the bow, but on the radar screen I could see a dozen fishing boats around us and mark our progress as we navigated a clear path safely through the fleet.

How had we come so many miles without this marvel?

I’m smitten. Radar is like a garage door opener—once you have one, it is difficult to imagine that you ever parked in your driveway in the rain, got out of your car to open the garage door, and then drove in. Our new Furuno friend was powered up all night for each of the three nights of our passage from Eureka, CA to Astoria, OR—even when the visibility was good. During one of my night watches when we had good visibility, I glanced at the radar screen as I came below after spending 10 minutes in the cockpit surveying an empty horizon. There was a pretty strong target showing 6 miles off the starboard bow. Huh? I went back topsides, focused on that part of the horizon, and soon discerned the faint light of the vessel I missed.

Radar love indeed.


I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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