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“The Digipilot worked beautifully. When steering with what they called “The Iron Mike” the course recorder recording was a very jagged line and back and forth rudder movement was constant. When we switched on the DigiPilot within a few minutes the jagged line turned into a smooth lazy S. The Captain was concerned this was the result of constant rudder movement and sent a mate to the engine room to observe the ships rudder. The mate reported the rudder was making very small corrections when controlled by the DigiPilot and constant changes and larger rudder angles when controlled by the iron mike. The Captain went to the engine room to observe the rudder movement first hand. He was extremely impressed with the DigiPilot course keeping while reducing the number of rudder activations and smaller rudder angles. He calculated the DigiPilot system would pay for itself “in no time” with the resulting increase in speed, fuel savings and less wear and tear on the steering system”
I was on the Mormacsun, a tanker that carried heating oil from Venezuela to Boston in the winter months. I was the chief mate, standing the 4-8 watch in the evening. We had an early version of a modern high-tech radar called a Digiplot. It was a real asset to watch standing with a reduced crew. It would compute and plot all radar targets, and sound an alarm if one of them was on a collision course. The Digiplot sounded the CPA alarm, meaning there was a target out there that would come within half a mile of us in the next 20 minutes. I looked on the radar, but could not see anything. I scanned the horizon in the position indicated by the Digiplot, but saw nothing in the darkening sky. The alarm continued to sound intermittently for the next few minutes. suspected there must be something, probably a small target, a pleasure craft or fishing boat, or perhaps just some oil drums or junk floating on the water.
I had faith in the Digiplot, it had proved useful many times in the past. I put the ship on hand steering, that is the able seaman took over the helm instead of the auto-pilot. I continued to scan the ocean with my binoculars, looking for the target. Nothing could be seen, and we maintained our course and speed. At the designated time of CPA (closest point of approach) I was on the starboard wing with my binoculars. Finally, I detected a small glow close to our starboard bow, almost dead ahead. It was only a few hundred yards away, and almost impossible to see without binoculars. I yelled “Hard Right” and we began our swing to starboard. I realized what I had seen was the light from a compass binnacle in the cockpit of a sail boat. It was reflecting off the sail, which is what saved that yachtsman.
We swung far enough that the boat passed down our port side, and when the bow wave hit the boat, he quickly threw on all his running lights, as well as the “spreader” lights. I had been calling him on the VHF for the past 15 minutes to no avail. I merely said into the radio,”It’s too late to put on lights now”. That yacht was saved by the Digiplot. If I had been on a ship not equipped with it, I would most likely have hit him, and never known it.
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