“Watch Porn:” Horo-Erotica & the History of Telling Time at Sea

Yes, this is a serious Blog Rant! Yes – we’ll have some fun with it too. Why not? Isn’t that what this is all about?!

No… the title doesn’t mean “go watch porn.” You be you, of course, but it’s in the sense of anything that we obsess about on the internet these days and watch a lot of YouTube, Vimeo, Insta, etc about it. In this case, it’s just wrist watches. I’ve developed a minor obsession with them of late.

That’s not a watch… THIS is a watch! This is a total statement, too, to the tune of, say… $300,000? Flying tourbillon in the shape of a propeller; anchor that might or might not do something; best moonphase complication ever; something about tides too! From Ulysee Nardin, a preeminent Swiss manufacture who’ve been around since 1846, and in the same facility at Le Locle for almost all that time.

Not sure how it started. Must have seen an Insta ad that grabbed me by the second hand. I do recall that soon after college, during my first job (office, not ‘Below Deck’), I started to like watches. I figured that if I ever made it rich, I’d have a serious watch collection. I was really intrigued by the Movado Museum watch (which, of course, is still going strong with umpteen variations on the original theme).

Never did start that watch collection. Never too late, of course. Have to start somewhere; tried out a few but starting to realize how complicated it is. You know.. complications. Moonphase; chronometer; day/date; GMT; heartbeat/skeleton… etc, etc. So many complications. (In case you didn’t know, that’s the horological term for a feature or function.)

So, what’s the big deal with watches and telling time at sea? Where’s the porn I promised? (It’s coming, it’s coming…)

Tme for… some mermaid on nympho action? From the Classico series, also by Ulysse Nardin, as painted by the artist Milo Manara. They like their erotica and great white sharks, but they also like traditional and elegant watches as well as funky new design concepts. MSRP: $26,900. More to come…. you’ve been warned!

The big deal is… LONGITUDE.

Latitude and Longitude have two meanings related to this topic and the Sailing Center:

  • Latitude/Longitude was a fragrance from Nautica. They hired us to re-create realistic lat/lon coordinates from a film shoot of a TV spot. They filmed near Cabo San Lucas. Based on the time of day they sailed, the angles of the sun, etc, etc, we came up with some coordinates they could add as a screen graphic that were in the area. We didn’t represent them as the coordinates of the vessel as depicted in the shot. (They sort of did.) We told them that anyone trying to find fault wouldn’t be able to. Still have the charts lying around somewhere – Defense Mapping Agency renditions at both harbor and general scales.
  • Much more importantly, latitude and longitude form the man-made position grid that is used for navigation worldwide. It’s what GPS was built on.

What’s the relationship of watches and horology to longitude? Both latitude and longitude are position references, but they each have another property that’s mutually exclusive. For latitude, it’s distance. The parallels are equidistant. For longitude, yes- you guessed it… TIME.

Centuries ago, the concepts were well developed and understood. Ashore, it was easy enough to measure both and determine a reasonably accurate position. But at sea, while measuring latitude was annoyingly doable, it was just impossible with longitude. Why? There wasn’t a device that could keep accurate time over the course of, well…. time. Time on the ocean. The longer a voyage, and the rougher it was, the worse that got. When temperature and atmospheric pressure changed, so did the functioning of timepieces. The existing methods were difficult or impossible to use over the course of an extended sea voyage, or during certain moon phases. Add bad weather, and, well… you were aground or lost.

“She wast lost, but then was found…”

We warned you! But you kept reading… more from the mind of Milo. Shark had enough apparently. Yes – this is actually a real watch available for sale in limited quantities. All these screen snatches are straight from the Ulysse Nardin site. But there are a number of other depictions in the series that are more universally suitable for public unveiling; more examples to come.

One particularly disastrous sea voyage pissed off the British Crown to the point of offering a prize for solving the problem. In 1707, a naval fleet foundered on bad shoals off the Scilly Isles, losing four ships and almost two thousand men. A simple sailor tried to warn of the impending danger, as he’d kept his own careful deduced reckoning and was certain they were about to run afoul of the treacherous area. He was summarily executed for his trouble, as he would well have known was a risk at the time. Imagine what went through Admiral Sir Clowdesley Shovell’s mind (1; whew! 2. Origin of “shoveling shit?”). The guy he just hanged was right. Too late… Karma is tough. The Admiral was one of only two seamen to make it to shore. He was murdered for his emerald bling; the woman who did it confessed on her deathbed in a last minute act of contrition long afterward. Can’t make this shit up!

So, who solved this less than delicate debacle? Many people took stabs at it over many decades. Some tried to use celestial methods to determine longitude while at sea; others tried to make timepieces that remained accurate on ocean voyages. That’s what ultimately worked. Simple concept; hard to make. The chronometer was conceived long before it was built, and the name was first coined in 1714 by someone who hadn’t made an effective one. But it was eventually made, and further refined by himself and others who followed in his footsteps. And it was made by…

One John Harrison, an English carpenter and clock maker. And it took much of his life.

John Harrison, in a portrait depicting his chronometer on a map to the left.

Ever heard of him?  Probably not.  Heard of Galileo?  Sure you have! He was just one of many minds who tried to solve the issue of determining longitude at sea by lunar methods, or tracking the moon’s movements in relation to stars and the sun.  

Harrison?  He made a watch that could accurately tell time on extended sea voyages.  That was much simpler and more reliable.  But, it took a few large, less wieldy prototypes before his very portable time piece evolved.  Plus, he fought battles for decades against the prevailing politic and conventional wisdoms of his day, and – truth be told – himself.   Decade.  DecADES.  It took awhile.

H1: Harrison’s first marine chronometer, made between 1730 and 1735. This illustrates that he was a clockmaker, not a watchmaker – but that didn’t stop him from being the first to create an actual watch that did the trick. And, the 75-pound machine above worked! It kept time at sea in rough weather on relatively short but rough voyages. It never did the tran-Atlantic trial run that was required to claim the prize offered by the Board of Longitude. H1 and Harrison’s other creations are on exhibit for the public to see at the Royal Museums of Greenwich.

The end result?  A carpenter and clock maker who no one had heard of laid the foundation for safe navigation at sea and better timepieces.  He never even founded a watchmaking concern.  (John Arnold, who was a rising horologist, did.  But his legacy truly began after he read what was published about Harrison’s work, and took it to the next level in simplicity and efficient production.) Here is Harrison’s masterpiece…

H4; Harrison’s smallest and best piece, which he duplicated as did others. This pocket-sized watch crossed the Atlantic, keeping amazingly accurate time – besting the standards set by the Board of Longitude to claim the cash prize, which they never fully awarded him. King George III rectified the cash flow but not the insult.

Today, Arnold & Son claims that the first timepiece to be called a “chronometer” was one of theirs.  This is false. Arnold wasn’t born until 18 years after Englishman Jeremy Thacker first created a clock that he called a chronometer, in writing, and diagrams of it survive to this day. In fact, Thacker’s invention was made specifically as a marine chronometer designed to solve the longitude problem and claim the prize purse of 20,000 pounds. Did it?

No. It wasn’t good enough. It had an inherent flaw: it couldn’t deal with significant temperature changes.

Regardless, Arnold done good, chiefly by proving that chronometers could be mass produced and therefore accessible. Arnold improved and simplified Harrison’s chronometer. It must be noted that Harrison’s piece was more than good enough, and exceeded the standards set by the Board of Longitude: to determine longitude within half a degree. How does that translate into time? Plus or minus 3 seconds or less per day on average, yielding 2 minutes over a six-week ocean voyage from England to the Caribbean. Thacker’s clock came close-ish: up to 6 seconds per day, although usually less. But that wasn’t while at sea with temps changing over time, and with the motion of the ocean to boot. Still, it seems impressive now for 1714!

Redemption! Almost as many sailing depictions as soft porns. Have to zoom in a bit to see the woman in the second shot, but she’s there flying solo.

And, what of Harrison’s contraptions? His H1 clock did vey well from England to Lisbon, but never went all the way across the Atlantic. He had himself to blame for that; he could have tried to claim the Longitude prize by demanding a sea trial and taking his chances on the results. Instead, he verbally beat up on his clock to the Board, and asked for stipends to continue work on a better version. They gladly went along based on the promise the first clock held out. That was in 1735, five years after he began work on it.

And his watch? Several decades and two clock contraptions later, the H4 watch was completed went on two trans-Atlantics from England to the Caribbean. The first was in 1761/62; the second in 1764. How did it do?

  • Trial one: over 147 overall days out and back, it lost just under 2′ total time.
  • Trial two: over 156 overall days, the average error was 39 seconds. This was good enough to deduce the position of the island of Barbados within 10 nautical miles, which was 3x better than the requirement of the Board of Longitude! They noted that they were…

“Unanimously of opinion that this said time keeper has kept its time with sufficient correctness.”

Muckety Mucks of the Board of Longitude

Yet, Harrison wasn’t officially awarded the prize from the Board. Ever. He did eventually get the rest of the money, but it was only by a magnanimous act of Parliament, facilitated by the intervention of King George III himself. The King became interested after Harrison’s son, William, who went on the actual sea trials, petitioned him for an audience. George used his own personal observatory to officially monitor the accuracy of Harrison’s timepiece (along with Harrison and another individual) . He then advised Harrison on how to approach Parliament.

No one was EVER awarded the top prize from the Board of Longitude. Harrison came closest with a considerable sum of money over time, and the admission from the Board noted above. Eventually, the advent of affordable and accurate chronometers made the Board moot and it was disbanded. But it was Harrison who pioneered the path of timekeeping and navigation precision.

And, what do we have now in the way of a chronometer? What’s the modern-day standard of accuracy?

Tissot’s Heritage Navigator, a re-issue of their centennial piece from 1953. It’s a world-time mechanical watch, and it’s an officially certified Chronometer. This is just one example of a modern day chronometer. They range from inexpensive, very accurate quartz models to Breitling and Rolex standard issue fancy-lad wrist lashings.

Watches are synonymous with Switzerland. And the Swiss non-profit/industry association COSC governs the standards. The Controle Officiel Suisse Des Chronometres (Whew!) is the only entity that certifies Swiss watches to have met the accuracy and consistency standards that earn the title “Chronometer.” A small percentage of all watches bear that mark, whether because they aren’t good enough or they simply haven’t been submitted for certification. Each timepiece that passes has its actual movement engraved with a number and gets an official certificate. That applies to both watches and clocks.

How good do they have to be? It’s complicated… but it appears to currently be to -4/+6 seconds on average per day for mechanical watches. Apparently, Japanese standards are slightly more rigorous (Grand Seiko being a brand that meets them). Quartz watches are significantly more accurate with a standard of less than 1 second of error per day.

Victorinox’ Officer Chronograph – not a chronometer – atop a copy of Longitude with Harrison’s hand clutching his H4 from a contemporary portrait. This quartz watch retails for $795 unless on sale, but can sometimes be had for under $300 – as was the case with the one right here. Chronographs have stopwatch functions.

So, compared to today’s machine world, Harrison’s chronometer from 250 years ago was not only better than its time, but just better. His H1 through H4 pieces are still on display for the public to appreciate in Greenwich, England… also known as zero degrees Longitude.

Ed. note: Most of the Harrison and related references in this post were sourced from the book pictured above: Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Author: Dava Sobel. We highly recommend this book, and especially the Illustrated version The Illustrated Longitude, with substantial illustration and captioning by co-author William J. H. Andrewes. Want the video version? There’s a Nova episode which is available on DVD!

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iNavX: not just for iPhone anymore!

Now, one app does it all.  iNavX just announced that it’s available for Android.  And, it can run Navionics.

One stop shopping.  Comes at a price: $30.  That’s an expensive app.  But it used to be $50, and worth it, even before it integrated with other chart app software.  So, you get what you pay for – and sometimes you get rewarded and pay less for it!

Who cares?  What’s so special about iNavX?

First, a word or 50 about charting apps.  They’re a great resource when you have cell service on the water – which, for most of us, is most of the time.  They show where you are in real time just like a dedicated GPS chartplotter but for pennies on the dollar.  Even without cell service, you can look at the charts for planning purposes.   However, just as with anything else electronic, they can fail, go overboard, or just run out of power.  And, you can’t plot a course or position on them with a pencil.

Having said that, most of us want to be using them to supplement our paper charts.  It’s just as foolish to swear off them as to over-rely on them.

And now, why iNavX…

iNavX is the quintessential (if not only) chart app that uses digital imagery of real charts.  It’s a static display.  What you see on the chart is what you get on the screen.  You can zoom in and out, but it’s like cropping a photo.  The same stuff is there.

Example of iNavX:

Screen capture of an approach to the Cape Cod Canal from iNavX chart app. This is what the equivalent paper chart would look like, as this is scanned directly from the same file.

Pros:

  • like we said – what you see is what you get: consistency.
  • More practice reading the same style chart makes it all faster and easier.

Cons:

  • not available for all areas.
  • Must ‘switch’ charts in the app when your position crosses the boundary.

The popular Navionics app uses ‘vector’ scan tech.  The app uses its own colors and presentation to display essentially the same data that a chart would, but it is responsive and dynamic.  As one zooms in or out, the scale changes.  If the user selects a different size area, the amount of detail changes in inverse proportion.  Translation: what you see is what the app chooses to show you.  Ask for more area, and you get less detail.  Stuff disappears.

Example of Navionics:

Navionics display of basically same area and scale as the previous iNavX image. This is vector scanning. Captured from the Navionics web site. Resolution slightly degraded from how it would likely appear in-app, but you get the picture. Different type of display.  Nb: the near complete lack of depth soundings – prime example of data disappearing.

Pros:

  • broad coverage: more regions available worldwide.
  • seamlessly switches ‘charts’ without interruption or input from user.

Cons:

  • changing graphics causes visual confusion
  • inconsistency with paper chart presentation can do the same
  • both above slow things down
  • And, like we said – the chief culprit?  Stuff disappears.  If one zooms out pretty far for ‘small’ scale (large area in smaller detail), reefs and shoals can disappear, and the app doesn’t tell you that it just erased something – including the shoal you were, and still are, aimed at.

A few years ago, a boat in the Volvo Ocean Race ran aground off a tiny island essentially in the middle of nowhere in the Indian Ocean.  The area is called the Cargados Carajos Shoals, about 270 miles off Maritius.  Everyone on all the boats knew they were going to pass close by one of the islands.  One ran aground while sailing at close to 20 knots at night.  It’s somewhere between possible and probable that vector scan charting software that was overzoomed contributed to this mistake.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  But, the coral was damaged, and the boat was essentially wrecked.

Our recommendation?  Get iNavX and be done with it.  If you want to play around with vector charts as well, then get the $29 add-on for Navionics and run that within iNavX so you have options at your disposal.  In the interest of full disclosure, Navionics alone, outside of iNavX, is $10.  It’s called Boating and has a similar logo.

Happy Hunting!

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Lighting up a Light House

A client of ours is originally from Canada, and two buddies and he did 103 and 104 with us one season before doing their first bareboat charter in the BVI.

Adam’s uncle got involved with a latent lighthouse in Ontario, Canada. He’s on the local preservation committee, and had been trying to get it lit back up. Apparently, it was a somewhat uphill battle as there were concerns about the light shining on shoreside homes at night and being intrusive.  The major’s office was involved and favored the light being back on, so that helped.
Here’s an excerpt from the original Notice to Mariners in 1917 that announced the construction of this light!..
For its return, the compromise was to aim the light across the bay at another peninsula rather than sweep across the shore or just aim 360 all around.  Our mission: confirm the exact bearing, and show/explain why we came up with the magic number.
(Truth be told, Adam was more than capable of doing this himself, having successfully taken and passed 103, 104 and 105 with us and then applied it in the BVI. But this had to come from us as the outside experts.)
Anywho, Adam enlisted us to be the alleged experts to plot the angle of the light and show how we’d done it.

Dividers (nautical drafting compass) set exactly on the two points; protractor triangle was laid carefully against them to be on the correct bearing. Then, triangle was carefully moved to a meridian of longitude to read the bearing in true degrees. This was converted to magnetic so bearings could be taken from either point in real time to confirm.
1. Get the right chart.  Adam took care of this: NOAA #14832, Upper Niagara River, ending in Lake Erie.

2. ID the light in question: “Light House,” on Point Abino.  No characteristics shown as it’s idle.

3. ID the exact spot the new light is supposed to be aimed at: SW corner of the peninsula across the bay at the other end of Crystal Beach.
4. Measure the bearing painstakingly several times with at least two methods and get a consistent answer: 61 degrees magnetic.

There you have it.  And thar she glows…

The light house at Point Abino, Ontario, with its beacon aimed back across the bay.
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