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Road Test



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One of the many unique experiences of my freighter adventure was my opportunity to “take the helm”.  I am guessing I am the first person on my block to steer a 500 foot freighter.  I had worked up my nerve, asked the first mate and was surprised that the answer was yes.  Over the course of the trip I steered for perhaps four hours or so, total.

Admiral Judd takes a turn at the helm of the Katrin S. No, I didn't really run around the ship wearing my "admiral" hat... I did, however, want to get a shot of myself at the helm with it on.

The responsiveness of the ship was, predictably, very sluggish.  The ship had a lot of inertia.  When it was going straight, it didn’t seem eager to respond.  Once it started turning, however, the turn rate kept increasing unless the rudder was eased off.  The wind and the waves had a noticeable effect on the helm, and it took a constant effort to keep on course.  The instrument display provided a constant indication of how far off course the ship was (in meters).  The more time I spent at the helm, the better I was able to maintain course.

While at the helm, I had a few interesting experiences, including the chance to make three turns while at the helm.  The first turn, while passing eastbound around a small peninsula on the south part of Haiti, was not all that successful, in my opinion.  I under-steered at first, then overcorrected, requiring quite a bit of rudder in the opposite direction to get out of the turn.  It was a humbling experience.

I didn’t take the helm again for another week, coincidentally at almost this same spot but going in the other direction.  I had learned from my experiences the week before, was more familiar with the navigation equipment, and received a few interesting tests.  The first came as a number of small radar targets appeared on the radar ahead of us.  As we approached, the 2nd mate identified them as small sail-rigged fishing boats.  Studying the radar, he commanded headings for me to follow.  “Right 280”, then a minute or so later, “Left 265”.  It was like stringing a needle, as far as I was concerned.  I couldn’t believe that he let me man the helm during this critical point of our trip.

The high point of my “turn at the helm” came a half hour or so later at the southwest point of Haiti.  It was here that I really got to see how the ship handled.  In order to stay on course, I needed to make a 60-degree starboard turn.  Unlike my first turn, a week earlier, this one was almost flawless… at least it seemed that way to me.  Sextant (section-end indicator)

Continue to the next section of Freighter Bum: The Engine Room.



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