Monday, December 4, 2017

When Charts Lie - Part I

I'm sure we've all had the experience of looking ahead at buoys, comparing them to our charts and not finding anything that looks familiar. Meanwhile, the wind is howling, the current is running, shallow water is all around, and you've got to make a quick decision on what to do!

Even with good charts and all the buoys matching their placement on your charts, the stretch of the ICW just above Beaufort, NC, where the channel to Beaufort splits from the ICW is already one of the most confusing areas of the ICW. Imagine what it's like when the Coast Guard moves all the buoys and your charts (or any charts published, hard or soft copy) do not match reality! The world doesn't stop, you're moving along, boats are behind and also coming at you - do something!

When in doubt, follow the buoys - but wait, there are two sets of buoys here. One continuing the ICW and one for another inviting channel (which is straight ahead) leading to Beaufort. You had better be prepared for that decision.

I've put together a series of charts to show just how challenging it can be when things change on the ICW.

Here's an overview of the confusing area north of Beaufort, NC
Now let's take a look at various charts of the area.

Navionics NOAA ENC, no buoy numbers. Buoys are shown but not numbered. Green RS in the wrong position, R28A is shown but is no longer there, R30 is in the wrong position too. When approaching the turn, the buoys look nothing like this

Next up is the Navionics' own chart

Navionics (their own chart, has buoy numbers). What happened to R28A? Well, it was removed by the Coast Guard and R30 was moved to a new position and its new position is not shown. Green RS is moved to its current position.

 Next up is Navionics' SonarChart

Navionics SonarChart, buoys numbered, but somewhat hard to read. Where’s R28A? It’s been removed. R30 is not shown (it’s between R28 and R30A). At least Green RS is in the right spot.

Next up is another NOAA ENC chart, this one from AquaMap

 AquaMap, buoys are numbered but needs work (R30 number missing, RS is not labeled). R28A is shown but it’s not there (it was removed). R30 is shown (just below R28A) but it’s shown in the wrong position. Green RS is in the wrong position. It's the same as the Navionics NOAA ENC chart as it should be since it's from the same source.

So what is the real positions of the buoys??  Fortunately, there was a survey of the area done in June with the following results (the chart is tilted so it's roughly in the same orientation as the charts you just saw.

This is the survey for the turn on June 14, 2017. The buoys are shown in the correct positions. I’ve tilted the chart to roughly correspond to the orientation of the previous charts. The correct path is to split R28 and G29 and then turn by R30 and follow along towards G30A but do not hug the red buoys. This is already a confusing area but it’s made even more confusing by the buoy changes which none of the charts show. Even the supposedly real-time updated charts by Navionics and certainly not by NOAA ENC charts show correct buoy placement, at least not at present.

One more thing of note. If you're headed to Beaufort, on which side do you pass the green "RS" buoy? In its old position, many boats were passing "RS" to port heading south and running into shallow water before they could turn to starboard and into the channel. In my guide, I show passing "RS" to starboard and continuing on down the channel. Even with "RS" relocated farther north, it's still best to pass "RS" to starboard and don't hug R2 when headed for Beaufort.

I look at all this stuff when I do my yearly guides but things still change after my guide is published - so when in doubt, follow the buoys. There’s a lot of shallow water in the area!