Sam Llewellyn contemplates alternative uses for his chart table only to be rudely reminded of its original, essential function: chartwork!
Useless thing, these days, the chart table. Once, the navigator crouched over it, tensely twiddling the wheel on his Breton plotter, dividers at hand, pencils rolling to the swells, drenched in the blood-red glow of the night vision lamp. ‘Where are we?’ calls the helmsman down the hatch. ‘Thirty miles north-west of Ushant,’ replies the navigator, his voice full of a confidence that he and the helmsman both know he does not feel. And so the long night wears on towards a landfall everyone hopes will at least be on the right continent.
That was then, but this is now, and now is different. The helmsman is watching the plotter screen on the pedestal of the wheel. The navigator has a duplicate screen down below, and may occasionally make a mark on a paper chart, to show willing and in case the boat ends up wrapped round a supertanker’s anchor and nobody notices until a docker points it out in Rotterdam. In this case the heirs and assigns may wish to gratify a justifiable curiosity about exactly where the deceased became deceased. Marking the chart, though, is a job that can be done on the saloon table as easily as on the chart table.
Face it – on a 30ft boat built in the last century, a chart table occupies a significant chunk of valuable space. In an environment in which onions are stored in nets and tins of beans in every cranny of the bilges it is therefore important to work out a way of using this large and potentially useful area to good effect.
Usually a chart table is designed for use by only one person, so it is not easily converted into a convivial dining space. It might also in theory be possible with the aid of a jigsaw to hack it into a bar billiards facility, but thanks to the inherent instability of the marine surface billiards at sea has always been a problem except in French charter catamarans.
You could also, again in theory, remove the whole works, but this suggests a lack of nautical cred and may lead people to think that you do not know what you are doing. Repurposing is probably the answer. Suggestions and caveats:
1. Breakfast table. Nobody likes talking to anyone else at breakfast, and tucking into the eggs and b while glaring in a hostile manner at the VHF may just give your day a bonzer solitary start.
2. Workspace. In the post-COVID era, home offices are all the rage, and a chart table makes an excellent desk. If you enjoy working surrounded by pictures of pets and family, you will have to stick them in place with chewing gum or similar. Still, this magazine is not called Practical Boat Owner for nothing, and readers will certainly find a way.
3. It is a really good place to read the newspaper on a windy day. Get copy of paper, spread it out, make coffee, close hatch against breeze and luxuriate.
4. Occasional kitchen extension for making polenta mixture – as follows: oil chart table, pour polenta mixture on chart table, wait to cool, roll polenta mixture off chart table, attempt to remove oil from chart table with petrol, then carbon tetrachloride, then vinegar – none of which will work. Scrub it with Fairy Liquid, which will work sort of, but the smell will still be revolting. Unscrew chart table and throw into sea. Eat polenta with sauce of tomatoes, garlic etc. Sit down to edit Marine Quarterly. Notice chart table is missing. Turn boat round and retrieve chart table from sea using MOB drill. Notice that all trace of olive oil has now vanished. Reattach chart table. Rejoice.
5. Notice that thanks to deteriorating international situation rogue killer satellites have shot down all GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and other providers of position information, and that ship’s screens have as a result gone blank. Open drawer under chart table. Sweep aside five years of pencil sharpenings, wine bottle corks and lost socks and retrieve paper chart. Rush on deck and take three point bearing on mountain, Butlins and lighthouse. Return to chart table and construct cocked hat using plotter, chart and pencil. Fill in log every half hour. Judge distance off by doubling the angle on the bow. Conclude that another night at sea will be necessary. Bury head in hands. Seek somewhere to put elbows during burying. Notice that the chart table is the ideal place.
Originally published in PBO December 2020