Saturday, September 11, 2010

Charts and NY Nautical

As I started planning this little 350 mile jaunt through Alaska, the first major task was route planning. Where we would actually be going. I have a few good books, and a few maps, but I did a lot of the early planning with Google Earth. I am a huge fan of google earth, both before and after a trip. To see the route, look at possible campsites - sort of - and generally get a feel for where we are going, and what is going to need to happen. It gives a wonderful birds eye view of the route. You can see the major crossings, and where the walls squeeze in.

But of course, I need to bring charts - and maps, but that's another post - with me. Some quick research showed me that the route would cover three NOAA Charts. They were 17300, 17360 and 17420. The NOAA makes them available for download in high resolution. They also offer something perfect for kayakers. Booklet charts. Again, they are free charts that are suitable for download and printing, but they are cut into much smaller sections. They print at 8.5 by 11, so they are suitable for a regular printer and fit in traditional binders. I downloaded the full size charts, and figured for route planning I would have them printed. At this stage it is better to see the whole route spread out before you. I downloaded them, and brought then into photoshop, aligning the images into one master map. After cropping and aligning it measured 40 x 48 covering the whole route. I figured I would print it out someplace commercially but after looking into it I found that it would be as expensive as buying the full size waterproof NOAA charts. At the time I had a trip home planned, and remembered that downtown Manhattan there is an amazing place called New York Nautical. I had been there once, but had never purchased anything and I decided that this would be the perfect thing. The day that I decided to make the trip an old friend and I had planned on going into Manhattan to a favorite place to relax, and before hand we would stop at New York Nautical.

It is a fairly non-descript place, on a side street way down town. Upon entering it was a small space with large chart tables in the center, with what seems like hundreds of flat, open drawers holding charts by the thousands. The walls were lined with cases displaying all sorts of navigational tools, and aids. Brass compasses, Dividers. Bells, lights. Two gentleman were sitting at desks, one on the phone, the other stood and asked if he could help us. I mentioned that I was looking for three NOAA charts of Alaska. I gave him the numbers, and he started looking. He mentioned in passing that 'NOAA has had us shredding charts lately - so I don't know if I will have them'. His co-worker, still on the phone pointed to a different set of drawers, indicating they would be there. In no time all three had been found and placed on the large plotting tables. I slid my hands across the coast of southern Alaska and he handed me a long thick dowel to hold them open. He said 'take your time.' and walked away. It occurred to me that people must come here not sure of what charts they need, and peruse several before figuring out exactly which ones they require. I didn't give him time to sit down, and told him that these were the ones I needed, and I would take all three. He took out an old receipt pad and started writing a receipt for me. 'Vessel name' he asked? 'It's a kayak', I replied. 'Well give me a name or I have to charge you sales tax.' Not too sure of how having a vessel name saved me sales tax - I am sure it is some business incentive from 1840 or something like that - I told him sailing vessel Annabel lee, and he wrote it down and handed me the receipt with the total. I paid him and we were on our way. As we walked out onto the sidewalk in lower Manhattan I remembered something I taught my nephew a long time ago. He was probably only four or five at the time, now an adult, But I taught him a very important saying. 'Every adventure starts with a map'. And here I was with three charts of Southern Alaska. It was a start.

And let me tell you, when the charts are spread out on the floor they take up quite a bit of space. In fact it is fairly daunting.


  1. I'm up in Juneau, Alaska and following your blog. Next summer I'm planning to do a bunch of rowing around southeast Alaska - with over 10,000 miles of shoreline I have a lot to discover. You're clearly hooked but if you want a fun travel from home, check out This cooperative effort has photographed and filmed from low elevation at low tide almost all of the shoreline and all is in the public domain.

  2. Hey, another free resource from NOAA is their free booklet charts you can print yourself. They chop the full charts up and it can be a bit confusing if you don't print the entire thing (as I've tried while skimping on ink) but great for reviewing or printing a bit if your route doesn't warrant an entire huge expensive chart or you want a bit more detail.

    This is an experimental offering and they welcome feedback. I sent a thanks and it was gratefully received by the public employees who made this happen for paddlers.

  3. Thanks Karla. I have seen the booklet charts, but I hadn't seen the shorezone site. I will definitely check it out.

    thanks again.