November 2015 – Bob Bradfield

 Charting the Wild West

Bob Bradfield has been a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation for 35 years and made his first chart in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.

After retirement Bob headed out to the Antarctic and to the Arctic, getting to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and in 2008 he sailed round the UK. He became interested in charts, and learnt through experience how inaccurate and out-of-date so many charts are. Six years ago he founded Antares Charts and has since surveyed and completed more than 300 charts covering some of Scotland’s best (and trickiest) anchorages.

Loch Teacuis

Loch Teacuis

As he explained, there are paper charts, of course, as well now as electronic ones – raster or vector – but despite the fine presentation and technology it is amazing how limited and old the underlying survey data usually is. If one adopts the test of “fit for purpose” many waters are effectively uncharted. He showed us examples of charts from the 1860s that were more accurate and detailed than modern Admiralty charts, or their derivatives. He showed charts with such massive errors that they at best useless and, at worst, worse than useless. Scale is often inappropriate for anything other than passages; many lack positional accuracy; many misrepresent features – e.g. existence and location of rocks and wrecks!

Bob’s charting process is akin to cutting grass – to-ing and fro-ing in the dinghy to a tight pattern – but with GPS and echo sounder instead of mower. Then soundings are “reduced” to chart datum on basis of tidal state, and background from Ordnance Survey added. He has a side-scan sonar that gives an image of what is on the bottom, for further detail.

A fascinating tale of a lack in the market, the addressing of which turned into a hobby, that later became a full production activity. It was fascinating to hear how modern technology, coupled with skill and diligence, can make it possible for an individual to do things to high standards that even a few years ago could only be done with huge resources and big budgets.

Chris, our Vice Commodore, enthuses about Bob’s jewel-like charts that combine pinpoint accuracy with exquisite design, each a work of art. Best run on a helm-mounted iPad, they make some of the world’s most stunning anchorages accessible to mere mortals and are now featured in the updated Imray/Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions.