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The "watch" watch

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November 1999
The Watch Watch

We were crossing the Atlantic, nothing but open sea around us. We kept a casual watch during the day as we had done for years, one or the other of us peeking out occasionally to check for ships, squalls. Larry looked up from the book he was enjoying and said, "it's been at least twenty minutes since one of us looked out." I almost fainted when I poked my head clear of the hatch to find a huge ship only two hundred yards off our port quarter, steaming right across our track. That was not the first time we'd had a surprise when our intended fifteen minute look around was delayed by a good meal, a good book, a good discussion. But this was too close. So in Bermuda we shopped until we found a count-down stopwatch/wristwatch alarm combo. The Casio watch we chose, cost $59.95 and has already proven to be worth that and more.

Now, 24 hours a day at sea, one of us has the watch-watch on his/her wrist, three hours at a time. It is set to sound its beeper and flash its lights every eleven minutes. When it does, whoever is wearing the watch goes out on deck for a complete look around the horizon. Sure glad I had it as we approached Maine. A new fisheries research buoy had been set only that morning and we would have hit it had I come out less often. Its position was announced two hours later on NOAA radio.

The beeper is quiet enough so that it does not disturb the sleeping crew, but loud enough so the wearer cannot ignore it. We chose eleven minute intervals by timing several fast moving ships as they approached us directly along our course. We waited until they were alongside, then counted the minutes until they were completely below the horizon. In good visibility we found this to be 15 to 18 minutes. As this would be the fastest potential collision course, we felt a once every eleven minute look around should give us a good margin of safety.

I thought the watch would be annoying to use. Instead it seems to make each watch go faster as it helps mark the time. It also takes the guilt out of reading an enjoyable book in the cockpit or down below decks as I know I will not get so absorbed that I forget time and my responsibilities for the safety of our boat and others who travel the same seas.

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