GPS Learning Experience

Gail Ferris


This is another one of those true confession stories and yes it really did happen to me while I was out there in my kayak paddling on a perfectly clear day mind you.

You know you would think life could not be this complicated, especially on a clear day, but it happened to me.

So there I was in the picture below off an island that was only a mile or so away from this site where the picture is taken from.


GPS 01


This picture is taken in the evening the sun was to the north as you can see on the large iceberg on the far left side of the picture.  The island, Qaersorssuatsiaq, is less than two miles away in the center. At the time I was paddling the large iceberg to the far left had moved elsewhere on the current. 

From this view it does not look like it would be hard to return to where I am standing does it?  Ah that is where all the trouble starts.  I thought that it would be very easy to see this place from where I was setting out because my route was a straight line back from Qaersorssuatsiaq.

I paddled across only occasionally looking back at Innarsuit and the large bays on my right side behind me. 

These landmarks stayed in view not changing in the slightest but I did not think about what might be happening to the view of the opening I had started out from on my left behind me.

Turning around in a kayak to view something directly behind me is a ordeal for me because I find that I do not have that much torso flexibility and I hate turning my entire kayak around.  I would rather just take my chances and keep facing forward. 

Little did I realize how much that view behind me was actually changing.

I thought to myself “well this will be a practice session with my GPS just to check on myself.  The session will be sort of like instrument flying in an airplane where the pilot trusts that his instruments are telling him where he is without using visual landmark references.”

I had taught myself to take waypoints and keep track of which point was which on the GPS and then I taught myself, or so I thought, how to use the “Go To” function.

This is a close up photo of the passage I thought I was supposed to be heading for.  You can see it is a large wide passage.  I became lost is this passage in the fog a few days earlier when I did not use my GPS at all.


GPS 02 the crossing Qaersorssuasiaq


Then I began thinking about my perspective point because where I was starting out from was really farther north than where I arrived when I crossed over to the Island.  Because I was now farther north naturally things would look different – in fact a lot different so – then I realized that I was not really looking closely at my GPS to notice the direction of my kayak within the go to route on the way back. 

At least I had the correct go to point but within the route my kayak was not pointing exactly in the direction if the route.

First I thought that this can be – not me – never. 


GPS 03


Then I thought that maybe the arrow pointer was a little off because my GPS was not oriented exactly with the center line of my kayak.  So I carefully repositioned my GPS as closely to the center line as could be.  And still the kayak orientation direction arrow was off as I paddled along keeping my goal precisely in alignment. And worse yet doing everything as precisely as possible so that all was lined up just right something was wrong.

Something was definitely wrong because my orientation arrow was off and my distance was increasing even though I was getting closer visually that what was really happening was that I was heading for the wrong opening of this U shaped passage.


GPS 04


I thought to myself “Oh, oh, now it is time to look really hard, time to get the glasses out – this is getting bad.  I do not want to be paddling all sorts of extra miles because I am actually heading for the wrong entrance and will have to back paddle to the actual entrance.  Oh! this is dumb or the moon is made of green cheese.

Ah there is the arrow let me change the direction of my kayak so that the arrow lines up with the go to path because the arrow is correctly reading the position of my kayak. 

I will look at the go to map that shows the midway waypoint because if I am not near that and I should be right on it than it must mean that I am headed for the most obviously visible entrance which is not at all the entrance I want to go to.

Oh now I get it I am definitely heading the wrong way so if I change the orientation of my kayak to follow the line exactly I will get to the entrance that I want to go to.  Whew little things like that can really put me places I do not want to go.”

Finally I figured out that arrow is showing the orientation of my boat with the go to line and goal.  That is why there is an arrow on the GPS rather than some amorphous dot. 

When I realized the meaning of the arrow rather than the dot I told myself “follow the arrow, dummy, yes point your kayak toward the “go to” point shown on the screen otherwise all you are doing is crabbing the course.  Crabbing will just add umpteen miles to the course and you will never get to your goal shown on the screen which is where you want to go.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they showed a map on the screen.  All they show is course lines.  Paddling through rocks is not too realistic in a kayak.  Somehow that just does not work even though the GPS shows that is the course to follow to get to your destination in the proverbial simplest course of just one point to another point as a straight line.

Some of us like me are a little bit slow learning and figuring out things. Oh well!

I had assumed that the opening I could see was also the “go to “point to the south and my right where the entrance was for my campsite.  I added an extra half mile before I realized my error paddling in the direction of the visible opening to the left as I was completely convinced that I was heading the right way for the northern larger entrance. 

From where I was starting to cross the opening of the entrance really was not visible.  The opening was just narrow enough from where I was on the water that it blended in perfectly with the rock cliff faces.  

I always paddle with my binoculars around my neck readily available. This time even when I looked through my binoculars this passage blended in so perfectly with the surrounding rock it looked as though it was not there. 

Wow I did not expect this to happen. 

When I set out from the passage it seemed so easy as if it would be so easy to spot that same opening when I headed back across.  I had no idea that it would be impossible not to see that entrance. - Big surprise.

Just to illustrate how the view changes I have selected three consecutive photos of the same view from different changing perspective angle and distance.  You can see how drastically the view changes as you look at the mountains on the peninsula farthest back. 

I barely missed a stroke when I took these photos because I used only the automatic settings for focus light and speed as I clicked these digital photos from my cockpit.


GPS 05


GPS 06


GPS 07


GPS 08


Returning to my story about GPS navigation.  The map image above shows the change in perspective starting left and going right.

On my way back across from Qaersorssuatsiaq there was an iceberg that really looked unstable because it had a big arch in it that was dropping slabs of ice into the water.  Just before it would release a slab I would hear this ominous click.  That click sound was emitted as the ice slab fractured as it was to separating to split off the main body of the iceberg.  Then some seconds later when the piece split off it sounded like a small cannon going off every time it dropped a slab. I decided that if that berg were to disintegrate catastrophically I would be on the receiving end of a bunch of chunks of ice shooting instantly across the water followed by fast moving steep waves.

Farther to the south of that berg with the arch was another berg that had a section of dirty ice in it at the far end of it.  Suddenly dropped off a huge area of it suddenly splattering and shooting out from the berg across the water much farther than I expected.  I was just shocked at the sheer distance and distance that ice exploded out to from that berg.  I could have easily been within its range had been paddling in that area because it did not look all that dangerous.

Near the entrance where I had started out from I came across this particularly sculptural iceberg.  It was so elegant I could not resist taking a photo of it.

The stone background is very typical of the yellow brown gneissic cliffs in this general area but jus to the right of the iceberg is a tiny stone apron.  I paddle in this region because there are these stone aprons.  For a campsite I always look for a stone apron with some flat ground above. I use the apron as a surface to roll my kayak above the high tide line using foam rollers rather than having to lift the kayak up over jagged rocks.


GPS 09

Written 3/9/09