When Technology Fails

Today was day 1 of our 1200mls/1900kms journey back home. Our first target was a motel in Foix ~460mls/740kms away. We forced Chris, Yvonne and Scamp out of bed at 6:30AM and hit the road at 7:00AM. Chris, very sensibly, returned to bed. 😀

For much of our journey, we were on the Mediterranean autovia heading north towards Barcelona before leaving the coast and heading inland towards Andorra. Sally Satnav was unstressed and tracked us well, guiding us around the mess of busy roads that circle Barcelona. She guided us masterfully towards Andorra and, even more masterfully, made us just miss Andorra [Andorra sucks!] taking us directly into France at Puigcerda.

After crossing into Sally’s home country – she speaks to us in French – we continued to climb to the col of Puymorens. Sally wanted us to stop climbing and go through the tunnel but the tunnel doesn’t open until 15th November, being apparently a winter-only tunnel but Garmin clearly doesn’t know that.

Approaching the col, Sally really started to throw a wobbly. It took me sometime to realize what was wrong as she repeatedly muttered, “calcule encore” [recalculating]. Carefully sneaking glances at Sally’s map display in between negotiating the various hairpin bends up into the high Pyrenees, I realized that Sally wasn’t plotting our position accurately. She was drawing the little car representing us about 100ft/30mtrs right/east of where we actually were. The effect of this inaccuracy on a straight/slightly bendy mountain road was to make her think we were “off piste” on the mountain side. Well done, car – good job it’s an occasional 4×4. Sally tends to go silent in such situations, knowing not what to do about our apparently adventurous driving. However, the effect of such an inaccuracy on a descending series of hairpin bends is rather more dramatic; now our apparent position was making it look as though we were driving back up the section of road that we had just descended. In this situation Sally thought she knew what to do to correct our mistake and kept “recalculating” accordingly. Every time we turned another hairpin bend, Sally thought we were going back up the previous section and told us where to get off. Bother, or words to that effect!

BTW, driving off piste immediately made us notice the sudden change to a hillside covered in wild flowers on the French side, as compared to the much more barren landscape of the considerably more arid Spanish side of the Pyrenees. To continue …

I can only imagine that Sally was having trouble with satellite positioning, though what trouble I don’t know. Maybe there were reflections in the mountain pass or perhaps she’d just lost one of the all-important satellites. I’d never seen the like before, this malfunction was something completely new. We re-booted Sally – when in doubt, reboot – in the hope that she’d re-acquire satellites and get an accurate fix but to no avail. Our little ghost car was still 100ft/30mtrs east of where we actually were. Once the hairpins straightened out and we simply descended a relatively straight road, Sally went silent again. Eventually  we went through a village and our little ghost car began crossing village backstreets 100ft/30mtrs away from the main road. Sally suddenly burst back into life, repeatedly “recalculated” accordingly until there were not further village roads for our ghost to be on and we returned to driving off piste up the hillside. Sally was worse than useless, her directions had become actively confusing – we turned her off and resorted to old-fashioned methods of manual navigation.

Fortunately, I have an excellent Navigation Officer in the form of Francine. Francine can read a map and doesn’t even have to turn it upside down to go south. Francine took over and got us to the outskirts of our destination, Foix.

I had just said, “at least my Navigation Officer doesn’t break down like Sally Satnav does”, as an intended compliment, when, approaching a roundabout, Francine muttered, “turn right” as she clearly indicated left.

Against all odds, with technological failure of Sally Satnav and a frazzled Navigation Officer’s brain, we made it to our motel.


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Posted in 2013 France and Spain

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