I also like celestial navigation.
From the 1728 Cyclopaedia
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Why, in this GPS age, would I enjoy anything so unlikely? Why would I want to laboriously calculate my position on planet Earth by looking at real stars, when the artificial stars of the GPS system are happy to do all the sights and calculations for me?
It's not because I think the GPS system is 'unreliable', or I fear the bad guys will shoot the satellites out of the sky. In fact, I figure the odds are pretty darn slim that I'm going to need my GPS just as WW III starts.
And it's not because my simple Garmin 72 GPS needs a backup. Frankly, the best backup for a GPS is... another GPS.
No, the reason I like celestial navigation is the best one of all: FUN.
Now I admit, this is the same sort of fun that people get from doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, or writing a computer program, or building a wooden boat, for that matter. It's hard to explain this type of fun to people who like doing everything the easy way, but if you're reading this blog, you probably share this odd pleasure.
(Secret bonus pleasure: it's also fun to lord it over the 99% of sailors who don't know celestial navigation, and never will.)
It's always been that way. The common sailor, no matter how experienced, has always held in awe the Captain and his ability to find his way across the trackless oceans by looking at the stars.
Jim Hawkins, overhearing the conversation, below
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Remember Treasure Island, when Long John Silver's band of thieves were impatient to get rid of Captain Smollett and take over the ship? What did the ruthless but practical Long John remind them?
'What I say is, when are we going to do it?' growled the coxswain impatiently.
'When! by the powers!' cried Silver. 'I'll tell you when. The last moment I can manage; and that's when. If was sure of you all, sons of double Dutchmen, I'd have Cap'n Smollett navigate us half-way back again before we struck.'
'Why, we're all seamen aboard here, I should think,' said the lad Dick.
'We're all foc's'le hands, you mean,' snapped Silver 'We can steer a course, but who's to set one?”
Ah, the inner secret of sailing! The one that garnered respect, even from pirates. Yup. That's what I call fun.
I brought my sextant along on the Blue Moon, but I haven't had much chance to use it, what with being fairly close to shore, or in the ICW, or tucked into an anchorage at dusk and dawn. Whenever I had a chance to 'shoot' the Sun or a nice star, there always seemed to be a shore under it, instead of the horizon. And everyone knows you need a clear view of the horizon to get a shot, right?
Well, a couple days ago, I just happened to read about the 'Short Dip' tables. I'll explain these in more detail later, but the short version is that these special tables let you take sights even when you don't have a clear view of the horizon. At least in certain circumstances.
This got me fired up about using my sextant, but of course, I'm totally out of practice. And celestial navigation isn't something you can do without practice. At least I can't.
So I've decided to use this break from the Blue Moon to brush up my calculations, and test out those Short Dip tables. And I'm going to blog about it, so maybe I won't have to drag out those impenetrable and stupefyingly dull books the next time I need to refresh my memory.
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If you've always wanted to learn how to steer by the stars, this might be a good way to get your feet wet. I'm going to start off with the simplest sight possible -- a noon sun sight -- and show how to calculate your position with the minimum amount of math and mumbo-jumbo possible. If I do my job right, you should say to yourself, "hey, this celestial navigation stuff isn't so hard, after all!"
If enough readers get into it, maybe I'll even add a new feature to my Blue Moon blog -- a 'Where Am I?' feature. I'll take sights and print them in my blog, and you can use them to figure out where I am.
Now, come on... what could be more fun than that???
Well, if you are interested, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, just so I know I'm not completely crazy. If there's enough interest, I'll get into taking other, more complicated, types of shots.
No sextant necessary. The only tools you'll need to get started are a pencil, some graph paper, and maybe a simple calculator.
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