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    Re: American navigation.
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2009 Oct 31, 22:04 -0000

    Frank Reed does a good line in denigration.
    I had written "We have previously discussed the reputation, in the 19th 
    century, for
    rough-and-ready navigation of American vessels", and relayed an account of a 
    Royal Navy officer, in Gibraltar, in World War 1, examining vessels for 
    "Several small sailing-vessels passed through our hands and one, a 
    two�-masted schooner, a regular banksman, had made the passage across the 
    Atlantic in twelve days. Her Captain was a good-natured, sanguine man, fat 
    as a butter-tub. With his cargo of dried codfish he was bound for Piraeus 
    and the only charts he had were the maps in the back of a large family 
    Bible. "Good enough for Saint Paul. I guess they'll do for me."
    He was, of course, joking about Saint Paul but quite serious in his 
    intention to navigate by the maps in his Bible. However, he gladly anchored 
    for a few hours while I had some real charts sent out from the Naval Chart 
    Frank responded- "Yes, and while this story may have happened exactly as 
    described it also may be an anecdotal "sea story". And like all sea stories, 
    this one is a parable, intended to make a point and draw a gasp of disbelief 
    from the listener... "No way! He used the map in the back of the Bible??! 
    What a crazy thing to do!" Your source is telling this story, not because 
    it's normal or common, but because it's such a great story of exceptional 
    Alternatively, he may have been telling this story simply because it 
    actually happened, to him, doing his official duty. Either it did, or he was 
    lying. What evidence does Frank call on to lead him to discredit it? We have 
    to keep an open mind, and avoid being over-credulous; but this was not one 
    of those tales of something that happened to a friend of a friend. Indeed, I 
    have the advantage here, in having read the man's two books about the sea 
    (which I presume Frank has not), and every word in them rings true, to me. 
    Nobody was claiming that navigating from the maps in the back of the family 
    Bible was "normal or common" amongst American mariners (though it might have 
    What's more remarkable, to me, is this. It's hard to imagine a crossing from 
    any harbour on the North American coast being made to Gibraltar in just 12 
    days in a Banks schooner. Direct from the Grand Banks, it's more feasible, 
    but cod taken direct from the Banks would have been salted: not dried, which 
    as I understand it calls for onshore drying-racks.  Anyway, it's not hard to 
    imagine, in 1915, at a time of great upheavals in Greece, a Banks fisherman 
    with dried cod to dispose of, might choose to make a wartime dollar by 
    carrying it all the way to Piraeus. If, from his home harbour, he could only 
    obtain charting of the Med. by travelling out of his way to Halifax or St 
    John's, he might well decide to do without. From the perspective of 
    Newfoundland, the Medittereanean might seem no more than an easy patch of 
    sheltered water, to be tackled after the difficult crossing of the Ocean.
    Just in case anyone's interested, I'll offer another quote or two from other 
    aspects of de Mierre's books in another posting.
    My previous posting [10329] started like this-
    "We have previously discussed the reputation, in the 19th century, for 
    rough-and-ready navigation of American vessels."
    Frank appeared to take that to be refence to whaling ships, but actually, I 
    was thinking of a posting of mine (which I can't place, just now) about an 
    account from that respected American historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, as 
    quoted by Bedini. He noted that even in the early nineteenth century the 
    position of a ship at sea was generally still determined by dead reckoning 
    with the use of only a compass, log line, and deep�sea lead. Among examples 
    of Atlantic voyages made by American vessels using these traditional 
    methods, he reported that an Ameri�can vessel was seized at Christiansand, 
    Norway, because she had ar�rived in port without a chart or sextant. The 
    ship was freed only after other American shipmasters in the port protested 
    that they frequently sailed the width of the Atlantic without those aids, 
    claim�ing that any competent seaman could do so.
    contact George Huxtable, at  george@hux.me.uk
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    NavList message boards: www.fer3.com/arc
    Or post by email to: NavList@fer3.com
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