A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Don Seltzer
Date: 2017 Mar 26, 16:05 -0400
Nobody in their right mind is in sextant repair, which is why Ridge White laughingly says he keeps doing it. He calls these kinds of instruments “yestertech,” age-old engineering designed years ago, but still durable and functional. In his cluttered workshop sit 12 sextants used aboard the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship, the Eagle — they’re being refurbished so that they can reliably be used for celestial navigation.
White, 73, proprietor of Robert E. White Instrument Services, is carrying on a rich family tradition of the study, manufacturing, and servicing of nautical instruments. The third-generation company, for many years located on Commercial Wharf and later Atlantic Ave., has shuttered its sales and manufacturing arm, but White continues to repair barometers, barographs, and other marine and weather instruments out of Medfield. The Globe spoke to White about his deep nautical roots and why he believes there is still a place for traditional tools in the GPS age.
“My forefathers were ship builders on one side and nautical instrument makers on the other. My grandfather, Wilfrid O. White, studied with the revolutionary scientist Lord Kelvin in the UK, then came to Boston and established a store near the Boston waterfront in the early 1900s. He invented the spherical compass, still used by many sailors today. My father continued the business, and early on I was tinkering with marine sextants, aneroid barometers, and barographs.
“Very few places around the country do what I do. I am happy to not be in my right mind helping people who need some service. Just yesterday I received an old English barograph that had a total failure of the sensors, which is like having a car that needs a new engine. I’ll have to install aneroid cells or capsules then put it into my test chamber to make fine adjustments. The owner of this lovely instrument inherited it from his father and it will function like new when I’m done.