A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2014 Apr 17, 14:15 -0700
Yes, you've just described very nicely the "Navigation Weekend" conferences which we held at Mystic Seaport in 2006, 2008, and 2010. :)
Details on the programs and presentations for each of these:
"picking a site of some natural beauty and maritime history, with a natural horizon"
Except for the natural horizon, which can be found nearby but not right at the site, we have had our previous gatherings at the Treworgy Planetarium at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Mystic Seaport has loads of maritime history, and a respectable quantity of natural beauty enhanced by a huge dose of New England "quaint". I have various connections there, which helps a lot, but if we do this again (more on that below), I think we should try for a different venue.
And you wrote:
"informal presentations by our most learned members"
Well, 'learned' in the most general sense --anyone with a good story to tell! We've had all sorts of presentations at these conferences in years past. The year 2008 was the fiftieth anniversary of the modern Nautical Almanac, so we had some focus on almanacs that year. Geoffrey Kolbe also flew in and gave a fascinating presentation on his experiments in celestial navigation in the Sahara Desert in Egypt. We also had some interesting presentations on teaching celestial navigation aboard sail-training vessels and teaching celestial at Harvard. And I inevitably do something on lunars. You may enjoy browsing those links above to see more of the presentation topics.
And you suggested:
"some hands-on CN"
It has been my experience at these events, that there is only minimal interest in hands-on activities. A little tinkering, maybe a few minutes to try out a novel instrument, but otherwise, it's not a social activity and we don't need to schedule anything more than an "opportunity". It's been suggested many times that it might be nice to go out on a schooner and shoot sights. Great idea in principle, but when people learn they might need to shell out a hundred bucks or more per person, interest fades quickly...
And you concluded:
"ample time for socializing over food and drink."
Yes! I've scheduled group dinners for these events every time. But again, when the money starts to add up, people tend to find excuses why they can't attend the dinners. It becomes very tough to do this without financial risk. Two out of three times, I've ended up paying a big bill for reservations that were not fulfilled. The solution is to insist on a considerable fixed conference "fee" paid in advance, well above the modest attendance fees required by out hosting institution. But given the soft demand for these activities, my business sense tells me that a substantial registration fee would wipe out demand for the conference in the first place.
Given the two-year cycle of previous conferences, we would have had our next one in 2012, but I couldn't do that for personal reasons, and indeed that was the Spring when I moved here to Conanicut Island. I had hoped to organized something last year with help from Roger Connor of the Smithsonian, hosting our gathering at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. We scheduled for early October, 2013, but luckily I pulled the plug on that event in August. I say "luckily" because our planned dates would have fallen right in the midst of the US federal government shutdown, and that could have been costly in terms of cancelled plans. It still gives me nightmares --literal nightmares! Since then, it seems to me that the main problem is that demand for another conference has softened dramatically in the past few years. Only a very few people (you know who you are) are willing to commit to something like this though there are lots of "maybes". In addition, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK has been holding more conferences which are more attractive to the more scholarly end of the spectrum of people interested in celestial navigation and navigation history.
We can try again. Let's see a show of hands. Who would attend? Would you be willing to pay a registration fee of $200? Or $300? Do you want to do this in southern New England again, possibly Mystic Seaport? Would you be willing to donate time or money or other resources to make another conference possible? A former NavList member, George Brandenburg, was quite enthusiastic about organizing another conference (he attended at least one, and also participated in a couple of my navigation classes at Mystic Seaport), and he was ready to work hard to make it happen, but sadly he died last year.
As an alternative, I have been leaning towards smaller, informal regional gatherings. The weather here is improving (ok, we had snow yesterday and a hard freeze last night, but that just HAS to be the end of it), so it might be nice to have a "sight practice day" followed by a late lunch or early dinner somewhere. Any interest there? Maybe some Saturday in May, we do Noon Sun sights in Stonington followed by an afternoon at Mystic Seaport (costs money) and then maybe dinner at "Latitude 41" (that's a restaurant --also costs money).
We should consider one other general factor in any event planning. Celestial navigation is a solitary activity. It attracts independent-minded individualists who enjoy imagining themselves sailing the oceans in a state of near perfect self-reliance, or who may at least find pleasure in being the only person at the marina who has a sextant and plots lines of position. I would not want to suggest in any way that celestial navigation enthusiasts are anti-social, but I think it's fair to say that this subject is less social than many others. In the past, we've had better success with these weekend gatherings when we attracted people with related interests, for example academics focused on the history of navigation or related science, and not just the navigation enthusiasts (primarily NavList folks). If we're going to put together another weekend gathering, I feel that we need to connect again somehow with a broader group who might be interested in engaging with practical navigators. When you get two or more communities in the same room, that's when interesting things happen.
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