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    Captain Ahab and his Quadrant
    From: Chuck Taylor
    Date: 1998 Feb 14, 9:38 PM

    There has been much talk recently about the continued relevance of the
    sextant to modern navigation. The sextant's predecessor was the
    quadrant, and I thought some of you might enjoy the following passage,
    written nearly 150 years ago about the relevance of the quadrant. It was
    taken from "Moby Dick", by Herman Melville. I recently re-read this
    masterpiece and enjoyed it even more than I did the first time I read
    it, many years ago.
    
    As you may recall, Captain Ahab was in mad pursuit of the White Whale.
    The following scene took place as he was about to begin the final
    leg of his pursuit.
    
    "It was hard upon high noon; and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-
    hoisted boat, was about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun
    to determine his latitude.
    
    "... Well that Ahab's quadrant was furnished with colored glasses,
    through which to take sight of that solar fire. So, swinging his seated
    form to the roll of the ship, and with his astrological-looking
    instrument placed to his eye, he remained in that posture for some
    moments to catch the precise instant when the sun should gain its
    precise meridian. ... At length the desired observation was taken; and
    with his pencil upon his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his
    latitude must be at that precise instant. Then falling into a moment's
    revery, he again looked up towards the sun and murmured to himself:
    "Thou seamark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I
    --but canst thou cast the least hint where I  be?  ..."
    
    "Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its
    numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered:
    'Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and
    Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what
    after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou
    thyself happen to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee:
    no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one
    grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou
    insultest the sun! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all things
    that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live vividness but
    scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched with thy light, O
    sun!
    Level by nature to this earth's horizon are the glances of men's eyes;
    not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on
    his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!' dashing it to the deck, 'no
    longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship's compass,
    and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by line;  shall conduct
    me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye,' lighting from the boat to
    the deck, 'thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly
    pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!'"
    
    It turned out that his log line parted the first time it was used
    thereafter, having rotted from long neglect. Perhaps that should be a
    lesson to us, not to let our skills in using our backup navigation
    skills and tools deteriorate. It is also worth noting that after
    destroying his quadrant, Captain Ahab never made another landfall.
    
    Chuck Taylor
    Everett, WA, USA
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