A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: JC Sutherland
Date: 2003 Mar 10, 00:41 -0000
I am sorry this is a bit late. I composed it a week ago in reply to George but I have only just got back online. I am sending it without modification.
I agree with George in his recommendation.
Some years ago I put a piece of thin metal sheet behind the Horizon mirror of my Ebbco sextant just as he suggests but not for the reasons he has given. The design of the Horizon mirror mounting on the EBBCO sextant is such that the adjustment of the half mirror is made using two hardened steel grub screws with serrated cup points that bear on the soft plastic of the mounting. As a consequence with every adjustment made of 'Side error' and 'Index error', the adjusting screws cut deeper and deeper into the plastic! This is of course more aggravated when the sextant is warm. The index mirror is mounted in the same way and some improvement could also be made here. However this mirror is not adjusted so often. A thin piece of tin carefully flattened, cut and bent to fit between the screws and the plastic mirror frame will take the pressure of the sharp screw and improve the life of the sextant. But do take care! Over tightening the grub screws strains the ball and socket pivot and excessive force will stretch and eventually break the thin plastic stem between the ball and the mirror frame. If this modification is not possible I would set the adjustments correct, once and for all and live with the remaining errors. I would observe their value before and after every run of sights and apply the mean value of the error as a correction. If possible NEVER ADJUST THE MIRRORS once they are right first time, and don't attempt to adjust out the last smidgin of error. I realize this is slightly of topic as I do not know how the adjustments are designed on the DAVIS Mk 15 Instrument but if I had one of these in my hands I would be looking very carefully at this part of the design.
As any plastic instrument flexes while it is in the heat of the sun, I would attempt to keep the sextant in the shade both while making ready to take the sights and while observing. Do them in the shade of the Sail or beneath an awning if this is possible. Also any measure which keeps the sextant cold or at least at a constant temperature will improve the reliability of the sights.
I am sorry if this message has been a bit delayed but I have only just rejoined the group after my server changed my address for me. I had some difficulty in finding how to do it! Entirely my fault.
From Clive Sutherland
From my experience with an Ebbco, I would concur with Trevor's statements about plastic sextants. Trevor says " a minute or two", and I would normally expect my Ebbco observations to be good within a couple of minutes in calm conditions, though I would allow quite a bit of extra leeway on that in a critical situation, just in case.
Like Trevor, I check for index error shortly before and after a sight, or series of sites, because it's so quick-and-easy to do, and increases one's confidence level so greatly.
daytime sights, it's hard to avoid that situation of "taking observations
with the Sun shining on the sextant", but in my Ebbco
I do not see the dramatic shifts in index error that Trevor relates. Mind you,
the Sun seldom shines very strongly in
Looking at the construction of my plastic sextant, I doubt that much of the short-term changes in index error will be due to warping of the frame, as Trevor implies. I think a much more sensitive part of a sextant to local heating will be the brackets holding the mirrors to the frame, with their three adjustment screws. If, before taking a sight, sunlight happened to fall on one half of such a bracket, with the rest still in shadow, that would have a powerful leverage on the angle of the mirror. I think there's room for some improvements in the design of plastic sextants in this department. To me it appears a simple matter to install a thin sheet-metal shield to intercept most or all of the incident light and heat falling on every part of the mirror-mountings (except the mirrors themselves, of course). Do any instruments incorporate this?
Metal sextants are more immune from these effects than plastic ones, because the coefficient of expansion of metals is less than that of plastic, but more important, because the much higher thermal conductivity allows temperatures of different parts of the sextant to equalise much better under conditions of unequal heating.
George Huxtable by email at email@example.com
or by phone at 01865 820222 (from outside