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    [Fwd: Davis Sextants]
    From: Rick Emerson
    Date: 1999 Jan 25, 17:18 EST

    dashmanc{at}XXX.XXX writes:
     > Reasonable people can differ and, in this case, I must disagree with Rick.  His
     > facts are accurate--the telescope is plastic and does use a form of a friction
     > fit--but in a spiral, not direct slide, but it is reasonably tight and easy to
     > adjust.  I do believe the lenses are glass, not plastic.  I have never noticed
     > a limit to the field of view--indeed, some older sextants have a far more
     > limited view.  The mirrors are large and rectangular, and, with the full view
     > mirror (as opposed to half silver) gives as large a field as you could want.
     > It's true the telescope only gives you 3x, but that is usually more than
     > enough.  The two major problems with the M25, are, 1) The full view mirror is
     > difficult to use with stars as nautical twilight approaches (as has been
     > noted--although it's fine for sun sights) and 2) the mirrors are very difficult
     > to adjust--the mounts are too light so the act of adjustments causes the mounts
     > to flex and the threads of the adjustment screws need to be finer to allow more
     > precision.  Yet I cannot argue with the statement about a bad optical train.
    It appears that there are different production runs of Davis sextants
    in circulation.  In citing the sliding tube telescope, I'm referring
    to a Mk15 I owned (and since have sold).  Again, I base my opinions on
    both that Mk15 and other instruments inspected elsewhere.  As to the
    lenses' construction, it's quite possible the lenses are glass.  That,
    however, does not ensure a high quality (either in focus, color, or
    contrast).  Again, it's been my experience the optical train is less
    than optimal.
    As to the question of whole horizon versus half silvered mirror, this
    is a matter of personal preference.  My argument is that the index
    mirror - horizon glass combination in Davis sextants is simply too
    small to be adequate.  (For the record, I prefer and own sextants with
    traditional half-silvered mirrors but have used both.)
     > As for the Mark 3.  Here I must also disagree with Rick's interpretation.   The
     > M3 has several serious advantages for the student.  My father was a machinist
     > and insisted the best way to learn was with the simplest tools--you don't learn
     > to operate a lathe by learning how to program a computerized machine.  The M3
     > is the cleanest and simplest way to demonstrate how a sextant works--I had no
     > idea what a half-silvered mirror was--it sounded like a two-way mirror and I
     > couldn't imagine how such a thing was constructed in the 18th century.  Of
     > course, all it meant was a piece of glass that was clear on the left half and
     > mirrored on the right.  The M3 doesn't even have that--you look around the left
     > side of the mirror to see the horizon.  Optics are a "luxury" so they are
     > removed.  The instrument is distilled to its essence and no more is needed to
     > learn how to shoot the sun or a star.  Of course, you cannot see a higher
     > magnitude star--only the very bright low magnitude ones--and you need clear
     > skies.  But you can see Betelgeuse or Rigel, and certainly Sirius without any
     > problems, not to mention Venus, Jupiter or Saturn (all very visible now).  And,
    One of the tricks of getting a good sight is setting the lower limb of
    the sun's disk right on the horizon.  The point of a telescope is to
    magnify the image, ensuring the best "kiss".  Shooting through a sight
    tube makes this task harder than it needs to be.
    As to star sights, a large objective helps to "scoop up" light in
    difficult conditions; without the lenses, again the student is left to
    make do with the unaided "MkI eyeball".
     > as Rick says, it's good for a backup--a heckuva lot better than doing an
     > eyeball zero degree sight without a sextant--clouds always seem to be worst at
     > the horizon.  Besides, spending $30. on a Mark 3 hurts a lot less than $450.
     > for the cheapest metal sextant--before you get any accessories.  Used sextants
     > may not be a good idea for a student--older sextants have smaller mirrors and
     > may require repair.  Used newer ones, such a C.Plaths and Tamiyas are still up
     > in the $1000. range at a minimum.  That's hard to ask of a neophyte--once they
     > decide this is what they want then they can invest in a better instrument and
     > refine their skills.
    To use the lather analogy, my argument is that the Mk3 is the
    equivalent of a lathe with no tool rest, no gearing for adjusting
    rotation speed, and the most basic of chucks.  A good machinist can
    rise above these limitations but a student, faced with the same
    equipment, must work under a double load: learning to use any lathe
    and learning to work around the limitations of a lathe without the
    benefit of experience needed to do so.  I argue that a student should
    spend his or her time on learning the business of celestial navigation
    and not how to cope with a piece of equipment's quirks.
    As to the cost of used Plaths, I've seen used Plaths in good repair
    offered for $750 in stores and seen auctions for them, on eBay, close
    in the $500-$700 range.  I have also seen them go at much higher
    prices but my point is that $1000 is perhaps a bit high as a typical
    floor.  As to the size, over time, of Plath's optics, filters, and
    mirrors, my '61 Plath has the same size as the current models.
    In general, new Japanese sextants (both Tamyas and other makes) are
    not attractive because of the yen / dollar exchange rate, not because
    of design or construction.  Even Celestaire, who sells Tamayas, says
    this.  This may or may not carry over to used Japanese sextants.  It's
    up to the buyer to decide if the price is acceptable
    Regarding the issue of repairs, basic misalignment is easy to
    identify.  Problems with the index arm bearing are equally easy to
    identify; either the arm moves smoothly or not.  The arc's thread and
    screw can be inspected with ease.
    I grant that a used sextant may have subtle errors which render it
    unfit for use in land surveying but a used sextant, more than suitable
    for small boat navigation, can be located at a good price.
    Finally, I'm not sure what accessories need to be ordered with an
    Astra.  The Celestaire bubble sight, in my experience, is not
    reliable.  The sextant comes with oil, spare springs, and tools for
    more maintenance than most sextants will ever need (insert here a rant
    about more sextants being damaged by "maintenance" than use at sea).
    While Celestaire is the importer, Defender lists the Astra for $420
    and I paid even less through St. Brendan's Isle, a cruising chandler
    (sbi{at}XXX.XXX
    Rick
    S/V One With The Wind, Baba 35
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