A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Kieran Kelly
Date: 2005 Jan 23, 16:13 +1100
I have just returned from a skiing holiday in Canada and was hunting for a book on local hero David Thompson to read on the way home. (One of the many advantages of living in Australia is that you get plenty of time to read on the plane on any journeys undertaken.)
I could find nothing on Thompson, but in the excellent bookstore in Whistler there were two books, which I think, would interest some on this list:
Ancient Mariner: The Amazing Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the sailor who walked to the Arctic Ocean. Ken McGoogan
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage Alfred Lansing
I am ashamed to admit that I had not heard of Hearne who fought under Hood in the Napoleonic Wars and preceded Thompson by decades into the Canadian northwest. The Shackleton story I knew well but this book reminded me once again of the real hero of this story – Frank Worsley.
Why is this significant here? This list has spent some considerable time comparing the methods and results of Thompson in Canada, Lewis and Clarke in the US and A C Gregory in Australia but both Hearne and Worsley seem to have escaped everyone’s attention. Has anyone out there looked closely at their results, techniques etc. Unfortunately both these books are a bit short on the very fine technical detail, which would interest many.
For example Hearne in 1769/70 carried (and broke) two quadrants - a Hadley’s Portable and an Elton’s the latter being much inferior apparently. While reading the book I was a bit confused about how he took his sights as no artificial horizon was mentioned. However a line from his journal explained that he had broken the bubbles on both quadrants rendering them unusable. This surprised me – were bubble artificial horizons used on quadrants in the 1700’s?
Also Hearne was observing for longitude but did not appear to have a chronometer. Does anyone know how he did this?
Furthermore on checking a map he seems about 280 miles out in his estimation of the latitude of the mouth of the Coppermine River. This is a serious error – about 467kms. As a comparison research I am undertaking on the Australian Gregory shows his average latitude is out by about 400 metres, with a maximum error so far of 1.5 kilometres. How could Hearne have got it so wrong when otherwise he seemed a superb navigator and explorer?
Nothing much is said about Worsley’s feat in navigating the James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916 but elsewhere I have read that his mates had to hold him up to the mast while he took his sights and that on many days it was too overcast for the sun and his greatest fear was that the pages of the Nautical Almanac would be turned to mush through immersion in sea water.
Lansing ‘s book mentions that Worsley’s navigational diary is in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge England. Has anyone seem it? Can anyone tell me about Worsley’s methods? He was obliviously accurate as they all survived an open boat journey that rivals Bligh’s.
Any comments would be appreciated.