# NavList:

## A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

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Re: Just getting started
From: David F. McCune
Date: 2007 Jan 18, 00:37 -0800

```Gary:

Welcome to the list and to celestial navigation.  I am an avid long-distance
solo sailor and use celnav as my primary (indeed my only) offshore
navigation method.  (I am trying to be the last sailor on earth not to have
a GPS on my boat.)  Let me assure you that I am neither a math wiz nor an
astro physicist!  And I learned from "A Star to Steer Her By."

The arithmetic is intimidating to most beginners.  Assuming for the moment
that you use sight reduction tables, then all there is is VERY simple
arithmetic.  Trust me, I am mathematically challenged.  I couldn't explain
trigonometry to you if my life depended on it.  But that's just my point.
My life HAS depended on my celnav skills any number of times, and though I
am a mathematical idiot, I am still alive.

There are really only five basic steps:  (1) Figure out the exact GMT of the
sight; (2) figure out the LHA and declination of the body at that time; (3)
figure out the actual corrected angle of the body you saw through the
sextant; (4) look up in the tables the computed angle to that body at your
assumed position; and (5) plot the line of position based on the angles and
azimuths you figured out in (4) and (5).

I have reduced thousands of sights over the years.  I can do it on the back
of an envelope in less than five minutes.  The hard part isn't the sight
reduction, even though it feels that way to a beginner. The hard part is
hanging on a tether on the deck of a small sailboat in 20-ft seas and
getting some celestial body to line up with some approximation of a horizon.

The rewards are immense. I can remember like it was yesterday the first time
I sailed alone to Hawaii with only a sextant, a watch, a nautical almanac
and H.O. 249 for navigation.  Mauna Kea appeared over the horizon when and
where I thought it would.  I felt like I had cracked God's own secret code
in finding my way there.

My advice to beginners is just to learn the basics at first.  Use one of the
simple sight reduction methods and one of the workforms, such as the Davis
workform.  Basically you need to learn to find your way around the Nautical
Almanac and the sight reduction tables.  Once you've done that a few dozen
times, your natural curiosity will have you trying to understand WHY it all
works.

There was a time not long ago (say 20 years) when every small boat sailor
who crossed an ocean had to learn cel nav.  Those of us who did just wanted
to make it as easy and as foolproof as possible.  Cel nav was just a
necessary tool for the voyage, like knowing how to bleed a diesel or tie a
bowline.  I'm grateful to the experts who invented the tables and almanacs I
use.  When I'm hunkered down in my nav station after twilight, heeled at 20
degrees, braced against the thudding of the waves and squinting under the
red night lights, I'm not interested in trigonometry.  I just want an answer
to the ancient question of all mariners:  where am I?

Anyway, I hope you can manage to keep your studies simple for now.  Learn
the mechanics and the most very basic theory.  It's not hard and requires
only a bit of perseverance.  Once you've done that, you'll be proud of
yourself.  And if you're like me, you'll want to learn a lot more.  Which is
where this list comes in.  The members here know more about celestial
navigation than I ever will.  There is not a question about cel nav that I
can imagine asking that someone here wouldn't know the answer to.

Good luck and don't forget to get out on your boat and use your sextant!

David

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