A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Kieran Kelly
Date: 2004 Apr 18, 21:59 +1000
I think I have made the point before on this list that while marine navigators may not have used stars, land based explorers and surveyors certainly did. Merewether Lewis's coach in celestial navigation was Andrew Ellicott who was in fact not a sailer but an astronomer and would have been very familiar with all the stars.
I am no expert on maritime celestial navigation but have read widely on 17th and 18th century terrestrial celestial navigation and the stars used. Delambre, Mason and Dixon, Gregory, Thompson, Everest- they knew a stack of stars and used ones for zenith transits that today I can barely see. I am continually astonished how they got such good results from what are in some instances low magnitude relatively obscure stars.
As an example of the variety consider a few of the stars used by Mason and Dixon viz Hamal, Vega, Deneb, delta and gamma Cygni, eta Pleiades, Aldebaran. And for Gregory beta Centauri, alpha Cor. Borealis, Tri Aust, Vega, beta Cygni, alpha Aquilae (Altair) and what about epsilon Pegasi and zeta Aquilae. Today I wouldn't be able to find these last two in the night sky let alone get them into an artificial horizon.
I repeat my contention that it is dangerous to suggest that stars weren't being used just because sailors weren't using them.