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    Lunars: an epitaph and an obituary
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 Jul 15, 20:24 -0700

    Occasionally, I've referred to Joshua Slocum's comments in "Sailing Alone 
    Around the World" c.1900 as a fine epitaph for lunars. It's been posted quite 
    a few times before, but here are the closing lines from that section of it 
    again:
    "The work of the lunarian, though seldom practised in these days of 
    chronometers, is beautifully edifying, and there is nothing in the realm of 
    navigation that lifts one's heart more in adoration."
    
    Of course, even he was writing decades after lunars had been used commonly at 
    sea, and Slocum shot but one on his circum-navigation. There were a few 
    enthusiastic mariners who remained devoted to lunars in the opening years of 
    the 20th century, but they were so rare that they probably deserved a little 
    "ribbing" a few years later. 
    
    Lecky in his "Wrinkles" first published in the 1880s had declared lunars as 
    "dead as Julius Caesar" and yet they lingered on, painfully in many ways, in 
    navigation classrooms and in a few specialized applications (especially in 
    land exploration) but the tables for them were not dropped from the world's 
    nautical almanacs for a few years even after Slocum's epitaph above. When 
    they were finally gone, Lecky got to write the obituary for the lunars he had 
    declared so very dead over twenty years earlier. 
    
    Lecky wrote in Appendix "O" of the new edition of "Wrinkles" (about 1908):
    "The following amusing lines from the facile pen of Mr. E. Plumstead appeared 
    in the March number of the Nautical Magazine for 1900. They are inserted by 
    kind permission of their author, and of the editor of the N.M. Mr. Plumstead 
    appears to be an exceptionally good observer, whether in fine weather or 
    foul. As a yachtsman he takes unusual interest in the science of Navigation, 
    making a specialty of the "Lunar," which -blow high, blow low- he never tires 
    of pushing to the front. Whilst deprecating the tabooing of the Moon for 
    determination of position, Mr. Plumstead is in other respects an ardent 
    champion of "Wrinkles," which he has facetiously dubbed "The gospel according 
    to Lecky"; the writer is at once grateful and flattered. But as regards the 
    no longer vexed question of "Lunars versus Chronometers," the average 
    professional Navigator has long ago decided it for himself, and not even the 
    eloquent advocacy of so enthusiastic and capable an amateur will move him. 
    The one knows the peculiar secrets of the sea - the other does not."
    
    He then quotes the quaint poem from Plumstead (see PS) and adds:
    "Much has happened since Mr. Plumstead penned his humorous poetical defence of 
    the lunar-distance method. The Nautical Almanac for 1907 (both editions) is 
    without tables of lunar distances, and, after 1906, not even candidates for 
    the misnamed "extra" master's certificate have been required to show 
    arithmetical accuracy by working an old-fashioned lunar. By the aid of the 
    tables of Right Ascension and Declination, which are continued in the 
    Nautical Almanac, a leisured lunarian of phenomenal perseverance can 
    calculate the omitted lunar distance for himself; but lunars are as much out 
    of date as the caravels of Columbus - and for a like reason. Once reliable 
    chronometers were on the market at a moderate price, the time-honoured lunars 
    were doomed as regards the purposes of practical navigation; and they 
    naturally fell into desuetude, even as safeguards against navigators' 
    negligence or mechanical mischief. For a very long series of years lunar 
    distances were given in the Nautical Almanac with a persistency worthy of a 
    better cause, and the lunar formed part of the so-called "extra" examination; 
    although it was well known that the former was never, or hardly ever, used by 
    practical navigators for various well-founded reasons, while the arithmetical 
    test in an examination room was often brought to a successful issue by men 
    who had never measured a lunar distance by sextant, who could not if they 
    would, and who would not if they could. The computation of lunar distances at 
    the expense of the nation was unnecessary, and the inclusion of the lunar in 
    Board of Trade examinations gave plenty of scope for the honest doubter as to 
    their utility, inasmuch as it did but encourage cramming of a most baneful 
    character."
    
    
    And Lecky finishes:
    "Those who still regard the lunar with affection cannot do better than obtain 
    back numbers of the Nautical Maqazine, from 1900 to 1905, both years 
    inclusive, which contain very able articles in favour of the retention of the 
    method, by Mr. H. B. Goodwin, R.N., and Mr. E. Plumstead. Never has the case 
    for the moon been more clearly, or more enthusiastically, set forth than it 
    was in the contributions from the facile pens of those writers. We repeat, 
    however, that lunars have had their day. Let them rest in peace!"
    
    Goodwin and Plumstead had some fame for their undying advocacy of lunars, but 
    to reiterate, they were fifty years late even for the American merchant 
    fleets which were probably among the last great practitioners of lunars at 
    sea.
    
    -FER
    PS: Plumstead's ode to lunars:
    "There was a time when Parallax and dear old Mrs. Moon
    Were understood by seamen, and esteemed a precious boon. 
    Then Wrinkles came; Edition Nine burst forth mid jubilation,
    Waxed fat and kicked, and then ensued the following conversation:
    
    "Pack up! Clear out!" said Wrinkles, "Take notice now, and mind,
    Both Parallax and you to Coventry we've consigned."
    "Who's We?" retorted Mrs. Moon, "I've never heard such fudge;
    Are you the We? Have I no friends? Are you the only judge?"
    
    "You've hit it off," said Wrinkles, "I am the We, far famed:
    You've lost your ancient following, of your conduct they're ashamed,
    Except a few 'Old Timers,' who from sundry dark recesses
    Sing your praises in the papers, have no names, give no addresses."
    
    "That's rather neat," replied the Moon,  "But will you have the kindness
    Just to state the cause of this revolt, and why this modern blindness
    To the virtues that I still possess?  Explain the situation.
    What has blighted all my virtues?  Who has spoiled my reputation?"
    
    "Where have you been? What have you learned?" said Wrinkles, "Don't you know
    What happened here - it must be near a century ago?
    You've heard of Sextant, Compass, Log, Mercurial Barometer; 
    Tremble! a goddess has been born. We've christened her Chronometer.
    
    "Behold my love, is she not fair? so strong, so plump, so pliable." 
    "All Tommy Rot," replied the Moon, "I'll bet she's not reliable."
    "Alas!" said Wrinkles, "I know that; for has it not been noted, 
    To her most eccentric conduct my best chapter's been devoted?
    
    "Had you but read what I have said on her merits and demerits
    In Chapter Four, not for one hour would you maintain your spirits; 
    Could I but show you Wrinkles your appearance would cease, 
    You'd for ever hide your 'bloomin' cheek,' for ever hold your peace."
    
    "Of Wrinkles, sir," replied the Moon, "we've several copies here; 
    But the chapter headed Lunars is the one we hold most dear.
    With equal care we've read them both; compared our notes and reckoned. 
    No mortal who believed the first could understand the second.
    
    "Tis just about twelve months ago, I said to some inquirers,
    'You had no power to banish me, I still had some admirers.'
    Adieu! dear boy. I'm off. Good night. To Coventry? No! Never!
    Let 'Wrinkles' come, Chronometers go, but I go on for ever."
    
    
    
    
    
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