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    Re: Lunars in literature
    From: Peter Fogg
    Date: 2009 Jan 31, 15:34 +1100

    George Huxtable writes:
    A repeated theme seems to be the rough-and-ready American mariner, rejecting
    such gimmicks as lunars and chronometers.

    And that seems to have had a resonance in real life, to judge by an account
    by Silvio A Bedini, chronicler of American technology. He quotes from
    Samuel Eliot Morison,s  "The Maritime History of Massachusetts 1783-1860"
    (1921), who noted that even in the early nineteenth century, the position of
    a ship was generally still determined by dead reckoning with the use of only
    a compass, log line, and deep-sea lead. Among examples of Atlantic voyages
    made by American vessels using these traditional methods, he reported that
    an American vessel was seized at Christiansand, Norway, because she had
    arrived in port without chart or sextant. The ship was freed only after
    other American shipmasters in the port protested that they frequently sailed
    the width of the Atlantic without those aids, claiming that any comptent
    seaman could do so."

    Without the American emphasis this accords with my own readings, as:
    I have been recently reading the story of a then young man who just managed
    to take an apprenticeship under sail in the early part of the last century,
    when sail was already considered an anachronism. The conditions were often
    appalling, e.g. sailing across Bass Strait (between the Australian mainland
    and Tasmania) with the crew literally atop a deck cargo of explosives; the
    only prospect of a hot meal or drink meant lighting a fire on top of their
    load. Which they eventually did, during a long and cold winter crossing.

    On another occasion they loaded timber in New Zealand bound for Australia.
    The Tasman is often stormy but this was exceptional; for week after week
    they wallowed in terrible weather, hove to. The load shifted, the weather
    only got worse. Eventually they spoke another ship which carried news back
    to the ship's agent in Sydney who sent out a tug to look for them and bring
    them in. The author said these old masters did no navigation that he ever
    noticed, and seemed to instinctively know their way around the waters they
    knew well. Of course heading west from north of NZ it would be difficult to
    miss the Aussie mainland.

    From another George post:
    A couple of years ago I was loaned a book on an American voyage to China,
    with the unlikely aim of establishing a trade in US-grown ginseng (talk
    about carrying coals to Newcastle...) The Chinese weren't impressed by its
    quality and the project failed. I can not now remember the name of the
    vessel or the book, or the exact date of the voyage, but I think it was in
    the 1830s or 1840s. She was a new, Boston-built, well-found square rigger.
    The point is that the book contained a rather full copy of the ship's log,
    and it was clear from reading that log that the voyage from New York to
    China, and back, was made entirely by latitude sailing, with no measurement
    of longitude anywhere. Longitude estimates came from dead-reckoning, and
    there were several cases of the ship deliberately sighting oceanic islands
    (such as the Cape Verdes) to obtain a longitude, but that's all. It was a
    real eye-opener to me, that navigation could be so backward, so late on.

    Nevertheless, I've no reason to doubt what Frank says, and shows, about American whalers.

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