A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Mark Coady
Date: 2016 Apr 11, 21:12 -0700
For those on similar learning paths like myself lurking out there, I am putting in a very positive note of feedback on this weekends modern celestial navigation course at the Mystic Seaport. I promise, LOL, this is not a paid endorsement, it is one; a thank you, and two; shamelessly promoting that it might be valuable to other seekers such as myself. Personally, if I find out something really cool, I like to share it.
I honestly debated taking the course, as april gets boat busy (short hauls, etc.), and when I started in celestial, I supposedly learned modern calculator CNAV. I was self taught on the St Hilaire approach (from many texts in current print) with good sights that seemed to confirm I had in fact gotten the basic ideas. I used 229, 249, and spherical trig formulas on the calculator as an alternate.
So why take it? The answer is I have learned to appreciate Franks practical and down to earth approach to things (from the courses I took in Lunars, sundial, and 19th century nav), and I expected I would learn new things, and certainly fill in blanks in my self teaching. One of the pitfalls of self education is you often miss little tidbits of glue that pull things together.
In navigation, it is critical to make use of all available information. My father was an excellent sailor, including the greatest master of "in his head" dead reckoning when things got ugly I have ever seen. He always seemd to know exactly where he was, without the electronic toys. He taught me the value of understanding all of your tools...so you can think for yourself. As we sometimes say today: "A good man (or woman) can always adapt"
I found myself amply rewarded in this course with a fresh new look at modern daily navigation, with an alternative approach for the plotting sheets I had originally learned to embrace as a necessary evil. Simply put, I came away with new and alternative tools and approaches and thinking. That's a big win in my book.
I personally never embraced St Hilaire plotting (ok I hate it). Perhaps it was the fact that the nav station on the sailboat I grew up in (a solid ocean racer) was a cramped questionably lit affair affair very near the helm station so you could constantly converse (and pass coffee) to the guy freezing at the helm. The prospect of being cold, damp, and tired while carefully scaling Longitude lines off a green printed paper by battery light; all while going like the hammers of hell laying half on your side annoys me. At least I can hold the damned book or zip lock bagged calculator level in my hand.
Interestingly enough, the 19th century course (and lunars too) was a real eye opener and already had me thinking of alternative approaches. The modern course just solidified that.
So for what its worth, I think its very worth it. For those who lack my obsessive compulsive disorder to know what equation everything came from, I observe that it can be taken to the very basics enough so anyone, mathematical or not; with a little determination and practice can come away able to find their way. If calculator math is unfamiliar to you, you have to be patient with yourself. Many students in life quit things from intimidation because they aren't patient with themselves. They expect instant recognition and fluidity. I learned some things in my own initial tries at CNAV one sentence or one definition a day (Bowditch can be a muddle cold turkey..let's face it) . Then another day, I reread that and add one more (BTW, I would observe Franks approach is to vary the more intense with the lighter stuff, accomplishing this very nicely...the brain gets a rest..and a chance to absorb...) . Familiarity breeds fluidity. This can be done like a recipe... The nice thing is you can cook up the "mathy" parts on your own almost anywhere and gradually weed out your mistakes with practice.
PS Bowditch is a of course a very informative text...but not necessarily where I would ever start, if I had to do it again, as it is not a particularly "explanatory" reference.
As to why I embrace CNAV in the age of GPS...(and became a fanatic about equipment inspections)
Pick up a used sailboat to deliver it...find it in good sailing order. apparently in good shape mechanically...with brand new batteries the previous owner had just put in... (except, and nobody caught it...labels neatly hidden in battery boxes... they were 24 volt batteries stuck into 12 volt system. So they never charge up onto a flat spot on the curve and had zero staying power. Somewhere along the line the alternator got real upset. Not sure if was the battery thing made it mad, or somebody switched and arced it under the load...but..suffice it to say it angrily fried its diodes...and voila...end of charge system...
This set the scenario where you suddenly notice those old amp eating incandescent bulbs getting dim...when they shouldn't...instruments start shutting down...and you find yourself back in well..the 19th century... a sailboat...good sails...no useful shipboard power other than handheld lanterns...
THis was pre smartphone and battery GPS... but at any time the abilty to dead reckon and having alternative navigation methods makes it a loss less stress..just switch to another known mode...
I've also seen on another sailboat what a lightning strike can do to a full complement of marine electr...well more like ...melted silicon toast...
besides..its really freaking cool to know you don't need that stupid little plastic box at the helm or dash to find your way home...and maybe just maybe it impresses the mermaids! In days of old when knights were bold and all that...
Well anyway...thats my brain drool on a very worthwhile weekend.
I have found all of the courses interesting, entertaining, and enlightening.