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    The Nautical Day
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2004 Feb 6, 20:01 +0000

    I've recently been reading "The Arctic Whaling Journals of William Scoresby
    the Younger, vol 1." ed. C. Ian Jackson, pub. The Hakluyt Society 2003.
    This covers his first three voyages as master, in 1811, 1812, and 1813.
    Scoresby made 12 such voyages, and it is intended that future volumes will
    cover the rest.
    Scoresby was involved in the "Greenland Whaling", which took place each
    year to the East of Greenland, near to the Western coast of Spitzbergen.
    While in port, and when making his way out to sea, Scoresby's journal was
    written up according to the calendar day, as we're all familiar with,
    starting at ending at midnight.
    Most of us are aware that until the 1920s, time in the Nautical Almanac was
    in terms of the Astronomical Day, which started at the noon of the calendar
    day having the same date. The Astronomical Day was therefore 12 hours after
    the corresponding calendar day.
    However, as soon as Scoresby had got to sea, he started to write his
    journal (which was effectively his log) according to a different timescale
    altogether, the Nautical Day. This started and ended at the noon PRECEDING
    the calendar day with the same date.
    I had heard of the Nautical Day before, but the only reference to it I have
    been able to find is in Bowditch vol 2 (1981) in which he says-
    "Nautical Day- Until January 1, 1925, a day that began at noon, 12  hours
    earlier than the calendar day, or 24 hours earlier than the astronomical
    day of the same date."
    I had dismissed the Nautical Day as something of an early American
    aberration, but Scoresby has shown me that view was wrong.
    So why on Earth would mariners use yet another timescale, differing from
    both civil time and astronomical time? Were some almanacs, perhaps, printed
    with Nautical Time as their argument? How prevalent was this use of
    Nautical Time, how far back did it go, when in practice did it end? Was it
    common within the whaling community generally?
    In the 18th century voyages of exploration I have read, I don't remember
    seeing any references to Nautical Time at all. So it doesn't seem to have
    been part of the exploring navigator's baggage, in the half-century
    preceding Scoresby.
    Can anyone offer any light on this matter, or provide any references that
    mention it?
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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