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    Re: Reaching the pole. (was Nautical Almanac)
    From: Robert Eno
    Date: 2002 Jul 3, 01:31 -0400

    Mr. Huxtable wrote
    > Some comments about polar navigastion follow-
    > I don't know the Huntford work quoted by Robert Eno. I can find no
    > reference in Amundsen's own 2-volume account, "The South Pole", to his
    > failure to bring the 1912 almanac along, but then if he really did neglect
    > to bring it, pehaps he wouldn't advertise the matter.
    I recommend that you pick up a copy if you are at all interested in polar
    exploration. I have to warn you however, that Huntford does not cast a
    favourable light on Scott. I myself will refrain from commenting on this
    aspect of the story except to say that I consider Amundsen to be the
    greatest-ever polar explorer.
    Amundsen, like most other explorers, had a combination of a strong
    personality and rather thin skin so he did not take criticism well. I have
    read his book several times (I also recommend his book: "My Life as an
    Explorer"), and indeed, he never mentions forgetting the 1912 Almanac, nor
    does he mention the great row that he had with the more experienced
    Johansen, who openly criticized Amundsen for the way that he handled the
    expedition. Amundsen, in a fit of anger, subsequently ostracised Johansen
    and never spoke to him for the rest of their time on the ice. You won't find
    any of this stuff in Amundsen's book.
    > The available window for reaching the Pole was only a month or so (Scott
    > reached it on Jan 18 1912, already late in the season, which is one reason
    > why his party failed to complete the return journey).
    There are other more significant reasons why Scott's party failed to return
    but this is the stuff of controversy and wounded national pride, so I don't
    really want to get into it on a navigation discussion forum.
    > >From this, my conclusion is that if Amundsen had indeed failed to bring a
    > 1912 almanac, it would not have handicapped him at all. So I don't accept
    > Huntford's argument, and Eno's. There were much stronger arguments for an
    > early return from the Pole, as Scott's experience showed.
    I do not disagree with your contention vis a vis navigation, however, as I
    indicated before, Scott's failure to return was not -- as is popularly
    beleived -- simply a case of bad luck and abysmal weather conditions.
    Amundsen was more than prepared for bad weather. Certainly he had "good
    luck" inasmuch as weather was concerned, however, he also had skill,
    excellent planning and experience on his side as well. These count for a lot
    in the polar regions. Amundsen was a skilled professional.
    > ====================
    > What follows are some observations of my own on polar navigation, just in
    > case anyone else is interested in the topic.
    >I wonder what polar temperatures did to the
    > oiling of a watch.
    I don't know what Amundsen did to overcome this however, being the master
    planner that he was, I suspect that this problem was considered and solved.
    Amundsen covered almost every detail in the planning for his polar assault.
    This is quite evident when you read his book: South Pole. Again, I recommend
    Huntford's book if you want to gain an insight into Amundsen's way of
    > Because he was measuring the angle between the Sun and its reflection,
    > Amundsen would record a value of twice the Sun's altitude. Scott's
    > navigator (Bowers) used a theodolite, which seems to me a more appropriate
    > tool for the job than the sextant / artificial-horizon combination. Again,
    > levelling needs to be very precise. In both cases, presumably the observer
    > would have to take a hand out of his mitts for delicate adjustment of the
    > metal knobs: not much fun at polar temperatures! One wonders how the
    > instruments were kept free-to-move and the lenses clear of frost in such
    > extreme conditions.
    Being a resident of the polar regions for the past 22 years, I have
    first-hand experience in using both sextants and theodolites at extreme cold
    temperatures. It can be rather unpleasant work but it can be done. There are
    lubricants available today that are suitable for use in extreme cold. I use
    a silicone-based lubricant on my sextant that keeps all moving
    I don't know what Amundsen used, but as I indicated before, he was a master
    planner (except for that almanac) and there is no doubt in my mind that he
    considered the problem and did something about it well beforehand.
    > It's easy to see how, along the journey to the Pole, track was kept of
    > latitude by comparison with almanac predictions of the Sun meridian
    > altitude. It's not clear to me, from any of the accounts, how either party
    > ensured that it was keeping to its intended radial line to the Pole, by
    > measuring the longitude.
    > The question remains - how did Amundsen ensure that he was keeping to his
    > planned radial track toward the Pole, and wasn't veering off to one side
    > another? The best moments for checking this by Sun altitude would be when
    > the Sun was due East or West, at around 6am or 6pm local time. Does anyone
    > know of an analysis of how this longitude navigation was done by Amundsen?
    It was never clear to me either but if my memory serves me right, Amundsen
    had his men and dog teams spaced out along line so that the man in the rear,
    by shouting out commands, could keep the men ahead of him from veering too
    far to one side or the other; in this way they were able to keep a more or
    less steady, straight track.
    Now this is just speculation, but could Amundsen have made use of running
    fixes?  Amundsen was averaging about 15 nautical miles per day, which really
    isn't that much. Surely he would not be too far off the desired track at the
    end of the day having travelled such a relatively short distance? It seems
    to me, that even if he occasionally veered from one side to the other, he
    could still calculate a running fix based on a reasonably accurate average
    track. In this way, he would have been able to obtain a two LOP fix. Pure
    speculation on my part and it assumes that Amundsen had some form of sight
    reduction tables and did not rely soley upon a noon fix.
    You might be interested in reading a paper by Lt. Col (USAF Ret'd) William
    Mollet called "Analysis of Admiral Peary's Trip to the North Pole"
    (Navigation: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Vol 36. No. 2 Summer
    1989). Col. Mollet presents some interesting theories on how Peary would
    have maintained a steady track without taking observations for longitude.
    > To me, the whole business was a tragic exercise in futility. That such
    > teams should devote their energies, and for some, their lives, to being
    > first to reach an otherwise undistinguished spot in a barren wasteland,
    > seems such a waste of human endeavour.
    And here I respectfully disagree with you. The quest for the poles
    epitomizes the human drive for knowledge and discovery. Men like Amundsen
    turned it into a successful military precision-like operation rather than
    heroic death. Without that drive, where would we be today? I suppose a lot
    of people felt the same way about the American efforts to reach the moon. It
    is all a matter of perspective.

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