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    Re: Retracing Sir Shackleton's journey
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2014 Jan 16, 11:03 -0800

    Stan, yeah, somewhere in an earlier post I had fleshed this out in more detail. Sextants are "right-HANDLED" but they are definitely "left-handed" because they use the right hand for the "brute" task of holding the instrument. The fine work of adjusting the micrometer and more importantly the job of writing down the sights is better for left-handed users because the left hand is free. Very few right-handed navigators can record sights with the left hand, so you're stuck with a cumbersome process of putting the sextant down after each sight (which is difficult anyway because the handle is on the same side as the legs!) and then picking up a pencil and writing down the figures. A left-handed person taking sights can work without putting the sextant down. This is an interesting design feature of the modern sextant, but I don't think it was design choice. Early octants did not have handles. The navigator would hold the instrument by the frame out beneath the horizon mirror (according to some sketches). This could be done with either hand. The sextant only became left-handed when the handle became standard, which occurred over many decades. And naturally the handle had to go on the side opposite the index arm. Like so many features of the modern sextant, we could probably blame lunars for this. Of course, a right-handed user today could easily revert to the old system, holding the instrument by the frame. But that user would look like an idiot. Navigators are under tremendous peer-pressure. :)


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