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    Re: Sumner and the Smalls lighthouse.
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2006 Apr 4, 08:38 EDT

    [Sending this to Navigation-L *and*  NavList]
    George H, you wrote:
    "But Frank's suggestion, that he had  somehow lost all the details and then
    reconstructed the whole thing from a  misremembered position of the Lighthouse,
    implies that the whole account is  somewhat fictional. "
    No, not fictional. Fictional means it never  happened. Reconstructing some
    small details of events from a few years earlier  is very different.
    And you wrote:
    "Is it likely that Sumner had only  his memory to guide him? Frank states
    "Navigators in  that era rarely kept  all the details of their calculations.
    Sights were often  worked up in  chalk on a
    slate." That depends somewhat on what sort of vessel, in what sort  of trade,
    and with what sort of navigator. But I agree that the use of slate,  rather
    than pen and ink, was common, in which case the calculations from the
    observation might well have been lost, and might have to be reconstructed. But  not
    the Sun observation itself, surely? The altitude, date and time of that Sun
    sight would have been written into a permanent log, not just on a slate. As this
    event was Sumner's proudest achievement, is it likely that he neglected to
    retain that log, or at least transcribe a copy?"
    I think I understand the  source of your misunderstanding now. It is simply
    incorrect to state that a  navigator would have recorded the "altitude, date,
    and time" of every Sun sight.  That DID NOT HAPPEN. Only in rare cases in 19th
    century logbooks are the  complete details of sights recorded. More generally,
    only the final result is  recorded in the logbook (for example, "Lat by Sun
    at Meridian: 31d 22' "). You  can check this out for yourself by examining any
    of the logbooks from that era  that are available online at
    schooner.mysticseaport.org (the G.W. Blunt-White  Library at Mystic Seaport). Once in a while,
    you will find whole sights worked  up from the initial observation, but this
    usually only happens on the back of a  page in a logbook, often from an entirely
    different voyage (this would happen  when the slate or the navigation
    notebook has gone missing presumably). Even  with lunar distances, it's rare for a
    navigator to include all the details  required to analyze the observations after
    the fact. Very rarely, a "navigation  notebook", like the one from the voyage
    of the Morgan in 1896-97 that we  discussed recently, will survive. But these
    were literally nothing more than  "scratch pads", and their survival, though
    wonderful from our viewpoint today,  is due to some descendant's packrat
    habits, rather their intrinsic worth. They  were not considered worth keeping in
    the era.
    You suggest that Sumner  would surely have written all this down because it
    was his proudest achievement.  Thatmay be turning the events on their heads. He
    did not write his book until a  few years later when he had experimented with
    the line of bearing concept on  other voyages and fleshed out the details. On
    that morning in 1837, I think it's  highly unlikely that he realized in an
    instant that there was a book in his  future. I doubt he shouted out "This is
    gonna make me rich. Don't erase that  slate!". Rather, I would bet that his
    thoughts were more along these lines:  "that was fascinating... I think that trick
    saved my ship... I'll have to think  about it more when I get back to
    Boston." I should emphasize here that I have no  recording of Sumner's actual
    thoughts on that date .
    In his  History of Marine Navigation, W.E. May notes that the position of the
    lighthouse  was plotted incorrectly by about five miles and then displays his
    own plot. No  noise about falsification.
    And you wrote:
    "Frank suggests that the  whole thing was made-up after the event, to
    correspond to Sumner's recollection,  and then dressed up as observations taken on
    the day. Would that make it more  excusable?"
    My suggestion is that he may very well have reconstructed the  actual
    observational details, but the events happened just as he says they did.  Or rather,
    I should say that I have no reason to doubt that they did. Would  Sumner need
    to make excuses for reconstructing the observations? Of course not.  It is
    totally unimportant to the purpose of his book.
    "He refers  to the plot as "making some small error", but a five-mile
    discrepancy in such a  close-quarters situation is no small error. Not when it was
    the nub of the  matter that Sumner was addressing, and the basis of his claim to
    The basis of his "claim to fame" was the discovery and publication  of a
    navigational technique that was decades ahead of its time and would one day  come
    to dominate the world of celestial navigation. The specific events on that
    day in late 1837 are a fascinating background to that discovery, but if we knew
    nothing more of him than that story from that one morning, Sumner's name
    would  be forgotten.
    And you wrote:
    "We won't ever know Sumner's motivation,  for misleading us as he did. Fred
    Hebard may have put his finger on it, in  writing "Regarding Sumner, I wonder
    whether this falsification is related to his  subsequent insanity." "
    LOL. Well, um, I thought Fred was kidding. What  are you trying to suggest
    42.0N 87.7W, or 41.4N  72.1W.

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