A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: David Smith
Date: 2017 Jul 6, 14:11 -0700
Several months ago, I was planning a 35-day trip on a container ship, with the goal of becoming competent in determining the ship’s position from morning sights, running fixes, noon sights and evening sights. At that time, I submitted a post titled “I wish I had thought to bring 'that' along with me...” and invited those on this list to recommend items which I should take with me on the voyage. I appreciate all the advice I received and trust that the following list of items might be useful for anyone undertaking a similar adventure.
In the list below, the text in brackets is cut and pasted from replies received to the original post.
(Small hand held GPS with extra batteries. Only turn on long enough to acquire satellites, display Lat. Lon., speed over ground, course made good, and UT then turn off to save batteries.)
I thought I could get by with a smartphone with several GPS apps. These apps were useful but not as good as the Garmin Oregan 450t carried by a fellow passenger. There were multiple sources of GPS read-outs on the bridge. For the first two weeks I carried a scrap of paper and a pencil and would record the Lat., Lon, SOG, STW and COG when I wanted to check a set of sights or a calculate a DR position. For the remainder of the voyage, I rarely looked at the GPS. Each day I would take my documented celestial fixes to the bridge where they would be checked against the Deck Log Book. The Officer of the Watch or a cadet were usually very eager to do this for me!
(Digital wrist watch.)
In another post, Greg recommended the Casio W96H I purchased this watch from Amazon and it was strapped to the telescope on the sextant.
(Digital and or mechanical stopwatch with large time display.)
I took a mechanical stopwatch, but hardly used it.
(Pilot charts for trip. The second mate should have some extras to give you as well as extra general charts.)
Pilot charts can be downloaded from the Internet – I also found downloaded pilot books very interesting. The officers often mentioned that paper charts will soon be redundant. The ship’s position was pencilled in on the chart every 2 hours. Sometimes I was invited to do the chart-work. On the bridge, there were two large chart-plotters – one of which was marked “This is the vessel’s primary navigation aid”. The radars, AIS and other devices were fully integrated with the chart plotters.
(Pocket trig calculator.)
I took a Casio fx-82MS and a Casio fxAU PLUS II. I preferred the former. I was using the two formulas given in John Karl’s book ‘Celestial Navigation in the GPS Age’.
(Tamaya NC 2, NC 77, and or smart phone with CN apps.)
I found Andrés Ruiz González’s Navigational Algorithms on an Android smartphone very useful.
(Photo copy exactly what you need to save weight - NA, Pubs, etc.)
The Nautical Almanac, the Air Almanac, Pub 229 and Pub 249 can be downloaded from the web. The only printed pages taken were Increments and Corrections. A hard copy of the ‘Yellow Page insert’ from the Nautical Almanac, containing the Altitude Correction Tables, would have been useful – luckily there was a copy of it in Mary Blewitts’s little book. The Nautical Almanac and Brown’s Nautical Tables were both in the chartroom bookcase.
(A compact travel shortwave.)
By the cabin desk there were ‘F’ type sockets marked TV/FM and AM. The power sockets on the French vessel on which I sailed were the European style, 230V.
(0.5mm/0.7mm mechanical pencil with extra leads and pocket note books.)
I soon ran out of exercise paper. Luckily, additional note pads could be purchased from the Captains ‘slop chest’. I had with me dozens of double-side A4 plotting sheets and an adequate supply of Sight Forms for ‘Sun’, ‘Planets’, ‘Stars’ and ‘Polaris’. These were printed double sided, two forms per side. A pad of graph paper was also carried.
(White Mars eraser!)
(LED flash light.)
Preferably very small, with a red LED or a red filter, attached to a neck lanyard. I’ve used a Gerber Recon LED flashlight for years and wouldn’t be without it.
(Compact plotting tools.)
Dividers and a parallel rule were all that I used.
I really regretted not having a really good DSLR camera during the transit of the Suez Canal – that place is a photographer’s paradise.
(Small hand bearing compass. Caution - there will be large deviations.)
There were compass repeaters on each bridge wing, which can be very useful for morning and evening star sights. Passengers were most welcome on the bridge from about 0630 to an hour or so after sunset – casual access during the night was discouraged. If twilight was very early, I would take the dawn sights from a lower deck and this is where the handheld compass came in handy. The deviation away from steel bulkheads was tolerable.
(Reading glasses / sun glasses.)
Your old glasses with a neck cord would be recommended.
(7x50mm binoculars if there is any room left.)
Very useful when in coastal waters. There were several binoculars on the bridge, but it is best to have your own. If I did a trip again, where getting to the ship required significant air travel, I would leave the binoculars behind and take a monocular.
(Tape measure - height of eye measurement or just in case you have to make a kamal/cross staff.)
Finding the height of eye of the bridge wing requires calculation. On the ship on which I sailed the HOE on the bridge wings varied between 42 and 44 metres. There will be framed scale plans of the ship, either on the bridge or in the ship’s office. The draft will be written on a whiteboard on the bridge. Dangling a piece of measuring string to the waterline from the bridge wing will attract the attention of the harbour police, so this method is not advised.
Unless you have a brilliant memory or an assistant by your side, I consider a small voice recorder essential. I acquired a second-hand Sony ICD-UX60 for just a few dollars and I hung it on a lanyard around my neck. Earphones or earbuds can be handy when documenting the readings taken on the voice recorder.
‘Astron’ loaded on a laptop is a fantastic asset. I was taking up to 40 sights a day – to do that many sight reductions by tables or calculator would soon lose any novelty. The object of the trip was to become competent in celestial navigation, not to guide the container-ship across the ocean. Astron was extremely useful for ‘what if’ exercises and showed me how results change for HOE, index error, barometric pressure, chronometer error, change of AP, misread arc or time recording, etc. Doing a few dozen ‘what if’ exercises with Astron does not take a lot of time and can be very interesting. Doing the same exercises by tables or calculator could be a drudge.
Take a couple of non-slip table mats. Perforated kitchen shelf lining is ideal. Ships roll in ocean swells!
(A spare plastic sextant for others to use.) I acquired a plastic Ebbco sextant and replaced the opaque filters. I had visions of having to use the Ebbco after my Tamaya sextant fell from a luggage trolley at Cape Town airport! When the captain asked me to give a cadet instruction on the use of a sextant, the cadet used the ship’s own sextant. Yes, the ship had a sextant, but no chronometer! If I did the trip again, I would leave the Ebbco behind.
Frank, you were right – the ship did have Internet. The cost was US 10 cents a Mb. I had set up a Gmail account with an address that only my family knew. Sending and receiving several emails a day initially cost about a US $2 a day. Once I had changed preferences on the Gmail site to the ‘Basic HTML’ option, the daily cost went down dramatically. I did not send or receive attachments or surf the net. Sometimes Internet satellite coverage was poor or non-existent – our route took us across a remote area of the Southern Indian Ocean.
Celestial navigation text books. I took several, but if I did the trip again, I would just take The Admiralty Manual of Navigation, volume II as a hard-copy and Bowditch as a pdf file.
In crowded sea lanes, it is interesting to recognise navigation lights, signal flags, buoyage etc. There are many free cell-phone apps covering these topics, or possibly one could take a small handbook, such as Reid’s Skippers’ Handbook.
(Traverse Tables.) I used the traverse tables in the downloaded version of Bowditch. They were also available in Nories Nautical Tables, this book was in the chart-room. Over several days, I experimented with using Traverse Tables to determine an EP, but I found it more convenient to use a scientific calculator with the four short-distance-sailing formulas detailed in the Admiralty Manual of Navigation, volume II.
(A chart plotter.) This would have been useful, but not essential. USB GPS devices are inexpensive. The GPS on my Samsung Galaxy Note Edge cellphone would sometimes find the satellites when placed adjacent to the cabin window, but not always. If you are carrying a Garmin Oregan 450t or similar device fitted with a chartplotter, with the correct charts loaded, you would have no trouble accessing the satellites as you would be able to take it out on deck.
Weems and Plath star finder and identifier. Not essential, but nice to have.
(HO 249 Volume 1 – Selected Stars.) There was a copy of HO 249 in the chart room and it was interesting to use it to plan star sights. This publication is freely available on the Internet and can be downloaded. However, I tended to use Astron or Andrés Ruiz González’s Navigational Algorithms for planning sights. Your planning sheet needs some thought. When underway, the wind on the bridge wings is invariably turbulent – forget about using a clip board or an exercise book. I used to write the planned sights on a piece of thin card, which was either kept in my pocket or strapped to the same wrist which held the sextant.
What else? You may need a couple of hundred US Dollars or Euros. The Captain operates a slop-chest from which you can purchase soft drinks, wine, beer, spirits, chocolate and toiletries. You also need cash to purchase Internet access vouchers. It is customary to tip the cook and the steward – possibly $10 a week each is appropriate.
For insurance reasons, many ships are now ‘dry’, where the crew are not permitted to drink whilst on board. This does not apply to the passengers. On the ship that I was on, a complimentary bottle of wine was shared between the passengers each evening. The meals were excellent, there was a fridge full of snacks always available, the tea, coffee and juice were top quality and there was an endless supply of bottled spring water. On board, there was a library, a fully equipped gym, A/V equipment, a swimming pool and several mini-laundries. The officers were Croatian, Russian and Hungarian, the cadets were British and Tunisian, and the crew were Sri Lankan. The common language was English. Apart from casual conversation between those from the same country, English was always used.
When considering the voyage planning I had two potential issues.
(a) I have previously worked as a Radio Officer on cargo ships, so I knew that the officers and crew would prefer that passengers were not carried.
(b) Mr and Mrs Average rarely travel on cargo ships, so fellow passengers might be unusual characters.
Both these turned out to be true. It took a week for me to quietly gain the trust, confidence and friendship of the deck officers. The ship carried up to 4 passengers. It is surprisingly easy to avoid those whose company you do not seek – you may not see them for the whole day!
Many thanks to those who gave advice for the planning of the voyage. It was an amazing experience and I enjoyed every minute of it.