A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Transatlantic cables and measuring dip.
From: George Huxtable
Date: 2003 Mar 21, 23:53 +0000
From: George Huxtable
Date: 2003 Mar 21, 23:53 +0000
Transatlantic cables and measuring dip. Here's a chance to entwine two separate threads that are presently running on this list, as you will see later. Thanks to the help of Jan Kalivoda and others, I've now managed to read that story about repairing cables at sea, and a really interesting read it has been. As good an account of storm conditions as I've read in any sea-story. The on-shore instrumentation in the hut took me back to my schooldays in the 1940s. Presumably the spot of light that was being watched, for any movement, must have been a mirror-galvanometer, looking for an imbalance in a Wheatstone bridge, which must have been set up to record the resistance of remaining wire up to a short-circuit. This was just the instrumentation we used in the sixth-form physics lab for measuring resistance. Wheatstone was a major figure in the early days of cable. The two threads referred to above are combined in the person of Commander John B. Blish, of the US Navy, who has been mentioned on this list before. He published in March 1903, vol XXIX, No 1 of the proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, a paper entitled "The Navigator's Prism", which is held at- Department of the Navy, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, 805 Kidder Breese SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060. First, the connection with cables. He tells of being invited by William Siemens to travel on board his company's cable-laying steamer Faraday in the summer of 1900, when it was laying a cable between Canso and Fayal. Comments in square brackets are my own. He says that the navigation was of a very high order and included- "a distance-wire, which geve the exact distance run OVER THE GROUND: a deep-sea sounding wire was paid out continuously under a carefully regulated strain and in passing over a measuring wheel recorded the run with an accuracy comparable to that in measuring distances in land surveying. [Well, it's one way of doing precise DR, but out of reach of most of us...] Furthermore, the "lee-way" could be quite accurately checked by observing the trend of this "ground-log" wire. Another feature was the daily noon telegraphic time signal from the Canadian Government observatory at Quebec..." [Presumably there was electrical access to the end of the cable that was at the centre of the spool.] [Here comes the reference to anomalous dip-] On deck no less that nine experienced navigators took sights from early dawn until dark and half-hourly measurements on the Sir William Thompson compass with its accurate shadow-pin, [think of it, nine navigators! It's a wonder they could agree about anything!] In sextant work these observers habitually used the long astronomical telescopes in their sextants; these and all other operations were favored by clear weather and a smooth sea, in which the 10,000 ton Faraday with her deep bilge-keels and the restraining pull of the cable over the stern rode as steady as the proverbial church. All sight were worked out with 7-place logarithms and a mean of the various positions was accepted after throwing out any which differed a mile from that mean. But in spite of this, there came a bright day with a seeming perfect horizon when every "line of position" was bad and although the nine sextants gave the same meridian altitude to within a half minute, yet the noon latitude was nearly three miles north of the line on which the ship was supposed to be.. With unfaltering judgment, Mr Brittle, the cable engineer in charge, held his course and the next day's sights put the ship back on the line which had been laid off two days before. All these scientific appliances and all the care and skill of these trained navigators had been bowled over by a change in the atmosphere whereby the sea horizon was raised above its normal place, and the actual "dip of the horizon" was less than that taken from the "dip table". Having no means of measuring the actual dip, the sights were all rejected and the location of the cable on the chart was plotted by "dead reckoning" from the "distance-wire" records, as if the sun and stars had not been seen on that day." His mention of stars seems a bit odd, as measuring a number of stars at differing azimuths would be expected to give clearly discordant position lines, show up the anomalous dip, and allow it to be averaged out. He went on to patent the Blish Prism, a sextant attachment for measuring dip. This is a rectangular block of glass with its ends faced as 45-degree bevels, arranged to act as a backwards-facing periscope. A pair of mirrors rigidly mounted in a frame would do the same job, and that is what I have added to my plastic sextant. The periscope is mounted above the sextant so that its lower angled face protrudes into the light path that would normally arrive at the index mirror, so instead the index mirror provides a view of the horizon behind the observer's head. The periscope has to be long enough that the light-ray from the backward horizon can clear the top of the navigator's head, which depends on the radius of the sextant arm, the height of his head, and the size of his cap or hairstyle. In use, the sextant is always set to somewhere near zero degrees on the scale, adjusted so the fore and aft horizons coincide, and its reading taken. Then the sextant is INVERTED, (rotated through 180 deg about the line between the fore horizon and the eye), again the two horizons are aligned, and a new reading taken. The difference between these readings is then four times the dip. To those who correctly argue that the periscope would be trying to look through the observer's chest in that second measurement, I should explain that the observer has to cock and twist his head and body over to one side so that he is out of that line of sight, keeping the sextant vertical. A bit awkward, but not really a difficult contortion. Used in the way described above, it's not at all important that the included angle between the reflecting faces subtends exactly 90 degrees, nor does its alignment to the sextant need to be very precise. Another use Blish proposes for such a prism (or mirror-combination) is for use on its own, (independent of the sextant) in pilotage waters. Hold it horizontally, and look into it at one end to view the horizon behind, with the incoming light brushing past your ear. (It's a gadget teachers would find useful in an unruly class) If you can see a beacon behind, through the periscope, and it aligns with another beacon ahead seen just OVER the periscope, then you are on a direct line between the beacons. We are all accustomed to keeping to a transit given by two markers at the same azimuth, but this device allows you to keep to an INTERNAL transit (as I would call it) that you can devise between two markers or natural features in opposite directions, such as channel-markers ahead and astern. Useful? A suitable prism is available under the name of "Dove prism" from Edmund Scientific. I think you would need the largest size, which is 106 mm overall length (between the pointy edges), and this in 2001 in the UK was on sale for �130 from firstname.lastname@example.org. This may be a heavy chunk of glass to attach to a sextant and you may prefer to choose a mirror-periscope, as I have. In conclusion, Blish describes some instances of anomalous dip measured using his dipmeter on a US Navy vessel on the coasts of California and Lower California. Over much of the period the dip didn't deviate by much more than 1 minute or so from its predicted value. However, on 16 Oct 1901, around 33N and 117W, there was a period of several hours when the dip was 2 to 3 minutes too small, and on Oct 21-22, around 32N 118W, dip was found to exceed the predictions by 5, 6, and at one time 7 minutes. There was nothing in the weather observations to indicate anything might be amiss. The Navy named a small oceanographical survey vessel the John B Blish in his honour, which had an ignominious end as one of the vessels sacrificed in a nuclear bomb test. . ============= Now I should get round to answering Richrd Pisko, who asked- Is there a handy web reference or drawing? Most of the
hits on Google seem to be referring to the magnetic dipmeter. I wonder if it would look something like a WWI or WWII rangefinder without the two end prisms / mirrors? Yes, if you ask in a museum about a dipmeter they will assume you refer to magnetic dip. I know of another type of dipmeter which was made by Carl Zeiss and was used by the Carnegie oceanographic expeditions in the 1920s. I havent seen one, but I think it's rather as Richard indicates. The observer looks through a telescope at a pair of prisms (could be mirrors) with reflecting surfaces at 45 deg to his sight line. These provide a split view of the horizon to his left and the horizon to his right. One of the prisms or mirrors can be tilted sideways slightly by a calibrated fine-adjustment until the two views of the horizon are aligned. Having taken a reading, the instrument is inverted and the measurement repeated. The difference between the readings is 4 times the dip. Such an instrument needs to cover a small scale of only a few minutes, and I think it should be within the ability of any good model-machinist. But not me. George Huxtable ================================================================ contact George Huxtable by email at email@example.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. ================================================================