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    Re: Troughton and Simms
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2013 Jan 11, 10:33 -0800

    Norm, you wrote:
    "While we're on the subject, is anyone on the board aware of documented nautical mishaps caused by errors in math tables?"

    The only example that I can think of off the top of my head is frequently-repeated but, as far as I have been able to determine, undocumented. It's the case that Bowditch and Blunt highlighted back in 1800-1802 when they were trying to convince mariners to buy the "New American Practical Navigator" instead of Moore's "New Practical Navigator" (which really wasn't that much different). There was an error in the Sun tables in Moore that appeared sometime in the 1790s. The tables in Moore listed 1800 as a leap year, but it was not. This was the first time in modern history that the British (and former colonies, including the United States) had encountered a fourth year that was not a leap year. It was an easy mistake to make. Moore fixed it in later editions published BEFORE 1800, but with no means of contacting those mariners who owned older copies, the damage was already done. The story was told of two vessels which had wrecked somewhere in the Lesser Antilles because they calculated their latitude using Moore's incorrect tables. Unfortunately, it's an anecdote. I haven't found any primary source evidence that it happened. I have no doubt that there were at least two New England vessels wrecked in the Caribbean in 1800, but the idea that the tables were to blame may just be a good story. Anyway, it's a famous anecdote that directly led to the commercial success of Bowditch's Navigator, so it's worth re-telling on those grounds alone.


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