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    Weekend Class: celestial navigation - 19th century methods
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2010 Feb 17, 21:35 -0800


    I will be teaching a two-day class in 19th century celestial navigation methods March 27-28, 2010 at the Planetarium at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. This course is appropriate for beginning students as well as navigators familiar with modern techniques interested in historical methods. Details on cost and how to sign up may be found here:


    To register for this class, on the web page above, scroll up to the top of the page and look for the details in the right-hand margin.

    A two-day weekend class devoted to the history and practice of celestial navigation as it was done aboard the whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan during the second half of the 19th century.

    Students will learn details of the practical techniques, both the sight-taking methods and the mathematics, of navigation using the Sun and stars aboard 19th century sailing vessels. The instructor, who has extensively studied the navigation methods in the surviving logbooks of Mystic Seaport's whaleship Charles W. Morgan, will recount some of the history of the whaling voyages and teach students exactly how the Sun and Moon were used to navigate in the 19th century. The Charles W. Morgan, currently undergoing an extensive three-year restoration, is not only the centerpiece of Mystic Seaport's collection, but also a prototypical whaling vessel of the 19th century. The celestial navigation methods used aboard the Charles W. Morgan were typical of most American whaling vessels in this period. After this class, students will have in-hand the practical skills of 19th century navigation, fun and useful for practical navigators, navigation enthusiasts, as well as the professional or armchair historian.

    This class is appropriate for adults as well as younger students with good basic math skills. If you can add and subtract, you can do celestial navigation. A basic understanding of latitude and longitude are the only prerequisites for this class. Traditional 19th century celestial navigation occasionally uses technical astronomical and mathematical terminology like right ascension and
    logsecant, but have no fear, all of these will be explained.

    Students will learn how to take and clear a meridian latitude sight for "latitude by Noon Sun", the single most important sight in the history of celestial navigation. Students will also learn how to take and clear a "time sight" or "longitude by chronometer" sight which was the workaday method of 19th century navigation. Students will also be taught basic sight-taking procedures using an actual 19th century brass sextant or ebony octant from the instructor's personal collection.

    This class isn't just "about" navigation. You will walk away with the skills to do it yourself. A student who completes this two-day course will be proficient in the basic skills of 19th century celestial navigation and could successfully navigate across an ocean today, with a good dose of luck, using these historical methods. Students will also have an understanding of the navigation of the Charles W. Morgan, as it was actually done, as seen in the primary source evidence of the surviving logbooks.

    DAY ONE: two three-hour sessions. Topics covered: Noon Sun, 19th century approaches to Noon Sun sights, latitude sailing, the essential aspects of finding longitude, navigation on the Charles W. Morgan's maiden voyage 1841-45 as understood from the logbooks. An opportunity to take actual sights, weather-permitting.

    DAY TWO: two three-hour sessions. Topics covered: review of altitude corrections, applies to latitude and longitude sights. Clearing a time sight using simple tables, how to practice 19th century navigation in the 21st century, the limitations of these methods and their relationship to modern navigation, navigation on the Charles W. Morgan's last 19th century voyage as understood from the logbooks, an opportunity for sight-taking, weather-permitting.


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