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    When did "time sights" fade away?
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2011 Jul 10, 16:33 -0700

    In the middle of the twentieth century, various sources advocated the "New Navigation" over the "Old Navigation". New Navigation won out and consists of some variant on the intercept method and plotting lines of position --in other words, standard late-20th century celestial navigation. The Old Navigation was the more traditional system where separate sights were taken for latitude and longitude. The longitude sights were really sights for local time so they were often called "time sights". They had been standard daily navigational practice for well over a hundred years. So when did the Old Navigation actually fade away on merchant ships? 1950? 1960? Sooner in American shipping? Or British shipping? Or other traditions? Or did the Old and New more or less coexist for some decades with navigators plotting LOPs all day long and also taking time sights and latitude sights? Henry H., do you have any thoughts on the timing of this?

    For some background, back in 1979, a year after I had first learned celestial navigation at Mystic Seaport (definitely "New Navigation" and using the then relatively new H.O.229), a longtime friend of our family gave me a ride home from my job at Mystic Seaport (I didn't have a driver's license yet). He was Captain Adrian Lane, a fixture in Noank and Mystic back then. He was known for being an "old salt" and also a hard drinker (his wife was actually driving because he was already sloshed at 5pm that day). Anyway, as we're driving to Noank, he starts talking about taking afternoon Sun sights and waiting for the Sun to be as nearly due west as possible. Now at that time, I couldn't figure out what he was getting at, but he assured me that it was critical to celestial navigation. Maybe a year later I realized that he was talking about the Old Navigation, and time sights should of course be taken when the Sun bears close to east or west in order to minimize any error resulting from uncertainty in the dead reckoning latitude at that time. Adrian Lane had not been to sea in quite a few years, but around 1950 he had a rather prestigious command. He was captain for some five years of the Woods Hole research vessel, Atlantis, a very large ketch which was the platform for a great deal of deep ocean hydrographic work (the Space Shuttle Atlantis, currently docked at the International Space Station on the very last Space Shuttle mission was named for this sailing research vessel). After that Captain Lane was the first captain of Mystic Seaport's beautiful sailing yacht Brilliant, which is still used for sail training programs. Brilliant did plenty of offshore sailing including a couple of trans-Atlantic trips, so it's likely that his days aboard Brilliant were the last when he used celestial navigation at all. That would have been in the early 1960s. For those who worry about the math-heavy fascinations of some NavList members (myself included in that category, of course), it's worth mentioning that Captain Lane was famous for saying that all the math classes he took after high school never did him a bit of good, and spherical trigonometry was of no value in understanding celestial navigation (!).

    -FER


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