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    Re: The Zen of Sextant Navigation
    From: Robert Eno
    Date: 2005 Oct 15, 14:06 -0400

    Mike
    
    You raise some interesting points and ones which I have considered many
    times in the past. Most, or all of us share the belief that what we are
    maintaining is the purity of self-contained traditional navigation methods.
    I think that their might be more to it than that: it is all about attitude
    and work ethic. Deep down inside, at least for my part, I have this
    deep-seated notion that the easy way is fraught with unseen hazards and that
    in the end, the easy way is not only slothful but will ultimately lead to
    grief. The only true way is through hard work and self-reliance. Some folks
    call it the "protestant work ethic" which doesn't include us "dogans" but
    for lack of a better term I can accept that and put myself into this
    category.  Be that at is may, I believe that this is part of the philosophy
    that causes us to hang on to our sextants and old ways against the
    unstoppable juggernaut of push-button technology and pop culture.
    
    Getting away from the metaphysical and quasi-religious roots, the ostensible
    reason for learning and practicing celestial navigation is that it is
    self-contained and places no reliance upon the unseen black magic of
    electronic navigation and the evil harridan goddess GPS who is heading the
    pack.
    
    But is celestial navigation really all that self-contained?  I used to
    believe this. But now I don't think so. Just as GPS depends upon a billion
    dollar system of orbiting satellites and ground control stations, in
    addition to batteries, celestial navigation is dependant upon a
    multi-million dollar system of astronomers, observatories and printing
    presses to provide us with the ephemeris data which is so vital to the
    craft. Then there are chronometers, most of which are now electronic, which
    in themselves, require a tremendous critical mass of infrastructure to
    produce. Even if we hearken back to the age of mechanical watches, opening
    up the case of one of these babies reveals a mechanical system that would
    baffle even the most erudite and intelligent man on this list. I remember
    posting a comment on this list some months ago asking the rhetorical
    question about how many people can open up a GPS unit and be able to figure
    out which circuit board or computer chip is faulty and effect repairs.
    Certainly all of us can fix a sextant but can any of us fix a watch, which
    is just as important as the sextant in this process (notwithstanding noon
    sun shots).
    
    So I would argue that there really isn't much of a difference between
    celestial and electronic, save for the extent of dependency upon outside
    sources to provide the resources required to make them function, and the
    amount of effort required to achieve the desired result. Despite the fact
    that I enjoy celestial navigation and find it extremely rewarding, I
    sometimes wonder if I am fooling myself in my belief that I am somehow a cut
    above those philistines who take the easy way out and push buttons on their
    GPS units.
    
    Certainly there is simply no comparison between the beauty and feel of a
    solid bronze sextant and a GPS receiver. The former is a thing of beauty and
    mechanical genius, steeped in history and connects the mariner with his
    ancestors. The latter is just a utilitarian gadget designed to make
    navigation easy for anyone who wishes to spend a few minutes learning the
    button pushing sequence.
    
    Despite the above arguments, I will continue to practice the venerable art
    and science of celestial navigation. That deep seated protestant (in my case
    Catholic) work ethic that I spoke of earlier, is just too ingrained in me to
    take the easy way out; at least exclusively.
    
    My two bits' worth of philosophy on a windy, cold Saturday afternoon.
    
    
    Robert
    
    
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Mike Hannibal" 
    To: 
    Sent: Friday, October 14, 2005 6:46 PM
    Subject: The Zen of Sextant Navigation
    
    
    > This might be better suited to "alt.culture.sextant"
    > or somesuch. If it's not really a topic for here I
    > apologise.
    >
    > It seems to me that sextant navigation has an
    > aesthetic component to it. That the use of the
    > instrument, the feel and look of the instrument and
    > the "directness" of sighting on an object and getting
    > a position line are part of an aesthetic which
    > provides some of the motivation for at least some of
    > us to continue to do this.
    >
    > In photography the closest analogue I can identify is
    > with people who use Leica rangefinder cameras. The
    > look, feel and functionality of these cameras,
    > together with the connection to history and the way
    > they dictate picture taking are all part of the reason
    > people use them. There's not much difference between
    > the first Leica rangefinder in the 20s and a 2005
    > model. Not to mention the mystique of these cameras.
    >
    > Any rational person would probably use something with
    > lots of LEDs, LCDs and buttons and batteries. Quite a
    > large number of people don't however and they feel
    > very passionate about not using such instruments.
    >
    > The same applies to sextants and GPS units. It's a bit
    > hard to feel much for a GPS unit but I'm sure many of
    > us feel something for our sextants.
    >
    > Are sextant navigators also Leica rangefinder users?
    > Is there an aesthetic that is part of our attachment
    > to this art/craft/science? Are we luddites who insist
    > on "Mechanical Perfection" as opposed to "electronic
    > mysticism"? Or are we all just pragmatic navigators.
    >
    > I'd be interested in your responses. And you can no
    > doubt see that I have too much time on my hands this
    > morning.
    >
    > Now really to the boat this beautiful morning.
    >
    > Regards
    >
    > Mike
    >
    >
    >
    > ____________________________________________________
    > Do you Yahoo!?
    > Yahoo! Photos: Now with unlimited storage
    > http://au.photos.yahoo.com
    
    
    

       
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