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    Re: ebay: Navigation School Workbook 1886
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2006 Mar 22, 00:49 EST

    George H, you wrote:
    "Certainly Lecky,  writing of the British navigational tradition, considered
    longitude-by-lunars to  be a matter of history, in 1879."
    
    Of course, even a man like Lecky, fully  aware that lunars were dead and
    buried, also wrote some very interesting  practical comments on lunars over the
    course of something like six or seven  pages in his book. Interest in lunars,
    either from a technical/mathematical  standpoint or a lunarian romantic
    standpoint, has never died out, and we find  them entertaining today. But by 1879,
    they were apparently no longer in use by  practical navigators and handn't been
    aboard Royal Navy vessels since the 1820s  or so.
    
    From Randier (in translation), you quoted:
    "Seamen have  always detested calculations with pencil and paper, preferring
    to use  diagrammatic means."
    
    I consider this seriously unhistorical. Diagramatic  methods caught on VERY
    slowly in celestial navigation. There was a significant  bias in favor of
    calculation (meaning columns of numbers, added and subtracted)  in 19th century
    navigation. Perhaps Randier was simply extrapolating backward to  those earlier
    days the very modern preference for crossing lines of position. As  for the
    "planisphere" that you say accompanied these words, how accurate do you  suppose
    it was? There were lots of these mechanical contrivances invented over  the
    years, and it seems as if every inventor thought that he had brought some
    wondrous relief from the terrible drudgery of working lunars. But in fact, it is
    largely myth that lunars were painfully tedious to work out. From the earliest
    period there were very good methods of working lunars that require only about
     three times as much work as an ordinary time sight, and they are very
    similar in  calculational procedure to time sights, too. The calculational
    "difficulty" was  not a showstopper, and "planispheres" for solving navigational
    problems (beyond  star identification) were oddities. And that's part of the reason
    that these  "weird inventions" have survived in museum collections.
    
    And you  wrote:
    "Both Frank and I would argue with that assessment of the lunar  distance
    method as being 'in constant use between 1880 and 1910' "
    
    That's  for sure. To me it strongly suggests that Randier had no clue what he
    was  talking about. Arguably reasonable dates for the French 'constant use'
    of lunars  would be 1780 to 1810 --a FULL CENTURY earlier. Makes me wonder
    whether the  author might simply have mis-read his notes when he was compiling his
    book. How  can you place ANY value on a source like this (on lunars
    specifically, that  is)?
    
    "Frank's assessments may be coloured by his concentration on the  logs of
    American vessels, particularly whalers. Things may not be quite the same  the
    whole world over."
    
    The evidence that I have mentioned on this list is  an important component of
    the material I have examined, but it ain't the whole  boatload! For French
    primary resources, I would love to examine logbooks and  navigation notebooks.
    Perhaps someday I'll have that luxury. Nonetheless, I have  read some primary
    French sources from the era, and I highly doubt that French  usage of lunars
    lasted any later than British usage. I will make this claim:  that French usage
    of lunars was essentially synchronized with British usage plus  or minus a
    decade. And I would put money on it! This year, the US mint has  issued coins
    with genuine lunarians (yes, men who understood lunar distances) on  both the
    obverse and reverse. I will bet twenty of these valuable coins that the  dates I
    have suggested are closer by at least 50 years than the dates Randier  has
    suggested [ please understand this 'bet' is just for laughs-- for  those of
    you who have not figured it out, the "minted lunarians" I am referring  to are
    Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark on the latest US nickel. My  "twenty
    valuable coins" amounts to one whole US dollar, and no more (I believe  in
    gentlemen's bets but not otherwise)].
    
    I would love to see real  evidence --not just some late 20th century author's
    unsubstantiated claim-- that  I am wrong on this point. If you're interested,
    I can point you to contemporary  (late 19th century articles) in French
    decrying the complete obsolescence of  lunars at sea and their "nearly forgotten"
    status.
    
    -FER
    42.0N 87.7W,  or 41.4N 72.1W.
    www.HistoricalAtlas.com/lunars
    
    
    

       
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