Celestial Navigation is Still Cool
August 27, 2010
You don't have to know how to use a sextant anymore to get places on the wide open sea, but I still think it'd be neat to know how to use one of those things, or at least to know how it works.
Years ago I acquired a big old wood sailboat and was set to fulfill my dream of sailing the seas. I did get to do a bunch of sailing and lived on the boat in LA Harbor and Marina del Rey on and off for a few years (reported here elsewhere). I even studied up on using a sextant. I did do some practice sights and such, but I never used it to get anywhere. I did get to use the compass for navigating out of sight of land for a few hours, and I suppose I was ready to give the sextant a go if we'd gotten lost. I also had an old radio direction finder on board. That boat had all sorts of cool old stuff, like an autopilot rig of the original kind -- a simple set-up with ropes to tie the tiller to the jib-sheet, I think it was. I recall that Tristan Jones had a chapter on simplifying navigation in his "One Hand for the Ship" book -- it kinda helped me understand what was going on, but it was still tough to get the brain around.
Well, I just bumped into an online tutorial in using a sextant, written by the main bike safety dude, John Forrester. Now, JF is a very dry guy but I'm sure his drill works and is even simplified and clear, but I googled around a bit more and found another guide as well.
Anyway, for some fun with skills, check out the various guides and see what you can do!