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Old 12-07-2011, 23:20   #16
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Get a used sextant not a plastic.
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Old 12-07-2011, 23:35   #17
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

I think it would be wise for someone just learning to avoid spending that kind of money. That was my philosophy anyway. So far been sticking with it and when I "graduate" ; seeing that I will use it well and regularly, as I hope to on this upcomming trip, I will treat myself to a "good" one. The new plastic ones aren't that bad actually. I just imagine that the metal ones will hold up longer. They all still have to be treated right.
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Old 12-07-2011, 23:40   #18
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Had two starting out. A Plath that I picked up in a pawn shop was my first. You can find em cheap.
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Old 12-07-2011, 23:47   #19
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

For many years now I've taught a course called History of Navigation, the byproduct of which is learning celestial navigation along with using more modern instruments and no instruments at all. Because I teach this at my museum where we only have very old ships or replicas of very old ships, I've got a pretty skewed audience for this kind of thing, and it continues to seem popular despite the advance of technology. My sense is that my students like the stories more than the math and though they find the exercise of taking and working out sights satisfying, just like most of us find it more satisfying to sail somewhere than fly there in a plane though the latter is vastly more practical, quick, and inexpensive, I don't really think they are having enough fun at it to swear off GPS when its available.

Most of them can get fixes within a quarter of a mile by the end of the course and I myself am usually able to get within a couple of hundred yards in good conditions, sometimes a bit better, so not so accurate as a GPS obviously. Nor is it so constantly available - cloud cover and night being the obvious issues. Nor is it as inexpensive as GPS: you can pick up a good Plath in excellent condition most of the time on e-bay for less than $700, and a good Plath is about as good as it gets, but even with a cheap plastic sextant what with all the other stuff its still more than a nice chart plotter. What's the chance that your GPS will go down? - probably about the same as your boat going down with it, so its a pretty far stretch to justify it as a backup.

So why does Celestaire continue to sell lots of sextants and why does my class fill up? I think its because when you sail you make yourself part of an ancient human story in a time when such continuity is now the rarest of experiences. Celestial navigation is simply one of the many skills that make such continuity real. The upside is that if you never learn how, you'll never feel the loss but if you do learn how, you'll never need to justify it to someone who hasn't. You'll simply know who you are and where the difference lies.
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Old 12-07-2011, 23:55   #20
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

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Originally Posted by SaltyMonkey View Post
Newt common man get real here. Were tlking emergency navigation not survival or primitive living skills. I love flontknapping but I know well enough there aren't enough calories around these days.
SM,
I need the definition of the following words so I can tell if I was insulted or complimented:
tlking
flontknapping
"aren't enough calories"- haven't you looked in the fridge lately?
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Old 13-07-2011, 00:01   #21
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Spot on Squarerigger. Good post. Thanks
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Old 13-07-2011, 00:11   #22
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Don't get me wrong, I use a gps too but one problem I thought about was you are relying on someone else to keep those satellites up there. If big brother decides he doesn't like the way things are going all he has to do is pull the plug. With sextants the responsibility is all you, no one else. So what if you are a few miles out. At least (I hope) you know what country you are running in to.
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Old 13-07-2011, 01:57   #23
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

I think celestial navigation is much like butchering your own meat, or working with leather, or building furniture solely with hand tools, or playing with steam engines. Delving into the roots of modern pursuits broadens your understanding, and is just plain fun and satisfying. It's much like artists painting portraits or landscapes, despite also owning a digital camera.

Don't forget that sextants are not used solely for celestial navigation, but can also be used in piloting. Even if you never plan on going offshore, you can get use out of a sextant.

Simple navigation tools are nice to know how to use, like the kamal. I've used a kamal both in kayak navigation, and as a real handy tool to use as a member of a hot air balloon crew. In that capacity, you can take a bearing on the balloon, use the kamal to figure distance away, and plot on a topographic map where the balloon is. Sort of a poor man's radar. For land navigation, I have a GPS, but still use a compass and pace beads. Never rely on just one navigation tool.
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Old 13-07-2011, 02:16   #24
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

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Well, Popeye, GPS is here to stay! Most people including myself have a backup GPS. Sextant navigation is very satisfying when you are rolling down the trades on a nice warm sunny day, however when the preverbial hits the fan then the acuracy falls flat and mistakes made especially if you are trying to read off tables and almanacs.
If you want to use a sextant or want it onboard for a backup I would suggest downloading an Astro nav program from Pangolin @ $40 US to your laptop, easy to use, acurate and very affordable!
Great idea... I don't own a sextant but I want to buy one (just in case the next solar surge takes out all satellite communications ), but I was worried about the learning process, as well as keeping in practice. As you say, on a nice sunny day you would have time to read the manual, but when you really need it, hopefully never, then you need it quick.

Technology every time for me, but with braces.
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Old 13-07-2011, 02:44   #25
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Let's not forget for coastal cruising the good old hand held compass, charts, rule and a pencil!
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Old 13-07-2011, 04:53   #26
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Which is more likely:

a) the entire constellation of multi-million dollar GPS satellites all fail at once....

OR

b) some calamity strikes your sextant; it falls and gets bent, or goes overboard...


The US isn't going to turn off GPS on purpose, ever. Far too many businesses rely on GPS now, not to mention the ability to land a missile on a pin head.

In fact, in today's world, it makes more sense to carry a handheld GPS on the boat as a backup to sextant failure then the other way around. What happens if you drop the sextant and bend the frame? Or the mirror cracks? Or it goes overboard? Just because it doesn't use electricity doesn't make it better, more reliable or more accurate.

One is better off tossing the sextant from that nice wood box and storing a small GPS and spare batteries inside it. Store a backup GPS and batteries with the same care and diligence that you would a sextant, and use the bookshelf space where HO249 used to be for books you will actually read.
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Old 13-07-2011, 05:38   #27
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

Some great ideas guys, just a small input from me, i just recently bought a small 220v charger for rechargable AA bateries and thought this is a bargain!

The packet held the charger and two AA re-chargable bateries and sold for arround $30 US.

I am still of opinion that a sextant does have a place on the boat, so has hand held GPS and of coarse the old fasioned charts rulers. pencil and compass should also be part of the amory. Frankly, this is a type of overkill i can live with.

Whether Uncle Sam or solar debri cause a satalite to misfunction that i do not know, but me, i take no no chances on uncontrolled elements that i can prepare for. There is enough uncontrolable elements out there to keep one busy, after all that is sailing!
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Old 13-07-2011, 06:59   #28
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Bleh..what an argument....why no learn to navigate celestially? How much other crap do you really have to do at sea, if you really are cruising...it does not take alot to learn simple noonsights, ajd basic star plotting...that in conjunction with good piloting skills can take you anywhere in the world...reliably...a sextant can also be useful in coastal nav by measuring the angles between two landmarks giving an instant pair of LOPs...do it one more time and you have a fix...I am all for gps as a tool...but having spent the last twenty years working on government equipment, I for one like to be able to paddle my own canoe...
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Old 13-07-2011, 07:26   #29
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

I've seen this sextant/gps discussion many times. It's nearly always brought up by someone who has never used celestial navigation. I got rid of my slide rule in the 70's and the sextant a couple of years ago. Neither had any purpose anymore.
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Old 13-07-2011, 07:31   #30
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Re: Tecnology versus sextant

I taught myself celestial navigation last winter after my elderly father gifted me his British-made Kelvin Hughes. I can't say that I have tried it yet from the deck, but from a shore position, I was able to generate a noon fix that was accurate within a few nautical miles -- plenty OK for the middle of xyz ocean.

If nothing else, it's a great mental exercise and very personally satisfying. And, it's a backup for that when that lightening strike occurs right after you've forgotten to put the backup GPS back in the oven. Or, when the satellites all de-orbit in unison. Or when the solar flare fries the satellites and/or disrupts communication.

Oh wait, that last one actually sounds plausible!
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