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Old 14-04-2014, 02:47   #31
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Re: The Importance Of The Noon Sight?

Thanks Jim, that's fascinating info.

I remember the HP41. I managed to convert all my junior engineers to RPN and HP, and one of them went the whole hog and splashed out on a 41. That sounds like a sweet routine, and a good piece of team-tag (human and silicon, each doing what they do best).

I suppose there is one thing I liked about freehanding a bell curve: I'd always have an idea which shots were "sweet" and which were less so, and plotting them as points, and then assessing where they lay in relation to the possible curves, felt to me as though I was both better equipped to apply some sort of nuanced weighting, and more able to build on that understanding, over time, of what a good shot actually felt like.

The more I used apps, the more I felt like a data entry clerk rather than a navigator, but I realise that's going to sound like a romantic affectation.

I remember being delighted, on a big cruising yacht I was navigator for, (whose satnav had packed up, which is how I got the job) when the owner's fancy sight reduction calculator's printer stopped printing. Whoever wrote the app (package deal with the calculator) hadn't thought to include the option to redirect the output to the display, so although the calculator knew the answer, it had no way of telling us! Ha !

I know what you mean about poring over the chart table, too: I'd try and do my curve fitting with a chinagraph pencil on a plastic laminated sheet of graph paper abovedecks, where I could enjoy the fresh air and keep one eye on the horizon.

But my first ocean passage was on a boat with SatNav, at a time when they were still beyond most budgets. Although the rest of the crew were mostly pretty excited about this magic box of tricks, I was already feeling a bit let down when we got to our first landfall after 4000 miles, and the little box was continually telling us where land was and what time we'd get there.

Sure enough, it turned up exactly where we were looking, at the time we were looking there. A bit of a let-down; I wish I'd had just ONE landfall the 'old school' way ... and once the tech is available, it just feels artificial to turn your back on it.

I'd hauled my sextant along, as had the skipper, but neither of us actually got them out more than twice. The skipper was a consummate seaman and navigator, the best I've ever sailed with, and I think he, too, found it a bit unsatisfying.

There are safer and more convenient (and cheaper!) ways of crossing an ocean than a sailboat; I wonder sometimes just how safe and convenient we have to make it before it just doesn't make any sense at all.

For me, part of the answer is the ability to go places unreachable by other means, but I am a bit perplexed by people who sail only between population centres, already well serviced by airlines. I've been a hired hand on vessels like that, and I wasn't convinced the guests were having as much fun as I was, 'cos at least I had something meaningful to do (eg navigate).

And the technology trends seem to me to lead in the direction where (unless or until the tech craps out) we are all going to end up guests (or consumers, perhaps) on our own vessels, with nothing important to do, because everything which matters has been outsourced. "For our comfort, safety and convenience"

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Old 14-04-2014, 04:31   #32
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Re: The Importance Of The Noon Sight?

Is it just me or have we transmogriphied into another thread?

I never really had anything to do with those HP and TI thingos... by the time they appeared in the mid 70's I was already more than comfortable with doing everything on paper...after a day or two on passage I would have everything pretty much precomputed - from the sextant corrections down to the workings - so pretty much all that was required was to look up the increment, add up a cupla lines, and stick the p/l on the chart.

What I did invest in was a little Sharp pocket computer... forget the model number but it had about 7k in memory and could be programed in BASIC. A chap called Mike Harris ( he started up Yotreps) published an article in PBO in about 1988 showing how to program it with a perpetual almanac and a sight reduction program.... now that was a good bit of kit but it I rarely used in anger as by then I was a Bass Strait cowboy. Its still in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

Bit of info about Mike and a book he published about it here.. Systematic Maps - Background

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Old 24-04-2014, 21:43   #33
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Re: The Importance Of The Noon Sight?

When noon positions, the north star, etc., were common in navigation, people were looking for simple shots requiring simple math and where time was less important. Pre dawn stars, morning sun, noon, afternoon sun and post sunset starts were common. The morning sun line was dead reckoned forward to the noon sight (like a running fix) and the noon sight DR'ed forward to the afternoon sun sight. Anything that could help fix the ships position was important. Even the moon. 40 years ago when I used US Navy chronometers. They were still spring wound. Whenever we could pick up WWV's time broadcast, the usual 3 chronometers were checked and the time difference noted in a log. They were wound at the same time every day. But they still didn't keep exact time. Each one gained or lost a somewhat consistent amount each day. When setting a watch for shots, an educated, informed guess of the exact time was made usually on an average of the 3 chronometers.
My point is: only 40 years ago, exact time was not easily known. A Loran A reciever cost $10,000us. Only nuke subs had GPS. 200 years ago navigators commonly ran latitude or longitude lines. Often with lousy charts and instruments (compasses and sextants) less accurate that we have. Old compasses have 32 points not 360°. Watches with a second hand were uncommon and expensive, even for a naval or merchant officer. These are the people that passed on the habits of noon sights.
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Old 25-06-2014, 04:46   #34
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Re: The Importance Of The Noon Sight?

Originally Posted by Lepke View Post
Watches with a second hand were uncommon and expensive, even for a naval or merchant officer.
Cf. the well-known loss of the troopship Arniston near Cape Agulhas, due to lack of a chronometer.
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Old 25-06-2014, 04:47   #35
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Re: The Importance Of The Noon Sight?

This thread reminds me of the following passage from Hal Lawrence's book A Bloody War: One Man's Memories of the Canadian Navy 1939-45, dealing with RCNR officers:
Some of these merchant-service officers, with reflective minds and a gently insistent curiosity, were among the most educated men you could meet….. Others went slightly mad in harmless ways.
One captain had a mania about getting the ship’s latitude at noon by meridian altitude, a natural enough routine to the navigator. When this was impossible because the sun was obscured, the captain would fly into a tantrum, berate the navigator with a pungency and fluency that was awe-inspiring, and threaten to beach him when the ship next touched land. One cloudy day, just before noon, the captain was glowering on the bridge when up to the foremast yardarm was hoisted a round, red, Danish Edam cheese. The navigator raised his sextant, carefully got a cut, and disappeared below to work out his sight. The captain grunted, mollified, and went below.
From the best of these merchant-service officers I learned valuable sea-lore, and from the worst, how to work cheek-by-jowl with men I actively disliked.

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