Personal Navigation Stories
Everyone has a story — what's yours?
Have you sailed the open seas?
Has GPS ever let you down?
Have you ever used the technologies on display in our exhibition?
I learnt celestial navigation with my father when I was in my early teens in the 1970s. Lots of fun. And just for the fun of it, in my first year of college I took a Navigation course from the ROTC group at the university. The summer after that first year, I was in Hong Kong (where my parents were living) and was asked to be part of a crew of six to sail someone’s 55’ sailboat from Hong Kong to Japan. What an adventure!
All my life I have read about the great sailing adventures of people like Columbus and Magellan but it was not until 18 years ago that I came across the story of John Harrison and his four great Sea Clocks. It was a startling reminder, a revelation really, that all the early voyages of discovery were done aboard ships that were lost at sea. These explorers sailed without the knowledge of their longitude.
We were recently guest lecturers at a school coop, where we talked about real pirates in history, and the navigation techniques they would have used in the 16th century. We explained that they estimated their ship's speed in those days by dropping a chip of wood (or whatever) into the water at the bow, and counted how long it took to get to the stern. We had them build simple astrolabes out of cardboard and measure the angle to the noon sun to calculate their latitude.
Many years ago (in 1955) I was a U.S. Navy Reservist on a training cruise, sailing from Chicago Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. Each of us swabbies had to take a turn on the ship's wheel, holding a compass course.
I had great difficulty holding the course while the petty officer kept yelling at me "Meet your compass!! Meet your compass!!" The compass card kept drifting away from the assigned bearing and I kept over-compensating.
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