Join Date: Jan 2005
Home Port: Darwin
Vessel Name: Sandettie
When I began my love affair with boats and the sea, navigation was a totally different animal than it now is. In some respects, that's a good thing.
Anyone wanting to push off from the shore needed an array of geometric skills, parallel rulers, calipers, protractors, lots of paper, a hundred pencils, a good india rubber and paper charts, which at the time, were not produced in color.
To venture further afield, one needed a radio direction finder (either a cheap, pocket sized transistor radio, or a Lokata-one of which I still have). One also needed a towable log, although they were being replaced by newer technology: As was the case with depth sounders which had evolved from the knotted, leather flagged rope, to a wildly spinning neon light, which I could watch for hours. I was transfixed by the new; but not yet fully convinced to let go of the old.
I also had a VHF radio and, when I could eventually afford it, I bought a second hand Codan 8121 HF radio with both a whip and triatic stay antenna.
Of course, central to the rather important concept of knowing where one was, was the sextant. I had managed to buy a Tamaya brass sextant and learned to use it along with sight reduction tables. The problem with the Tamaya was its weight. With one arm slung around the cap shroud, balancing against wind and waves, while trying to get the blasted sun to sit on the horizon, and to then mark the exact second, it was always a trial to get a decent fix...sometimes an error of 20 or 30 miles was almost unbelievably accurate.
Then I bought a Davis MK25, 'plastic' sextant. Light, sturdy, accurate and, for the time, astoundingly inexpensive. I remember the first time I ever bought a GPS. It was a brand new Magellan which referenced 3 satellites and was on special at the boat show for AU$3000 (US$2100). It was a better bet that a SatNav which I never bothered with, and it allowed me to get a Lat/Long to transfer to my charts which, as far as I was concerned, was the ant's pants. (I still have the Magellan, but it's a bit buggered these days).
For a long time I only used my sextant to view solar eclipses. But then, I recognized people were losing the talent to shoot a sight and I regained my interest...especially when an Aussie mariner developed what is now called an 'app' for a small Sharp pocket calculator. The calculator was renamed the 'Merlin' and essentially removed the need for sight reduction tables and complex mathematics. I began using the sextant again to prove the accuracy of the GPS and to test myself for accuracy. Five miles was brilliant, 10 miles was fair. I also began to use the sextant when travelling coastlines. Triangulating one's position from known coastal marks (using the sextant on it's side) was a fun, seamanlike thing to do, and it gave the hand bearing compass a rest.
Nowadays, I still like paper charts, and use them to plot my course, but chart plotters are just the best thing ever. The downside? Some people go to sea who may not have the full set of seaman's skills. There is, after all, a big difference between someone who merely sails, and a mariner.
But I have recently dusted off the Davis. I bought some new foam inserts from Davis Instruments for the old box and the sextant itself looks almost new, as it was something which always had to be treated with respect and great care.
Oddly enough, after almost half a century of involvement in boats, from casual sailing, to permanent life aboard, to crossing oceans single handed, and now to sailing a few months of the year, I am an old salt...and nothing says it so well as when I see my shadow, short along the side deck, of a man, me, arm slung around the shroud, shooting the sun.
And while I don't eschew the modern, I still occasionally embrace the past. And it made me chuckle recently when I was using my sextant, just for fun, while anchored. On a nearby boat a young teen asked of her parent, "Mum, what's that old man doing"? The response was priceless. "He's using a sextant...it's what real sailors used to use in the olden days, to tell them their position".
Thanks 'Mum'. A real sailor.
I feel like I've earned it.
I belong. But despite my years...'Old Man'...Really?
"if at first you don't succeed....Redefine success"!