Classes in celestial navigation and related topics
Celestial Navigation Classes: Spring 2016It's a season of celestial navigation at Mystic Seaport! The fantastic Ships, Clocks, & Stars exhibit visiting from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK is open through March 29, 2016. And we have beginners' classes in modern and historical celestial navigation as well as an intermediate class in lunars and a special workshop on time and sundials.
Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods
A two-day class offered twice this year: March 19-20 and May 21-22, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
An introductory class in the history and the actual techniques of celestial navigation as it was practiced aboard American vessels in the Age of Sail, focusing especially on celestial navigation aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan. We will learn how it was done and how to apply these same methods today. Students will learn how to use and adjust sextants and octants, both historical instruments and their modern equivalents. The class covers the classic method of finding latitude by "Noon Sun". We'll also learn in detail the math of the "Time Sight" which was used to determine longitude. These methods are not obsolete and can be used in modern bluewater sailing today. Throughout, we will compare what we're doing with primary source historical evidence, actual logbook entries and calculations in the collections of Mystic Seaport. Weather permitting, students will have opportunities to make actual sextant observations.
Lunars: Finding Longitude by Observing the Moon
June 11-12, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
An intermediate level workshop in the famous method of finding longitude by lunar distances, usually known for short as "lunars". Lunars were widely used at sea in the early 19th century in the era before chronometers became common. By observing the position of the Moon relative to the Sun or stars, navigators used the Moon as a great natural clock in the sky. From James Cook and Nathaniel Bowditch to Joshua Slocum, lunars were a challenge that proved a navigator's skill. Students in this class will learn the details of adjusting a sextant properly for shooting lunars, tricks for taking accurate sights, and easy methods for clearing these famously difficult observations.
Modern Celestial Navigation
A two-day class offered twice this year: April 9-10 and May 7-8, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
This is not your grandparents' celestial navigation! Celestial for the 21st century navigator: a fast-paced introduction to celestial navigation from a modern perspective, designed especially for yachtsmen and recreational boaters. If you're thinking about bluewater sailing, celestial navigation stands as the only autonomous backup to GPS and electronic navigation. Celestial is also a tradition that connects us with maritime history. During this hands-on class, participants will learn how to adjust and use sextants available on the market today. We'll learn how to analyze and clear sextant observations using modern tools, including calculators and software apps.
Sundials: It's All About Time
April 30, 10:00am - 4:00pm:
Build your own sundial as we learn about time in all its variations. In this workshop, participants will learn how to build a basic sundial, how to adjust backyard sundials, and how to read the time of day just by observing the Sun in the sky. We'll discuss local apparent time, or "sundial time", and its (sometimes distant) connection to the time we read on our clocks. We'll see how the mysterious-sounding "equation of time" connects the two. And we'll trace the strange history of modern time zones, daylight saving time, sidereal time, mean time, leap days, and even leap seconds.
A frequently asked question:"They both sound good - which class should I take?"
Of the two introductory classes above, if you're interested in history, old logbooks, and perhaps a bit more interested in mathematical details, too, then sign up for the "19th century methods" class. If you're more practically oriented, more pragmatic, not much interested in historical details, and mostly looking for a good (last resort) backup for your GPS, then sign up for the "modern celestial" class. Both will give you real, usable navigational skills and methods.
28 posted. 4 waiting approval.
Do you offer celestial nav courses for sailors?
The class was also a great resource for my teaching and my own research interests such as the visibility of celestial objects in the daytime (Jupiter and Venus) and the effects of astronomical refraction near the horizon. I hope to take more workshops with Frank.
Dr. Russell D. Sampson
Eastern Connecticut State University
Also, the class was made more enjoyable through discussions with my other classmates during, and after the class had ended! You know a class is worthwhile when the learning continues outside of the classroom.
I highly recommend any of Frank's classes and workshops, since the guy knows what he's talking about, and he can explain it to folks with (or without) all kinds of math and physics backgrounds.
Plus, it's just plain fun to realize that all you have to do to find out where you are in the universe is "look up". Now that's just cool.
Philip M. Sadler, Ed.D.
F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Celestial Navigation
Harvard University Astronomy Department
Samuel S. Caldwell MD
Saratoga Springs, NY
I am the author of a new release book, "Riding the Wild Ocean," a collection of my wildest adventures in small boats under twenty feet in length from Cape Cod to the Dry Tortugas. Although my craft is too small and unstable a platform for practical use of a sextant, my extensive experience sailing small boats on the open water enabled me to recognize the great extent to which Frank Reed's instruction reflects the wisdom of a long experienced and master seaman. I can confidently recommend any of his courses based on my delightful experience with this skilled and engaging educator.
In case anyone is interested, my book will be available in bookstores and online (Amazon) after March 11, 2014 but can be purchased now directly from the publisher at: https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781627468572.
Paul S. Krantz, Jr.
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
I'm a write in NJ and I'm researching a novel and raised a question about nautical navigation. I understand that navigation almanacs are published annually. If a longitude and latitude were given for an island location that was taken in 1930 using a sextant, would there be an appreciable difference in the location were a character were to sail to those coordinates 75 years later? The island in my novel is not plotted on any map, but my character only has a position expressed in longitude and latitude as fund in an old ships log. I realize as much as one degree of latitude can be as much as 65 +/- miles off.
I imagine I'm asking if the celestial deviation or instrument accuracy would be great enough in those elapsed years to put a boat today an location that was indeed different in 1930, and if so by how far. My story is set in the central Indian Ocean.
I've read through the course offered at Mystic Seaport in March and wondered if this would be beneficial to my research.
Thank you so much for your time.
Would you be able to assist me.
Is the Intermediate Celestial Navigation Course still being offered at Mystic Seaport? I'm registered for the introductory course later this month but I haven't seen the second class posted on their website.
Quite apart from the computations, the type setting and printing must have been formidable! Were there mechanical computers that could handle this? How many people were involved?
Mystic looks a fun place to study astro nav - I am from Poole, on the south coast of England.
I was very interested to see your course on lunars. I just learned about your class but have missed the dates. Will there be another class soon?
All the best,
I listened to you at Greenwich in 2012. I'd like to try a Lunar. My experience has been only in the air with a MkIX bubble sextant (as a young man) and later with a Smiths Mk2B periscopic sextant, both of which I have working examples of. I also have a Hughes Mate's marine sextant with relatively small mirrors which I bought and a plywood and bathroom mirror-tile version which I made. I scratched the plastic arc with a dividing gear on a lathe. The verniers scratched on the arm. It gives about 3nm on still nights shooting off a washing up bowl of water and dividing the Hs by two. My problem is I live inland in a built up area. Will it be OK to use the Hughes or my home made nautical sextant to measure the lunar distance and the altitudes using the Smiths pendulous reference periscopic sextant accurate to about 2 minutes of arc for the altitudes?
I suppose what I'm saying is is it only the lunar distance which needs to be measured to tenths of a minute, or do the altitudes have to be measured equally accurately?
I would appreciate talking to your people if you have done this, to discuss things like determining "dip" in a theater where the sextant user is actually BELOW the projected horizon rather than above a true horizon outside.
Another issue is that the altitude of a celestial object projected on the theater's dome would vary from one seat to another inside the theater. I would love to discuss how you have managed this.
You both bring up a fantastic idea that has been approached and (to some extent) solved before. Specifically for the U.S. lunar space program at the Morehead planetarium in NC.
Frank: you excellently bring up dome parallax, but isn't there going to be at least one point, or small area (near center of dome sphere, focal point of the dome) where the parallax wouldn't be nearly as significant? I'd assume this may require a platform / scissor lift etc and might not always be practical, dependent on the type of star projection system in the planetarium selected. I'd also guess the use of a bubble horizon would be necessary too.
Like Bob, I am also very interested in this subject with a local planetarium interested in the subject, and it doesn't seem to have a well published solution ;)
Your collective thoughts? Are there any good resources available on the subject?
I plan on signing up for the Modern Celestial Navigation Course offered in March and possibly the intermediate course as well. Is it recommended to purchase a sextant prior to the course, if so where would one purchase this instrument?
You don't need to purchase a sextant in advance, but if you have one, yes, bring it along. If you would like to acquire a relatively inexpensive, functional sextant, I would suggest looking for a lightly-used Davis plastic sextant. These turn up fairly often on eBay for $100 or less. They're real sextants. You can cross an ocean with one. They're somewhat less accurate than a proper metal instrument, but it's not a major concern. And you can always upgrade later.
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© Copyright 2016, Frank Reed, Clockwork Mapping, Conanicut Island USA.