Classes in celestial navigation and related topics
Lunars: Finding Longitude by Lunar Distances
An intermediate-level class in the famous method of finding longitude by observing the Moon's angular separation from the Sun and bright stars. Mystic Seaport Museum's class in "lunars" has been the only class offered on the topic of lunars anywhere on Earth.
Lunars were widely used at sea in the early 19th century in the era before chronometers became common. Observing with a fine sextant, 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.
Participants in this workshop 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. We'll also talk about some of the interesting mathematics and astronomical theories that made lunars possible. For a modern celestial navigator or navigation enthusiast, there is no better test of your sextant and observing skills. Weather permitting, students will have opportunities to take actual lunar observations, determining their longitude in the great tradition of Cook and Bowditch and Slocum.
$199 per person, per workshop
Note for online sessions: You may attend an Atlantic session starting at 10:00 am Eastern US time, or a Pacific session starting at 6:00 pm Eastern US time. Currently Atlantic sessions run for 4.5 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday. Pacific sessions run for 3 hours each day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Anyone registered for an online workshop will be invited to attend hour-long sextant practical sessions in Rhode Island and Connecticut scheduled as weather and social distancing permit. These live, in-person sessions are included in your registration for online classes.
- Nine hours in online sessions.
- Requirements: an introductory course or equivalent in the the use of a sextant and other basic concepts of celestial navigation.
- Previous attendance in our "Celestial Navigation in the Age of Sail" is suggested but not required.
- High school level math skills and a basic familiarity with trigonometry are recommended.
I must admit I dreaded two, back-to-back, 5-hour days, but the time sailed by. (Sorry can't resist.) Thank you.
He also included some 17th century data that I needed. I'm neither a mathematician nor a sailer, but a journalist and author.
Fascinating classes taught by a fascinating and capable instructor.
Lunars class is challenging and fun. Frank presents several different recipes for accomplishing lunars, one of which seems almost easy (kind of). Highly recommended for anyone interested in celestial navigation or nautical navigation history.
FAA Designated Pilot Examiner
Retired Merchant Mariner
SUNY Maritime class of 80
Lieutenant, USN sep.
Frank taught an incredible class on celestial navigation that brought me from novice to some solid understanding of sextants, their history and most importantly their use as a aid to seeing the sea...and knowing where you are on this planet!
Hands on, wealth of knowledge, great resources at Mystic Seaport, he really covered a lot of ground! There was a lot of math but unlike in my youth, I was on the edge of my seat to soak up knowledge!! Frank made it relatable and real. The sextant which is such an iconic tool of the sea, was demystified. By the end of class i felt comfortable with it. I had mastered how it worked, how to read it and how to adjust it to insure its accuracy.
I came away with all of the cheat sheets and understandings of equations and concepts that breathe the life into what you capture through your sextant sightings.
I would highly recommend Frank and believe the Mystic Seaport with its planetarium, an ideal setting for my class with him discovering this timeless tool of the sea.
Frank did a great job keeping the class interesting with visual aids, both on screen and out on the seaport grounds. Frank had also noticed i was interested in the Draken. This is the Viking ship which had made its voyage across the Atlantic and up and down the east coast, resting for winter in Mystic as the troops regroup, gathering resources for another ocean voyage. He took extra time to talk about and show with polarized film the concept of the "Viking Sun Stone" which is a suspected navigational aide the Vikings may have used to traverse the globe as they had.
All in all i would highly recommend this class to any and all folks interested in learning about navigation and sextants. Informative and digestible, but most of all useful to the point where i am comfortable with the instrument and have the formulas needed to continuing to set my sights on the horizon!!
I look forward to more classes to learn more from Frank and strengthen my understandings of celestial navigation!
Several things stand out. The course material is presented in a balanced way, with a well thought mixture of detailed calculation, broken up by historical, factual, and hands-on aspects. This type of teaching is well suited to most, as it provides periods of more intense reasoning with relaxation and humor. Anyone can walk away with new-found knowledge. I also feel that the approach of understanding historical context and a simple practical approach is unique. It has gone a great way toward clearing up a lot of my preconceived ideas and confusions resulting from the many contradictory or esoteric approaches found in various volumes or on the internet.
Very simply, I learned a lot and it went a long way toward clearing up a mess. I was fascinated the whole time. The courses and NavList provide the tools to keep learning even after the course is over. I left able to measure what I see with a more calibrated eye for real world application, and a greater appreciation of human history. I can strongly recommend these classes for the curious, the fascinated, the historian, the hardcore navigator, or the armchair one. There is something in them for all.
I also found the NavList community to be helpful and encouraging as my journey continues. I hope I can undertake even more material in additional courses in the future.
"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" (Kenneth Grahame, from the "Wind in the Willows")
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
Philip M. Sadler, Ed.D.
F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Celestial Navigation
Harvard University Astronomy Department
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