And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
One of the most beautiful and oft-quoted lines ever penned about sailing and the sea...
It also raises questions for most modern readers: "Just how do they steer by a star?"
And more generally: "How are they able to find their position at sea that way?"
To begin, let us first answer: "They don't." Not in modern times, anyway.
The universal use of highly accurate and reliable "real-time" electronics has relegated celestial navigation,
as sailing by the stars is properly known, to one of those natty,
romantic, but impractical Arts of the Sailor, like fancy knot-tying,
building model ships in bottles, or indeed, sailing itself. Celestial
is regarded as a useful but cumbersome emergency back-up system.
It is for those natty, romantic, but impractical people who enjoy having a very special legacy from our forefathers
that this page is intended.
Not really. "Tedious" would be a better word than "hard" to
describe the work of celestial navigation. The work is detailed and
lengthy, with answers coming slowly. But anyone who can understand
high school algebra and trigonometry can feel comfortable with only a
little practice. It will become clear, however, why the position of
Navigator was regarded as almost a full-time job.
Frankly, yes. There are several reasons why:
Absolutely! Celestial navigation is an interesting hobby in itself
as well as a great starting point to the hobby of astronomy. Plus it
gives us a sense of satisfaction and joy in keeping alive knowledge
that connects us with nature and with our past, and actually does
something useful, besides. Now there is a package deal!
Outrageously so, especially compared to the prices of some of the "low-end" GPS (that is,
Global Positioning System) receivers.
So if you really want to learn and do celestial navigation, be prepared to spend a lot of
money (anything from $250 to $2000 or more, as of 1996).
But if you just want to learn the general idea to satisfy your curiosity, you have come to the right Web Site!
The Web has surprising little available about this topic. Although
I don't claim to have seen every possible citation, I have seen mainly
citations in on-line catalogs offering to sell books on the subject.
The absolute shortest explanation I have ever seen anywhere is written by
Bill Myers. His one-page executive summary is excellent,
but it provides no motivation for the ideas;
hence, I offer the Web my relatively short, simple explanation.
In the same manner as this Introductory page. I will pose questions
that I have often been asked, in the hopes that they will "strike a
nerve"; that is, they will be the very same questions and beliefs that
you, the reader, have as well. As we go, the misconceptions should be
removed and the concepts will be clear, if I am very lucky!
I strive for frequent divisions of the material into separate pages to try and
keep loading times reasonable. If it all sounds appealing to you, then....
Go to the Entry Point to this tutorial