Celestial navigation

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Any thoughts on how best to go about learning how to navigate by the stars - such as experiences of places which offer courses?
 

JamesS

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12 Oct 2001
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Try you local night school or call the RYA for an establishment that does the Yachtmaster Ocean Theory - thats practically all astro navigation. Unfortunately when I did mine there wasn't a wide take up compared say with Yactmaster Offshore, so you may have to search a bit. Unfortunately most of these couses start in the autumn so you may have to wait until the next term.

Cheers.
 
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I wonder whether on the RYA course alone one would get enough of a "feel" for what the night sky is doing - or is it all tables and calculations? Not having seen a syllabus of the RYA course, I wonder whether it would also be worthwhile registering for some sort of planetarium course or reading a general introduction on the sky. I could well imagine doing an RYA course and soon forgetting the details. If anyone has had any particularly positive (or negative) experiences it would be great to know about it.
 
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Re: Celestial navigation, A suggestion

Hi Voyager,

Try Terry Rowe at "Go Sail" Cowes. I did the ocean theory with him. The course is excellent but hard work, lots of mental effort. There is a good level of intro to the stars and also about where to find them. In fact this is covered in the exam at the end of the course.

You can contact Terry Rowe at Go Sail on 07980 225 065 Terry will be at the boat show now, his stand is right next to the Guiness tent.

Other than being taught by them I have no connection with Go Sail.

Regards

Simes
 

zvidoron

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1 Jun 2001
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Dear Voyager,
I searched the market for some time looking for a good book and the best I found was An Illustrated Guide to the Night Sky by Robin Kerrod. It comes with a very good planisphere (a revolving set of disks, you set the date and time and get the view of the night sky) which was much clearer than the murky Phillips one.
Evening courses for Yachtmaster ocean are few and far between and sometimes get cancelled due to lack of interest. There are other courses run in four consecutive weekends but they must be fairly intensive.
There are quite a lot of good books on celestial navigation, recently one by Tom Cunliff, which will give you a fairly good intro. After reading one I built a wooden sextant with a spirit level for a horizon and found my house's location within 11 miles which I thought was not too bad.
Best of luck in your search.
 

iangrant

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Re: Celestial navigation, A suggestion

Must have learned how to do it by the stars - you found yer way to the pub in the dark!!!

SB
 

cleo

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13 Nov 2001
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Here's a few thoughts....
To get good value from the RYA Ocean Shorebased ( Theory ) i.r.o. astro navigation, you must first be able to navigate quite well by other means; be able to plot DR accurately and reliably, and acquire, assess and use position lines from a variety of sources. Otherwise, the position lines one can derive from 'astro' won't have a lot of meaning. The RYA's course is intended as a primer - there's no apparent practical stuff in it. That may well be remedied by the course tutor - or not - and that depends sometimes on the students.....

The course teaches how to 'reduce' sights and get them onto the chart. It doesn't really teach how to get 'em in the first place, or what to do with them thereafter - and that's the navigation, the thinking and deciding stuff.

So, here's my recommendation. Find someone amenable who really knows how to navigate - there are quite enough in the main clubs, if you ask around. Get him/her to check you out on your plotting procedures and how to use the sextant and the stopwatch, etc. to get the information from the sky in the first place..... a boat at anchor is a very good place to start. So also is a harbour wall.
You can record a series of sights, take 'em home, then work at 'reducing' them.

Tom Cunliffe's new book is excellent - it's the best primer for 'yottie' purposes I've come across, in over 30 years of navigating. He takes the honoured process of demystifying quite a lot further.

Once you can 'join up the dots' of accurately filling in the various parts of the sight reduction form(s), and get the position line(s) down onto the paper reliably ( the RYA stuff ), then comes the challenging bit of comparing what that P/L implies to what your DR implies.
That's really where one needs an experienced hand, and where the young apprentice deck officers benefitted from having skilled, experienced navigators nearby all day, every day.

Most people's results are initially disappointing. Mine, too. Getting the P/L onto the right chart is the first hurdle. But once your lines are regularly within 12-15 miles, ( a couple of sessions ? ) the process is about right, and you can work on 'honing' the accuracy of the several steps down to better than 5 miles on most normal occasions.

And that will take you, with care, across most oceans still available to us.

I understand from the RYA that only 200 took this course last year. Seems that fewer and fewer are prepared to do some work for their satisfaction - for this skill does take some perseverance and, at times, bloody-mindedness. This is the era of 'dumbing down', but if I can learn to nav by the stars ( I wouldn't know a haversine if it bit me! ) so can anyone who can access and read this page!

It's worth it - there are fewer and fewer who are able to do this, and there isn't yet an award made by the Royal Institute of Navigation, and presented by the Princess Royal, for navigating by means of GPS!

Best wishes.

bilbo
 

stephenh

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Voyager - a few points :-
- yes, do an RYA theory course, they tend to be in the Autumn and Spring terms so you are too late for this year, see the RYA cruising logbook for the syllabus.
- be up to date on your coastal nav. - especially transferred position lines.
- in my view there is no one book that explains it all, I ended up with 8 or 9 different ones, however Tom Cunliffes book is excellent, move on to Mary Blewitt and then finish off with Kenneth Wilkes Ocean Navigator.
- buy a sextant - I bought a very good one through this board.
- a good few qualifying passages are advertised in YM etc - I did three before I became confident ( the first two were ripoffs, so beware on this front )
- practice, practice, etc.....
Good luck - with all that others have taught me I can now get within 1 or 2 miles of the GPS position in good conditions - very satisfying...

Stephen H
 

alant

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I run one of these courses, but as already mentioned, often 'night-school' courses are cancelled due to lack of students.
Practical instruction can be a problem, because most most 'star'sights are done during 'twilight', which during the winter courses in the UK will be long before any (usual 1900/1930hrs) courses start. Can do the Moon though (if its available).
I have done 'private' one-one concentrated courses for people (usually experienced passage makers) which can take 4 days (including exam), but the brainstorming puts most people off, particularly anyone below the age of consent in the use of tables/ready reckoners/logrithms etc. If you were conceived electronically, the course is very hard work, as are most books on the subject. However, I can highly recommend Tom Cunliffe's book, which does exactly what most people comming on the night school courses want to do - helps you to learn how to use a sextant & get a position plotted-as per the RYA method. Most other publications go off into the more eosoteric theories & methods enjoyed by drivers of VLCC's.
 
G

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Thanks for all the advice.
Looks like I will have to attend night school to get some practice at the maths of the reductions and then find a way of honing skills. However, I am also saving up for a GPS!

J
 

alant

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The 'maths' is simple stuff really, certainly not 'rocket science'. However, you have to work at it to make it stick. Most pupils (even those into rocket science) seem to make elementary mistakes with arithmetic, transposing info, forgeting when subtracting that they may be dealing with 60's & not 10's.
 
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