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Old 06-06-2002
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Celestial Navigation? Forget it!

Today, Sailnet posted an article by Liza Copeland about the hazards of cruising.

The first third of the article was about navigation, wherein she declared that it was dangerous to "rely solely on electronic navigation." This is about the thousandth time I''ve heard this over the past few years.

In 20 years sextants will be rarer on boats than lubber lines are today. The reason: learning celestial navigation is a waste of time and money.

I have three GPSs on my boat. I didn''t buy three GPSs on purpose, but they''ve accumulated over the years. They never seem to fail, and the space required for the spares and spare batteries is tiny.

The problems with CN are: a it requires considerable skill and continuous practice to use it. It requires an extraordinarily expensive piece of optics to get even the fuzziest of fixes, it depends on a complex set of calculations, and -- here''s the topper -- a sextant is just as vulnerable -- in its own way as a piece of electronics. I''ve dropped my GPSs dozens of times (I guess eventually I''ll kill one); I wonder how many drops a sextant could take and still get a fix withing 1000 miles of position? If you drop it overboard, I guess the number of drops is 1. How many people can keep a spare $1500 sextant on board?

So, sorry to everyone that spent time mastering CN, and have dropped a lot of money on sextants. Your skills are no longer required. They might be needed some day, in some rare situation, and then you''ll be vindicated. But probably not. You''ll carry the damn thing around with you from now on, and keep looking at your GPS when you want to know where you are.

OK, all you grizzled sextant-totin'' old salts out there, let me have it. I can take it.
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