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post #1 of 16 Old 08-21-2006 Thread Starter
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Books on navigation and offshore passages

Hello everyone,

So I've been lurking for a while, as my boyfriend and I have been making decisions, getting ready to sail away south in about a month, and I finally have a question that I'm brave enough to ask. We've been trying to figure out this electronic versus paper charting and navigation thing. As newbie navigators, we obviously need paper charts and books on board. My question is: which ones?

We devoured the Pardey Seraffyn series this winter, and I've been using the bibliography in Seraffyn's Mediterranean Adventure as a jumping-off point, but my fellow crew thinks that I probably shouldn't be using a 30-year-old list. I disagree--the oceans have been around for a lot longer than that, and books like, say, the British Admiralty's Ocean Passages for the World have centuries worth of data in them.

The only problem--books like that cost about $300. I can find used versions for around $30, but they're the actual 1973 versions. Is it worth it to even look into books like this? Or should I just rely on my new-fangled GPS and mapping software? Does anyone have a shortlist of necessary book for long-term cruising, ocean-crossing, and eventual circumnavigating?

I read with interest the pages and pages of debate on celestial navigation, and I'm glad that our very first purchase for the boat, off eBay, was a sturdy plastic sextant. We don't really know how to use it, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I do want to make sure we have the books we need just in case. The 2006 Nautical Almanac is very definitely on our list, but other books are absolutely essential for figuring your position with a sextant? I want to learn more for my own sake--the whole close connection with the stars thing--more than anything.

Thanking all of you ever so much, in advance...
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post #2 of 16 Old 08-21-2006
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There is a good book on Celestial navigation called The Complete On-Board Celestial Navigator, which is a pretty good teaching book as well as has the tables required for 2003-2007. You can read more about it here. I would also pick up the Sextant Handbook, which you can see here. It is good for calibrating and checking your sextant.

I hope that helps.


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post #3 of 16 Old 08-31-2006
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Check out this thread:

It contains some books that you might find useful.
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post #4 of 16 Old 09-01-2006
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Not a direct answer to your question, this is a copy of an old post of mine.
Best Wishes,

(1) Self-Contained Celestial Navigation with H.O. 208, ( John S. Letcher, Jr. )
(2) Plastic Sextant: Splurge and get a $150 plastic drum sextant but the $40 cheapest vernier scale will work just fine.
(3) IF you are serious about practice...... then spring for a $100-$200 aircraft bubble sextant and you can practice in your front yard or on the roof of your apt building. Artificial horizons work, but are a royal pain and dramatically limit the sights you can take. Air sextant won't work in bubble mode on the boat unless it is dead calm but there are a few models that have 'horizon mode and can be used for land/air/marine. (e.g. Navy Mark V, // note: parts service avil from Celestaire)

Checking for proper calibration and then adjustment for any sextant errors is a very simple and straight forward procedure and so it not like the errors just creep up one you and leave you stranded. On a stable platfom like an aircraft carrier the $1000 sextant will out perform ( by a mile or two ) the plastic sextant, however on the deck of boat under 100' is much more like an even race.

Look for most any book by 'David Burch' who is the founder of the Starpath navigation school. He is a great writer/navigator/teacher. Particuraly "Emergency Navigation" which really is => most of the possible pathfinding techniquies for the prudent mariner.

The wonderful thing about Letcher's book is (a) he is a very good writer, (2) included EVERYTHING needed to navigate in that book. The sight reduction method HO 208 requires a little bit of math but is VERY compact. Most others such as HO 214, 229, 249 do most all the calculations and you just look things up in tables BUT there are expensive and very very big on the book shelf of a small boat. If you have a 70' schooner then 'no worries mate'. The only thing that is out of date in the book is a 25 year nautical almanac (1975-2000) that was good until 2000. It can be reconstructed from information in Bowitch. Such an almanac is limited to Sun and stars but is cheap and easy to obtain. Not bad to have it all in one book. As of July 7th 2006 there are 7 copies on AMAZON for under $20 and right now two copies are $9.99, you need to add, $3.49 media rate shipping, of course.

Plan on finding out ABOUT where you are rather than the GPS mentality of exactly where you are. About means plus or minus 2 to 10 miles. That works well if you do things like aim for a point to the side of your actual destination. If you hit the coast of ??? after a 800nm passage and you don't recognize anything.....where are you and which way do you head to find it. IF you know you should be a 10-15 miles north then you head south and of course prevailing winds and currents play into your inital choice of a landfall so as to have an easy run to the actual destination. As one gains practice and confidence and if conditions are prime for many good sights then it would make sense to narrow the margin and maybe even have the first sight of land be 'IT".

....... and on and on and on ........ best of luck enjoy!
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post #5 of 16 Old 09-01-2006
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"Does anyone have a shortlist of necessary book for long-term cruising, ocean-crossing, and eventual circumnavigating?"

Here are some favorites:

For preparing and maintaining the boat....
1. Nigel Calder's "Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual";
2. Nigel Calder's "Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair";
3. Nigel Calder's "Cruising Handbook: A Compendium for Coastal and Offshore Sailors"; and
4. Bill Seifert's "Offshore Sailing: 200 Essential Passagemaking Tips".

For celestial navigation....
1. Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen (paperback or hardcover) by Mary Blewitt;
2. Reed's Nautical Almanac for region(s) you plan to visit;
3. HO229 sight reduction tables for latitudes you plan to visit; and
4. a small computer program for sight reduction (PC Nav if you can still find it, or other more current)

For body and soul....
1. Pardey's "Care and Feeding of the Offshore Crew"
2. Some of the classic sailing books

You're right, you DO need both paper and electronic charts. Electronic charts of the entire U.S. are available free as downloads from NOAA. They are available in both raster and vector (ENC) format. You will have to purchase electronic charts for the rest of the world, as you need them. You will need an appropriate charting program to use them. There are several favorites, depending on your platform (Windows or Mac) and your personal preferences, needs, and pocketbook.

Hope this helps,

S/V Born Free
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post #6 of 16 Old 09-01-2006
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Originally Posted by KarlTomasik
Hello everyone,

So I've been lurking for a while, as my boyfriend and I have been making decisions, getting ready to sail away south in about a month, ..
Great advice above on some classics...but I return to your original statement which says you are heading south in about a month. Rather than help you prepare for a world voyage...maybe we can be more specific about what you need for your initial trip. Where are you now and where are you heading?

For the "world" portion of your cruise...I would add Beth Leonards Cruising Handbook and Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes to the list...and join the SSCA where you will find more info & help from world cruisers than anywhere else I can think of.
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post #7 of 16 Old 09-03-2006
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Offshore passages

Check out this web site: One of the best I have seen for offshore information.

We publish this site to share some of what we have learnt in 100,000 miles of offshore sailing and 14 years of sailing in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic .. ....

Phyllis Nickel & John Harries
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post #8 of 16 Old 09-05-2006 Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for everyone's advice. We've been out and about, sailing, buying the rest of the stuff we need--you're right that I maybe should be focusing on what we're going to need in the next several months rather than future offshore passages.

Then again, we have fast, reliable internet access now, through which we can buy used books, as well as an address to which things can be sent. I suppose we can always pick up books as we go, but it seemed like a good idea to buy the basics now.

I am also trying to find the best Atlantic coast, Caribbean, and ICW cruising guides, and paper charts from Chesapeake down. We're hoping that we can do some trading as we go--I've heard people talk about that, but I'm not sure how much it's still done.

I'm still trying to find the best easy celestial navigation guide I can, and trying to decide whether or not to bring sight-tables. I've found that inter-library loan is fantastic for reviewing books before deciding whether or not to buy them, and just a great source of information in general. Right now I'm reviewing the Dashews' GIANT Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia, Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes, as well as trying to make sense of some sight tables.

And we're new members of the SSCA, as of this month. We have some of the Calder manuals, a lot of Pardey books, but I'm still trying to decide if we should buy things like a hard copy of Bowditch.

Thanks again for all the help,
Melissa Jenks and Karl Tomasik
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post #9 of 16 Old 09-05-2006
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Hi again...Suggested for the trip south:
Maptech Chart Kits for the East Coast
Dodge Guide to SE U.S. Inlets (if you plan to do any offshore instead of ICW)
Skipper Bob's Guide to Anchorages on the ICW. (Gives hundreds of anchorages and RATES them. Also provides latest bridge openings and shoaling info. ) See his website for updates!
The above are all you NEED for the ICW but the Midatlantic and Southern ICW guides are also quite useful for finding out about on-shore facilities and marinas and repair services.
Suggest you get your charts then Go on line to Skipper Bob's and the BoatUS East Coast Alerts forum and mark them up with the latest shoaling & nav aid info. For instance...Ernesto moved or trashed a lot of navigation aids in NC...the charts do NOT reflect this!
For Bahamas...Explorer Chart Kits ONLY!! Dodge Guide to Abacos if you're headed there.
Headed south from there: CYC charts, now distributed by Maptech supplemented by:
Pavlidis Turks & Caicos Guide which includes chartlets for the DR . Wavy Line chart for the DR is best.
Pavlidis Guide for PR is excellent.
Doyle Guides for VI, Leewards,Windwards are excellent and waypoints match up to the CYC chart waypoints.

This is all you need to get south navigation wise. Suggest attending the SSCA gam at the Annapolis boat show and you may be able to pick up some of this stuff on the cheap! Good luck with your plans.
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post #10 of 16 Old 09-08-2006
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My I suggest "the Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" by Bruce Vansants. I have read it but have never used it for voaging, yet!!

The information seems usefull. While most bash to windward day after day, Vansants has suggestions for using fronts and land effects to ease the pain as well as suggestions for the best anchorages. He also gives advice about which charts are the most reliable.

About $30
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