A star to steer her by

Published on June 8th, 2023

Technical progress has made sailing safer, but as George Day of the Cruising Compass shares, the relationship with the sea isn’t what it used to be:

On June 16, the Marion-Bermuda Race for cruisers will get underway from Marion, MA, and of the 32 boats in the event, 12 will be sailing without using their modern marine electronics. Instead, they will rely on traditional navigational tools and skills, ie. a sextant, Nautical Almanac, sight reduction tables, chronometer, stern-rail log, plotting sheets and paper charts.

For communication, they will use only their VHF radios, and while they may have their AIS systems turned on for safety, they are not allowed to use them during ship encounters. The race has always had a celestial division and for these sailors, that is the event’s charm.

Today, most sailors have never crossed an ocean using dead reckoning and celestial, keeping a very detailed log and shooting the sun twice a day and stars when close to landfall. The discipline provides a pleasing routine to passage making and puts you in an intimate relationship with the sea around you since you have to maintain a live watch of the horizon at all times.

Celestial navigation links you to the sun, moon, planets and stars in a very practical yet lovely way and as you shoot a sight, do the calculations and plot your new lines of position you are working shoulder to shoulder with 500 years of navigators who crossed these oceans before you. And, making a safe landfall is all the sweeter when you have shaped your course with your own brains and bare hands.

The video below provides an introduction to celestial navigation:

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