Star Crossed

OK, it’s confessional time. The stars and I don’t see exactly eye to eye. I’ve put some time into learning coastal piloting and dead reckoning for basic seamanship and enjoyed the sport of seeing how accurate you can get with experience. But celestial navigation was my true, shall we say, star-crossed experience.
Let’s add that among the things I learned in the Navy was that I have terrible night vision; stumbling around my bedroom in the dark is my speed. Stumbling around the deck of a heaving vessel or a boat is a scary proposition for me any night.

But my father-in-law, the Cap’n, was determined that my navigational skills should be polished enough that I should be able to take sights on objects in the skies to assess our position. So should we ever go outside soundings in our 34-foot ketch, Pysche, there would be a second navigator aboard. But, of course, the thought of going that far out scared my mother-in-law, Cora, to death and made my wife green to the gills.

For once, the Cap’n had a willing student. I did not neglect my studies. I even did well with the sextant and quickly mastered the noon sight and use of reduction tables. Because of my night vision, I had more trouble with the semi-diameters of the moon. But I eventually learned that as well.

No, the Rude Star Finder and its planographic discs tripped me up. First, looking at the flat circle of plastic in the dark was hard enough. Then transferring that to an actual star in the sky did not work well. Finally, if by luck I found the correct star, I still had to take a sight and use the tables. It was hopeless. After a few weeks, the Cap’n gave up; Cora and my wife breathed sighs of relief, and I used my navigational textbook to prop open the shop door.

I can look up at the stars at night and still wish that it had been otherwise, but if you stumble in the dark navigating by the lightof the stars may not be for you.

Note: all this happened many years before we had modern-day electronic aids to navigation and satellite navigational systems.

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