Celestial Navigation

I’ve always wished that I had been able to become an excellent offshore navigator. Yes, I learned some pilotage, dead reckoning, and enough general sailing techniques to be safe and competent, but no real celestial navigation. To those who barely understand port from starboard, my throwing around terms like semi-diameter of the moon, right ascending, line of position, and such might be impressive. But my tuition in that study ended when I left Coastal Maine for grad school.

 The Cap’n ensured that I was a competent, able-bodied seaman. I could hand reef and steer. One of my essential family duties was as the Cap’ns crew onboard the 34-foot ketch Psyche. But I had just begun learning celestial navigation when the final debacle, fracas, or battle royal, began with his daughter, essentially ended the marriage, and ended attendance in the Cap’ns school of seamanship.

Why was I leaving a near-perfect and idyllic existence in coastal Maine for graduate work in the dirty city? Yeah, I know; framed that way, it would seem that I was nuts. Like most things, it was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. 

Not that a life spent in a boatyard or as a lobsterman were lousy career choices, but those were the apparent choices if I stayed on the coast. I wanted to teach anthropology, and the route to being a professor lay through grad school. The family unit closed ranks against this, and the ultimatum was delivered; the Cap’n, speaking for the entire family, said, ” It’s this way or the highway.”

Well, it was the highway. Have I ever mentioned that I have problems with authority and arbitrary decisions? 

Like in old times, I was on the road with a pack, a guitar, and a cat ( the Gray Menace). Twenty-four hours later, I was in Philadelphia preparing for a vigorous first year of grad school. I continued to sail during the summers in small sloops, and my interest in maritime anthropology grew and developed.

There was just this little tag end left over. I never did learn celestial navigation, and if I could take a week-long course along the coast of Maine, it would be on a schooner learning to navigate, mess cooking in the galley, and doing my bit to hand, reef, and steer. I’d love to assume that I’d not fail and finally be successful in fulfilling this old desire.

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