jpazzz wrote:Hello Speakeasy, What I kept thinking of as I read your description of this last course was the beautiful Longines seconds setting twenty-four hour dial watch I used many years ago in Celestial Navigation. (As a Canadian, did you call it Astro as our British cousins do or Celestial as Yanks do?)... Cheers, John
During the period that I served in the RCN, many of the traditions, customs, practices, and terminology had been adopted from the RN. I had the pleasure of crossing paths with a number of RAN and RNZN personnel who confirmed that they shared a similar heritage. This included instruction manuals on navigation and seamanship that had been developed by the RN. So, for the purposes of the RCN, navigating by the celestial bodies was referred to as Astro Navigation. However, when I returned to civilian life, which included sailing on the Left Coast of Canada (an insider’s reference to Vancouver, B.C.), I noticed that most ocean sailing enthusiasts referred to the practice as Celestial Navigation or, to a much lesser extent, Ocean Navigation, both which I believe were derived primarily from American usage. A small example in the differences of terminology would be the use of “Observed Position” which was notation used on the oceanic charts by the RN, RCN, RAN, and RNZN for which, if I remember correctly, the USN employed the term “Fixed Position” and I distinctly recall my instructors at the Fleet School haughtily referring to the USN usage as an error of form (sniff, sniff!).
The RCN’s heritage from the RN included numerous items of ancillary equipment such as navigation instruments (probably developed during the Victorian era, if not earlier). Many of these were made of hefty bronze castings having dangerously sharp edges (doubtlessly designed to serve as close-approach weapons for the repelling of boarders) which, despite their truly impressive mass, were quite prone to misalignment, a problem which had a direct effect on the precision of the “plot” or “plotted position” per RCN terminology. My experiences included contact with some members of the NATO Fleet, giving me an opportunity to compare equipment and practices.
My preferences were for American or French navigating instruments; theirs were invariably more practical and, despite their lightness, they were actually more robust than the RCN’s heavy brass instruments. Besides, which would you prefer being launched in your direction during rough seas, a thin piece of plastic or a substantial brass casting possessing a knife-like edge? The French instruments were always the most elegant, possessed of refinements increasing both their precision and their esthetic appeal: I’m being quite serious here! I found the Italian instruments to be similarly appealing to the eye, however to me, they seemed to include features that rather “missed the point” of plotting one’s position on an maritime chart. By far the most accurate, the most precise, and the most highly-engineered navigating instruments were those designed for use by the Deutsche Marine. While I appreciated the minute adjustments of which these German-made instruments were capable, I found myself questioning their practical value; to me, given that one’s position might be described as being “a 1,000 miles from nowhere ... plus or minus 10 miles”, the additional plotting accuracy of “plus or minus 3 metres” was, well, you know!
It was through my contact with my fellow Navigating Officers of the NATO Fleet and our exchanges of practices and equipment that it first occurred to me that “culture” could inform an approach to a common problem: please try to understand that I was a young man, that I had been raised at a time during which the culture of my homeland was, for all practical purposes, one of two more-or-less homogenous solitudes, that travel was for the privileged, that the education system routinely reinforced the stereotypes of the period, and that while my world view was limited, it was expandable and all that I needed was some exposure. Nevertheless, merely through comparing the different approaches to the common question “where are we?”, one which had plagued sea-going peoples for millennia, I began to perceive a “cultural” element. That is, the very culture itself seemed to inform how a problem was perceived and the culture itself was the ultimate driver to the solution. There is a cultural element that influences the value that we place on matters such as practicality, precision or accuracy, refinement or aesthetic appeal and, at the tender age of twenty-three, I discovered this for the first time in the different approaches to Astro (or Celestial) Navigation. I was as astonished as I was fascinated!
Has anyone else experienced a similar "awakening"?