From:                              Bob Goethe

Sent:                               November 4, 2017 5:37 PM

To:                                   'Carly Butler'; 'Bill Anderson'

Subject:                          RE: Online celestial navigation courses


Apologies I haven't been very responsive to emails this week - but I've been reading them all and have to say a big thank you for your kind words about my art (and for taking the time to look at my site).


Think nothing of it.  You keep getting this stream of emails from me in consequence of me starting to wrap my head around celestial instruction again.  I have never before attempted to teach celestial remotely, and I am processing thoughts as I sit at my keyboard.

I can’t just TELL you all the little details that might come up naturally if the three of us were having coffee together.  I need to get myself organized to be explicit via email or some other digital channel.  I am still thinking about this, so you will probably see more mail from me prior to January.



something to do with keeping the obsolete and analogue alive I think,

This is part of the appeal of CNav to me, for sure.  I know Frank, in the NavList group, is really married to the idea of doing with an electronic calculator all of what was traditionally pencil and paper work of reducing sights. 

To me, using an electronic calculator to work out a sextant sight seems like taking a bath but leaving your socks on.  It is just unsatisfying.

Also, it seems like there isn’t much point in learning what might be an “emergency navigation system” and still requiring batteries, computers and micro chips to make it work.  It would take only a single lightning strike to the mast to potentially fry every last microchip aboard with an electromagnetic pulse.  I want to be able to navigate home by totally non-electronic means if the worst case materializes.

We will touch on the proper use of Faraday cages to protect your backup GPSes and timepieces when you are at sea, and also the merits of getting an inexpensive mechanical watch as a backup to your Faraday cages.  When it comes to navigation, I am into suspenders AND a belt.

My wife, bless her heart, even started buying tea and crackers in metal tins if she thought they were of the right size for a good Faraday cage.  So I am fully supplied with lightning/EMP protection.

After you and Bill are fully on top of doing sight reduction manually, if you want to explore the use of calculators and computers, I will say “Go for the gusto!”  CNav is a well-bounded skillset.  That is, what you need to learn is not infinite.  Mastery is possible in a reasonable amount of time...a few hundred hours of practice.  After you achieve that, you may want to continue to do CNav, but are looking for different things to keep your interest up.  Using calculators/computer programs/slide rules/doing lunars...these are all ways of keeping your interest up, and keeping you challenged.

For me, I like navigation where “no batteries are required,” which is suitable for sailboats under 50 feet, with their up-close-and-personal relationship with salt water.  So I haven’t really gotten into doing lunars.  What I have done to keep sextant work from becoming ho-hum for me is to start to teach...first in face-to-face classes (I explored the possibility of teaching celestial navigation from the Edmonton planetarium, but settled on teaching at the end of a long lake).  And now, teaching you guys by remote video conference.


One question - what do you think the time frame will be for us to learn? I know the Starpath course says between 40-60 hours, so I'm assuming something similar? (20-30 instruction, 20-30 on our own).

I think this 40-60 hours realistic.  I found that after 15 hours, my students didn’t really “get it”.  They were working out their own sights...but I was moderately sure that those who stopped at this point wouldn’t retain what they learned.

The students who stuck with me for another 15 hours did much, much better.  They genuinely grasped the concepts and the working of those concepts.  But I think taking sights on an ongoing basis is essential, even for them.  Another 30 hours of taking sights and working them out would really be good.

I have fixed the location of my living room in Edmonton some hundreds of times.  It is a perishable skill.  If you step away from it for a year or two, you are going to look at a blank worksheet and say, “How on earth do I use this?”

What I did was to say “The first 15 hours will teach you to navigate around the world.  The second 15 hours will equip you to write the Sail Canada celestial certification exam.”  The students who stayed with me for 30 hours did indeed write the exam successfully...but more important, I think that second block of 15 hours was important in internalizing the concepts of CNav.  I was overly ambitious when I thought you could get all of that in 15 hours.  The learning curve is pretty steep.  You need to surmount the crest of that curve, and then keep doing it for a while to get it set in your head.

And now I can't even remember how I even took those fixes. I say, it is a perishable skill.


p.s. I suggested some practical reasons above for the small boat sailor to learn to use his sextant.  But here is an excerpt of an essay I wrote prior to teach my first classes here in Edmonton.


Why Learn Sextant Navigation in the 21st Century?

Good question!

The number one reason is "for fun!"

When you think about it, the easiest and cheapest way to get nutritious, good tasting vegetables is to whip down to the local Safeway store, and pick some up.

But for all the supermarkets there are in the world, there are still some people who really enjoy growing a backyard garden. They take enormous satisfaction in eating their own tomatoes, and often will tell you that their tomatoes taste better than anything they can get in the store. They feel growing their own helps them get in touch with the earth, and may even help them center themselves spiritually.

It is much the same for celestial navigators. They don't use sextants because it is the only way, or even the best way, of getting a location fix. They do it because they enjoy navigating with "no batteries required". They take enormous satisfaction in getting a celestial fix. They feel it helps them get in touch not just with the earth, but with stars, planets, moon and sun.

Further, there is an esthetic appeal to using a piece of precision optical equipment like a whose design has been refined and perfected over the past three or four centuries. Most sextants made after 1920 can measure an angle to an accuracy of 1/600th of one degree. Just holding such an instrument in your hands can add a couple of years to your life.

One of the advantages of GPS for 21st century celestial navigators is that they can compare their results to a precise, accurate GPS fix that they got by simply downloading a free app for their smartphones.   Using this app for comparison, you can dial in your instrument skills to an extent that was beyond imagining a century ago. Likely, the most skilled sextant users (though possibly still not the best navigators) in history are alive right now.

Another reason closely related to "fun" is the satisfaction that comes from getting in touch with the centuries-old tradition of adventure and exploration in which the sextant played a critical role. It gratifies both curiosity and the soul to explore the same navigational techniques that Cook, Vancouver, Slocum (and yes, even the infamous Captain Bligh...a failure as a leader of men, but an amazing navigator) used to guide their vessels around the world.