Last summer, during a transatlantic crossing aboard the 50-fooot sloop Maverick, I had the good luck to sail with a guy who is something of an expert in ancient forms of navigation, particularly the methods used by the Vikings. We played with a lot of fun old fashion tools like a sun stone and a shadow board that Mark had brought along and discovered that the Vikings must have done a lot of eye-ball navigation because their instruments were pretty basic.
I’ve always been interested in navigation and spent a lot of time years ago trying to master the techniques used by Polynesians to cross the huge distances in the Pacific Ocean. They were a lot more sophisticated than you might think and there are still techniques they developed that can apply to coastal and offshore navigation today. For example, if you are sailing among low lying coral atolls that may not be visible from more than 10 miles away, you can still ”see” an atoll over the horizon when you see a turquoise color on the bottom of the clouds above the turquoise water in the otherwise unseen lagoons.
So, it was with pleasure that I sat down last night to read Dag Pike’s brand new book The History of Navigation, published by the Pen & Sword Press in England. Dag is an old salt and a veteran of many ocean passages. Plus, he is the author of 40 plus books. His history does not go into a huge amount of detail about ancient techniques, but it is a fun and instructive tale of how early instruments evolved and bit by bit became the extraordinary navigation tool we have today. The first time I sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, I used a sextant, a stopwatch, a chronometer and the time signals received on an HF radio receiver. No one does that in the age of GPS but I am glad I know how to do it, if everything else fails. And, if you are as interested in navigation as I am, you’ll enjoy Pike’s new book. Check out the website here.