Sextant is Not a Dirty Word

In today’s world of electronic gadgets and do-dads, I think very few, if any, people rely on the sextant for navigation.  If there are any hardcore, back-to-basics, navigators out there that truly do use the sextant, good on ya.  The rest of us will likely continue our modern, lazy ways and stick with GPS.  However, just because I won’t ever use something has never stopped me from trying to learn how to do it (e.g. play the piano and clarinet, take a ceramic class, learn how to create a messy bun; my list of useless knowledge goes on and on).


I’m typically a good navigator.  I rarely get lost.  I can read a map and compass.  I know what all those symbols and lines mean on a topo map and making the transition to nautical charts wasn’t that hard.  I have a degree in geology for crying out loud.  Maps and navigation are in my wheelhouse.  But looking at a sextant makes my head spin.  There’s all kinds of levers, knobs, screws, mirrors, blah, blah, blah.

This thing looks complicated, right?
This thing looks complicated, right?

So when the yacht club at our marina held a “How to use a sextant” class last Saturday I thought, “ok, here’s my chance to learn something new and useless.”  Sign me up!  The class was intended as a very general overview on using a sextant, and the instructor started his discussion by stating he doesn’t know how to completely use it, but he could show us how to take a noon-site.  Of course, last Saturday was the one and only cloudy day in the past two months.

The class was set to start at 10am and last until 2pm, with lunch included.  Not bad for $10.  At 11:45, after an overview of the basics, we all headed outside at to the levee to take a reading on the sun.  Doh!  No sun.  So we tried to take a reading on Mt. Diablo.  Foiled again!  The peak was obscured by clouds.  Around noon, the sun started to barely poke out from the clouds and we were able to at least grasp what we were supposed to see through the mirrors.  We headed back inside for lunch…er, nope.  More class time calculating latitude and longitude.  At about 1:15 my stomach was protesting loudly.  Where’s lunch?  By 1:30 I figured lunch was at 2pm, after class.  Ok, fine, but because I was so hungry the last hour of class was a total blur.  I wasn’t paying attention at all.  At 2pm class ended and they started the BBQ for the weenies.  Bummer, I’m not a big weenie fan so I headed back to the boat for some soup.

Overall it was a good class that did just what it was supposed to.  It sparked some interest in Rich and he’s thinking of taking the 40+ hour ASA 107 Celestial Navigation class or at the very least getting a star chart app for his phone.  Not so much for me.  I’m glad the sextant doesn’t seem so mysterious anymore, but I’ll be sticking with the GPS.

I resolve to…
Making the step up