October 6, 2009

An alternative to navigation

DAVID BURCH, of the Starpath School of Navigation in Seattle, Washington, once wrote a fascinating book called Emergency Navigation: Pathfinding Techniques for the Inquisitive and Prudent Mariner. It is designed for use by any deep-sea sailor who has somehow lost all normal means of navigating – electronics, sextant, watch, compass, and nautical almanac. This is a book that helps you find your way back home from the ocean wilderness.

There is only one thing wrong with David Burch’s book. It must somehow be available on board when all that other stuff has disappeared. It must survive the catastrophe that destroyed everything else.

It might be appropriate here to mention that David Burch is a former Fulbright Scholar, a Ph.D. in physics. That means he remembers things. Now, I can’t speak for you, but I don’t.

For example, Mr. Burch talks in his book about errors in the makeshift prescription for the Equation of Time. (Yes, yes, you know what that is. Think, man, think. It’s how you find your longitude with nothing but bare hands and sharp eyes.) “For 82 percent of the year, the values are accurate to within 60 seconds. The maximum error is 95 seconds, which occurs during 4 percent of the year.”

Yeah, right. He’s referring, of course, to a diagram you should have memorized while reading the book. There’s nearly 250 pages of stuff like this, plus tips on how to steer by the wind, the sun, the stars, and even by commercial airliners passing overhead.

But for people like me, whose brain cells choose to store only information connected with the immediate everyday aspects of living, such as where the damn car keys have got to, or the location of the nearest cold beer, there is no hope.

Luckily, however, there is an alternative. You could study survival techniques instead. The ability to catch fish, trawl for plankton, and gather rainwater, might be worth a lot more than a sketchy and ill-remembered knowledge of emergency navigation.

By my reckoning, if you go due east or west for long enough you have got to hit land. Christopher Columbus proved that. It may not be the land you were originally aiming for, but someone there will probably be able tell you what country it is, and where to get a decent shower.

So it boils down to common sense and survival. Oh, and maintaining a good lookout so you don’t bump into the land too hard.

Today’s Thought
If you will be a traveller, have always the eyes of a falcon, the ears of an ass, the face of an ape, the mouth of a hog, the shoulder of a camel, the legs of a stag, and see that you never want two bags very full, that is one of patience and another of money.
— John Florio, Second Frutes.

It was midwinter in Maine and grandma was feeling the cold, so she had a nip of whisky before going upstairs to bed. She entered the bedroom of her little grandson to say goodnight, but he recoiled when she tried to kiss him.
“Jeez, grandma,” he said accusingly, “you’ve been using Dad’s scent again.”

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