July 3, 2016

Ocean navigation sans sextant

WAY BACK IN 2010 I wrote a column about an American sailor called Marvin Creamer, who sailed a boat around the world without any navigational instruments whatsoever. [1]

Then, just the other day, I received a letter from Kathleen Saville, an extraordinary American lady who holds a Guinness World Record for rowing across oceans. With her husband Curt she rowed 3,618 miles from Casablanca to Antigua in 1981. Then, in 1984, she rowed 4,000 miles from Peru to Australia with Curt. Both voyages were in the 25-foot ocean rowboat Excalibur. [2]

In the course of some research she was doing lately, she came across my old column on Marvin Creamer, and this is what she had to say about the man whose navigational techniques may well have saved the lives of the Savilles on that second voyage:

Hi John,
Today I was doing some research for my ocean rowing memoir and I thought I'd look up Marvin Creamer, whom my late husband Curt Saville and I met a couple of times in the 1980s. The first time was at a boat show where we were exhibiting our ocean rowboat Excalibur after our 1981 Atlantic row. The second time, we were on the South Pacific in the same rowboat. Our meeting was a lot more meaningful the second time because Curt had fallen overboard and dropped the sextant before I could get him back on board. [This was before SatNav and GPS, of course.] Crazily, we didn't carry a spare so we really had to improvise until I remembered Marvin and his technique of voyaging without navigation instruments.

The maritime net people we regularly chatted with on our TR7 ham radio located him and we talked to him. Since we were rowing for Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, Marvin suggested we aim to get under Kappa Orionis in Orion. To make a long story short, it worked! It took over 40 days of navigating with the stars (63 days total from Galapagos) until we got there but we managed to save ourselves with his method that he so patiently described to us. When Curt asked him if it was good enough for our 25-foot rowboat to reach the Marquesas, he said yes. He has always been a hero to us.
BTW, your description of his method is spot on. It's exactly what we did.
Best regards,
Kathleen Saville

Today’s Thought
No star ever rose
And set without influence somewhere.
— Owen Meredith, Lucile

“My neighbor’s dog keeps barking all night. I can’t sleep. I’m at my wits’ end. What can I do?”
“Buy it from him. Then HE won’t be able to sleep.”

1 comment:

Don said...

Interesting method used by Creamer, and experiences by the Savilles.
Recommended read is; We the Navigators, The Ancient art of land finding in the Pacific, by David Lewis. 1972.
The polynesian navigators did not use compasses and sextants but clearly navigated a large part of the Pacific, using the stars and the maritime environment.
Creamer's method of identifying an island star as he recommended to the Savilles is very similar to the methods used by polynesian navigators described by Lewis.