An early start of the day setting sail. A morning of good sailing on fair weather. An afternoon of motoring against the wind under the drizzle and rain.
The nice morning under sail continued until Europa’s heading turns more and more Northeasterly in the veering winds. But she needs to gain distance to the North or preferably Northwest, so the engine work is needed, the canvas is taken away and furled. Again, she spends an afternoon rolling and heeling in the high swells of the Drake Passage.
She found more favourable conditions just before the end of the day, when Westerly winds allow for setting sail. Topsails, Top Gallants, Fore Top Mast staysail, Inner Jib, and Deckzwabber help the engines during the night.
Motoring, sailing and motorsailing, the wheelhouse instruments and the Global Positioning System tell us our location about 106nm closer to Ushuaia than yesterday. They also show that today Europa sails in the 50’s latitudes, just crossed the 60’s. A quick glipmse at the bridge screens, tools and devices display our route, forecasts and exact position at any moment. But if we have a look on the Poop deck when the sun shines at its highest, we may find there and ongoing workshop on the use of the tools for the classical methods of Celestial Navigation. Based on the relative positions in the sky of the sun, moon and stars, it had lead seafarers across the vast oceans for millennia. The evolution of them led to develop more and more technologically advanced instruments like the Sextants and finally reaching the electronic era and digital revolution making our lives easier with the use of the satellites and global positioning systems.
The use of the sextant is the heart of this discipline. It tells us about the angle between the celestial body and the horizon. From here, what seems like an endless stream of corrections and calculations, practice and patience are required to learn its ways.
The easiest sextant sights for positioning ourselves in the planet are the ones taken when the sun shines at its highest (meridian passage), giving us straight away a Latitude line. To calculate the Longitude we need to know the exact time when a celestial body projection hits the earth’s surface. It was not until the 18th Century when that was made possible by John Harrison when he achieved the development of the long-sought Marine Chronometer, able to keep accurate time and thus providing the essential missing piece for establishing the Longitude.
In any case (interested on the discipline or not, able to do all the maths or relying on computer programs, understanding or not how the method works) is always wonderful to think that sun, moon and stars, all shining at the greatest distances from earth, can be used to fix our position in any given point of the planet.
Photo by Richard Simko