Posted by: adventuressetravels | July 7, 2010

Celestial Navigation

Rain coursed down the windows of the galley.

We had pulled into the Brunswick Marina earlier that day and clearly not a moment too soon, I looked dubiously out at the dismal weather.  B and I sat on the sofa chatting and trying to stay dry.  As I listened to him, I marveled again how much the man looked like “The Chief” in the “Get Smart” TV show. The resemblance was uncanny.

“I wish we’d sailed for longer.  I was really hoping you could teach me something about celestial navigation.”  From the moment I’d heard about it I had been fascinated.  Navigation using only the stars.  You had to have skill to do that.  It just sounded exciting.  And who better to learn from – B had actually written a book on the subject!  Why couldn’t I been able to spend a little more time sailing with him?

“The last 2 nights were really nice.  They had the Milky Way, the whole enchilada.  From one end to the other.  We had Ursa Major, which is the big dipper and also points to Polaris.  To the east we had Casiopea…”  I listened fascinated

From time to time I would interrupt, “What’s a quadrature?”

“A quadrature is when the sun is on one side and the moon is on the other.  It helps you get a fix on where you are.”

“You usually use what is called a star shot or a star fix using three stars to triangulate where you are.  That’s called a cocked hat.”

“But how accurate is it?” I asked, hanging on every word.

“If you get good at it extremely accurate.  Christopher Columbus sailed to the exact same location using only the stars.”

“That’s so cool that you know how to do it!”

“Well, it’s what I call fun and useless information.  No, it’s not,” he quickly corrected himself.  “It’s very useful when the lights go out.”  He paused for a moment, some terrible memory flickered across his face as he leaned in. “And I’ve had that happen… It’s a requirement for all ocean licenses. 

Almost on cue a sky-splitting crack rent the heavens.  Hard on its heels, an orange-yellow flash billowed out over the docked boats.  B and I just looked at each other.  We had been listening to the gap between lightning and thunder dwindle to nothing, the sound punctuating the roar of rain coursing down the windows of the boat. 

“I hope X is okay!” my concern palpable.  X had gone out to check us into the marina 45 earlier, mere minutes before the heavens opened.  Had he made it there before the downpour? I wasn’t sure if it was drier on land or beneath the waves.  One thing was sure: with that lightening, it sure was safer beneath the waves.

“He’s fine.  He’s just waiting up at the office,” B shook his head, nonchalantly reassured me.  His confidence was heartening but I still wasn’t sure he’d made it before the office closed. 

Not ten minutes later a drenched X squished through the door, water pooling on the floor around him. 

“A catamaran took a direct strike.  It could be totaled,” he reported grimly before retreating to his room to change into some dry clothes. 

“Now that’s a time when you have to rely on celestial navigation.  Lightning strikes a boat, everything electrical is fried.  And that’s bad.  If it happens at sea nothing works.  Now you get out your sextant and your watch.”

I listened intently.  I wanted to be able to pull out my trusty sextant, measure the angle between celestial body and the horizon, look at the time and magically know where I was at!  I would learn.  I was determined to learn, but I could do it another time.

Now I wasn’t quite so upset we had made it to the marina as quickly as we had though.  The squall we had weathered had been quite enough for me.  To be caught out in that weather, with winds upwards of twice as strong as the squall and potentially getting hit by lightening?  Something like that on my first real sea voyage might have put me off sailing all together.

Just as suddenly as it had started the cloudburst stopped.  And then the sun came out.  Rays of light streaked through the clouds, gilding the lush green marsh grass. It was like something out of a Caravaggio painting. 

 I marveled at the force and beauty of nature, changing faces in a matter of minutes made it all the more impressive.  Man may think he has everything under control, but from one second to the next lightening can total a 750 thousand dollar yacht and then turn on a dime to a state of utter serenity.  Change really is the only constant.  I guess that makes it all the more important to live every moment to its fullest


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