Monday, September 29, 2008

Natural Navigation

I am a Natural Navigator!

On Friday was lucky enough to learn the principles and practice of natural navigation at the first public course of its kind, run by my old sailing chum Tristan Gooley.

There were six of us around tables at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, the building where legendary explorers like Shackleton made their plans, pouring over maps in the great library.

It was fascinating, and the course was built about a framework of connecting the basic principles and theory to the employment of them in practice. It drew on all of the senses - not just sight, but hearing, touch, smell, and even taste!

So for example Tristan got me to walk towards a wall with my eyes closed and hands behind my back to the point I was not confident about hitting it any more. He then got me to walk again but this time saying "la la la" and successfully showed how I could confidently walk closer to the wall, relying bat-like on the sound reflections to give basic navigational information.

He also tried to re-create the smell of land that we experienced after crossing the Atlantic on the ARC - which for him was a mixture of grasses. Alas my nose must have been deadened by the rich aroma of six-sailors on a boat to remember it clearly.

And it was not surprisingly the sailing that most drew my attention. I was really enjoyed hearing about the early sailors - such as the extraordinary voyage of Pytheas the Greek who went out through the "pillars of Hercules" into the Atlantic and on not just to Britain, but maybe even to Iceland!

In those old days most journeys were within sight of land during the day, picking up reference points by sight.

But how did the Polynesians manage to cross the Pacific? One of the high spots of the course to me was discovering how they used the variation in oceanic swell to gain information about their location, taking into account changes in waves near land, the reflection of swell towards the direction it travels, and the diffraction of swell around an island.

The why? was also important. Its not just the safety aspect - though that's important because electronics such as GPS can fail (and did for a time for us on the ARC). And even a basic compass (such as in the picture above sitting on the certificate) can become disorientated.

But more importantly its about increasing your experience and awareness, relating your mental map of where you are to the greater world around you, to realise you are journeying across a globe that is spinning in space around our sun hanging in the deepest of dark space surrounded by millions of stars.

Strongly recommend.

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