Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Review: The Barefoot Navigator

I bought this book at the Boat Show in January and rather topical it turned out to be. However given the flood of other navigation posts decided there'd be no harm in pushing its review into March (golly have two months gone already?)

This book's subtitle is Navigating with the skills of the ancients and as you might expect has a lot in common with Tristan's The Natural Navigator. Indeed Tristan includes it in his bibliography and references it a couple of times.

So there are similar chapters on navigational skills of the Polynesians, able to sense the presence of islands by changes in the swell, and celestial navigational techniques using the sun and stars - all good stuff.

But there are also differences. The Barefoot Navigator is firmly focussed on finding your way on the great oceans while the Natural Navigator is more holistic, covering land as well, such as showing how trees often can be used to find south (in northern temperate latitudes).

A more intriguing differences is where each considers an acceptable level of technology. Where Tristan is a purist, Jack Lagan, author of the other book, allows some of the early navigational tools, including a compass and rather controversially a quartz watch.

For there is a very specific application that the book aims to address: what do you do when things go horribly horribly wrong at sea. The author clearly has a wealth of experience in sailing in waters from the Atlantic to the Pacific and high on his list of priorities is what do you include in a grab bag.

Yes of course you should include GPS but if you are forced into the life raft you might well not have it or at least only as long as the batteries last. But with a compass, a watch and a bit of understanding you will still be able to a degree answer the key questions of where am I and where is it I want to go.

I am not going to say which book is better because of course you should have both on your bookshelves.

There is one final point to consider. At the back of the book are instructions on how to make a sun-shadow board together with sun declination and equations of time tables, with a comment that more can be downloaded from his web site at www.jack-lagan.com.

But the site is no longer to be found, sadly replaced by one of those standard "sponsored listings."

Technology is great.... but it is not infallible.

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