Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For Low Tech Seamanship

(fm the BC thread "The Great Escape")

Subotai Bahadur,
the Naval Academy has not taught celestial navigation for years

Decades ago the Navy stopped teaching Radiomen, now merged into some monstrosity devoid of tradition called the Information Systems Technician rating, who do what were several former specialties, how to do Morse Code. The Navy has also recently gotten rid of the Signalman rating, who had retained the Morse Code skill. With that change, and enlisted Quartermasters assuming a host of other duties, and celestial navigation skills deemphasized, the ability of a ship or formation of ships to independently traverse the ocean while radio silent and accurately arrive at any location has seriously been degraded. In the event of a real war that will make a difference. It may mean lives lost. It may mean a war lost.

What will win is being able to get a functional ship across the sea that is able to deliver ordnance onto a target. Once it is equipped and underway it may need to receive a signal but it should not need to transmit and once it knows the destination it should not need depend on satellites to find its location or chart a course. The basic skills to do that accurately have changed little since William Bligh navigated a small boat over 3,600 nautical miles to Timor.

Fond as I was of taking the air from the Signal Bridge after the first watch my interest in the art of using a sextant is not from personal vanity. My less than stellar moment came when I looked up from the sight reduction tables and informed the Commanding Officer that according to my calculations his ship was in Idaho.

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