Grappling with the Celestial

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 28 Jan 2011 21:48

Noon Position: 10 18.1 S 134 51.9 W
Course: 270 Speed: 5 Knots
Wind: East Nor' East F3-4 Gentle to Moderate breeze
Weather: Cloudy, passing showers, warm
Day’s Run (24 h 05 m): 140 miles

Late yesterday afternoon we gybed. Now that we are getting closer to the latitude of Hiva Oa, our destination, I did not want to overshoot. This morning I slept through morning stars but no problem, we have the moon in a good position relative to the sun so I took a sight of each at 8.40 when the moon's azimuth was going to be nearly at right angle to the sun's. As it turned out I timed my sight for the moon's meridian passage, what luck! But when I went to reduce the sights and plot them the position lines for the moon were some 200 miles out. I checked and double checked all my figures but could find no error. I took another moon sight but by this time the moon's azimuth had moved so far that the sun and moon's bearings were too acute and made for a hopeless fix. I went back to the chart table to look at my earlier sights. I could only suspect the sextant reading. I corrected the degrees to what they should have been, 76 in lieu of 72, and all fell into place. Now this is of course just a little dodgy, 77 versus 72 maybe, but 76! I figure what happened is this: As a rule, excepting oftimes the sun, I always plan my sights, that way you set the object's altitude on the sextant, look down the bearing through the sextant's telescope and nine times out of ten, hey presto, there it is. Trying to bring a faint object down to the horizon has got knobs on it, it is difficult, time consuming and frustrating, and when you want to get as many sights as possible in a short time then the time spent planning pays off. So I had set the sextant altitude to 72 degrees, or so I thought, where I expected to see the moon, looked along the bearing and sure enough, there it was, in fact almost right on the horizon, so I read off three sights without double checking the degrees. I must have seen what I expected to see. 

Once I had sorted it out my corrected sight told me that we had made ground to the south overnight which is not what we wanted so at 10.30, it took this long to sort my celestial navigation out, we gybed. The jib sheets have been sitting in the jaws of the whisker pole for 23 days straight now and have been suffering a bit of chafe. I took the opportunity to end for end the sheets and placed a bit of rag on the working sheet to prevent further chafe. Interestingly just at I was doing this the shackle pin for the whisker pole topping lift block decides to fall out and as I go to reset the pole I find the topping lift in a pile on the deck. Naught else for it, I fetch a spare shackle and climb the mast to the spreaders with the block in hand and eventually manage to shackle the block in place giving the shackle pin an extra firm twist with the small adjustable wrench. This I have to admit was a tricky operation as getting the pin into the hole in the tang was a two handed operation but I needed one hand and both feet and legs, one of which was firmly and painfully wrapped around a lower shroud to keep me in place. But with a few choice curses the job was done. I took a breather and looked around at the distant horizon, the sea sparkling blue, white caps dotted the ocean, Sylph's foaming wake trailing off astern. It is said that up aloft is the closest a sailor gets to heaven so I took the opportunity to share a few of my thoughts with the Creator … told him what a heartless bastard he is, so completely indifferent to all of my unjust sufferings. Somehow I don't think its going to change anything. Maybe one day we will make peace but it isn't looking good. Back below I realise I have put the block on back to front so had to go aloft again to re-reeve the topping lift, this was simple enough and I am sure had nothing to do with my one sided conversation with the Infinite. Now the topping lift is back up and the jib is reset, poled out to starboard. (My jib is really a genoa because it overlaps the mainsail but I always call it a jib just because I like the word jib better.)

And the sun's meridian passage has confirmed our latitude.

All is well.