Retirement-for some old friends on the bridge.

23rd March 2011, 19:10
Old Jimmy has removed his sextant from the left hand side of the mantelpiece and is devotedly polishing it for the two thousandth and sixty third time since his retirement.
There is a constant , resigned rumble of discontent from the kitchen. He catches a phrase here , a word there “polishing--bloody thing again--doesn’t know which end to hold the Hoover---lawn needs cutting--mmm”
A small procession enters. He brightens up . It’s Wee Jimmy ,his grandson- a combination of exasperation and delight. Jimmy leads his friends-all attached by the thumb to their mobiles-up to his Granddad and says “Tell us again about that thing , Grandpa.”
Grandpa sighs-deeply-and eyes the small assembly-sees the dreaded Simon and sighs even more deeply.
Every Grandpa’s grandson has a Simon--Simon has an I-Phone ,the new i-Phone-Simon is wearing Oakleys , top-end Lacoste and a pair of trainers that cost more than Grandad’s last suit. Simon sets the sartorial standards of the gang and is therefore loathed , albeit nicely , by the parents of all his friends.
For Simons Dad is Big in I.T. and Simons Mum is big in bosom and in “the City”
And there is no limit to their generosity to their son and heir.
Unlike the recently redundant , divorced and simply skint parents of the others.
And Simon is bright , too bloody bright and has been taught to ASK QUESTIONS.
A sigh.
“It’s a sextant , boys.”
“What does it DO ,Grandad?”
“I used it to find out where my ship was.”
“Had you forgotten where it was, Grandpa?--Granny says you forget where you put everything.”
“No , no ,Jimmy. I used it like a satnav sort of thing!“
“Where do you charge it up ?”
“You don’t--you--”
“Where do you put the batteries then?”
“There are no batteries , Simon!!!”
“Is it wireless then?”
“No , no! You use your eye! Your bloody eye , Simon!”
“Why are you all laughing , boys?”
“You tell some funny stories , Grandpa! Simon said he could get you swearing in two minutes flat. Go on -what do you do with that thing and your eye?”
“ Well--first you need to make sure what time it is--we had a special man who wound up the chronometer ---oh, no”
“I’ve got a chronometer-its got a NiCad Duroelectron cell-I don’t wind it up!
Couldn’t you afford batteries? My Dad could have got you them cheap!”
“I’m----sure---he---could , Simon. Anyway this was a very special chronometer -very, very special-you cant get them in the shops!!!”
There is now an air of quiet desperation and a mixture of amusement and perplexity in the room.
“O.K. Grandpa what did you do then?”
Deep breath, Deep breath.
“I went outside with all the apprentices to look at the sun.”
“And you’re not blind? Granny says you’re blind as a bloody bat at times.”
“No Jimmy--I’m not blind--I looked at the sun through my sextant here.”
“Oh, it’s like sunglasses then---like Simon’s Oakleys---they cost £120 , Grandpa-Mum says “Stuff it you’re not getting a pair I’ll strangle that Simon’s mum!“
“No its like a special telescope-with mirrors and you measure the angle the sun’s at! And you do big sums and then you know exactly where you are in the world! “
“You’re kidding , Captain Haddock! That would take ages!
Is this because you didn‘t have a charger or batteries for your TomTom? You could have got a cheapie mobile with a GPS app from Tesco‘s ,or my Dad could get you everything dead cheap ! You could send some to the appendages“
“ Captain Haddock! Captain bloody Haddock! --COME HERE SIMON!!!!”
And from the kitchen “James! James ! Stop that shouting --we are not as deaf as you are when it suits you --ask that nice boy Simon where his Mum got these nice sunglasses-we’ll treat Wee Jimmy to a pair on Pension Day-he’d like that!”
A door swings open then shut .Footsteps fade in the general direction of “The Red Dragon”
“You win that bet ,Simon--you got him swearing , shouting AND down to the pub in five minutes.”

23rd March 2011, 20:40
And if they had kept their mouths closed and listened, they would hve learned something priceless...........

I mistake i never made under those exact same circumstances.

Robert Hilton
23rd March 2011, 20:56
Alas Petee, too true.

Mike S
24th March 2011, 01:50
'Tell it to kids today and they would never believe you!"

Vital Sparks
25th March 2011, 16:49
I saw a video from David Letterman's TV show in which they had a competion to see which was the faster way to send a text message, two old timers with a morse key or two kiddies with mobile phones. You should have seen the expressions of disbelief on the kiddies faces when they lost big time :-)

27th March 2011, 14:48
But is it retirement for those old friends?
Just returned from 5 days doing a Navigational and Management Audit on a new ULCC from Malta to Algeciras and pleased to find, amongst all the moderrn electronics on the bridge, a well used sextant! Further investigation revealed a logbook of celestial observations made on a very regular basis by the young navigators on this huge vessel. This may be an exception, I hope not, as the company that hired me for this work has a large fleet of tankers and bulkers with common navigational procedures which include requirements for celestial position fixing using the supplied sextant(s). This has to be good news. At least one company recognises that navigators today have to learn practices of the past and not solely rely on GPS and ECDIS, which may fail from time to time when the power is lost.

Ian Brown
28th March 2011, 13:05
Standard practise/requirement to take sights on ocean passages in my outfit.

Also this is checked when audited by oil/gas majors so not such a dead art as some seem to think.

Aldis lamp is still there on the bridge but just used for 'wake up' calls to tardy vessels.

8th November 2011, 16:28
Celestial navigation was more than a navigational necessity. It was a religion of sorts. I enjoyed polishing my skills and getting better and better. I remember an old second mate who would face opposite to me for the LAN fix (when I was a cadet) and get the same results. I soon realized he was putting in a correction and shooting the sun beyond the 90 degree arc of the sextant.

Anyone try using a pan of bunker "C "or molasses as an artificial horizon at night?

Any other tricks you could do with the "Old Hambone"?

While on the subject, did you use HO 214 or HO 229 for sight reduction? Which did you like better? Anyone using the Ageton method?

Ahhh, those were the days...

9th November 2011, 15:28
I would dearly like to think ALL you guys are still slick with the hambone (not carping, Ian - bye the bye do you get enough bandwidth to access SN while away?).

It would be interesting to see if any of the recorded observation that so impressed our auditor friend coincided with complete overcast or lack of horizon. Or perhaps callpor (just ribbing OM) is just the auditor needed to keep up with the percentiles!

I can remember clearly one Capt. Dunipace drilling the other navigators in taking their sights from the maindeck - aided by whistles and stop watches - to demonstrate how to bring the horizon closer. But then although Transit was released for commercial use in 1967 I certainly didn't see it until 1976.

Although the number of days on which Sun recorded as obscured at noon has risen steadily since 1967 effects of bronzie have remained the same - odd.

You are one lightning strike away from needing the hambone in earnest (I claim) - along with GMDSS carrier pigeons.

9th November 2011, 17:56

You make a great observation about how Transit and then GPS changed our worlds. I suppose we got lazier or things got so easy we just did not bother to pick up the sextant (translates to lazy, I suppose). In my case, I would set up some sort of celestial chore every 30 minutes (daytime 8-12) to break up the boredom. I would positively fill up the chart with sun lines and advanced LOP's for speed checks just for fun and challenge. Then my watch was followed by a lee-than-ambitious Yugoslavian 3rd mate who only did DR plots for 4 hours no matter the weather. You had to check where you were really closely if you relieved him because he could not be trusted to make a decent landfall. I believe the approrpiate term here would be the internationally recognized term of "Lazy Bugger"?

As a cadet, we had to fill our sight reduction books with a full complement of stars, amplitudes, sun lines, LAN's on every day possible. This included if you were at anchor. I pity the poor slobs who had to do sunlines at anchor in Diego Garcia for a month or more at a time. You got graded six months later when you turned your navigation book in. Too many days of clouds and they got suspicious you were slacking off. So on those cloudy days no sights were made you were expected to write about how the weather affected the ship. Well, instead of filling up the notebooks with an ugly/hasty/boring screed on weather, it was easier (I have heard said) to work your sights backward and scribble them into the book as if it were a clear day with razor sharp horizon all round! Why that is just as much work as actually taking the sight the old fashioned way! I suppose it was a valuable academic exercise.(Jester)

My cadet days were golden times...

10th November 2011, 16:00

If I still bunked at sea I would certainly feel more comfortable in it if, like you (for the skake of hypothesis that is), all three deck watches knew how to 'do' their unaided navigation backwards.

Perhaps that is where the saying came from.

All my days at sea were fun (ending in 81). I doubt those at sea since then will be able to say the same.


10th November 2011, 16:42

Going to sea thirty years ago was, as all have said on this forum, the beginning of the end of an era. But it was good while it lasted. I don't know, but the people back then seemed more vivid and the spirit of adventure had not dulled and even the food tasted better while at sea.

Containerization and GPS changed all that.

My port calls in my break bulk days were memorable. And we had some rollicking good parties/barbecues/P**s-ups while at sea as well.

Brandy and cigars and a roaring fire brings all those memories back so very clearly! And if my guests/wife tire of my sea stories and go off to bed early, the Moggies can be depended upon to listen intently no matter how many times they have heard the tale....

All The Best.

Ian Brown
10th November 2011, 17:43
[QUOTE=Varley;550450]I would dearly like to think ALL you guys are still slick with the hambone (not carping, Ian - bye the bye do you get enough bandwidth to access SN while away?).

Yes David, we do get enough bandwidth to access SN provided it gets through the Security Software we run onboard.

Regarding the lightening strike. It's not our Navigation I'm worried about, it's all the other lost souls that would be wandering about if they had no GPS.

Mind you I can recall being called up in the 70's by a Ship from a country currently experiencing financial problems and asked where we were going. I replied that we were heading for Marseille. He replied 'Do you mind if we follow you as we dont have charts for that part of the Medi.'

11th November 2011, 10:20

I fear you are wrong but only in one respect. One moggie has been missing a month - haven't mentioned the sea to the other four since.


Good to hear of you. Yes there is always the other bugger - I have always thought this makes some of the regulatory relaxations based on GT absurd. However loss of navigational aids from lightning (or perhaps of some true systems failure) is only of concern to own vessel if own vessel can still get underway. I fear some designs will not manage even that being silicon dependent from top to bottom. Hence need to look for Inmarsat Fleet CP or CPSat and your wingspan contract!


16th January 2012, 01:46
Correct me if I'm wrong, (my wife tells me all the time) but hasn't the requirement for a Sextant been removed from SOLAS and replaced with words like "at least two forms of electronic positioning" and the same for a Chronometer


John Dryden
16th January 2012, 01:59
Well you are probably right murrayis,just hope you have 14 compasses!

16th January 2012, 21:52
I saw a video from David Letterman's TV show in which they had a competion to see which was the faster way to send a text message, two old timers with a morse key or two kiddies with mobile phones. You should have seen the expressions of disbelief on the kiddies faces when they lost big time :-)

I saw that too, who said we cant keep up?

16th January 2012, 23:55
Correct me if I'm wrong, (my wife tells me all the time) but hasn't the requirement for a Sextant been removed from SOLAS and replaced with words like "at least two forms of electronic positioning" and the same for a Chronometer



Interesting, in the same way as the query on keeping compass deviation records.

Ham bone does not seem to be required by last or present SOLAS Chapter V

Perhaps we should be looking in the collision regulations or in the compulsory requirements of the Safe Management regulations (regret neither to hand or to brain).

(I am hoping that the flaw you see is in having two positioning systems that are the same, maybe identical, and so liable to same systems failuire?)

Sorry, hobby horse again.

David V

17th January 2012, 09:29
Hi David
I agree, but then I think of my second ship where the Master kept a chain and padlock on the radar. Are we now that Master?
When I was doing vessels inspections I started to see the heavy reliance on GPS and ECS and used to ask the junior Officers when did they last take a sight. Amazingly, all of a sudden, some of them couldn't speak English.
Regardless of the regs most ships seem to have a GPS mounted in every corner of the bridge. Like all good electronics it all has its little problems. On my last vessel the AIS suffered from vessel slip (or was that DECCA) on at least two occasions where the information on a target was transposed with another ships name.

17th January 2012, 10:21

I do appreciate that risk but hope not.

I would like to think that I appreciate the appropriate introduction of new technology but not new technology for the sake of it. One of my last acts before redundancy was to pursuade reluctant client to fit SharpEye - not many commercial operators have done that even now.

I have to admit that I was ever looking to the reliability and preservation of functionality rather than the functionality itself which is rightly for the operators. HOWEVER where functionality 'requirement' clashed with technology issues I often found it very, very difficult to have evidence based explanation of the operators' requirements although these would often be trumps due operator being (rightly) more senior in the management hierarchy.

The SharpEye decision process might illustrate what I mean on a number of levels if you are interested in this I will send you a PM to do with as you wish.

(I have heard of target ID swap on ARPA. Not sure how this could happen with basic AIS. Perhaps the interface between the AIS and a non-integral PPI could do this too)

David V

Hugh Ferguson
17th January 2012, 11:55
This thread reminds so much of a moment way back in 1949: we had been on passage for three weeks from Fremantle to Durban and I do believe that we had sighted nothing whatsoever in all of those days!
It just so happened that we were so on course that the man at the wheel, Jimmy Newall, noticed that we steamed in past the Bluff without having to alter a degree. This feat of navigation, only achieved by the use of sextants, did not go unnoticed, for when Jimmy was relieved from his trick at the wheel he came out on the wing and shook hands with a couple of us in a gesture of congratulation!!
I think I was about three voyages with Jimmy Newall in that old coal burning Elpenor: he was a typical Liverpool A.B., a breed in itself.

17th January 2012, 11:59
Good work, Hugh - a straight line from Cleos to the Smugglers (or whatever was going on at the time).

John T.

17th January 2012, 12:08
Petetee, thats a great yarn mate, well done !!

17th January 2012, 22:00
Hi David V

Thanks for the offer of info on SharpEye that would be much appreciated. Syetems like that would have been great around the Japan coast.

18th January 2012, 00:29

Give me a couple of days (you will be free to use it as you think fit. I volunteered it privately only because my style attracts the criticisim of my fondest admirers and more general critics alike). Re Japan. JRC are looking for volunteers to try their own version - but only if one is trading to Japan where they can monitor it.

David V