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Celestial Navigation Remains Reliable When GPS Fails

Where would modern sailors be without GPS? It’s actually possible to find out. Paul Kamen, who has navigated 23 Hawaii races and is one of the few people who has won navigation awards for both Pac Cup (2000) and Transpac (Mark Rudiger trophy, 2019), recently visited the Corinthian Yacht Club to remind everyone they can still find out where they are, even if the entire GPS system is hacked. The only rub is you need to have a sextant and know celestial navigation. His efficient course trims the learning of the basics of celestial navigation down to just one hour and then, as with everything else in life, all you have to do is practice.

Paul Kamen Celestial
Does the large turnout indicate there are plenty of people who still want to learn about celestial navigation or maybe have jitters about the GPS system?
© 2022 Shelly Willard

Not too long ago, traditional celestial navigation required large books with sight reduction tables and some very careful, tedious calculations. Kamen’s one-hour fast track to knowing celestial navigation class got everyone up to speed quickly.

Paul Kamen Celestial
Practicing finding where you are when you know where you are is a good place to start. Everyone started knowing they were at Latitude 38 north.
© 2022 Shelly Willard

Speaker organizer Shelly Willard said, “Precisely at 18:26:33 PDT on April 7, the moon crossed the meridian of 122º 27.33’ west, a perfect setup for a ‘noon sight’ of the moon from the deck of the Corinthian YC.” There were about 35 eager celestial navigation “students” on hand for the hands-on demonstration and practice session.

Paul Kamen Celestial
There’s only so much you can learn in lectures. It’s best to get outside and look at the sun, moon and stars.
© 2022 Shelly Willard

Folks found their dusty old sextants or borrowed a (dusty old) sextant, fiddled with the mirrors and dials, and took sights and compared calculations. The weather cooperated, the moon rose over Angel Island, and some old sailor dogs learned something new.

Paul Kamen Celestial
Paul Kamen, right, looks on as celestial sights are worked out to find out where they are all sitting.
© 2022 Shelly Willard

Computers help with the calculations, but even with the whole GPS system down, you can take sights with one of the original handheld navigation devices, the sextant, to determine your location.

3 Comments

  1. Jeff Hoffman 5 months ago

    During the long periods of boredom between the moments of sheer terror, I think it would be fun to navigate by sextant and just use the GPS to confirm your readings. I wish I knew how to navigate by sextant when I sailed offshore.

  2. Will 5 months ago

    How do I get notified for his next course?

  3. Paul Kamen 5 months ago

    Will – The one-day version of the hands-on celestial navigation class happens twice a year at Berkeley Yacht Club on these dates:

    September 27 (my birthday, because I can’t think of anything else to do that would be more fun)
    and
    Superbowl Sunday, for the Football Widow’s (and widower’s) Celestial Navigation Class.

    Limited to 12 participants, sign up early.

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Do I Need a Passport?
Along with crews from 81 other starters, we found ourselves enjoying the scene at Vallejo Yacht Club on Saturday afternoon.