“I sailed with a free wind day after day, marking the position of my ship on the chart with considerable precision; but this was done by intuition, I think, more than by slavish calculations. For one whole month my vessel held her course true; I had not, the while, so much as a light in the binnacle. The Southern Cross I saw every night abeam; the sun every morning came up astern; every evening it went down ahead. I wished for no other compass to guide me, for these were true. If I doubted my reckoning after a long time at sea I verified it by reading the clock aloft made by the Great Architect, and it was right.”

-Joshua Slocum, Sailing Alone Round the World


“Navigation is easy. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t be able to teach it
to Sailors.”

-From James Lawrence, fisherman under sail, Sailing Barge skipper and Sailmaker from Brightlingsea ,Essex, England.


He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
a map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!”

-Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark


“The boundaries of our country, sir? Why sir, on the north we are bounded by the Aurora Borealis, on the east we are bounded by the rising sun, on the south we are bounded by the procession of the Equinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgment.”

-The American Joe Miller’s Jest Book


Our state is shaken by innumerable storms, and there is only one hope for its future safety; just like a ship in the middle of the sea which the winds grasp, it now breaks up in the briny water. But if the brothers of Helen, shining stars, appear, good hope restores those downcast spirits.

-Alciato’s Book of Emblems, (pub. 1531)Emblem 43, “Spes Proxima” (Hope is Near)


Is this the greatest opening passage in literature or what?

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. “

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick


Ahab to his Quadrant

Foolish toy! babies’ plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science!

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Sextant: an entertaining, albeit expensive, device, which, together with a good atlas, is of use in introducing the boatman to many interesting areas on the earth’s surface which he and his craft are not within 1,000 nautical miles of.

-Beard and McKie, Sailing: The Fine Art of Getting Wet and Becoming Ill While Slowly Going Nowhere at Great Expense


With the sextant he made obeisance to the sun-god, he consulted ancient tomes and tables of magic characters, muttered prayers in a strange tongue that sounded like Indexerrorparallaxrefraction, made cabalistic signs on paper, added and carried one, and then, on a piece of holy script called the Grail – I mean, the Chart – he placed his finger on a certain space conspicuous for its blankness and said, “Here we are.” When we looked at the blank space and asked, “And where is that?” he answered in the cipher-code of the higher priesthood, “31 -15 – 47 north, 133 – 5 – 30 west.” And we said, “Oh,” and felt mighty small.

-Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark


The difference between the sun’s position and the position where the sun ought to be if it were a decent, self-respecting sun is called the Equation of Time.

-Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark


The Snark sailed from Fiji on Saturday, June 6, and the next day, Sunday, on the wide ocean, out of sight of land, I proceeded to endeavour to find out my position by a chronometer sight for longitude and by a meridian sight for latitude. The chronometer sight was taken in the morning, when the sun was some 21 degrees above the horizon. I looked in the Nautical Almanac and found that on that very day, June 7, the sun was behind time 1 minute and 26 seconds, and that it was catching up at a rate of 14/67 seconds per hour. The chronometer said that at the precise moment of taking the sun’s altitude it was 25 minutes after 8:00 in Greenwich. From this date it would seem a schoolboy’s task to correct the Equation of Time. Unfortunately I was not a schoolboy.

-Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
that alters when it alteration finds,
Nor bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no, it is an ever fixed mark
that looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wandering bark
whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
but bears it out, even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ nor no man ever loved.

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 116


Joseph Conrad on death…

…I observed his weary eyes gaze steadily ahead, as if there had been nothing between him and the straight line of the sea and sky, where whatever a seaman is looking for is first bound to appear. But I have also seen his eyes rest fondly upon the faces in the room, upon the pictures on the wall, upon all the familiar objects of that home, whose abiding and clear image must have flashed often on his memory in times of stress and anxiety at sea. Was he looking out for a strange Landfall, or taking with untroubled mind the bearings for his last Departure? It is hard to say; for in that voyage from which no man returns Landfall and Departure are instantaneous, merging together in one moment of supreme and final attention.

-Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea


This one’s on flight, but the same idea applies to those who only know electronic navigation….

One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labeled buttons, and in whose minds the knowledge the sky and the wind and the way of the weather will be as extraneous as passing fiction.

-Beryl Markham, West with the Night


Why electronics will never be enough….

The new ship here is fitted according to the reported increase of knowledge among mankind. Namely, she is cumbered end to end, with bells and trumpets and clock and wires, it has been told to me, can call voices out of the air of the waters to con the ship while her crew sleep. But sleep thou lightly. It has not yet been told to me that the Sea has ceased to be the Sea.

-Rudyard Kipling


Here is John Milton writing on the obliquity of the earth’s axis:

Some say, he bid his angels turn askance
The poles of earth twice ten degrees or more
From the sun’s axle; they with labour push’d
Oblique the centric globe: some say, the sun
Was bid turn reins from th’ equinoctial road
Like distant breadth to Taurus with the seven
Atlantic Sisters, and the Spartan Twins,
Up to the Tropic Crab; thence down amain
By Leo, and the Virgin, and the Scales,
As deep as Capricorn, to bring in change
Of seasons to each clime.

“Paradise Lost”


Charles Kingsley on the constellation Andromeda:

I set thee High for a star in the heavens, a sign and hope for the seamen.



The wind has shifted; now it blows across
our path and rises from the black west, now
the air has thickened into mist. We cannot
hold out against it, cannot keep on course.
Since Fortune has the better of us now,
Let us obey and turn aside where she
has called. I think the faithful shores of Eryx,
your brother, and Sicilian ports are not
far off, if only I remember right
and can retrace the stars I watched before.

-Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. by Allen Mandelbaum


St. Paul before his shipwreck:

But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land; and when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to to it and were driven….As we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to throw the cargo overboard; and the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackle of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many a day, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.


Acts of the Apostle, Ch. 27:14-20, Revised Standard Version

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

-Walt Whitman


Kenneth Grahame asks the pertinent question:

This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in all my life.” “What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed. “Never been in a — you never — well I — what have you been doing, then?”

-The Wind in the Willows


“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly…. “Nice? It’s the only thing,” the Water Rat said solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing — about — in — boats.”

-The Wind in the Willows


Just had to throw these in because I have so many occasions to observe their truth!

“You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know.”

-The Grateful Dead


“In the face of stupidity, the gods themselves are helpless.”

Unknown, but my mother quoted it often!

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