Classes in celestial navigation and related topics
Celestial Navigation in the Age of Sail
A fast-paced introductory workshop in the history and the actual techniques of celestial navigation as it was practiced aboard American vessels in the Age of Sail. We'll learn how to take sights and work calculations, especially as done aboard Mystic Seaport Museum's premier exhibit vessel, the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan. Examining original logbooks and navigational calculations from its voyages, we'll apply these same methods to modern navigation.
In this class, we'll learn how to use and adjust sextants and octants, both historical instruments and their modern equivalents, and we'll learn the classic method of finding latitude by "Noon Sun". We'll also cover in detail the math of the "time sight" for finding longitude. Throughout, we will compare what we're doing with actual logbook entries and calculations in the collections of Mystic Seaport, bringing historical documents to life. We'll also discuss celestial navigation options for upcoming ocean races with celestial classifications including Bermuda races and the Golden Globe Race.
This is real navigation, not just a class "about" navigation. Fast and intense, students who complete this class will have the basic celestial navigation skills to cross any ocean using the Sun, a sextant, and a few other simple tools, drawn directly from the 19th century.
$149 per person, per workshop
Note for online sessions: You may attend an Atlantic session starting at 12:00 noon Eastern US time, or a Pacific session starting at 6:00 pm Eastern US time (these start times are equivalent to 1700 UT and 2300 UT respectively). Currently Atlantic sessions run for 4.5 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday. Pacific sessions run for 3 hours each day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Anyone registered for an online workshop will be invited to attend hour-long sextant practical sessions in Rhode Island and Connecticut scheduled as weather and social distancing permit. These live, in-person sessions are included in your registration for online classes.
- Nine hours in online sessions.
- Requirements: Basic addition and subtraction. A good understanding of latitude and longitude on the globe.
- Recommended for ages 18 and up, students as young as age 13 welcome.
Fascinating classes taught by a fascinating and capable instructor.
Lunars class is challenging and fun. Frank presents several different recipes for accomplishing lunars, one of which seems almost easy (kind of). Highly recommended for anyone interested in celestial navigation or nautical navigation history.
FAA Designed Pilot Examiner
Retired Merchant Mariner
SUNY Maritime class of 80
Lieutenant, USN sep.
Frank taught an incredible class on celestial navigation that brought me from novice to some solid understanding of sextants, their history and most importantly their use as a aid to seeing the sea...and knowing where you are on this planet!
Hands on, wealth of knowledge, great resources at Mystic Seaport, he really covered a lot of ground! There was a lot of math but unlike in my youth, I was on the edge of my seat to soak up knowledge!! Frank made it relatable and real. The sextant which is such an iconic tool of the sea, was demystified. By the end of class i felt comfortable with it. I had mastered how it worked, how to read it and how to adjust it to insure its accuracy.
I came away with all of the cheat sheets and understandings of equations and concepts that breathe the life into what you capture through your sextant sightings.
I would highly recommend Frank and believe the Mystic Seaport with its planetarium, an ideal setting for my class with him discovering this timeless tool of the sea.
Frank did a great job keeping the class interesting with visual aids, both on screen and out on the seaport grounds. Frank had also noticed i was interested in the Draken. This is the Viking ship which had made its voyage across the Atlantic and up and down the east coast, resting for winter in Mystic as the troops regroup, gathering resources for another ocean voyage. He took extra time to talk about and show with polarized film the concept of the "Viking Sun Stone" which is a suspected navigational aide the Vikings may have used to traverse the globe as they had.
All in all i would highly recommend this class to any and all folks interested in learning about navigation and sextants. Informative and digestible, but most of all useful to the point where i am comfortable with the instrument and have the formulas needed to continuing to set my sights on the horizon!!
I look forward to more classes to learn more from Frank and strengthen my understandings of celestial navigation!
Several things stand out. The course material is presented in a balanced way, with a well thought mixture of detailed calculation, broken up by historical, factual, and hands-on aspects. This type of teaching is well suited to most, as it provides periods of more intense reasoning with relaxation and humor. Anyone can walk away with new-found knowledge. I also feel that the approach of understanding historical context and a simple practical approach is unique. It has gone a great way toward clearing up a lot of my preconceived ideas and confusions resulting from the many contradictory or esoteric approaches found in various volumes or on the internet.
Very simply, I learned a lot and it went a long way toward clearing up a mess. I was fascinated the whole time. The courses and NavList provide the tools to keep learning even after the course is over. I left able to measure what I see with a more calibrated eye for real world application, and a greater appreciation of human history. I can strongly recommend these classes for the curious, the fascinated, the historian, the hardcore navigator, or the armchair one. There is something in them for all.
I also found the NavList community to be helpful and encouraging as my journey continues. I hope I can undertake even more material in additional courses in the future.
"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" (Kenneth Grahame, from the "Wind in the Willows")
The class was also a great resource for my teaching and my own research interests such as the visibility of celestial objects in the daytime (Jupiter and Venus) and the effects of astronomical refraction near the horizon. I hope to take more workshops with Frank.
Dr. Russell D. Sampson
Eastern Connecticut State University
Philip M. Sadler, Ed.D.
F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Celestial Navigation
Harvard University Astronomy Department
- Office Hours: Online,
Friday & Sunday
- Modern Celestial ONE:
Jan 23, 24: Atlantic session OR Jan 25, 26, 27: Pacific session
- Celestial Age of Sail:
Jan 30, 31: Atlantic session OR Feb 1, 2, 3: Pacific session
- Modern Celestial TWO:
Feb 6, 7: Atlantic session OR Feb 8, 9, 10: Pacific session
Feb 13, 14: Atlantic session OR Feb 15, 16, 17: Pacific session
- Traditional Celestial:
Feb 27, 28: Atlantic session OR Mar 1, 2, 3: Pacific session
- Advanced Celestial:
Mar 13, 14: Atlantic session OR Mar 15, 16, 17: Pacific session
© Copyright 2020, Frank Reed, Clockwork Mapping, Conanicut Island USA.