In the early 1990s I was living in Manhattan and teaching celestial navigation classes at the old Hayden Planetarium. It was during this time that I got my chance to sail aboard the Coast Guard barque Eagle.
At the time, the Third District Coast Guard was headquartered on Governors Island in lower Manhattan. On occasion Eagle would tie up along the Buttermilk Channel side. I had never sailed aboard a square-rigged vessel, and I was always trying to figure out how to get aboard.
It finally happened because the Coast Guard – in the form of an enlisted quartermaster who sailed aboard Eagle – asked me to come to Governors Island and brush the men up on celestial navigation. It was my pleasure to do so. Not only am I a big fan of the Coast Guard but getting to go to Governors Island, as any New Yorker will tell you, is a big treat. In those days the island was off limits to the general public, and the only way you could get there was to have your name cleared and pre-approved at the ferry slip.
Anyway, I went to the island for a few hours every week for about a month before the quartermaster was satisfied. He was very appreciative but told me he couldn’t pay me and that there was really nothing – other than the Eagle hat he gave me – that he could give to me. I asked him if it was possible to hitch a ride aboard the ship. He said he doubted it but that he would try.
A few months later I was aboard Eagle in Miami. The ship, with a short crew of enlisted, was on its way to New London and the academy. My friend had somehow gotten me a berth. Technically I was supercargo, but I spent a couple weeks doing everything from taking celestial sights to climbing out on the yards to furl sail to helping cook for the crew. It was a hell of an experience.
I will admit that the skipper thought I was daft every time he saw me out on the quarterdeck with my sextant. He humored me but let me know that the cadets spent about five minutes of their course time learning celestial. I definitely felt like a museum piece.
Let’s join Eagle bound for New England on October 26. The lower and upper courses are set, as well as the four jibs. Everything is drawing sweetly as the wind pushes us from the port quarter. Our DR at the time of this noon latitude/longitude fix is 30° 31′ N by 76° 47′ W. The Height of Eye on the quarterdeck I estimated at about 30 feet. There is no sextant error. The Hs at the time of the sight is 47° 01.6′. This is a noon sight so the first thing we have to do is calculate for the time of LAN.
A: At the given DR position, what time is LAN in Greenwich Mean Time?
B: What is the Ho?
C: What is latitude?
D: What is longitude?