Getting around the world is a fascinating exercise.  At first, a person’s total awareness of his or her environment is the extent of as far as they can see, usually not much further beyond their crib or bedroom at first.  Then they discover the different rooms of their home, after which follows the discovery of the back yard.

Before long, they know their neighborhood and then their town.  When they are in school, they learn about their state and that the state is part of a nation and the nation is only one of many on the globe.

In studying the globe, there are facts to memorize and once learned, those facts can help one “get around.”  For instance, there are 360 degrees in a circle, and 60 minutes in every degree, which then gives you 60 seconds per minute.  Since one degree equals 60 nautical miles, one minute will equal one nautical mile.  Multiplying all of the degrees around the circumference of the globe (360 degrees x 60 minutes), you discover a trip around the world is 21,600 nautical miles.  Multiplied by 1.15 to determine statute miles, the world around any greatest part, is 24,840 statute miles.

All pretty useless information, right?

Well, consider this.

The ancient Polynesians, after discovering the limits of their living quarters and then their islands, went from their island chain in the South Pacific, all the way across 5000 miles of open ocean to the middle of the Pacific to find Hawaii.  Then they went home again.  And back.

They made this trip many times, thousands of years ago, before the development of sextants.

Using their hands as rudimentary sextants and the stars, combined with knowledge passed down in song from one generation to the next, these ancient mariners canoed from their homes to the Hawaiian Islands time and again.

Today, GPS gives us the ability to find the exact fishing hole in the middle of a lake or position ourselves repeatedly over the same reef in the ocean.  Within ten feet of the last time we were on the position.  It seems virtually impossible to get lost in these modern days of electronic navigation.

I remember one flight I flew in my A-4 out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I was out patrolling when I came across a very interesting sight.  There, on the surface of the Caribbean Sea, almost equidistant from Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti, was a dugout canoe with a couple of fishermen seeking their sustenance.  I could barely see the land from my altitude of 2000 feet, so I knew they could not possibly see land from where they were.

How did they get there? I thought. And how many years have they been doing this?  More importantly, I wondered how they were able to find their way home.

Me?  I had TACAN.


©2010 J. Clark

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1 Response to Navigation

  1. flyinggma says:

    Love this post! I was always amazed by the old sailors navigation skills.

    We tried using the GPS system in a car while we were trying to find a Walmart in Rapid City, SD. We followed the directions and it finally told us we had arrived at our destination.

    The only problem was we were no where near the Walmart. We were in the back alley in a housing development miles away from the store.

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