Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer wades through The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation by Phil Somerville and is inspired to dust off her old sextant

The Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation
Phil Somerville,
Adlard Coles £30

The word ‘Practical’ in this book’s title is a good one.

There are those with fine-tuned minds who love celestial navigation for its own sake; for the intellectual beauty of its concepts and the sense of being at one with the structure of this universe and beyond.

There are others (like the present writer) who feel a headache approaching at the very sight of astro-navigation tables so hurry to deny its necessity in the new happy world of GPS.

Phil Somerville leads the reader in gently, pointing out the electronic drain of GPS on the systems of an ocean-going yacht and also its vulnerability, both to electronic failure and to malice.

This is why it remains an essential element for the Ocean Yachtmaster qualification and the MCA certificates needed to become a commercial skipper or superyacht captain.

Somerville promises his reader that the achievement of usable learning can bring real satisfaction but also that his book will keep the subject within realistic bounds.

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His aim is merely to teach position-fixing using the sun, not the moon, stars or planets.

He offers three different ways to navigate his book.

For overall practical learning, readers should start at the beginning and work through: however for those who simply want to gain understanding of the theory, there are five chapters to read; for readers who have previously studied the subject but need a refresher before putting it into practice, there are three.

This level of organisation and signposting is confidence-building.

The presentation and lay-out is unthreatening; the instructions feel unhurried.

Somerville is good at advising his reader to ‘park that thought for now’.

What this means, of course, is that the reader who set out to do only the minimum finds herself imperceptibly beginning to wonder what she did with that old sextant she put away in despair long ago.

If you need to learn celestial navigation or even think you might want to, I recommend this book as accessible and thoroughly practical.

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