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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER XIV THE AMATEUR NAVIGATOR
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 There are captains and captains, and some fine captains, I know; but the run of the captains on the Snark has been otherwise.  My experience with them has been that it is harder to take care of one captain on a small boat than of two small babies.  Of course, this is no more than is to be expected.  The good men have positions, and are not likely to their one-thousand-to-fifteen-thousand-ton billets for the Snark with her ten tons net.  The Snark has had to her navigators from the beach, and the navigator on the beach is usually a congenital inefficient—the sort of man who beats about for a fortnight trying vainly to find an ocean and who returns with his to report the island sunk with all on board, the sort of man whose temper or thirst for strong waters works him out of billets faster than he can work into them.  
The Snark has had three captains, and by the grace of God she shall have no more.  The first captain was so senile as to be unable to give a measurement for a boom-jaw to a carpenter.  So agedly helpless was he, that he was unable to order a sailor to throw a few buckets of salt water on the Snark’s deck.  For twelve days, at anchor, under an overhead tropic sun, the deck lay dry.  It was a new deck.  It cost me one hundred and thirty-five dollars to recaulk it.  The second captain was angry.  He was born angry.  “Papa is always angry,” was the description given him by his half-breed son.  The third captain was so that he couldn’t hide behind a corkscrew.  The truth was not in him, common honesty was not in him, and he was as far away from fair play and square-dealing as he was from his proper course when he nearly the Snark on the Ring-gold .
It was at Suva, in the Fijis, that I discharged my third and last captain and took up gain the rôle of amateur navigator.  I had essayed it once before, under my first captain, who, out of San Francisco, jumped the Snark so amazingly over the chart that I really had to find out what was doing.  It was fairly easy to find out, for we had a run of twenty-one hundred miles before us.  I knew nothing of navigation; but, after several hours of reading up and half an hour’s practice with the sextant, I was able to find the Snark’s by observation and her by the simple method known as “equal altitudes.”  This is not a correct method.  It is not even a safe method, but my captain was attempting to by it, and he was the only one on board who should have been able to tell me that it was a method to be .  I brought the Snark to Hawaii, but the conditions favoured me.  The sun was in northern declination and nearly overhead.  The -sight” method of the longitude I had not heard of—yes, I had heard of it.  My first captain mentioned it , but after one or two attempts at practice of it he mentioned it no more.
I had time in the Fijis to compare my chronometer with two other .  Two weeks previous, at Pago Pago, in Samoa, I had asked my captain to compare our chronometer with the chronometers on the American cruiser, the Annapolis.  This he told me he had done—of course he had done nothing of the sort; and he told me that the difference he had was only a small fraction of a second.  He told it to me with finely simulated joy and with words of praise for my splendid time-keeper.  I repeat it now, with words of praise for his splendid and unblushing unveracity.  For , fourteen days later, in Suva, I compared the chronometer with the one on the Atua, an Australian steamer, and found that mine was thirty-one seconds fast.  Now thirty-one seconds of time, converted into arc, equals seven and one-quarter miles.  That is to say, if I were sailing west, in the night-time, and my position, according to my dead reckoning from my afternoon chronometer sight, was shown to be seven miles off the land, why, at that very moment I would be crashing on the reef.  Next I compared my chronometer with Captain Wooley’s.  Captain Wooley, the harbourmaster, gives the time to Suva, firing a gun signal at twelve, noon, three times a week.  According to his chronometer mine was fifty-nine seconds fast, which is to say, that, sailing west, I should be crashing on the reef when I thought I was fifteen miles off from it.
I compromised by subtracting thirty-one seconds from the total of my chronometer’s losing error, and sailed away for Tanna, in the New Hebrides, resolved, when nosing around the land on dark nights, to bear in mind the other seven miles I might be out according to Captain Wooley’s instrument.  Tanna lay some six hundred miles west-southwest from the Fijis, and it was my belief that while covering that distance I could quite easily knock into my head sufficient navigation to get me there.  Well, I got there, but listen first to my troubles.  Navigation is easy, I shall always contend that; but when a man is taking three gasolene engines and a wife around the world and is writing hard every day to keep the engines supplied with gasolene and the wife with pearls and volcanoes, he hasn’t much time left in which to study navigation.  Also, it is bound to be easier to study said science , where latitude and longitude are unchanging, in a house whose position never alters, than it is to study navigation on a boat that is rushing along day and night toward land that one is trying to find and which he is liable to find at a moment when he least expects it.
To begin with, there are the compasses and the setting of the courses.  We sailed from Suva on Saturday afternoon, June 6, 1908, and it took us till after dark to run the narrow, reef-ridden passage between the islands of Viti Levu and Mbengha.  The open ocean lay before me.  There was nothing in the way with the exception of Vatu Leile, a little island that persisted in up through the sea some twenty miles to the west-southwest—just where I wanted to go.  Of course, it seemed quite simple to avoid it by a course that would pass it eight or ten miles to the north.  It was a black night, and we were running before the wind.  The man at the wheel must be told what direction to in order to miss Vatu Leile.  But what direction?  I turned me to the navigation books.  “True Course” I lighted upon.  The very thing!  What I wanted was the true course.  I read eagerly on:
“The True Course is the angle made with the meridian by a straight line on the chart to connect the ship’s position with the place bound to.”
Just what I wanted.  The Snark’s position was at the western entrance of the passage between Viti Levu and Mbengha.  The place she was bound to was a place on the chart ten miles north of Vatu Leile.  I that place off on the chart with my dividers, and with my parallel rulers found that west-by-south was the true course.  I had but to give it to the man at the wheel and the Snark would win her way to the safety of the open sea.
But and alack and lucky for me, I read on.  I discovered that the compass, that trusty, friend of the , was not given to pointing north.  It .  Sometimes it east of north, sometimes west of north, and on occasion it even turned tail on north and pointed south.  The variation at the particular spot on the globe occupied by the Snark was 9° 40′ easterly.  Well, that had to be taken into account before I gave the steering course to the man at the wheel.  I read:
“The Correct Magnetic Course is from the True Course by applying to it the variation.”
Therefore, I reasoned, if the compass points 9° 40′ of north, and I wanted to sail due north, I should have to steer 9° 40′ of the north indicated by the compass and which was not north at all.  So I added 9° 40′ to the left of my west-by-south course, thus getting my correct Magnetic Course, and was ready once more to run to open sea.
Again alas and alack!  The Correct Magnetic Course was not the Compass Course.  There was another sly little devil lying in wait to trip me up and land me smashing on the reefs of Vatu Leile.  This little devil went by the name of .  I read:
“The Compass Course is the course to steer, and is derived from the Correct Magnetic Course by applying to it the Deviation.”
Now Deviation is the variation in the needle caused by the distribution of iron on board of ship.  This local variation I derived from the deviation card of my standard compass and then to the Correct Magnetic Course.  The result was the Compass Course.  And yet, not yet.  My standard compass was amidships on the companionway.  My steering compass was aft, in the cockpit, near the wheel.  When the steering compass pointed west-by-south three-quarters-south (the steering course), the standard compass pointed west-one-half-north, which was certainly not the steering course.  I kept the Snark up till she was heading west-by-south-three-quarters-south on the standard compass, which gave, on the steering compass, south-west-by-west.
The foregoing operations constitute the simple little matter of setting a course.  And the worst of it is that one must perform every step correctly or else he will hear “Breakers ahead!” some pleasant night, a nice sea-bath, and be given the diversion of fighting his way to the shore through a of man-eating sharks.
Just as the compass is and strives to fool the mariner by pointing in all directions except north, so does that guide post of the sky, the sun, persist in not being where it ought to be at a given time.  This carelessness of the sun is the cause of more trouble—at least it caused trouble for me.  To find out where one is on the earth’s surface, he must know, at the same time, where the sun is in the heavens.  That is to say, the sun, which is the timekeeper for men, doesn’t run on time.  When I discovered this, I fell into deep gloom and all the was filled with doubt.  laws, such as gravitation and the conservation of energy, became wobbly, and I was prepared to witness their at any moment and to remain unastonished.  For see, if the compass lied and the sun did not keep its engagements, why should not objects lose their attraction and why should not a few bushel baskets of force be ?  Even perpetual motion became possible, and I was in a frame of mind to purchase Keeley-Motor stock from the first enterprising agent that landed on the Snark’s deck.  And when I discovered that the earth really rotated on its 366 times a year, while there were only 365 sunrises and sunsets, I was ready to doubt my own identity.
This is the way of the sun.  It is so irregular that it is impossible for man to devise a clock that will keep the sun’s time.  The sun accelerates and as no clock could be made to accelerate and .  The sun is sometimes ahead of its schedule; at other times it is lagging behind; and at still other times it is breaking the speed limit in order to overtake itself, or, rather, to catch up with where it ought to be in the sky.  In this last case it does not slow down quick enough, and, as a result, goes dashing ahead of where it ought to be.  In fact, only four days in a year do the sun and the place where the sun ought to be happen to coincide.  The remaining 361 days the sun is pothering around all over the shop.  Man, being more perfect than the sun, makes a clock that keeps regular time.  Also, he calculates how far the sun is ahead of its schedule or behind.  The difference between the sun’s position and the position where the sun ought to be if it were a decent, self-respecting sun, man calls the Equation of Time.  Thus, the navigator endeavouring to find his ship’s position on the sea, looks in his chronometer to see where precisely the sun ought to be according to the Greenwich of the sun.  Then to that location he applies the Equation of Time and finds out where the sun ought to be and isn’t.  This latter location, along with several other locations, enables him to find out what the man from Kansas demanded to know some years ago.
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 observation for latitude.  The chronometer sight was taken in the morning when the sun was some 21° above the horizon.  I looked in the Almanac and found that on that very day, June 7, the sun was behind time 1 minute and 26 seconds, and that it was 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 twenty-five minutes after eight o’clock at Greenwich.  From this date it would seem a schoolboy’s task to correct the Equation of Time.  Unfortunately, I was not a schoolboy.  Obviously, at the middle of the day, at Greenwich, the sun was 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time.  Equally obviously, if it were eleven o’clock in the morning, the sun would be 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time plus 14.67 seconds.  If it were ten o’clock in the morning, twice 14.67 seconds would have to be added.  And if it were 8: 25 in the morning, then 3½ times 14.67 seconds would have to be added.  Quite clearly, then, if, instead of being 8:25 A.M., it were 8:25 P.M., then 8½ times 14.67 seconds would have to be, not added, but subtracted; for, if, at noon, the sun were 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time, and if it were catching up with where it ought to be at the rate of 14.67 seconds per hour, then at 8.25 P.M. it would be much nearer where it ought to be than it had been at noon.
So far, so good.  But was that 8:25 of the chronometer A.M., or P.M.?  I looked at the Snark’s clock.  It marked 8:9, and it was certainly A.M. for I had just finished breakfast.  Therefore, if it was eight in the morning on board the Snark, the eight o’clock of the chronometer (which was the time of the day at Greenwich) must be a different eight o’clock from the Snark’s eight o’clock.  But what eight o’clock was it?  It can’t be the eight o’clock of this morning, I reasoned; therefore, it must be either eight o’clock this evening or eight o’clock last night.
It was at this that I fell into the bottomless pit of intellectual .  We are in east longitude, I reasoned, therefore we are ahead of Greenwich.  If we are behind Greenwich, then to-day is yesterday; if we are ahead of Greenwich, then yesterday is to-day, but if yesterday is to-day, what under the sun is to-day!—to-morrow?  Absurd!  Yet it must be correct.  When I took the sun this morning at 8:25, the sun’s at Greenwich were just arising from dinner last night.
“Then correct the Equation of Time for yesterday,” says my logical mind.
“But to-day is to-day,” my literal mind insists.  “I must correct the sun for to-day and not for yesterday.”
“Yet to-day is yesterday,” urges my logical mind.
“That’s all very well,” my literal mind continues, “If I were in Greenwich I might be in yesterday.  Strange things happen in Greenwich.  But I know as sure as I am living that I am here, now, in to-day, June 7, and that I took the sun here, now, to-day, June 7.  Therefore, I must correct the sun here, now, to-day, June 7.”
“Bosh!” snaps my logical mind.  “Lecky says—”
“Never mind what Lecky says,” interrupts my literal mind.  “Let me tell you what the Nautical Almanac says.  The Nautical Alma............
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