Learn To Sail By The Stars

When I first learned to fly, a big part of our training was navigation. We’d spread out a wide paper map across a table, draw our planned flight line across it in pencil, measure the distance according to the scale, estimate the effect of the wind, figure out our compass heading. It was fascinating stuff, and it connected us to a long tradition of travelers and explorers, who flew or sailed or rode to new destinations, following the needle of a compass or the direction of a star.

Today, of course, those skills and traditions are fading away fast, as new generations learn to navigate by telling a computer where they want to go and letting a satellite signal guide them there. Safer and more efficient, but less challenging, and considerably less romantic.

But a few are working to preserve those traditions of map and compass, and of determining a course by the stars. Learning celestial navigation is a pleasure — just hard enough that you feel a well-earned sense of accomplishment at mastering it, but not so hard that it’s beyond the grasp of anyone willing to put in the time and effort.

And what better way to learn it, than aboard a sailing ship at sea?

Ocean Classroom, an educational outfit based here in New England, is offering a special one-week shipboard course in celestial navigation, March 17 to 23. The schooner Westward will depart from Miami and sail in the Caribbean. The class is limited to just 15 adults, so you will have plenty of one-on-one instruction. Cost is $1,450, not cheap, but pretty reasonable for such a unique experience.

Westward is a traditional sail-training vessel, so expect fairly spartan (but comfortable) accommodations, plentiful food but nothing fancy, and showers on-deck with fresh sea water…. in other words, a true sailing adventure, not a lazy cruise.

If this is for you, sign up quick, March will be here before you know it.