Sextant is a book about the history of celestial navigation – fixing your position by the sun, moon and stars – and the crucial role this amazing instrument played in the exploration of the world. As well as telling the story of the author’s own voyage across the Atlantic in a small yacht back in 1973, it includes exciting accounts of some of the greatest voyages of discovery – led by the likes of Cook, Bougainville, La Pérouse, Vancouver, Flinders and FitzRoy. The astonishing small boat journeys of William (‘Bounty’) Bligh, Joshua Slocum, Ernest Shackleton and Frank Worsley – all of which depended on the sextant – also feature prominently.
Sextant is an elegy to a wonderful technology that has now all but vanished. Celestial navigation has now been supplanted by GPS – without anyone noticing, and without a tear being shed.
So my aims in writing the book are to remind people just how much we owe to the sextant and to the courageous people who used it to chart the world’s oceans, and to give some sense of how thrilling and rewarding it is to fix your position on the open ocean by reference to the heavens above – rather than just by pushing a button.
Long live the sextant!
Sextant is to be published in the UK by William Collins and in the US by William Morrow in the spring of 2014.