About David Barrie

DB sailing3
After studying Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford University, David Barrie served for 17 years in the British Diplomatic Service and Cabinet Office.

From 1989 to 1992 he was Executive Director of The Japan Festival 1991, a major nationwide celebration of Japanese culture.  He was appointed Director of the National Art Collections Fund (now the Art Fund) in 1992, a position he held until 2009.

David was chair of the campaigning organisation, Make Justice Work, from 2010 to 2013 and has served as a trustee of many organisations including the Ruskin Foundation, Butterfly Conservation and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

David grew up in Lymington, Hampshire, where he first learnt to sail.  In 1973 he crossed the Atlantic in a 35-foot sloop, avoyage which he describes in Sextant.  He competed in the 1974 Observer Two-Handed Round Britain Race in a Contessa 26, and has since sailed in many parts of the world.  He was elected  a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation in 2015 and is a member of the Royal Cruising Club.

The great-great nephew of the playwright J M Barrie, David is married with two daughters and lives in West London and Emsworth, Hampshire.


15 thoughts on “About David Barrie

  1. Dear Barrie,
    I just finished reading your book, one of the best books I ever read!
    My expertise is quite different but I can relate to most of your points… we build nanosatellites (www.athenoxat.com, http://www.pop-sat.com) and we navigate them in Space using compass and Sun, sometimes the Moon. The on board chronometer is not so precise and needs some periodical synchronization… which we do from the ground for the moment.
    I would be happy to get in touch for more details.


    1. Thanks very much Giulio – I’m delighted that you enjoyed Sextant! Did you read it in English or Italian, I wonder?

      I’m sorry for the delay in responding – you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve been away sailing.

      Best wishes


  2. Mr. Barrie,
    I just finished your book and enjoyed the entire read. As a Land Surveyor that works in “local” plain surveying, I have always been facinated by the science and mechanics of navigation. Also, I can relate and understand the process of removing the systematic errors as well as the dangers of errors in the calculations. Now you have me considering draging my vintage transit out to the garden on some clear night!

  3. Hi David Barrie,

    I am thoroughly enjoying your book ‘Sextant’. Hope you will get many more buyers and editions. I the latter case, you may want to correct one small error (if I am correct): On page 65 Chapter 6 (paperback version) you write that “… the geographical length of a degree of latitude would increase as one moved away from the equator.” Think this ought to be “decrease”. Small thing of course but I assume especially you will care about small things 🙂

    Ron Marchand

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Ron. Sorry for the slow reply. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the book. Actually I think what I wrote is correct. The lengthening of the degree of latitude is due to the flattening of the Earth towards the poles. There’s a good explanation on Wikipedia under ‘degree of latitude’.

      All the best


    2. Hi David
      My copy of your book “Sextant” arrived in just time for me to spend a Christmas break with it and my family up in the Coromandel (NZ) near Cook’s Mercury Bay. I must thank you for a most enjoyable read. I have to confess possibly not quite what I was expecting having read Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” & David Duncan’s “The Calendar”. But then, maybe I thought there was some hidden mystery or struggle behind the development of the sextant that I didn’t know about. To me the sextant, does have a mystery, as a child I’d see it in used in films and was most impressed when the hero could read off the Latitude & Longitude by looking at the instrument.
      Having said that you wove all your threads nicely together and kept my interest.
      As a retired Master Mariner, you touched on a lot of subjects dear to my heart Anson/Cook/Bligh/Flinders/Vancouver/FitzRoy/Shackleton. You mention the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty it also influenced me. I was 14 years old at the time of film’s release I had just started my three years at the “Hull Trinity House Navigation School” (Founded in 1787), we wore a brass bound uniform based on a traditional Midshipman’s from the Nelsonian period. Pretty sure we practiced with quadrants bringing the sun down to the roof tops.
      In 1965 I went away to sea as a cadet with the Blue Star Line of London. It was a good company to learn one’s trade as surprisingly at that time half the fleet of modern fast refrigerated cargo liners did not have radar. So we did depend upon traditional methods.
      You mention Gulf of Penas (Chile), 50 years ago, I was on a 3600 GRT ship. Just before midnight Christmas eve 1966, the look-out on the fo’c’s’le sounded the bell, it turned out he’d seen & heard breakers right ahead. Two days earlier we’d left Valparaiso heading south for the Patagonian Channels & the Straits (to load another cargo of chilled meat in Buenos Aires.) but had been in & out of fog banks. On hearing the bell, the 3rd Mate picked up his glasses and was appalled to see what looked like a washing line with white linen in the darkness right ahead. Immediately he ordered the hard a starboard and made a 90-degree alteration of course out to the west. Sometime after midnight Cabo Raper Lt Ho appeared on the port beam at a high altitude. We had a very lucky escape, in a very remote part of the world.
      I spent the best part of 10 years trading across the Pacific, mainly between the Pacific West coast/ and New Zealand. Only on my last voyage across the Pacific did we have an earlier Magnavox satellite navigator. Very familiar with the Marq St Hilaire method, up until I becoming a harbour pilot in Wellington in 1980, retired from the same in 2013.
      Fingers crossed you receive this, thanks again for a good read.
      Peter Stacey
      PS David just one thing, your “confusion” re the term “Log”, you may well have guessed by now that there is a connection between the original “log” (piece of wood) and the “log book”, the latter recording data of the first.

      1. Dear Peter

        Many apologies for this grotesquely late response. I think I must have accidentally turned off the notifications from WordPress so I have only just seen your fascinating and thoughtful message. Please accept my deepest apologies.

        Thank you so much for writing. I’m very glad you enjoyed the book.

        With very best wishes

        David Barrie

  4. Hi David,

    I just finished reading “Sextant”, which I enjoyed. I was especially pleased to see your extended treatment of Joshua Slocum, my personal hero.

    Just wanted to leave you a quick note regarding his photo, which in the book is said to be undated, by unknown photographer.

    This photograph is reproduced in the memoir of Slocum’s son Victor (“Capt. Joshua Slocum: The Life and Voyages of America’s Best Known Sailor” by Victor Slocum). It mentions the time (September 1906), the photographer’s name, and story behind the photo:


    Thank you for your book!

    1. Dear Andrew

      I’m afraid this must be record for a late reply – so sorry but I must have accidentally turned of the notifications from WordPress.

      Thanks very much for letting me know about the photo credits. If I get the chance I’ll ask for them to be included next time the book is reprinted.

      With very best wishes

      David Barrie

  5. David,
    going through Sextant given to me at xmas for a read. being in Aus down under, several of the explorers do interest me. you may not be aware but the radical indigenous folks are painting a picture that Captain Cook was an invader. I don’t think he was. he was a great explorer. Say anything, you get called all sorts of nasty things. I have digitised some of the rhetoric expressed over the last few days if you are interested in reading some of this material.



    1. Thanks Przemyslaw

      I’m afraid I’ve been extremely busy over the last year or more researching and then writing a new book about the science of animal navigation so I haven’t been able to add part 3. Sorry!

      But thanks for your interest.

      With very best wishes

      David Barrie

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