The Practical Guide to Heavenly Sailing: Book Review


Yachting Monthly literary critic Julia Jones reads Phil Somerville’s Practical Guide to Celestial Navigation and draws inspiration from his old sextant.

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

The word “Practice” in the title of this book is a good word.

There are those with fine minds who enjoy celestial navigation for itself; for the intellectual beauty of its concepts and the feeling of being one with the structure of this universe and beyond.

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

Phil Somerville leads the reader smoothly, pointing out the electronic leakage of GPS on a ocean-going yacht’s systems and also its vulnerability, both to electronic failure and to malicious intent.

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

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

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Its purpose is simply to teach position determination using the sun, not the moon, stars, or planets.

He offers three different ways to navigate his book.

For comprehensive hands-on learning, readers should start at the beginning and work your way up: however, for those who just want to understand the theory, there are five chapters to read; for readers who have already studied the subject but need a refresher before putting it into practice, there are three.

This level of organization and signage is a guarantee of confidence.

The presentation and layout are not threatening; the instructions seem unhurried.

Somerville is good at advising his reader to “keep that thought for now.”

What this means, of course, is that the reader who has taken to doing the minimum is imperceptibly starting to wonder what she did with that old sextant she has put away from desperation for a long time.

If you need to learn celestial navigation or even think you might want to, I recommend this book because it is accessible and very practical.

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