Navigation - Old School Style

BigLights
BigLights Posts: 464
edited January 2013 in Road general
Hello

I came back to the office after a long night ride late last year and mentioned that I use the stars to help orientate myself (ie, find Big Dipper, then North Star and hey presto you've got North, South, East and West sorted). In the same way, I use the sun when it's light. The intensity of the laughter and ridicule that resulted took me back a bit, but led to some good banter.

I'm trying to figure this out. Clearly, it would seem that basic skills like this aren't really passed on in the UK by the sounds of it. I maintain that it's a sensible and very basic skill (I sail, so you always need to back up your GPS), but equally useful when driving or riding.

Does anyone else do this or is it as ridiculous as it's being made out?

Comments

  • I use a sextant ;-)
  • Camus
    Camus Posts: 189
    I also always like to have a sextant handy when I'm riding, at home I have a planetarium with a turbo in it so I can study the constellations as I train.

    Seriously though, yes, traditional navigation skills are always useful to know and can be a life saver for somebody who is out and gets lost. GPS and SatNav are now affordable and commonplace which makes life much easier, but also makes us more reliant on technology so that if this goes down we're not always able to compensate since we haven't bothered to learn your method or how to use a compass.
  • ddraver
    ddraver Posts: 26,383
    Yes they re worth knowing and you score some major Man Points for knowing it, but I ve done a lot of sailing and Mountain walking/navigation and to be honest have never been taught anything about the stars.

    The closest I ve got is when I used to Surf a lot I could tell the time from the sun with some remarkable accuracy, I got it down to 15 mins resolution ;)
    We're in danger of confusing passion with incompetence
    - @ddraver
  • You can get north via your watch too
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Find-no ... our-watch/
  • Pross
    Pross Posts: 40,427
    Not much point in the UK as you never get to see the sun or stars through the clouds! I do use the sun to roughly align myself sometimes but I'm not great on the stars. I can navigate with a map and compass accurately though which not many people seem to be able to do anymore. You only have to look at threads on here to find people who won't go off the beaten track unless they've downloaded a route to their Garmin 800, **** knows what they do if the Garmin stops working mid-ride!
  • BigLights
    BigLights Posts: 464
    thanks folks - genuinely enlightening. I'd always just assumed most people knew this sort of stuff, it's never ever come up in conversation.
  • priory
    priory Posts: 743
    first audax I did I was with a group who stopped at a crossroads to discuss which way . several (early model)gps's were involved. After a while I said'' look there's the sun, it's 11am so there is south, we go up this turning '' .I had the impression they were going to burn me for witchcraft were it not for another big group appearing and rushing up the road I the road I had indicated.
    It seems like essential knowledge to me, but people are increasingly dependant on gadgets .
    I got lost in london city once and asked some people emerging from lloyds which way was south. Similar problem: they thought I was a nutter , or the polite ones said' no idea mate'.
    I usually have a little compass nowadays in my saddle bag.
    Raleigh Eclipse, , Dahon Jetstream XP, Raleigh Banana, Dawes super galaxy, Raleigh Clubman

    http://s189.photobucket.com/albums/z122 ... =slideshow
  • stueys
    stueys Posts: 1,332
    Pross wrote:
    ...You only have to look at threads on here to find people who won't go off the beaten track unless they've downloaded a route to their Garmin 800, **** knows what they do if the Garmin stops working mid-ride!

    iPhone + google maps, simples. :D
  • cougie
    cougie Posts: 22,512
    99% of people will never need to work out directions. Even less by the stars.
  • I can't think of one situation where I would need any navigational skills.

    Even when I go out just to discover new places, there's always the option of turning round and going back.

    Failing that there's always been a signpost back to Sheffield, following which will eventually take me to a place I recognise.

    Seriously impressive stuff though being able to navigate naturally. I've never been taught any of this, even at cub scouts they only taught North East South West and how to use a compass.
    Hills are like half life - they wait until you're 50% recovered from one before hitting you in the face with the next.

    http://www.pedalmash.co.uk/
  • The RAF taught me to navigate by the stars. No idea why, given this was the mid 90s, and flying a fixed wing jet at night is tricky enough on its own, never mind having total instrument failure necessary to require navigating by the stars. Anyway, there's a motorway network to navigate by.

    I use Man-Nav from time to time - the art of simply heading in roughly the right direction until you hit a familiar landmark, and then muddling through from there.
  • priory
    priory Posts: 743
    you must know the reason why is fear of nuclear blast or electromagnetic pulse wiping out the nav systems while you are up there.
    First time I saw a navigator get his sextant out he asked the co-pilot to move aside so that he could get a fix through the rather few windows in a vulcan. We were far up and away in the dark near norway. It was quite a scary thought that he might have to use it for real , but almost expected in the '70's .
    Raleigh Eclipse, , Dahon Jetstream XP, Raleigh Banana, Dawes super galaxy, Raleigh Clubman

    http://s189.photobucket.com/albums/z122 ... =slideshow
  • priory wrote:
    you must know the reason why is fear of nuclear blast or electromagnetic pulse wiping out the nav systems while you are up there.
    First time I saw a navigator get his sextant out he asked the co-pilot to move aside so that he could get a fix through the rather few windows in a vulcan. We were far up and away in the dark near norway. It was quite a scary thought that he might have to use it for real , but almost expected in the '70's .

    Aye, but altogether a different story in a Jaguar at 100ft off the solid bit in the middle of a Welsh valley though - which what I was notionally being trained to do.
  • nawty
    nawty Posts: 225
    I can find the North Star (and the southern cross if I'm down that way), it can be useful at times and I can approximate north/south from the position of the sun and even I might check the direction of the wind before I go out so I can judge direction from how the clouds are moving.

    I use technology but don't like to totally rely on it so I will always keep a mental picture of general directions should I need to, it also gives you something to think about when you're out on a ride. A quick glance at a map before you head out is always helpful too.
    Cannondale CAAD 10 Ultegra
    Kinesis Racelight Tiagra
  • lotus49
    lotus49 Posts: 763
    I used to do a lot of hill walking in the days before GPS systems were commonplace and even if I'd had one, it would have been dangerous to rely on it solely.

    If you are up a mountain and the weather turns nasty (as it usually does in Britain) or it gets dark before you get down, you really need to be able to navigate your way back by some other means than a GPS. If you are up a mountain in the dark and your GPS battery runs out, the consequences of poor navigation skills could easily be fatal.
  • ddraver
    ddraver Posts: 26,383
    Think we re talking about even older school than that though.... ;)
    We're in danger of confusing passion with incompetence
    - @ddraver
  • rodgers73
    rodgers73 Posts: 2,626
    I'm fine with a map and compass and usually take a photocopy of a map with me on a ride just in case. I'm no good with sun or stars though. Will do something about that I think.
  • smoggysteve
    smoggysteve Posts: 2,909
    Full ordinance survey map, laminated, over the handle bars. Get the wind behind you it doubles as a sail.
  • wheezee
    wheezee Posts: 461
    Breadcrumbs work for me.
  • lotus49
    lotus49 Posts: 763
    wheezee wrote:
    Breadcrumbs work for me.
    When I tried that, the birds ate them :D .
  • BigLights wrote:
    Hello

    I came back to the office after a long night ride late last year and mentioned that I use the stars to help orientate myself (ie, find Big Dipper, then North Star and hey presto you've got North, South, East and West sorted). In the same way, I use the sun when it's light. The intensity of the laughter and ridicule that resulted took me back a bit, but led to some good banter.

    I'm trying to figure this out. Clearly, it would seem that basic skills like this aren't really passed on in the UK by the sounds of it. I maintain that it's a sensible and very basic skill (I sail, so you always need to back up your GPS), but equally useful when driving or riding.

    Does anyone else do this or is it as ridiculous as it's being made out?
    No it's not ridiculous. It depends on your background I think.

    I grew up sailing and doing 'outdoors' stuff and am (usually) always aware of my NSEW orientation. Sun position, moon, the major stars etc. The wind direction is useful even when cycling - if there are no other cues.

    I am generally surprised (like you it sounds like) at the lack of these skills in others.

    One classic was several years ago when doing the Whitehaven - East coast C2C on mountain bikes. We were on High Street in thick clouds when some walkers approached us to ask where they were. I jokingly said I was about to ask them the same when I then realised they really didn't know where they were, and had no idea of a strategy to re-establish their location. Looking at the map with them, we worked out that if they walked East they would hit a footpath which would then establish their location.

    Then again, the art of navigation is often to be sure where you're not - e.g. not near that cliff (walking) or not near those rocks sailing.
  • MattC59
    MattC59 Posts: 5,408
    I was driving home through Milton Keynes (for my sins!) the other day, heading west from the M1. The sun had set, there were no stars or moon and I knew I needed to head west. The signs said 'Milton Keynes North' was a left turn, knowing MK is a grid system this got me a little confused. It turns out that the grid isn't north south and isn't square..... The long and the short of. It is that I'd usually look for the sun or moon to navigate, before looking at the satnav.
    Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed.
    Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved
  • unixnerd
    unixnerd Posts: 2,864
    Mate just did an astro-navigation course with the Royal Yacht Society. He's a qualified offshore surveyor so knew the basics from his degree many years before. It's surprising how accurate you can get at night with a sextant, he reckoned 1-200m was possible.

    Things like B-52s, the SR-71 Blackbird and the Hound Dog missile used to use electronically controlled astro-navigation systems in the days before GPS. They were a real feat of opto-electronic engineering for the time.
    http://www.strathspey.co.uk - Quality Binoculars at a Sensible Price.
    Specialized Roubaix SL3 Expert 2012, Cannondale CAAD5,
    Marin Mount Vision (1997), Edinburgh Country tourer, 3 cats!
  • I already have a compass... It cost 40 bucks, doesn't look stupid and I can take a bearing with it :wink: