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I recently read Endurance: Shackelton's Incredible Voyage. There's a riveting part where he and his team sail through some of the most treacherous water on earth in an open row boat navigating only with a sextant and a chronometer. Here's the chronometer that they used:



Photo source:

Scott Polar Research Institute » Virtual Shackleton - articles

The book is amazing. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it already.

Edit: By the way, this is a great idea for a thread. Thanks for posting!
 
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That was the standard way of navigating. Nothing difficult there.

But the seamanship, that is truly amazing!
Maybe in normal conditions, but from a rowboat on the roughest seas on earth in sub-zero temperatures? I imagine that was extremely difficult. Plus he could only take a sighting when there was a break in the clouds, which wasn't often. The navigator had to keep the watch on a chain around his neck inside his clothing to avoid it getting soaked and/or frozen. Without a working chronometer they would have almost surely died at sea.
 
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The Vikings travveled all around the European "Peninsula", including the notorious Bay of Biscayne. The went by ship from Norway o all the Islands in the North Atlanic, to Iceland, Greenland nd Northern part of the Americas. North Atlantic is a hellish sea.Their boats were open, and could not sail against the wind. They had no accurate compass, but a very crude one (science thinks). No way to measure time.

The Phenicians and ancient Basques did something similar.

I do not want to diminish his incredible feat, just get it into perspective!
True, the history of exploration by sea is full of incredible stories of endurance, heroism and amazing discoveries. The fact that there are many doesn't make any one less impressive or worthy of admiration in my opinion.

The Shackelton expedition was lost in the antarctic for almost 18 months. Their ship was crushed by the ice, they had to survice on seal blubber and nothing at all for long periods of time. In the end they had to travel something like 400 nautical miles of open sea to reach an island only a few miles long in the middle of Drake passage. If they had been off course by even a little bit they would have been swept out into the middle of the Atlantic ocean and never seen again. They were frostbitten, starving and dehydrated, and they all made it back home alive.

Sorry, but having just read the book, I feel a kinship with these guys and I'm obligated to make sure that everyone else is appropriately impressed by their story. ;-)
 
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