Sextant : A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World's Oceans, Hardback Book

Sextant : A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World's Oceans Hardback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


In the tradition of Dava Sobel's `Longitude' comes sailing expert David Barrie's compelling and dramatic tale of invention and discovery - an eloquent elegy to one of the most important navigational instruments ever created, and the daring mariners who used it to explore, conquer, and map the world.This is the story of an instrument that changed the world.

In prose as crisp as the book's subject, David Barrie tells how and why the sextant was invented; how offshore navigators depended on it for their lives in wild and dangerous seas until the advent of GPS - and the sextant's vital role in the history of exploration.

Much of the book is set amidst the waves of the Pacific Ocean as explorers searched for the great southern ocean, charted the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Alaska as well as the Pacific islands.

Among the protagonists are Captain James Cook, the great French navigator, La Perouse, who built on Cook's work in the exploring the Pacific during the 1780s, but never made it home, George Vancouver, Matthew Flinders - the first man to circumnavigate Australia, Robert FitzRoy of the Beagle, Joshua Slocum, the redoubtable old `lunarian' and successful pilot of a small boat across the wild Southern Ocean and Frank Worsley of the Endurance.Their stories are interwoven with the author's account of his own transatlantic passage aboard Saecwen in 1973, using the very same navigational tools as Captain Cook, and the book is infused with a sense of wonder and dramatic discovery.A heady mix of adventure, science, mathematics and derring-do, `Sextant' is a timeless tale of sea-faring and exploration.

A love letter to the sea, it is narrative history for star gazers and sailors, for everyone with a love of salty breezes and a sense of adventure.

Beautifully produced, `Sextant' offers storytelling at its very best.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Maritime history
  • ISBN: 9780007516568

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I grew up within spitting distance of the sea, in a fishing port, yet have never sailed. But I know a bit about sailing (all bar actually how to do it) so the terminology, the charts, the apparatus are vaguely familiar to me, even if I'd be all at sea when let loose aboard a boat. So this has elements that I recognise, but was also a mine of interesting information. It traces the attempt to answer that human imperative question - where are we? That's hard enough to answer on land, at sea it becomes a whole different ball game. Nowadays you'd plug in the GPS (and possibly discover you're lying at anchor half way up a mountain, but that's a different kettle of fish). This traces the evolution of navigation, and the tools of the trade. It looks at the difficulties of navigation, and how various voyagers overcame them and gradually filled in the map of the seas. In parallel to this is uses extracts of a voyage he made as a teenager, crossing the Atlantic on a yacht, practically taking sighs and finding their position in the same way that the voyagers he discusses were doing. It's an interesting history, with some technical details on what a sextant does and how it does it, as well as a tale of great adventure and struggles. Interesting enough.