Time Travel

By Chris Landers
Published: October/November 2013

The Smithsonian explores the challenges of getting from here to there. It's about ... time! Boaters, reliant on the extraordinary navigation aids of the modern world, will find this new exhibit fascinating.

Photo of a page from the The Mariner's Mirrour, by Dutch author Lucas J. Waghenaer
Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library
The Mariner's Mirrour, by Dutch author Lucas J. Waghenaer, was the first ever
"Sea Atlas." Look carefully at its detailed images, and you'll discover
a treasure trove of 15th-century navigation instruments.

To get to the new "Time and Navigation" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., you must first navigate to the National Air and Space Museum. Go up the escalator, pass the excited throngs of high-fiving young fellow navigators on school trips, and choose the door between the engineering model of the spacecraft Clementine and a Tomahawk cruise missile. Walk through that door, and you enter a world of sea and air navigation through time, a compelling interactive exhibit of the people, voyages, and most importantly the instruments that made your remarkable journey possible.

Photo of a chronometer

William Cranch Bond, a 23-year-old Boston clockmaker, made this chronometer during the War of 1812. It was the first American-made marine timekeeper taken to sea.

Photo of a sextant

This sextant, invented in the 18th century by British mathematical instrument makers, permitted mariners to find their position better than ever before. It became the most essential instrument for celestial navigation, used to find the angle of a celestial body above the horizon.

Photo of an astrolabe

An astrolabe measures the angle between the sun or a star and the horizon. The Portuguese are credited with the perfection, if not invention, of the instrument in the 15th century, their great era of world exploration. This astrolabe was made in 1602.

Photo of a marine chronometer

Marine chronometer made by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1941.

Photo of a nocturnal and sundial

Nocturnal and Sundial, signed by Caspar Vopel, Cologne, 16th century.

Photo of a horary quadrant

A horary quadrant for taking time by the sun. Other quadrants of similar design were used to take angles of celestial bodies, like a simpler version of the sextant.

1 | 2 | Next


 Recommended Articles
Gray rule

Thumnail photo of the arches from the Westmoreland wreckThe Wreck Of The Westmoreland

Trailer boater Ross Richardson had a passion. Then everything changed when he met it face to face

Thumbnail photo of Syntec Industry's Smart WheelThe Future Is (Almost) Here

The NMMA Innovation Awards recognize manufacturers whose bright ideas will make your boating better

Thumnail photo of U.S. Brig NiagaraA Thoroughly Impractical Guide For Going To Sea

 I'm not suggesting that ditching it all and going to sea is the solution for everyone. I'm just saying it worked for me


Photo of a modern sextant used by the astronauts

To determine position in space, Apollo astronauts located a specific star using a single-power, wide-field telescope and then took a fix using ... a sextant! While this instrument may not look like a traditional sextant, the basic procedure is descended from centuries-old methods used by navigators at sea and in the air.

Photo of a slide rule for celestial navigation

Capt. L. C. Bygrave developed this slide rule for celestial navigation shortly after World War I, speeding up celestial computations.

BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at WestMarine.com
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and much more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!