Time, speed and distance. Much of navigation starts with these basics, and Captain Jack starts with them, too. This book (really two, or maybe three, books in one) presents navigation in an easy-to-read format grounded (forgive the pun) in the essential basics. He gives us the problem and the means to solve it. Typical navigation books go into a lot of math, but Davis tries to present it painlessly using real examples. He provides practice questions to get you to remember how to work the problem when you need to at 2 a.m. going down the coast coming up to a new harbor.

Interspersed with double-the-angle-on-the-bow and can-dead-men-vote-twice rules are sea stories and sound advice based on the author’s thousands of sea miles. The title says “Complete Navigation.” We get “complete” by the inclusion of basic celestial techniques in the book’s second part. The author admits to having relearned celestial navigation six times with each time being as difficult as the first. It wasn’t until he started teaching it that the material got organized in his head so he could remember it. The geometry of celestial navigation is presented in a simplified way with diagrams. The Nautical Almanac is also explained, although these tables are confusing even for someone who has been through a class. You do “get it” eventually, but it takes some concentrated staring before your aha-so-that’s-how-it-works experience.

The last section relates some of the author’s sea stories. Some deal with navigation, but all address problems at sea. These range from rigging to weather to recalcitrant crew and are entertaining and instructive. They also illustrate some of the advice sprinkled throughout the book, such as when to heave to. They are worthwhile and sometimes very funny.

I liked this book. As a navigation primer, there are enough practical examples and work problems to suit a beginner. The topics covered could be explored in greater depth, but there are other texts for that. It isn’t Bowditch and doesn’t try to be. A good thing; I never read Bowditch with as much enjoyment as Captain Jack.

Captain Jack’s Complete Navigation by Jack I. Davis (Bristol Fashion Publications, 1999)