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

David Barrie
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
Price: 11.89 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

27 Feb 2014

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 Pérouse, 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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (27 Feb 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0007516568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007516568
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Barrie grew up on the south coast of England where he fell in love with sailing and navigation. At the age of 19 he crossed the Atlantic in the 35-foot yacht 'Saecwen' and the following year competed in the 2000-mile Observer Two-Handed Round Britain Race in a Contessa 26 - one of the smallest entries. In 1981 he sailed his own boat from Lymington to the Azores and back, and in 1984 took part as navigator in the China Sea Race from Hong Kong to Manila. In recent years he has sailed extensively in British Columbia, the Azores, Norway, and the Hebrides. David has worked as a deck hand on a ferry, a diplomat, and in the arts. The great great nephew of the playwright J M Barrie, he is married with two daughters.

Product Description


‘As lovingly and painstakingly constructed as the navigators’ one irreplaceable talisman, this exquisite book is a hymn to a now-vanishing feature of maritime life, a finely-chased reminder of just how much we all owe to that one small piece of apparatus, its verniers and lenses kept secure in a mahogany box, closed by a hasp of brass’ Simon Winchester

‘Barrie’s writing is exhilarating and suffused with a sense of adventure. A fascinating read’ Financial Times

‘What gives Sextant its special colour is Barrie’s own experience as a sailor … His book is an elegy for the days before GPS made simultaneous geniuses and idiots of us all … He invites anyone near the sea, and above all on a boat, to turn away from their screens and look around’ Daily Express

‘A bracing historical tale’ The Times

‘A joy to read … one of the most interesting and enjoyable books I’ve read in years’ Flying Fish, magazine of the Ocean Cruising Club

About the Author

David Barrie was for many years in the Diplomatic Service, and has held many distinguished posts since then. He is a passionate and dedicated sailor and was inspired to write this book in homage to the remarkable people who brought celestial navigation to perfection, and to the generations of mariners who put the sextant to such good use in charting the world’s oceans. He lives in West London.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! 3 Mar 2014
A great book - part love-letter to the sextant, part gripping re-telling of some of the greatest sea-adventures of all time. And if this wasn't enough, the text is interwoven with the author's own account of his first trans-Atlantic voyage in the 1970s (well before GPS) - learning how to sail and how to navigate by the stars. It reminds us all how much we all owe to this delicate instrument - and to the men who braved the dangers of the deep and used it to map our world. The writing is sublime - he gives the reader a very real sense of what it is like to be lost in the Pacific, running out of food and water, reliant only on the starry heavens above to guide the boat to safety.... History, adventure and star-gazing all in one terrific volume.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully written and extremely engaging. The author's love of the subject matter is infectious!

Really opened my eyes to the importance of the Sextant both historically and to the future of navigation. Hopefully this book will go some way to making sure that the use of this equipment will never become a lost art.

A fascinating read that I will definitely be returning to for many years to come.

Highly recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read! 6 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A beautifully written story that tells some of the most epic tales known with others that are less well known (but should be) alongside the authors own personal narrative. It's a page turner filled with humour and gives the reader new insights into human endeavour and is deeply uplifting. An awesome book!! And the final page brought tears to my eyes!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A superb tribute to a nearly forgotten instrument of navigation and to those brave adventurer-explorers of our world, who without it would have been lost . Beautifully written and illustrated.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book of beauty and precision! 12 Aug 2014
By JK Ward
A story to grip sailors and landlubbers alike! Barrie writes like an angel and has woven these tales of discovery, invention and exploration together into a marvellous map of the seas and stars. He has the gift to captivate in a way that suggests he could write on any subject he was passionate about and convey much of that fascination and feeling to his readers.
I hope that there are other books to follow.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 8 July 2014
By Sailor
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent book for anyone interested in sailing & navigation ,highly recommended .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great condition, fast deliver, great reading 24 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It was delivered very quick to my house, and the piece is in great shape . Still haven't finish the book, but it is already interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The sea and the stars 15 Jun 2014
This is a delightful book. David Barrie weaves together his own experiences at sea with accounts of some of history’s most fascinating maritime voyages and the development of navigational instruments. Barrie takes us to sea with Captain Cook, George Vancouver, Matthew Flinders, Robert Fitzroy and Sir Earnest Shackleton (among others), bringing their adventures and trials vividly to life. Sextant is a window onto an age of seemingly limitless possibility and exploration, peopled by courageous and innovative figures. While Barrie’s sea stories entertain, they also help to establish his central point, for above all, Sextant is a tribute to the eponymous instrument. For Barrie, the sextant is not merely a quaint nautical artifact, but an eminently useful device that both hones and challenges the sailor’s seamanship. Unlike modern nautical instruments, which reply on GPS and computerized data and can function almost independently, the sextant is useless without the sailor’s knowledge and experience; it requires his understanding of mathematics and astronomy to function successfully. Barrie’s own knowledge of celestial navigation enables him to provide accessible explanations of the often intricate necessary calculations and observations. The reader is left feeling great admiration for those sailors who have mastered this complex yet elegant art. Barrie acknowledges the value of modern navigational systems, yet he also recognizes what has been lost as a result of increased reliance on new technology. Barrie argues that sailors “are not only turning their backs on the very things that make the whole undertaking worthwhile, but they are also denying themselves the precious rewards of agency—the use of hand, head, and eye to solve problems and overcome difficulty.” Sextant is a strong argument for the value and importance, not only of traditional navigational skills, but of the many other traditional skills we are in danger of losing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant, Just what was wanted
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Kenneth Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Sextant by Davia Barrie
Very well laid out account of the evolution of the sextant. Good historical record of events and facts. Recommended reading!
Published 2 months ago by Les Richmond
Published 3 months ago by SPARKS
5.0 out of 5 stars sextant
for anyone interest in historical voyages and the use of navigational instruments this is a must. One of the best books I have read on the history of men , exploration, and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by R. Gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read
Being a Navigating Officer in the Merchant Navy for 33 years I fully understood the writing in a very clear and concise way and the explanation on navigational equipment and survey... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Peter Griffin
5.0 out of 5 stars 23 Days on the Ocean
I bought this book at its launch. It is best enjoyed at the pace of the author's Atlantic crossing, since there are horizons and skies to scan, yarns of extraordinary fortitude to... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr Roger JA Golland
5.0 out of 5 stars My husband loves it
Having heard about this book during a programme on Radio 4 I bought for my husband for his birthday, since he is interested in the sea and he is really enjoying it..
Published 4 months ago by Ros
5.0 out of 5 stars Sextant by David Barrie
I love this book.Real soul food. Not much technical detail, for enthusiasts, but that is easily available elsewhere, like the Navlist site. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Upchurch
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
A superb eminently readable book covering all my chidhood heroes in an adult fashion. A magnificent read for any with the sea in their veins.
Published 4 months ago by Noel Graham
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