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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Voyage to Jamestown

Voyage to Jamestown: Practical Navigation in the Age of Discovery
By Robert D. Hicks
Naval Institute Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1-59114-376-5, $29.95 / £18.99

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In this day and age, we tend to take navigation for granted. We have so many devices at our fingertips we don’t worry about getting lost. Still, that possibility does exist. Our ancestors relied on celestial observation to reach their destinations, and as Commander Scott, who wrote the foreword to this volume, learned as a young naval aviator, it remains a viable means of navigating our way.

The problem is that with all our technology and applications, the art of celestial navigation is becoming lost. We’d rather do things the easy way, such as looking at a computer screen that tells a cashier the exact bills and coins to remove from specific slots in the cash drawer to make change, or blithely following the disembodied female voice that demands we “turn right.” What happens, though, when the electricity goes out or something goes wrong? This is when it’s important to know how to use our minds and skills to solve the problem.

Voyage to Jamestown, however, isn’t your typical navigational text. Hicks weaves the education and experiences of Captain Tristram Hame, a fictional navigator, with primary source material to show how brave and daring seamen found their way from England to Jamestown using the tools and methods available in the early 1600s. The result is a compelling and thought-provoking examination of early navigation and seamanship, as well as an entertaining glimpse of life in the seventeenth century.

Hicks begins and ends each chapter with a period quote that pertains to the material discussed within those pages. One example is from Robert Norman’s The Newe Attractive (1581).

How beneficial the art and exercise of navigation is to this realm, there is no man so simple but sees, by means whereof we being secluded and divided from the rest of the world, are not withstanding as it were citizens of the world, walking through every corner, and round about the same, and enjoying all the commodities of the world.

The author constantly refers to contemporary publications and provides excerpts from these and actual logs to demonstrate and reinforce the various aspects of early navigation. Black-and-white illustrations, such as the frontispiece of Martin Cortés’s The Arte of Navigation or photographs of places and navigational tools, charts, and diagrams abound. Hicks also explains how these devices were used and the calculations masters had to make to locate their position. He also provides a summary of key points at the conclusion of each chapter. The notes at the end of the book identify the author’s source material for particular information. There is a glossary, a selected bibliography listing both primary and secondary sources, and an index.

Chapter one introduces the art of navigation and the navigator Hame, who is based on Tobias Felgate, the archaeological framework used throughout the book, the maritime world of Hame’s day and his ship, which “is a microcosm of his society, and all the activities and lives on board her embody the politics, economy, religion, and early science of the time.” (8) It also discusses the seascape from Hame’s point of view and the language on board. The hypothetical voyage that Hame makes “is based directly on primary accounts of wills, charter parties, legal proceedings, contemporary texts on navigation, cosmology, and seamanship, and narratives to illuminate the mental world of early modern English seafarers who journeyed to explore, exploit, and colonize North America.” (11) Hicks concludes with objectives the reader will learn through reading the book.

Chapter two discusses Hame, the ship, and the business side of colonizing and exploring. The next chapter covers the nitty-gritty of making a voyage and setting sail. Subsequent chapters focus on the various stops the ship makes, the tools used to reach each destination, and hazards encountered along the way.

Mathematics and geometry are not my strengths, but I thoroughly enjoyed this voyage into the realm of seventeenth-century navigation and sailing. Hicks provides readers with a fascinating glimpse into the maritime world, as well as the society in which these seafarers lived when not at sea. Anyone who wants to learn more about sailing in the past will enjoy this journey.
 
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
 

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