The ancient art of celestial navigation was revived on P&O Cruises’ Pacific Pearl recently, with the cruise line hosting Royal New Zealand Navy trainees during a cruise to Fiji from Auckland.
In a high-tech world dominated by GPS and satellite navigation, navy personnel are still required to learn how to guide a vessel by the stars when out of sight of land in much the same way as early sea explorers.
While the training is usually completed onboard a Navy patrol vessel, the New Zealand Defence Force's ongoing commitment to the relief mission in Fiji following Cyclone Winston meant that the navigation students needed another ‘floating platform’ for their training.
Navy Commander David Hedgley, who has 40 years’ naval experience and runs the training, approached P&O Cruises with a request to conduct the course on Pacific Pearl, which is currently homeported in Auckland for a five-month deployment.
Commander Hedgley said Pacific Pearl’s voyage to Fiji earlier this month was the ideal setting for 11 Navy sailors to undertake the five-day astro-navigation training course.
"This training is part of 25-week course towards an advanced Officer of the Watch qualification," Commander Hedgley said. "Even in this age of satellite navigation, being able to navigate by the stars while out of sight of land is a crucial requirement of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
“Pacific Pearl's voyage from Auckland was perfect to give us the four to five days needed for this part of the course, and we are incredibly grateful to P&O Cruises for accommodating us, and thank them for their support and hospitality."
P&O Cruises Director of Marine Operations Captain Mike Drake said there was no hesitation in enabling the Navy contingent to carry out their training on board Pacific Pearl.
“As modern seafarers, we have the utmost respect for the explorers who navigated the world and discovered new lands with little more than a sextant and celestial observation to take them into uncharted parts of the world,” Captain Drake said.
“Celestial navigation might have been overtaken by modern navigation technology but it is still an essential skill for up and coming navigators. It is wonderful to know that it is still mandatory for Royal New Zealand Navy navigators. Our guests were fascinated to see the Navy trainees at work and they in turn were a great credit to the naval service.”
The officers worked closely with seasoned Pacific Pearl Captain Salvatore Lupo and First Officer Tapan Raina and held a special talk to explain their activity to P&O’s guests, who were fascinated to see the students using sextants to navigate by the stars.