Saturday, 17 March 2012

Nautical Almanacs - First Printed 1766 - Now Digitally Yours

We of the marine leisure world take the annual obtaining of the latest Reeds Nautical Almanac as natural marker of one's sailing intentions for the forthcoming year.

The reference to a publication of astronomical information, can be traced back to Babylonian times with the ancient Greek Democritus writing the first written almanac titled the "Parapegma". Calculations were accomplished by use a type of stone tablet inscribed with days of the month that could hold a wooden peg and and so produce the results according to current or future time (the precursor to our digital tablet computers?). Ptolemy later wrote his Phaseis  - meaning "phases of fixed stars and collection of weather-changes" giving the origin to the type astronomical data we use today we use for navigational purposes.

In the world history mathematics and of navigation, the Arabic people naturally feature and their Zij, used for medieval Islamic astronomy, was likely the basis for Ibn al-Banna (1256-1321) and his "al-manakh" meaning "weather". This is not considered a pure Arabic word of old, but one having Arabic-Spanish origins - quite possible as al-Banna spent most of his life in Morocco which also had strong connections with Toledo, Spain. It is from here that the West really became aware of the advanced knowledge of the Arabic scholars, particularly mathematicians, who provided the basis for modern mathematics. In 1267 Roger Bacon used two spellings: "almanach" as well as "almanac".

The first incarnation what is now the modern nautical almanac was the publication in 1766, by the 5th Astronomer Royal Rev. Dr. Nevil Maskelyne who became an ex-officio member of the Board of Longitude. As they were focused on lunar navigational methods they clashed with the mechanical methods of John Harrison and his Sea Clocks; in the end Harrison was paid his prize for producing a clock of proven accuracy at sea by an Act of Parliament, not the Board of Longitude. Much later, in 1846, the United States published "The Nautical Almanac", which, from 1958 has been done in full collaboration with Her Majesty's Navigational Office, both of which remain as annual nautical publications.

While the US and UK Governments produce annual almanacs primarily for military and commercial mariners, A and C Black, through their brand Reeds, publish a range of nautical almanacs for the leisure boater. The Reeds brand too has a long history. First published in 1932, it has appeared with constant improvements and additional information sections for 80 years however the current format and style was developed by Macmillan publishers, who held the brand for ten years up to 1994.
The the world's oldest current encyclopedia, Britannica, first published in Scotland in 1768, has just gone fully digital, Reeds introduced their first digital version in 2011, which is also fully accessible to users who buy the hard copy version - the best of both worlds for the price of one.

The suite of Reeds almanacs has grown over the years; now there are four titles, some with different formats. Nautical almanacs - born 1766 - yours, digitally, 2013. (Information drawn from Wikipedia, A&C Black)

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