The first time David Barrie heard the magical word: sextant, he was sitting in a darkened theater with his family, watching Mutiny on the Bounty. It was 1963; he was nine years old. On screen, as the fabled ship went up in blazes, Marlon Brando dove into the cabin to rescue the sextant. “We will never leave here without it!” he cried before dying on shore, the precious instrument still aboard the ship as it sank in a shower of steam and sparks.For 200 years, mastery of the sextant was vital for every ocean-going navigator—early explorers and generations of sailors relied on it to chart and travel the seas. The advent of GPS and electronic navigation transformed that essential skill into an uncommon art. Author and lifelong sailor David Barrie celebrates the power and poetry of the sextant as it guided history’s defining voyages—and his own trans-Atlantic crossing.

In prose as crisp and graceful as the book’s subject, infused with a sense of wonder and dramatic discovery, Barrie synthesizes diary entries from his own trans-Atlantic voyage at the age of nineteen with centuries of seafaring history and the sailors who have become legend—James Cook, the great French navigator; La Pérouse, who built on Cook's work in exploring the Pacific; Matthew Flinders, the first man to circumnavigate Australia; Robert FitzRoy of the Beagle; Joshua Slocum, the redoubtable old ‘lunarian’ and first man to single-handedly sail around the world; and Frank Worsley of the Endurance, among others.

A heady mix of history, science, mathematics, and derring-do, SEXTANT is an eloquent homage to one of the most important navigational instruments ever created—a timeless tale of seafaring and exploration that will inspire star gazers, sailors, and anyone with a taste for adventure.


David Barrie is a practiced seaman and lifelong mariner who learned to navigate with a sextant when he crossed the North Atlantic in a 35-foot sloop at the age of 19. When not sailing, Barrie is a law reform campaigner with experience in government, international relations, and the arts. Barrie is a graduate of Oxford University.

To read David Barrie’s fascinating blog, visit:  The Sextant by David Barrie

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