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Thread: Night-Jump: A Navigational Method of Northern Sailors

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    Night-Jump: A Navigational Method of Northern Sailors

    For centuries, Northern Europeans placed great emphasis on the North Star, the polar star which faithfully offers a "true North" reference point.

    Among virtually all the North Sea peoples, this star has been identified as the "Guiding Star" (Old High German "leitesterre", Middle High German "leidesterne", Dutch "leidstar", Modern English "lodestar", Old Islandic "leidarstiarna" etc.), a term indicating its usefulness in safely navigating the bounding main. The Old Islandic word "leidarstiarna", which first appeared in a report by Nikolas von Thvera in 1150, stems from the word "leid" (way or direction). Other authors, such as Finn Magnusson, have defined this stellar body as North Star, Axis Star, and Door Hinge Star.

    How did it come about that this polar star developed into the "guiding star for ships"?

    Primarily because of its position in the Northern Heaven. The Star remains "constant". Thus on a clear night, it offers a perfect reference point for ships on the high seas.

    Daytime long-distance sailing is also an invention of the Northern peoples. In the 9th century, the Vikings observed that one's longitudial position can be determined by noting the length of a shadow at a given spot on the ship. Thus, with the help of Nature (the North Star and the natural shadows) the Vikings also invented long-distance water transportation, being the first to brave it from Norway to New Vineland (old Viking name for what is today Massachusettes).

    Nighttime sailing was termed a "Night-Jump", a method of saving sailing time. The word "Might-Jump" has an interesting history:

    It originated in a report describing how Caesar conquered Britain. Before he could cross the English Channell, he learned from the Germanic coastal peoples, living in what is today northern France, how to navigate at night using the North Star. Thus he was able to "jump" from the Continent to Britian at "night" (hence Night-Jump), by crossing the Channell bewteen midnight and sun-up.

    The actual North Germanic word "Nachtsprung" (Night-Jump), however, entered our vocabulary in 1075 when the German chronicler, Adam von Bremen, wrote about the sea connection between Jutland and Norway noting that little boats make the jump at night.

    On of the earlist depictions of a Night-Jump is the famous Rug of Bayeux. It shows "Harald's Embarkation" as a nighttime crossing of the Channel as part of William the Conqueror's invasion of the Isles in 1066. Harald was able to cross the 55 sea miles at night very swiftly, not only using the North Star, but also using a type of Viking ship designed mostly as a "landing craft".

    To have this Night-Jump a success, the flagship of William's fleet was outfitted with a top latern (clearly visible on the Rug of Bayeux). This light was lined with the North Star and remained lined throughout the night, with the ship's bow pointed in the direction of England.

    The erstwhile fool-proof Might-Jump, however, is only good in clear weather. No one will have know how many sailors and breadwinners lost their lives in days of old when a sudden nor'wester would come up, blot out the sky, and let angry waves pound mercilessly at the narrow boats aimlessly adrift in a windy, stormy sea. We should think about these victims, our forefathers, now and then!

    There is a lot of evidence that our Nordic forefathers had a good knowledge of the sky, particularly various rock formations to help determine length of days and nights, solstices, etc.; even a calendar. Two well known examples are the Stonehenge in England, and the Steintanz (stone dance) at Buetzow in Mecklenburg (northern Germany). By reading the Edda, we find stellar tales about Fridda's coat, Thiazi's eye, Aurwandil's toe, etc. We are able to surmise that this knowledge, which guided our forefathers for many centuries, was destroyed in the Middle Ages by the Jewish god Yahweh and his son, whose "disciples" on earth used murder and imprisonment to achieve their end.

    From the way our forefathers used the North Star to sail beyond the horizon as well as at night, we can only surmise the pleasure they must have had sailing under the beautiful spacious sky from sea to shining sea.



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