Thursday 26/03/15

I'm sure you are all aware that you can find north just by using your watch and the position of the sun. In case you need to brush up on that particular skill (or you weren't actually paying attention when someone was teaching you the first time), I'm here to give you a quick refresher. The following instructions are for the Southern Hemisphere (but I will cover the Northern Hemisphere at the end of the blog). Your watch needs to be analogue (with a minute and an hour hand); if your watch is digital, you'll have to use your imagination to approximate where the markings on your watch would be. But be forewarned, your results won't be as accurate. I once had to use a digital watch, because I had nothing else, and it was better than guessing.

First, you need to face the sun (but do not look directly at the sun because you will go blind. If you do, don't blame me). Next, point the 12 at the sun. Halfway between the 12 and the current position of the hour hand is north. If it isn't sunrise or sunset, always use the side of the watch-face with the smaller angle between 12 and the hour hand to find north. In the following examples I'm going to use specific times and sun positions to illustrate my point (I am aware there are seasonal variations, but that's getting beyond the basics).

The first example I'll use is dawn. At sunrise (which we'll assume to be 0600hrs), point the 12 at the brightest point on eastern horizon; that is approximately east. The 6 is pointing approximately west. Half way between these two points is 9, which is pointing north.

My second example is at midday (1200hrs). If you already have landmarks for east and west, finding north is easy in this situation (don't forget, the sun always rises in the east and always sets in the west), all hands and the 12 are pointing north. If you're not sure, you might want to wait for thirty minutes or so, just to make sure your reading is accurate.

My third example is at sunset (which we'll assume to be 1800hrs), point the 12 at the brightest point on the western horizon; that is approximately west. The 6 is now pointing approximately east. The 3 is pointing north.

"So? How does finding north help me?", I hear you ask. Once you know where north is, you can also pinpoint the other three directions. From there, pick a landmark that lies in the same direction you need to travel and head toward it. As you travel, regularly find north on your watch to make sure you haven't accidentally strayed from your intended route.

Ok, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, the same instructions apply except you point the hour hand at the sun instead of the 12. Halfway between the hour hand and the 12 is north.

I've done the hard work for you, now it's your turn. Get your watch, go outside and give it a go. This is a skill you can actually use in everyday life.