Being familiar with newer editions of Bowditch and the place Bowditch has with regards to navigation makes looking at the older edition enlightening with regards to what navigators in the past were up against.

This is from the 1883 edition.



Art. 351. It is now generally conceded by all who have had opportunity for personal observation, and wh( have given sufficient attention to the subject of Ocean Storms, that the most severe gales met with at sea are wha is commonly known as Revolving Storms, variously called by seamen Hurricanes, Typhoons, Cyclones, &c. according to the locality in which they blow.

The distinctive characteristics of these storms are suflficiently marked to distinguish them from the ordinary straight dine gales that blow; and the following brief practical remarns are intended to assist and enable thl Navigator who may not be familiar with the subject ofrevolving storms, to not only judge of the character of th( coming gale, but also to take timely measures to avoid the dangerous part of it, either by heaving-to on the prope: tack or by running away from it, as the case may be; and also, in particiJar cases where the track of the storm liei in the same direction as the ship’s course, to take advantage of it and lun along with it.

In ih; year 1831 Mr. William Redfield, of New York, after long and careful personal investigation and stud} of the subject, published a yaper, in which he demonstrated that the gales on the American coast were whirlwind^ and had a progressive or forward movement, traveling on curved tracks at a considerable rate, and were traceabh from the West Indies along ihe coast of the United States, curving off to the eastward at some point between thi Bermudas and the banks of Newfoundland.

A text version (with some errors as can be seen) is here: Full text of “The American practical navigator : being an epitome of navigation and nautical astronomy”

Here is an article about Redfield and his “Theory of Storms”: 185th Anniversary of Redfield’s article on hurricane circulation

William C. Redfield c. 1850 (Richardson Publishers, public domain)


The Coriolis effect which is responsible for the curving of the track is not mentioned although is was discovered earlier in 1835.

French scientist, Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, is given credit for first discovering the Coriolis effect by describing the effect mathematically in a paper in 1835. He first presented the idea in conjunction with the water wheel theory. Pierre-Simon Laplace also described the effect in his work on tidal equations in 1778.

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Redfield came up with his theory of storms in 1838 and 45 years later Bowditch will only go so far as to say it’s “now generally conceded” the winds are circular so evidently it takes a while to reach a book for seaman.

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It takes indeed some time, especially in those days, before scientific discoveries trickle down the line and practical applications are developed.

BTW I like the term Revolving Storms!

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Buys Ballot’s law, which was first deduced by the American meteorologists J.H. Coffin and William Ferrel, is a direct consequence of Ferrel’s law. The law takes its name from C. H. D. Buys Ballot, a Dutch meteorologist, who published it in the Comptes Rendus , November 1857.[2] While William Ferrel theorized this first in 1856, Buys Ballot was the first to provide an empirical validation.

Buys Ballot’s law first appeared in early versions (prior to 1900) of Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator and other publications written to assist in passage planning and the safe conduct of ships at sea and is still included today both in Bowditch and in Sailing Directions (see following reference) as an item of practical reference and information.

This is Ferrel’s law:

In 1856, William Ferrel proposed the existence of a circulation cell in the mid-latitudes with air being deflected by the Coriolis force to create the prevailing westerly winds.[21]


Interesting is the strong influence of the Gulf Stream on the weather. Weather systems warmed by the Gulf Stream drift into Northern Europe, also warming the climate behind the Scandinavian mountains and it plays a major role in regulating the world’s climate.

However, the Gulf Stream is slowing down and at a record low which will change the weather systems for the worse.

Catastrophic changes in global weather patterns could be on the horizon as scientists confirm the warming Atlantic current has reached a “new record low”.

The Gulf Stream current, which has not been running at peak strength for centuries, is now at its weakest point in the past 1,600 years.