Adapted from "Scouting for Boys" by Baden-Powell

I am certain that you know that the needle of a compass has the habit of swinging round until it points in one definite direction. If you follow the direction indicated by one end of the needle you will come out north of Canada, some distance from the North Pole. The reason for this is that at this spot there is a powerful magnetic force. It is this force which attracts the magnetic north point of the needle and makes it point to “Magnetic North”. 

North is only one of the compass points.  Every sailor knows the other points of the compass by heart, and so should a Scout. I have talked about north, but that is only because we usually think of north as the starting point. That is just for convenience – we could just as well use south.

Explorers seldom refer to compass points, they use compass degrees as they are more exact. When you look at a compass chart you will notice that it is marked not only with the points, but also with figures running clockwise from 0 at the north point round to north again which also has the figure 360. So any point can be given either as a compass name or as a degree number. Thus east is 90 degrees, south is 180, west 270, and so on. Instead of saying S.E. we can say 135 degrees.

Finding North Without a Compass

Besides the “Magnetic North” which you find with your compass, there is the other north of the North Pole at the very top of the earth. This is the real north and for that reason is named “True North”.

North by the Sun

If you have no compass to show you “Magnetic North”, the sun will tell you by day where “True North” is, and from that you can figure out the other directions.  (In Summer, if you live near Durban or Johannesburg, at six o’clock in the morning the sun is east, at 9 it is north-east. At noon it is north and at three o’clock in the afternoon it is north-west and at six o’clock, west. Port Elizabeth’s true noon is about 20 minutes later and Cape Town is just under one hour later than Durban. We must make adjustments for this. The reason for this is because South Africa’s time zone is calculated from longitude 30 degree east.

In Winter the sun rise and sunset will not be exactly east and west but a bit northward because of the shorter daylight.)

watchThe Phoenicians who sailed around Africa in ancient times noticed that when they started the sun rose on their left hand side – they were going south. Then they came to a strange country where the sun rose on the wrong quarter, namely on their right hand side. The truth was that they had sailed round the Cape of Good Hope, and were heading north again, up the east side of Africa.

To find north at any time of the day by the sun, hold your watch, with a dial, flat, face upwards so that the sun shines on it. Turn it around until the 12 points towards the sun. Without moving the watch, lay a thin stick across the face of the watch so that it rests on the centre of the dial and points out half-way between twelve and the hour hand. The direction in which it points is north.

South by the Stars

Various groups of stars have been given names because they seemed to make some kind of picture outline of men and animals.

ORION: One of the group of stars or constellation, represents a manwearing a sword and belt, can be easily identified in the Southern Hemisphere in summer, by the three stars in a line, the “belt” and three smaller stars in another line close by, the sword. Two stars to right and left below the sword represent Orion’s feet, which point towards us in South Africa.

We seldom see his head as the constellation is close to our horizon.  Orion can be used to indicate south:  extend a line from the middle star in his belt, through the bottom star of his sword and that is roughly south. 

The Zulus call Orion’s belt and sword the “Ingolubu”, or three pigs pursued by three dogs. The Masai tribe in East Africa say the three stars in the belt are three bachelors being followed by three old maids. Different names by different peoples.

SOUTHERN CROSS: On the south side of the world, in South Africa, South America, New Zealand and Australia, Scouts can always identify the Southern Cross when the sky is clear.

It is a group of five stars in the shape of a cross with the bottom of the cross pointing to the South Pole. If you carry your eye along in that direction, the long stem of the Cross, for about 3.5 times its length, directly below that, on the horizon, is “True South”. To identify the “true Cross” look for the two Pointers to it’s left, two of the brightest stars in the southern heavens, alpha and beta Centauri. As the diagram indicates use this alternative method to locate the South Pole.

Southern Cross