Human beings have been navigating the coastlings and oceans of the world for centuries. The vikings navigated by log, lead and compass.
There’s no doudt that the compass is the single most important navigation tool. Even now, the vast majority of yachts use a magnetic compass that Drake would probably recognise – though he, like any seaman before the 20th century, would probably be a bit puzzled by our use of degrees.

Less than 100 years before Drake, Columbus also used a compass in his search for the Indies. To him, though, it was new technology, and he treated it with suspicion. Like most navigators of his time, he believed that it worked because some unseen force drew the needle towards the star of the Virgin Mary, so he was understandably worried when he found that his compass and the star didn’t always seem to agree with each other. At first, he was inclined to believe the star, only gradually coming to realise that the star moves as the other stars and from that concluded that the needles always point truly.

Less than 30 years later, Magellan ventured deep into the Southern Ocean, where the familiar constellations were replaced by stars that no European had ever seen before. With little option other than to trust his compass, he took 35 spare compass needles with him – just as a modern ocean sailor might carry a bulk supply of batteries for his hand held GPS!

It was nearly 400 years before the problems of variation and deviation were properly understood and allowed for. Marconi was taking his first tottering steps. the first patents for radar and radio direction finding were less than a generation away, and another half century would see electronic navigation system guiding airship bomber to their targets.