Posts Tagged ‘sailing’

Celestial Navigation

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015


In 1981, I sailed my 40 foot sailboat to Hawaii in the Transpacific Yacht Race. That year some large yachts had what were called “Sat Nav ” receivers aboard to track a system of satellites that required continuous tracking and took quite a bit of electrical power. It is now called “Transit” or “navSat”

Thousands of warships, freighters and private watercraft used Transit from 1967 until 1991. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union started launching their own satellite navigation system Parus (military) / Tsikada (civilian), that is still in use today besides the next generation GLONASS.[10] Some Soviet warships were equipped with Motorola NavSat receivers.

My small sailboat could not use such a system. It drew about an amp an hour, far too great a drain on my battery. For that reason I used a sextant and sight tables like these, which are published for the latitudes to be sailed.

sight reduction

That volume is published for latitudes 15 degrees to 30 degrees, which are the ones we most sailed. Hawaii is at about 20 degrees north and Los Angeles is 35 degrees north. The sight tables provide a set of observations that can be compared with an annual book called a “Nautical Almanac.” As it happens, the Nautical Almanac for 1981 is used for training and is still in print.

Nautical al

The third component, besides the sextant, of course, is a star finder, like like this one, to aid with navigational stars.

The whole system is called Celestial Navigation.

The first thing one needs is an accurate clock. This is the reason why sailing ships need a chronometer in the 18th century.

Harrison solved the precision problems with his much smaller H4 chronometer design in 1761. H4 looked much like a large five-inch (12 cm) diameter pocket watch. In 1761, Harrison submitted H4 for the £20,000 longitude prize. His design used a fast-beating balance wheel controlled by a temperature-compensated spiral spring. These features remained in use until stable electronic oscillators allowed very accurate portable timepieces to be made at affordable cost. In 1767, the Board of Longitude published a description of his work in The Principles of Mr. Harrison’s time-keeper.


Survival literature.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

I notice today that Wretchard at The Belmont Club has a post on refugees. It includes a lot of comments on survival skills. Basic requirements include guns and ammo so someone else doesn’t take your survival stores away from you. Water is important, as is water treatment supplies when you run out of stored water. The Mormons, as in so many other things, are the experts on survival skills. In the late 70s, the last time there was so much interest in survival methods, I had a Mormon office manager. She taught me a number of good facts about the way to survive a disaster. One is to have a supply of hard red wheat.

Our wheat comes in six-gallon buckets (or pails… another name for the same container.) The net (contents) weight of the grain is 45 lbs. for the conventional grain, and 40 lbs. for the organic grain. When you store grain at home, it needs to be protected in a couple of ways. First, it needs to be protected from a variety of little critters who’d like to get to it before you do. Weevils, for example. And isn’t this interesting: Chances are you’ve never seen weevils in the white bread or crackers you bought from the store. That’s because weevils put no stock in media campaigns from white-flour milling conglomerates; rather, they know what’s good for them, and they’d come after your grain from miles around if you let them. And mice have good nutritional judgment, too. Not that there’s ever been a mouse in your house, but if there was… you wouldn’t want it having access to your grain. Secondly, grain needs to be kept dry. The grain we sell is all dried to a very low moisture level that’s optimal for storage and baking and guarantees that you get the most grain for your money. You need to protect your grain from picking up excessive additional moisture, which can be drawn from the atmosphere. The buckets our grain comes in provide full protection against storage risks. They have airtight gasket-sealed lids, Mylar liners, and oxygen absorber packets that remove the oxygen from the air in the bucket after we put the lid on. The O2 absorbers leave an atmosphere of nitrogen in the bucket, because air consists almost entirely of oxygen and nitrogen. (The oxygen absorber packets themselves are completely food-safe, being made of powdered iron and salt, which are kept separate from the product itself.) Our buckets safely lock out pests, and biological processes are put “on hold” in the Mylar protected, oxygen-free nitrogen atmosphere, so your grain enjoys complete peace and quiet until you want to use it. Note: If you don’t already have a bucket lid removal tool, they make lid removal easy (see lower section of this Web page.) Super Pail packaging is the “gold standard,” the ultimate protection for your grain!

45 pounds of wheat may not be enough depending on the size of your family. The Mormons are encouraged to have a year’s supply stored.

Next you need a grain mill. It’s probably best, for survival purposes, to have this not electrical unless you have a generator available. If you are hard core, maybe the country living mill is for you. It would certainly give the kids something to do.

Hopefully, we won’t need a hand cart to transport our belongings.

In the 1970s, the last time I gave this much thought to survival skills, I was much younger and had a sailboat. The boat was stocked with some food and had room to store a lot more, especially freeze dried food. I used freeze dried as extra supplies on long races in case we had a dismasting or other disaster.

The boat I had in 1979 was a Yankee 38, a great cruising boat although a bit heavy for racing.

This is Bullet, the #1 hull of the Yankee 38 and almost identical to my boat.

My spinnakers were all red, white and blue. Otherwise this is identical to my boat. I took it to Mexico several times but not to Hawaii as it was too heavy and rolled badly in a heavy down wind run.

Here is the Choate 40 that I took to Hawaii in 1981 and which would have been a great escape boat in a disaster.

The interior was rather stark and did not have as much storage as the 38 but it had a huge interior volume and could store plenty of food and water. It had 100 gallons of water tankage.

Anyway, I can’t handle these boats anymore so that option is probably not there. I thought Lake Arrowhead would be a good hideout but I couldn’t tolerate the altitude so, in my decrepitude, I guess I will wait here with my hand gun for them to come get me.

Of course, Romney could still win the election.

The 2010 Bermuda Race starts Friday.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

UPDATE: The results are in and Sinn Fein lost their chance for the third consecutive overall win.

Place, Yacht, Owner, Origin, Results (ORR(Cls, Div) / IRC(Cls, Div))
Class 1 (11 Boats) – St. David’s Lighthouse Division
1. Belle Aurore, Cal 40, R Douglas Jurrius, Oxford, MD, 1, 3 / 1, 8
2. Sinn Fein, Cal 40, Peter S. Rebovich, Sr., Metuchen, NJ, 2, 7 / 2, 10
3. Gone With The Wind, Cal 40, William M. LeRoy, San Francisco, CA, 3, 8 / NA, NA

Gone With the Wind is a San Francisco Cal 40 trucked to Newport, RI for the race. Pretty good showing as Cal 40s sweep the class.

The last two Bermuda Races, the east coast’s premier sailing event, were won by Sinn Fein, a 45 year old Cal 40. Peter Rebovich, the owner and skipper, is almost as old as I am and yet he manages to keep winning. Here is a nice column by John Rousmanier on the team and their boat. The only other boat that has won two consecutive Bermuda Races was the famous Finisterre, sailed by Carlton Mitchell. Finisterre won the third consecutive race, a feat never equaled. Maybe this year.

Cal 40eeeez

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

UPDATE: The business end of a Cal 40 looks like this:

The Cal 40 revolutionized ocean racing when it appeared in 1963. It was fiberglass, for one thing. For another, it was cheap by racing sailboat standards. William Snaith, famous and colorful ocean racer from the 1960s, once described ocean racing as being like a man standing in a cold shower tearing up thousand dollar bills. The Cal 40 was eventually retired from racing by the simple action of changing the rules. The IOR rule (International Offshore Rule) came in 1972 and penalized the hull shape of the Cal 40. In addition, the new rule set out standards for construction that would lead to a disaster in the 1979 Fastnet Race, where boats were lost and men’s lives were lost because many of the smaller, newer race boats were not seaworthy in extreme conditions. Here is a better link for that story. Olin Stephens, one of the authors of the rule, later wrote that they had erred in the rule’s factors for scantlings, meaning the hull construction.

Eventually, the Cal 40 came back and Stephens, at the age of 99, had the privilege (I’m not sure he considered it as such but he was a gentleman) of presenting a trophy named in his honor to a Cal 40 that had won the Bermuda Race twice in a row in 2006 and 2008.

The first winner of the Olin J. Stephens Ocean Racing Trophy was Peter S. Rebovich Sr. from Metuchen, N.J., and the Raritan Yacht Club. After winning a St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in his Cal 40 Sinn Fein in the 2006 Newport Bermuda Race, Rebovich heard about the Stephens Trophy and entered his first Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. His third-place finish in the race’s ORR Division in 2007 won him the trophy. Olin Stephens himself made the presentation at Halifax. When Rebovich, in his seventies, came up to the podium to accept his prize, the 99-year-old Stephens joked, “It’s good to see an old guy like me still sailing and winning.” A year later, Rebovich won his second St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy in the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race and was again presented with the Stephens Trophy at the award ceremony in Bermuda.

Now, the indefatigable Timm Lessley has provided us with more Cal 40 action.

I wish I could be there.

Amateur Sailing

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I have been sailing since college. I didn’t grow up sailing and can barely swim. I can’t really explain why I got interested but I can remember looking at boats in the old Wilmington, CA marinas and dreaming of owning a sailboat. I got into racing by crewing for my next door neighbor in South Pasadena. He and his brother-in-law had an Islander 33. There may be slower sailboats but I haven’t been on one. We raced in the PHRF races out of Newport Beach and, even though we almost always came in last, we learned a bit about what we were doing.

Here is another sort of history. I didn’t know this fellow but the story is a compelling one.

Vale Bunky Helfrich, whoever you were.

An old lady learns to dance

Friday, July 4th, 2008


UPDATE #3- Ragtime has won her class in the Sydney-Hobart Race. She was given almost 2 hours credit for going to the aid of a 53 foot boat that had lost its rudder and was taking on water.

She was the 18th boat to finish and also the first non-Australian and the first wooden finisher. She just keeps winning.

UPDATE #2- Ragtime has won the Tahiti Race overall on corrected time. The story is here. Ragtime won the first-to-finish trophy for this race in 1973.

UPDATE: Ragtime still leads the Tahiti Race and the report on 7/5/08 is: “Ragtime: wet and fast all night long.” Finish time estimated on 7/7 at noon.

In 1971, when I was sailing my Cal 25 one day off Marina Del Rey, I saw a low and sleek black yacht come out of the harbor and sail past us. It’s name was Ragtime. I later learned that it had been brought to California by John Hall, a yacht broker and owner of a Columbia 50. I then found that it was for sale for $19,000 ! Even then, that was a small price. I talked to my next-door neighbor, with whom I had done some sailing on his family boat. We decided that a 62-foot boat was more than we could handle and it probably needed a lot of work. We were correct on both counts.

A year later, my wife and I were at anchor at Catalina Island, at the Isthmus, when we saw the boat again. It had been purchased by a syndicate of owners from Long Beach Yacht Club. Most of them were aboard that day and we went over in our dinghy to compliment them and get a closer look. That was 35 years ago.

Ragtime began in 1964 as a yacht named Infidel and eventually made her way to California after being excluded from races in New Zealand because of her light construction. She is built of plywood and has hard chines as a consequence. The Long Beach Syndicate made history as Ragtime was first to finish in the 1973 Transpac. The favorite that year was Windward Passage, the great racing yacht that is still a legend. Ragtime appeared behind ‘Passage a day or so before the finish and she is so low that she looks like a submarine. The next day, she had passed them and the finish was exciting as they both had trouble finding the line and sailed though a fleet of spectator boats at midnight doing 17 knots. Ragtime won first to finish by less than 5 minutes.

The syndicate sold Ragtime to Bill White, a doctor from Sierra Madre (near Pasadena) and Bill Pasquini, both Long Beach YC members, and in 1975 everyone wondered if the new owners could make her go as fast. Once again she was first to finish. Since that time, she has sailed a total of 14 Transpacs and many Mexican races when they were run back in the 70s. She was so fast, and so wet, that they would seal up the foredeck hatch for the duration of the race. Her bow was often under water when she was going fast; and that was much of the time.

Eventually, she fell upon hard times. Few race boats inspire affection after they stop winning races. She even ended up being auctioned off by the sheriff, like some old car. Fortunately, she fell into good hands and was resurrected.

On her way to the shipyard

Here she is on her way to the shipyard after the auction. By 2007, with a new high tech keel, she was racing again.

Last month, she was one of four boats to begin the race to Tahiti, the first since the race was last run in 1994. It is a far greater challenge than the Hawaii Race since the course crosses the equator and the boats must pass through the Doldrums. Trade winds on the other side blow in the opposite direction. In the north Pacific, the Trades blow from the northeast, driven by the summer north Pacific High, which rotates clockwise sending strong breezes from east to west. In the south Pacific, high pressure rotates counterclockwise, just as the coriolis effect dictates how water rotates as it goes down the drain. We were at Catalina that weekend and Sunday, the 22nd, we sailed back to Los Angeles keeping an eye out for the race boats. We saw them about half way across, close hauled but with a good breeze and able to lay the West End without tacking. Now they are 11 days into the race.

If you play around with this tracking site, and enter Ragtime as boat name, you can follow the track and see how the course differs from the Hawaii Race.

Magnitude 80, a modern ultralight maxi boat 80 feet long, has finished, breaking the old record by three days but Ragtime still leads on handicap time and could win one more race.

(0600 PDT)
156 MAGNITUDE 80 FINISHED 0 1 2 03/23:13:18
93 MEDICINE MAN 09-55- 146-42 483 2 4 06/02:08
90 FORTALEZA 01-09- 140-05 1127 2 3 09/16:13
152 RAGTIME 05-25- 143-24 809 1 1 07/16:34
Yachts listed: 4 07/04/2008 11:05:48

Note that the latitude is zero at the equator and Tahiti is 17° 52 minutes south and 149° 56 west. Hawaii is 20 degrees north. Ragtime still has 12 degrees, 27 minutes south and 6 minutes, 32 degrees west to go. In the southern hemisphere, the trade winds generally blow from west and south to north and east so the boats are beating and close reaching into the wind, very different conditions from the Transpac race to Hawaii, which is mostly a broad reach after the first few days. These are not her best conditions but she is still 1 and 1, so far. Not bad for an old lady.

Boat for sale.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Today, I saw in Latitude 38 that Maltese Falcon is for sale.

Maltese Falcon


We saw her in Venice last summer. Here is a view from our hotel window as she was pulling out.


Maltese Falcon in Venice


The price is steep but the yacht is irreplaceable.

April 4, 2008 – South Pacific

You could be the proud owner of Maltese Falcon.

Photo Courtesy Maltese Falcon© 2008 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.


Tom Perkins, the Belvedere-based owner of the 289-ft Dyna-Rig Maltese Falcon, has confirmed reports that his big boat is up for sale. He’s been quoted by other sources as saying that much of the joy for him was the project itself, and that he’s now interested in submarines. Perkins has always enjoyed innovation and riding the cutting edge. Some folks find it shocking that he would be willing to sell Falcon. Not us. After all, consider the asking price of 120 million euros. If other reports are to believed, he paid 120 million dollars for the boat, so if she sold for close to the asking price, he would have realized close to a 50% profit. That’s nothing for even a venture capitalist to sneeze at. In addition, it can sometimes be more difficult to find buyers for $170,000 boats than $170 million boats. But it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. 


See you on the water. If you wonder who can afford this thing, he’s a partner in Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield who gave us companies like Google and Apple.


Thursday, November 15th, 2007


This is what a Cal 40 looks like finishing the Transpac . Unfortunately, this one is not my boat. We had hopes of being able to go this past summer but the boat, which had required three years of restoration, was not quite ready and my son, who is now the expert, was too busy with his law practice. He went with me when he was 16 years old, in 1981, and now he wants to take me, even if as he says, he has to lash me in a bunk for the duration.

Trophy Present

This is the trophy presentation in 1981 when we came very close to winning overall. They no longer award overall trophies anymore as the fleet has been broken up into different classes racing under different handicap rules. That was a great year as we sailed 2400 miles in less than 12 days. I had a different boat that year but it was about the same size as the one I have now and which is pictured below.


This is our present boat sitting at Catalina Island last Labor Day. It is in full cruising configuration and looks good. It took three years of hard work to get it there.

A New Blog

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

I have been content to comment on other blogs until now. The subjects I am interested in are politics, sailing and medical history. I am somewhere between a conservative and a libertarian politically. My sailing history goes back to college, nearly 50 years ago. Medical history is a more recent interest but I was reading original articles as a basis for study even in medical school, 40 years ago.