A fine point of history

To the editor: The March/April 2003 issue just arrived onboard in South America and provided a welcome relief from well-worn back issues. Every word was devoured, right down to the last page and the Nav Problem (Voyage saved by captain’s 19-year-old wife, Issue 128, March/April 2003). David Berson provided a great sea story to complement the celestial calculations. However, one small item needs correction. The narrative said that Neptune’s Car sailed from New York to San Francisco in 1856. After Capt. Patten was incapacitated, his 19-year-old wife, Mary Ann, saved the voyage and brought the ship in safely. Then, “the Pattens took the train back east.”

The Transcontinental Railroad was not started until 1863 and was completed in 1869. It was the principal event that changed shipping in the Americas, as the long voyages around Cape Horn or the trek over the Isthmus of Panama were, for the most part, no longer necessary. Everyone interested in the great age of sail would enjoy the story. The U.S. government pitted two companies — the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads — against each other in a race to complete an unprecedented engineering feat. And right in the thick of the action were the sailing ships carrying locomotives, rails and spikes around South America to San Francisco. For a great read, try Stephen E. Ambrose’s best seller Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869; published by Simon & Schuster.

Bill Healy’s boat is Amadon Light of Honolulu, currently in Puerto Lucia, Ecuador.

By Ocean Navigator