Captain Nat Palmer, discoverer, designer, sailor

David Berson takes a sun sight on the wing deck of Relentless.
David Berson takes a sun sight on the wing deck of Relentless.
David Berson takes a sun sight on the wing deck of Relentless.

In the 1840s, when New York City was the hub of the maritime world, Nathaniel Palmer, “Captain Nat” to his contemporaries, was considered the greatest of all mariners in that port. This was a time when fellow captains included “Bully” Samuels, Robert Waterman and Josiah Cressy. Palmer was described at the time as “a man of great physical strength and endurance … his roughness all on the outside, his heart was filled with kindness and sympathies for the joys and sorrows of others.” 

Born in 1799 in Stonington, Connecticut, to a family of shipbuilders, Palmer was still in his teens when, as captain of Hero, a 47-foot sealing ship, he sailed past Cape Horn, searching for more hunting grounds. He was the first American to sight the Antarctic peninsula, and now the Palmer Archipelago is named after him.

By the 1830s, Palmer was running a schooner, hauling cotton bales between New Orleans and New York. These schooners were designed with long, flat bottoms, making it easier to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The flat bottoms also made the stowage of the cotton bales more efficient. Palmer utilized this application years later when designing his first ship.

Next, he went into the tough packet trade, sailing from New York to Liverpool, making a name for himself with an excellent passage from Liverpool to New York in October against the prevailing winds, called the “uphill run,” in just 15 days. This was at a time when such a passage could take as long as six to eight weeks. In 1840 his career advanced again when he went to work with A. A. Low & Bros., the New York merchants who had already made a fortune in the China trade.

In 1843, Palmer took command of Paul Jones for the Low brothers, sailing from Boston to Hong Kong, arriving in a very respectable 111 days. On this passage, the ship carried the first cargo of ice to China.

The passage home was very slow, and Captain Nat, frustrated, carved a block of wood into what he thought would be a much more efficient hull design. He incorporated the ideas of a sharp, concave bow being promoted at that time by J. W. Griffiths with his idea of a fuller, flat-bottomed hull. These ideas were built into the design of the ship Houqua, built for A. A. Low & Bros. and launched in 1844, considered by historians to be the prototype of the clipper ship.

End of Part One.

Let’s join Captain Palmer on May 10. We will be using the 2024 Nautical Almanac. His DR position is S 54° 40’ by W 62° 10’. The height of eye is 15’.

Captain Nat takes a lower limb sight of the sun at 18:12:40 GMT. 

The Hs of his observation is 12° 18.8’.

Find the LHA.
Find Ho.
Find the intercept.
Plot and find EP. 

For answer to HERE