Given the history of superstition surrounding ships and the sea, one wonders why anyone in their right mind would name their ship Tornado. And yet, a magnificent clipper ship was launched in 1852 bearing that name. The fact that the ship was struck by what was described as a “whirlwind,” at two in the morning, far from land and available assistance, makes the story even more mysterious.
Such was the case of the clipper Tornado, master Oliver R. Mumford, out from San Francisco and bound for New York via Cape Horn in August of 1852.
Tornado was a clipper ship design built by Jabaz Williams & Sons out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was launched in 1852 for trade in the California gold rush and was 248 LOA with a 42-foot beam and a 28-foot draft. After an uneventful passage to San Francisco, Tornado departed California and had sailed more than 4,000 nautical miles when the weather turned bad.
From the captain’s logbook for August: “2 am, was struck by a whirlwind which carried away the bowsprit, 3 feet outside the night [sic] heads and landed it inside of the larboard anchor stock on the forecastle. The foremast also went close to the deck and fell upon the midship house. The foremast was broken into 3 pieces between the hound and the cap.”
The force of wind must have been overpowering as the diameters of the bowsprit and the foremast were substantial.
Even though the captain had previously decried the crew as “the most worthless lot I ever saw aboard a ship,” in only a couple of weeks that worthless lot had rerigged the ship with a new bowsprit, new foremast and repaired the damaged main mast. Tornado resumed the passage to New York, sailing 8,000 miles in 51 days, a remarkable run.
For our navigation problem we will have Captain Mumford do a three-star fix. We will use HO249 Selected Stars Vol.1 EPOCH 2020. The date in question is August 7 and we will use the 2022 Nautical Almanac. The DR of Tornado is 46° 20’ S by 95° 10’ W.
Captain Mumford will take his star sights at civil twilight.
To simplify, I have already calculated the LHA of Aries for the time of civil twilight in GMT. That number is 221° I am entering table HO249, Volume I, and finding the three best stars for the appropriate latitude and LHA. They are Arcturus, Suhail, and Peacock. I have pre-calculated the Ho for all three stars. Ho for Arcturus is 24° 32’. Ho for Suhail is 33° 44’. Ho of Peacock is 38° 49’. We will use an assumed position of 95° 02.6’ for all three shots.
A. Find the azimuth and intercept
B. Plot the three-star fix and label the position.