May/June 2013 Issue 210: Airborne


William F. Buckley’s enduring book, Airborne, ostensibly concerns the passage he and his cronies, including his son Christopher, made in 1975 from Miami to Spain via Bermuda and the Azores aboard Buckley’s boat Cyrano. Yet, like so many good books about the sea and sailing, Airborne is also a reflection on life, friendship, and larger cosmic issues.

You have to hand it to Buckley, while the rest of us associate long ocean passages with hardship and deprivation, Cyrano carried a steward (Augustino, who made up the bunks), a professional paid captain and a chef. Oh, and don’t forget the upright piano in the main saloon.

Cyrano was built in 1963 in the Bahamas. The boat was constructed of ironwood, fastened with galvanized nails, was 60 feet overall, with an 18-foot bowsprit that Buckley cut back to 12 feet. Cyrano was 54 feet on the waterline, with a 17.5-foot beam, drew 6.5 feet and was rigged as a staysail schooner.

After a long career at racing, Buckley decided to make his first trans-Atlantic passage as a cruiser. He called the trans-Atlantic trip the “Big One.” After 15 months of preparation, with all its usual problems, Buckley and his crew, including his sister-in-law, departed Miami in May of 1975.

Buckley was no novice at sailing. He was meticulous and had much experience cruising and racing including the Bermuda Race on his various boats.

The 1975-era electronics aboard Cyrano appear antediluvian now. Nothing seemed to work during the passage  — the loran, radar, autopilot — they all seemed to be on their own schedule.

Buckley took all these mechanical failures in good humor, though. The sea, it seems, is perhaps the only place where the famous pundit met his match.

To his enduring credit, Airborne contains a whole chapter on celestial navigation, which is the method Buckley used to navigate across the ocean. Probably no one was more influential in promoting celestial. “In a way,” Buckley wrote, “you relearn navigation each time out if a few months (or years) have gone by since using it. But your skills redevelop very rapidly.”

Although he preferred using the Air Almanac, his explanations of the process involved can be of value to the neophyte. To assist in his labors Buckley had aboard a brand new $800 HP-65, which was one of the first handheld celestial calculators.

Buckley persisted in trying to use this computer to remedy his admittedly careless longhand math.

He said of the HP-65: “You could purchase the HP-65 and spend the rest of your life playing with it.”

Let’s join the navigator aboard Cyrano on June 28. The vessel is east of Bermuda at a DR of 31° 25’ North by 58° 10’ West. The height of eye is 10 feet and there is no chronometer error. We will be using the 2013 Nautical Almanac. At 12:51:17 GMT Buckley takes an observation of the lower limb of the sun. His Hs is 48° 20.4’.

A. Find the HO.
B. Using H.O. 249 Volume 2, calculate the intercept.
C. After plotting, find the estimated position.

A: HO 48° 32.4’
B: Intercept 4.6 nm away
C: Estimated position 31° 25’ north by 58° 06’ west

Airborne long solution

Here we have an example of obtaining an estimated position from an sun line of position. The observation is straight forward and is part of the essential vocabulary of the celestial navigator. This is just a single LOP so it will not yield a fix but it provide a great deal of information nonetheless.

Cyrano is at a DR of 31° 25’ N by 58° 10’ W on June 28. We are using the 2013 NA. The height of Eye is 10 feet. We are observing a lower limb of the sun and the time of the shot is 12:51:17 GMT.  The Hs is 48° 20.4’

GHA @ 12 hrs       359° 10.7’                    Dec N 23° 15.2’ (d) .1’ –
+ Min and sec          12° 49.3’                    Dec. N 23° 15.1’
GHA                        372° 00’
– Ass Long               58° 00
LHA                        314°
Ass. Position N 31° by W 58°

Hs        48° 20.4
-dip                3.1’
App alt   48° 17.3’
+ 3rd cor     15.1’
HO        48° 32.4’

Ho 249 Vol. 2

Hc        48° 32’               d +21                Z 90° ZN=Z
Table 5 +      5’
Hc         48° 37’
Ho         48° 32.4’
Intercept       4.6nm Away  (Ho mo Tow). In this case Ho is less thus intercept is away from the GP of the sun

After plotting the EP is 31° 25’ N by 58° 06’ W

By Ocean Navigator