Oars across the Atlantic

May/June 2005

In 1896 Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, recent emigrants from Norway, were clam diggers off the New Jersey coast. The work was exhausting and paid little. Not satisfied with life on the clam flats, the friends cooked up a scheme to perform a heroic act, capture the public�s attention and accelerate their American Dream. As told in Daring the Sea by David W. Shaw, they decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that no one had attempted such a suicidal act failed to dissuade them. They were young, strong � and desperate.

Image Credit: From Daring the Sea, David W. Shaw

They commissioned an 18-foot clinker-built cedar-over-oak rowboat with a couple of watertight compartments and two sets of rowing stations.

To garner publicity, they approached Richard Fox, the publisher of the Police Gazette, who was known to back such outlandish schemes. As an incentive, they named their boat Fox. It was agreed that if successful each would receive a gold medal and $10,000. The prize money was a glittering fortune to the new Americans.

So on a day in June 1896 Samuelsen and Harbo loaded their boat at the Battery in lower Manhattan. They took a compass, sextant, Nautical Almanac and five sets of oars.

They had sea-tested Fox and thought they could row a daily average of 45 miles. They estimated the vessel�s speed for dead reckoning.

They actually made it across, surviving capsizing, gales and hurricane-force winds. Though many others have rowed across the Atlantic, Samuelsen and Harbo still hold the record for the fastest time of 55 days from the Battery to the Scilly Islands.

But fame and riches proved elusive. They received the gold medals but never the cash prize. After some international acclaim they went back to clam digging.

As for their navigation, they mostly dead reckoned, did noon latitude sights and relied on passing ships for positions.

We will be doing noon sun sights. The problem is to find how far east or west of the dead-reckoning position the vessel was, based on the calculated time of meridian passage and the actual time the sun crossed the meridian.

The day in question is July 15. We are using the 2005 Nautical Almanac. Fox, according to the DR position, is off the eastern edge of the Grand Banks at 45� 30� N by 50� 25� W. Harbo calculates the time of Meridian Passage based on his longitude. His Height of Eye is 3 feet, and the sextant has an Index Error of 3� off the Arc. Harbo takes a sextant sight of the Lower Limb of the sun and gets a reading of Hs of 64� 39.3�.

A: Based on the DR longitude, what is the time of Meridian Passage in GMT? Hours and minutes only!

B: What is the sight�s Ho?

C: What is calculated latitude?

D: The Meridian Passage of the sun didn�t actually take place at the time Harbo thought. It occurred at 15 hours 33 minutes GMT. The sextant altitude was the same, but Harbo knew the position of Fox was farther west. How much farther west was Fox at the actual time of the Meridian Passage?  

By Ocean Navigator