October 2011 Issue 197: Carleton Mitchell and Finisterre


Carleton Mitchell, who died in 2007 at the age of 96, was perhaps the most influential of the post-war generation of offshore cruisers and racers who created the “cruising lifestyle.” Combining his skill as a photographer and writer, Mitchell, in more than seven books, wrote about the best of the cruising life in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. When he first went to the West Indies in 1947 there were empty anchorages and no tourists. Mitchell, for better or worse, helped make the Caribbean Islands the destination they are now.

During Word War II Mitchell taught combat photography in the U.S. Navy. After the war he purchased an old Alden design Malabar that he named Carib. He took off to the West Indies and wrote his first book, Islands to Windward in 1948. He then sold Carib and purchased a 58-foot Rhodes yawl, he called Caribee, winning a trans-Atlantic race to England that he chronicled in Passage East in 1953. He wrote the credo of all sailors: “To desire nothing beyond what you have is surely happiness. Aboard a boat, it is frequently possible to achieve just that.”

Mitchell desired a roomy boat small enough for a couple to handle, beamy enough to be comfortable and to hold all his gadgets, shallow enough to gunkhole in the Bahamas, yet strong enough for an ocean passage. And fast. He took this brief to Olin Stephens and they came up with Finisterre.

Finisterre was 22,000 pounds with an 11-foot 3-inch beam and a waterline of 27 feet 6 inches.

Finisterre was built with Connecticut white oak frames, African mahogany and teak for the interiors. The hull was double-planked Honduras mahogany over Port Orford cedar.

Finisterre was everything that Mitchell hoped for. Under his stewardship, Finisterre won three consecutive Bermuda races in 1956, ’58, and ’60. It was often said that the boat was a rule beater and that may have helped her win the first Bermuda race. But by 1958, other boats were copying the style, yet Mitchell’s skill still led him to victory.

Let’s join Mitchell and his merry band on the way to Bermuda. It is June and Mitchell is on deck contemplating a noon sight. Finisterre is bowling along under spinnaker and mizzen staysail. The breeze is fresh and everyone is happy and the sea sparkles. It is June 23 (we’ll use the 2011 Nautical Almanac), and the DR of Finisterre is 36° 10’ N by 67° 35’ W. The height of eye is eight feet and there is no sextant error or watch error. The Hs of the lower limb is 76° 37.8’ The boat is east of the rhumb line and moving fast with a northerly pushing them along.

A. What is the time in GMT for LAN?
B. What is the Ho?
C. What is the latitude? What does this shot tell him about his sun line versus his DR?

A. Time of LAN in GMT is 16:32:20
B. Ho is 76° 50.7'
C. Latitude is 36° 35' N
The shot tells Mitchell that Finisterre is going faster than his taffrail log says. This can happen in the Sargasso Sea where the log gets fouled with weed and slows down.
By Ocean Navigator