October 2012 Issue 205: Schooner Brilliant across the Atlantic


For yacht designers, 1932 wasn’t a great year. America was an economic disaster and unemployment was more than 20 percent. More folks were preoccupied about just keeping a roof over their heads. One of the few designers benefiting during this period was the very young and successful Olin Stephens. Yachtsmen up and down the East Coast clamored for his designs.

One of those who had some disposable income was Walter Barnum. He wanted a new schooner and asked Stephens to design it. The name of the 61.5-footer was Brilliant and it was built at the famous Henry B. Nevins yard in City Island, N.Y., for the astronomical cost of $100,000 — at a time when a cup of coffee was five cents. Drawing 8.8 feet with a beam of 14.6 feet, the boat was drawn to fly 1,720 square feet of sail. Also, according to original drawings, Brilliant could set a square sail from a yard on the fore. Planked with teak on oak frames with bronze knees, it was commissioned in April 1932.

Brilliant competed in the 1932 Bermuda Race and went trans-Atlantic to race in the 1933 Fastnet. Aboard was Alfred Loomis, the yachtsman and editor of Yachting magazine. He recorded five consecutive days at 200 miles per day. Brilliant set a record for elapsed time from the Nantucket Lightship to the Bishop Rock Light: 15 days, one hour, and 23 minutes.

Barnum sold the boat, and during World War II Brilliant was put into service by the U.S. Coast Guard on anti-submarine patrol. After the war, Briggs Cunningham bought Brilliant and increased the rig size. It is said that Brilliant had the first cunningham (down haul) on the main sail. Even though Cunningham tried to make the boat faster, the schooner still wasn’t a consistent winner. In 1953 he donated the boat to Mystic Seaport. More than 9,000 teens and adults have learned traditional sailing skills aboard the schooner.

Brilliant has had a history of legendary masters while at Mystic. Biff Bowker, a renowned square rig sailor, ran Brilliant for 25 years. He then turned over stewardship of the vessel to George Moffett, who captained Brilliant brilliantly for another quarter of a century. In 2000 under the guidance of Moffett, sailing with the Tall Ships, Brilliant raced from Boston to Halifax and was first in class. From Halifax the vessel raced to Amsterdam, arriving first in fleet. As a result Capt. Moffett was named sail trainer of the year.

Brilliant is seen up and down the East Coast in the summer and represents the finest combination in boatbuilding and design from the salad days of American yacht design and building.

Let’s join Capt. Moffett on the Atlantic. It is July 15, bound for Europe. We’ll use the 2012 Nautical Almanac and H.O. 249, Volume III. The DR of the vessel is 40° 44’ N, by 53° 37’ W. There is a 10-foot height of eye. Capt. Moffett wants to take a sight of Mars for a line of position (LOP). When he does, the Hs of the sight is 46° 25.6’. The time of his sight is 20:44:25 GMT. Hint: Use the blue binding (Vol. III).

A. What is the Ho?
B. Find intercept.
C. Plot LOP and find estimated position.

A. The Ho is 46° 21.7'
B. Intercept is 12.7-nm toward
C. EP is 40° 51' N or 53° 33' W

By Ocean Navigator