Oliver Hazard Perry ONSOS trips a bracing success


By any measure, the Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship’s (ONSOS) first foray into teaching celestial navigation and marine weather aboard the tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry was a rousing success. The square-rigger OHP sailed two legs as part of this program: The first leg was from Fort Lauderdale to Bermuda with me teaching celestial navigation and Chris Parker teaching marine weather; the second leg was from Bermuda to Newport, which OHP names as its home port. Experienced sailor and navigation instructor Carl Herzog replaced me as celestial navigation teacher for the second leg. Not only did we teach several groups of adult students the intricacies of marine weather and celestial navigation, but for the second leg OHP had a contingent of high school students on board as well. The high schoolers were learning sail-handling and general seamanship (and having fun making new friends).

When we departed Fort Lauderdale on April 3 on the first leg bound for Bermuda, we had a few predictions: that we would have good weather for both sailing and celestial nav sights, and that the group of marine weather and celestial navigation students on board would have a great time sailing offshore.

Students taking celestial nav class in the ship’s library.

Tim Queeney

The weather prediction came from Chris Parker, the founder of Marine Weather Center, voyaging weather expert and a weather router for numerous voyaging boats in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Chris was aboard Perry to teach a course on marine weather to a group of eager voyagers. Luckily for his rep with this group, Chris’ prediction of good weather proved accurate. We had wind from southerly directions (southwest, south and southeast) and were able to make good time sailing. Early in the voyage, he also informed the captain, crew and students that we were in for a cold-front passage that would entail squalls with wind gusts, periods of intense rain and lightning. The front did pass on the night of Thursday, April 6, though Chris did miss on one thing: he didn’t say how spectacular the light show would be. The lightning that sparked at various levels, colors and shapes was truly impressive.

The tall ship sailors that the OHP headquarters in Newport assembled for this trip were a personable, capable bunch. They were impressively led by Captain David Dawes, a transplanted Aussie with a gregarious wit who readily demonstrated his firm control of the complexities of square-rig sail-handling and managing a crew.

Students take direction from crewmember Adam.

Tim Queeney

For his morning weather classes, Chris took over the ship’s great cabin, which is equipped with a large flat-panel TV that Chris used to display weather diagrams. The students were lucky to receive the benefits of both Chris’ extensive practical experience and knowledge in addition to the weather notebook put together by Locus Weather owner and ON contributing editor Ken McKinley based in Camden, Maine.

My celestial navigation classes were held in Perry’s library/classroom, which is equipped with desks and a large whiteboard. The latter teaching device allowed for extensive freehand drawing of large multicolored diagrams to explain the navigational triangle, Greenwich Hour Angle, declination, Local Hour Angle and the handy noon sight diagram — my students appreciated the enthusiasm if not the dry-erase drafting skills! We also got on deck for a demonstration of sextant errors and how to correct them, plus sun sights, noon sights and star, planet and moon sights at twilight time. Jim Lamb, one of the celestial nav students emailed me a few days after the trip to say, “The entire experience was more than I could have hoped it would be.”

On top of it all, there were plenty of chances to learn the rig, go aloft and help with sail-handling, do boat checks and steer a square-rigged ship — not something most sailors get a chance to do every day.

Seminar students practice donning exposure suits.

Tim Queeney

The second leg departed from Bermuda on April 15 with Carl Herzog in charge of teaching. According to Carl, “We were able to shoot and reduce sun, moon, and planet LOPs; generate fixes from evening stars; determine latitude at LAN; and conduct a running fix with sun lines. We unfortunately never got a chance to do any morning star sights before the weather closed in on us. We did not calculate longitude at LAN from sights underway, but we did resolve the process with the graphical plotting method using a data set that one student brought with him (he’d shot it in February in his yard in Cleveland using an artificial horizon).”

The second leg didn’t have quite as much good weather as the first leg. After an early bumpy ride, the journey “opened up to clear skies and good sailing in the mid-trip,” according to Carl. Just as the students were really hitting their stride with their sextants, Carl reported that, “We were largely without wind and fogged in on the approach to Rhode Island.” Luckily, a little foresight by Carl was able to make up for the murky weather at the end of the passage: “As soon as we had a clear horizon on departure, I started encouraging as much shooting as possible, and we recorded sight data and GPS positions for every shot. This gave us a solid set of data to begin reducing over the next few days.”

The combination of learning celestial navigation and marine weather, participating in line- and sail-handling on a square-rigger, standing watch in the wee hours, great food and companionship and a friendly captain and crew made for an unmatched offshore experience. Join us next time!

By Ocean Navigator