Persistent circumnavigator

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When it comes to getting something accomplished, the ancient Chinese sages have a saying: “perseverance furthers.” This is excellent advice, though not always so easy to follow, unless of course, you are Webb Chiles.

In 1974, Chiles, a native of the Midwest who has a childhood dream to sail around Cape Horn, took off from California in his 37-foot stock Ericson cutter, Egregious. He was determined to become the first American to single-hand around the world.

Not too long after departing, heading south to Cape Horn, his boat began to rebel against the idea of such a grueling passage. A grinding sound aft indicated trouble with the rudder, and bolts began shearing from the mast. It didn’t take Chiles long to figure out that he was never going to make the Horn. So he turned west, choosing instead to sail downwind the 2,000 miles to Tahiti where he hoped he could effect repairs.

He repaired Egregious in Tahiti, departing before Christmas 1974, once again bound for the Horn. By the time he reached the roaring forties’ the mast started shedding hardware and Chiles had to make a tough decision. He ultimately chose to sail 5,000 miles under reduced sail back to San Diego where he could haul the boat.

This is just the opening act. Undaunted, Chiles repaired his boat and once again departs California in October 1975. He was not destined though to have an easy passage. Egregious developed a leak — at one time Chiles was spending eight hours daily hand pumping his boat. It almost seemed possible that Chiles, like Odysseus before him, had somehow insulted Poseidon, and was now paying the price.

Relying on celestial navigation while approaching Cape Horn, Chiles hadn’t had a chance to take a sun sight for a few days. His navigation had to be spot-on before turning east to pass the Horn. If his navigation were off, he would end up on the shores of South America. He dead-reckoned perfectly and passed Cape Horn safely.

After making a few stops to keep his boat floating he finally made it home in October 1976 after spending 348 days, 202 of those sailing, making an average of 4.5 knots.

That passage just whetted Chiles’ sense of adventure and he subsequently made another three circumnavigations, including one in an 18-foot undecked Drascombe lugger. Now 64 years old, he still sails long distance. He has written five books chronicling his experiences. To read more about Chiles, visit his Web site at

Let’s join Chiles as he tries to get a sun sight west of Cape Horn. We’ll use the 2008 Nautical Amanac.

The day in question is Jan. 25. Chiles is heading south, hoping to get a sun sight that will give him some idea of his distance off the Diego Ramirez Islands. The best shot he can hope for in this case is a meridian passage of the sun at LAN (local apparent noon). His DR position is 55° 25’ S, 68° 25’ W. His height of eye is eight feet and there is no error on his sextant. There is no watch error and Chiles will attempt a lower limb shot of the sun. The Hs at the time of the shot (all times are in GMT) is 53° 9.3’. The time of the shot is 16 hrs, 46 min, 20 sec. We will solve for latitude.

A. What is the Ho?

B. What is latitude?

C. Plot and find the EP.


A. Ho 53° 22.0’

B. Latitude is 55° 37.8’ S

C. EP is 55° 38’ S by 68° 25’ W

By Ocean Navigator