The Days of Yacht Deliveries

July/August 2006

In 1952, two young English sailors, Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie, having survived the war, decided that they needed some more excitement. So Ellam designed and Mudie built a 19-foot sailboat and off they went across the Atlantic.

Their little craft, Sopranino, arrived in New York to much acclaim. The pair wrote a book and then, needing a job, Ellam found employment as an elevator operator in Manhattan.

It was while running the elevator that an executive asked him if he would deliver his yacht. Ellam agreed and thus was born the Patrick Ellam Delivery Captains 70’s – one of the first of these companies that flourished in the 1950s and beyond.

By the mid-1970s, when I was ready to give up everything to go sailing, I had the good fortune to be hired as a deck hand for Patrick Ellam. He was no longer sailing but the company was still well regarded, attracting highly professional sailing captains.

Because the operating budget was cut close to the bone, there were usually only three crew members – in most cases this was the captain, his girlfriend and a deck hand. I was the deck hand on at least half a dozen trips, all of them memorable. There was no electronic navigation. This was a time when every skipper carried his own sextant and knew how to use it. These captains were masters of navigation.

The most memorable of these skippers was Capt. Jack Showers. He was fond of saying, “It’s a pity to leave Bermuda on a nice day. Why waste it?” So we always left Bermuda in the worst weather possible.

Of all the things I learned from Showers, none was more important than the joy he took in celestial navigation. Showers had a beautiful Plath sextant secured in a polished mahogany box with fancy rope work adorning the handle.

When the time came for a sight, he would backwind the jib and heave the boat to. Then he would walk to the foredeck and, like an artist approaching his canvas, he would shoot the sun and mark his time in an unhurried manner that I copied when I, too, learned the basics. I never asked Showers about what he was doing, but I watched and learned.

Let’s join Capt. Showers on a delivery to the Caribbean. We have just left Bermuda and are heading south to Sombrero Light. The DR is 28° 53′ N by 63° 55′ W. Height of Eye is 10 feet. It is morning twilight and Showers wants to get a morning fix of Venus and Fomalhaut. The time of the Venus shot is 09:05:35 GMT. The Hs of Venus is 22° 40.2′. For those without H.O. 249 Vol. 2, here is what you need to solve the problem: Hc 22° 17′, d +25, Z 81°. The Table 5 correction is +22. Remember, if LHA is less than 180°, Zn is found by subtracting Z from 360°.

A. What is Ho of Venus?

B: What is the intercept?

The next shot is of Fomalhaut. The time is 9:07:10 GMT. The Hs is 31° 31.0′. Vol. 11 has the following information: Hs 31° 58′, d -60, Z 178°, Table 5 is -35.

C: What is Ho?

D: What is the intercept?

E: Plot the sight and find the fix position.  

By Ocean Navigator