Wrecked on Sable Island

Sept/Oct 2000

With all the recent attention focused on The Perfect Storm, we should remember that the loss of the Andrea Gail and her crew has a sad and familiar ring to it for the residents of Gloucester, Mass. Since the 18th century more than 10,000 Gloucestermen have lost their lives while fishing.

Sometimes, though, the men were lucky even if the ships were not. Take the case of the great Gloucester fishing schooner Puritan – 123 feet long and flying almost 9,000 square feet of canvas. Puritan , a high flyer launched in 1922, didn’t last long enough to see the new year.

Designed by W. Starling Burgess, Puritan was built by the J.F. James and Son yard in Essex and commanded by Capt. Jeffrey Thomas. Puritan was fast, once sailing to Boothbay, Maine, from Thatcher Island, Mass., in five hours, 7 minutes, averaging 14 and one half knots.

Puritan met her end on June 23, 1922, striking the western bar off Sable Island. Although the ship was a total loss, 15 crew survived with the loss of only one life.

Let’s join Capt. Thomas as he heads toward his rendezvous with tragedy. It is the night before, and the ship is somewhere to the south and west of Sable Island. I have Capt. Thomas taking a three-star sight in order to get a fix so as to check his DR in the uncertain currents surrounding Sable Island. I don’t actually think Gloucester fishermen took star sights, I’m almost certain that they did not. More than likely they shot noon sights and ran the latitudes up to their destinations. Regardless, for the sake of the problem and our own education, let’s assume that the good captain had taken a star sight that night long ago. This is what he would have seen.

We are, of course, solving the star sight with a 2000 Nautical Almanac and the appropriate copies of HO 249. You may use a calculator but these problems were solved longhand. After solving for the intercept, continue by plotting the answers.

On June 22 Puritan is at DR 42.55 degrees North, by 61.55 degrees West. Capt. Thomas sights Arcturus, Regulus and Polaris. His height of eye is 10 feet and the index error on his sextant is 2 degrees on the arc. These remain the same for all three sights.

A. He takes a shot of Polaris at 23:40:20. Hs is 42.21.0 degrees. What is his latitude?

B. He takes a shot of Arcturus at 23:44:12. Hs is 65.18.5 degrees. What is the intercept?

C. At 23:50:15 he takes a sight of Regulus. Hs is 33.33.6 degrees. What is the intercept?

D. What is the lat/long of the fix?  

By Ocean Navigator