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From the Pilothouse

Jan 1, 2003

Twenty-five years ago, in a late April passage from Man O' War Cay in the Bahamas, a young sailor was guiding his wooden sloop Alice on a rhumb line to New Bedford, Mass., when his photo was snapped. It was blowing a living gale; seas were over 20 feet, "definitely," and the only electronics aboard were an old even then RDF unit and a VHF radio. The devices keeping track of course and speed, besides the crew, were the Walker taffrail log, a magnetic compass and an RVG windvane. (Look at the size of that paddle!) Such was the scene when the camera shutter opened for a split second and recorded the event at right, which shows a very bearded Contributing Editor Ben Ellison trying his best to avoid the breaking tops of the waves. It is not an irony that Ellison is now our resident expert on the complex and techie subject of marine electronics catch his weekly column online since he obviously earned his stripes doing the work of navigation the hard way.

Each of our other correspondents and contributing editors are similarly experienced, sometimes in profoundly varied ways, which is why we seek their creative efforts for these pages. It is an honor to be in the position of bringing these great minds together in the pages of a magazine. At a time when many of us are re-evaluating what's most important, it is fitting that we pay tribute to the great skill and adventurous spirit of our contributors. Our marine biologist correspondents, for example, Scott and Wendy Bannerot (see page 27 for their analysis of ciguatera) and Pete Taylor (who is working on a feature on flying fish) are trained academics who find an outlet for their combined interest in voyaging and marine science in Ocean Navigator. The Bannerots, along with their infant son Ryan, live aboard their aluminum sloop Elan, which is rigged with a custom fishing station on the stern, having been based in the South Pacific for the past several years. We will feature their adventures in the Marshall Islands in a coming issue. And Chuck Husick, to whom I dedicated an entire editorial a few issues back, who has offered his thorough examination on fire suppression on page 76 and a story on rigging annunciator lights in a boat's cockpit, is a retired electrical engineer and executive who has turned a lifelong interest in sailing into a writing career. (A full feature on his significantly customized boat Bonne Etoile is available online; click the Web Extras button on the home page.)

Our Vancouver-based racing editor, Sven Donaldson, has been keeping tabs on the fast-paced world of ocean racing in his column since 1995. The author of two books on sailing and technology before joining Ocean Navigator, Donaldson has applied a blend of storytelling and technical know-how to the world of ocean racing to deliver sensible design ideas for people interested in messing with voyaging boats.

The process of outfitting a voyaging boat for the rigors of the open sea has changed significantly in the years since Ben Ellison made the passage from Man O' War. Steve D'Antonio, a boatyard manager who is also an instructor with the U.S. Naval Academy for offshore passages aboard American Promise, has contributed a careful analysis of shore power considerations. D'Antonio points out that several decades ago it was almost inconceivable for a boat to have shore power capability. Like Ellison's sloop Alice, which likely had a very modest DC system for its basic systems, boats didn't have a great deal of gear. Now, even boats that can be considered basic typically have a basic AC system for powering up while alongside. This is not because devices like radar, reefers, watermakers and navigation computers are necessities good judgment is still what keeps boats afloat; just ask Laurence Eubank, author of the Voyaging piece on page 42 but the availability of these products and spare parts is not usually a problem; and cost has dropped to reasonable levels.

More pictures and descriptions of our contributors can be found online, again by using the Web Extras button on the home page.