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Petrel heads south

Jul 19, 2007

All summer in 1980, we sailed the 70-foot double-headsail yawl Petrel in New York Harbor. Under the command of Nick van Nes, our all-volunteer crew learned how to handle the big yawl while carrying paying passengers. Van Nes had been sailing Petrel since he was in his teens, and a more patient teacher one couldn't hope to find. Powerfully built, yet soft-spoken and full of good humor, van Nes sailed Petrel as if the boat were an extension of himself. Petrel was designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built in Brooklyn in 1938. One of the Baruna class, it was a powerful, beautiful yacht with a 90-foot mainmast built to cross oceans. Originally owned by the Timken family, Petrel had been donated to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and was slated to become President Kennedy's yacht. When the president was assassinated, Petrel went up for auction and was purchased by van Nes' dad, Hans, who sailed the yawl for many years with his wife and six children. In the early 1970s Nick van Nes, recently discharged from the Navy Seals, purchased the vessel and began sailing in New York Harbor. At the conclusion of the 1980 sailing season, van Nes decided to take Petrel south to Florida, where he could spend the winter painting the boat. He soon had a crew of 16 signed up to make an ocean passage - a first for many. Like some sailing trips, this one began badly and got worse. No sooner had we cleared Sandy Hook, encountering a stiff nor'easterly, when one by one we were laid low by a contagion of seasickness. Even van Nes suffered, but he carried on. I recall him going below to make soup for the crew, rushing back up on deck, leaning over the rail, then going down below again to make soup. Most of the rest of us at about this time were acting as movable ballast. Van Nes used celestial navigation the whole way south. I have to laugh now when I think of the sextant he used. It was one of the inexpensive plastic vernier-scale types that cost, at the time, no more than five bucks. How the heck he managed to get sights from this thing I'll never know. We join Petrel as it slides south on Nov. 23. We will use the 2005 Nautical Almanac. Van Nes is doing a moon sun sight to get a fix.

Image Credit: Courtesy David Berson
The 70-foot Sparkman & Stephens- designed yawl Petrel under sail in New York Harbor.

The DR position at the time of the sights is 37° 40' N by 74° 25' W. Both shots will be of the Lower Limb. The Height of Eye is 10 feet and the sextant error is 5' Off. The moon shot is taken at 14:35:27 GMT, and the Hs is 35° 58.2'. The sun shot is taken at 14:37:10, and the Hs is 23° 58'. For those without H.O. 249: For the moon sight: Hc 35° 48', d +35, Z 100, Table 5 correction to the Hc +19. For the sun sight: Hc 24° 40', d -53, Z 147°, Table 5 correction for the Hc -27. A. Reduce Hs to Ho for moon and sun. B. Find intercept for moon and sun shots. C. Plot position of fix.  

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