National Geographic : 1958 Jun
To Europe with a Racing Start helmsman, who had helped with the finishing touches in building our little ship. And finally there was Henry Davis of An napolis, our professional seaman. Henry was versed in all branches of the sailor's arts on deck and below, and on him devolved the responsibility of maintenance. Much of Finisterre's success was a result of his care and skill. "What do you do at night?" is the question asked most often by landsmen. The answer is simple: you sail. The ocean never rests; neither can you. Even if you are not racing, the open sea is too deep to anchor-Finisterre would be hard put to carry enough rope to reach the bottom of the ocean. Besides, there is an axiom: "Races are won at night." The moon was bright. Finisterre glided quietly over a silver sea, only the roiled water and trail of bubbles in her wake showing the miles spinning astern. A warm breeze, still smelling of the land, shaped the sails like carved ivory. The barometer held high and steady. At dawn we were almost alone. One sloop of a larger class was close abeam to leeward, and two other sails appeared as tiny triangles on the horizon to windward. Thus, of 89 boats in the race, only three were now in sight-a reminder of the ocean's vastness and loneliness. Maury's Swift "River in the Ocean" Our plan for the race was based on study of the sailor's world. We knew that approxi mately the first third of our passage to Ber muda would be sailed over the gradually deep ening waters of the continental shelf and slope, the mighty buttresses supporting the land masses of North America. The second third would be subject to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The final 200 miles would be over the true ocean abyss, thousands of feet deep. In these separate but merging divisions we could expect different conditions of wind, sea, and current. By far the most important factor would be the current. The United States Navy's Matthew Fontaine Maury, pio neer scientist of ocean navigation, wrote in The Physical Geography of the Sea: "There is a river in the ocean: in the se verest droughts it never fails, and in the mightiest floods it never overflows; its banks and its bottom are of cold water, while its current is of warm; the Gulf of Mexico is its fountain, and its mouth is in the Arctic Seas. It is the Gulf Stream. There is in the world no other such majestic flow of waters. Its current is more rapid than the Mississippi or the Amazon, and its volume more than a thousand times greater." Hitching a Ride on the Gulf Stream Our strategy was to let the Gulf Stream current help us along. Before the race, all competitors had been given a pamphlet pre pared by the Woods Hole Oceanographic In stitution. Its title: A Prediction of the Un predictable Gulf Stream. While the pamphlet defined actual bound aries of the "river in the ocean" within reason ably exact limits, it also mentioned "counter currents," snakelike coils of current which might wander off in any direction, and even "jet streams," narrow bands flowing much faster than the surrounding water. The Woods Hole scientists placed the north ern limit of the Gulf Stream along our course at about latitude 39° N. The exact edge could be found by an abrupt rise in water tempera ture. The axis, or area of maximum velocity of flow, might be expected to begin some ten miles beyond, sweeping to the east at five knots-faster than many small boats can sail, except under the most favorable conditions. Therefore, we planned during the first third of the race to steer to the west of the rhumb line, or direct compass course, from Newport to Bermuda. At the Gulf Stream we would change course to bring the current on our beam, so that we would cross at right angles and not "buck" the flow. If our plan was sound, the stream would then carry us back to the rhumb line on the far side, helping rather than hindering us (map, page 766). At daylight Sunday we began taking tem perature readings of the water every half-hour. At 5 a.m. the mercury stood at 610 F. Slowly it rose during the morning as we sailed over Sleigh-riding Finisterre Traces Patterns of Foam on a Passing Sea This is the ship of my dreams. Small enough for me to sail alone, yet big enough to cross an ocean; fast enough to race, yet easy to handle in cruising. Her name, Finisterre, means "land's end," a phrase of symbolic promise to me. Here, carrying spinnaker, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen, Finisterre "bruises God's water," a Bahamian phrase for going fast. I hold the theory that on hot, still days the sun heats up the spinnaker's red top, and thermal currents thus generated help drive the boat. Kodachrome taken from a blimp by National Geographic Photographer B. Anthony Stewart © N.G.S .