MV Yara Birkeland, Autonomous Container Ship

The first autonomous container ship, the 120 TEU feeder vessel, MV Yara Birkeland, will be launched in 2018. The ship will also be battery-powered and emissions-free. After a period of testing with a crew, the ship is expected to go into autonomous service in 2020. MV Yara Birkeland will sail on two routes within Norway, between Herøya and Brevik (~7 nautical miles (13 km)) and between Herøya and Larvik (~30 nautical miles (56 km)) carrying chemicals and fertilizer. The ship is being jointly developed by two Norwegian companies — agricultural firm Yara International and Kongsberg Gruppen, which builds guidance systems for both civilian and military use.
One question needs to be asked — are autonomous ships really a good idea? According to the Wall Street Journal, MV Yara Birkeland will cost $25 million, or about three times as much as a conventional container ship of its size. The ship’s backers say that a reduction of the ship’s operating cost by 90% will help pay for the significantly higher capital cost.

Currently, there is no regulatory framework to allow autonomous ships. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) doesn’t expect legislation governing crewless ships to be in place before 2020.
Many doubt the feasibility of deep-sea autonomous ships. The Wall Street Journal quotes Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen: “It’s not a matter of technology, which is already there, but a business case. Autonomous ships are expensive to begin with, and have to be built very robust, because if they break down, the cost of getting a team to fix them it in the middle of the ocean will be very high.”

There are also questions of security. Concerns about GPS spoofing, the ability to remotely take over control the GPS navigation systems on ships, makes the electronic hijacking of ships a real threat. This would apply particularly to crewless or autonomous ships.

The most fundamental questions about autonomous ships have yet to be answered. What happens when a ship breaks down or catches fire at sea and there is no one aboard to respond? And can seamanship and the judgment of a skilled watch officer be replaced by an algorithm?

The world’s first autonomous, zero emission container ship


Crtsy of Old Salt Blog

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USS John S McCain Loaded On Heavy Lift

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Hybrid technology for the water!

The future is here. Since 1928, Hinckley has been leading the way in the design of beautiful, highly innovative and timeless yachts. In the spirit of our legacy of innovation, we are excited to announce Dasher, the world’s first fully electric luxury yacht. Reservations now being accepted for delivery in Summer 2018.



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Post-Irma Caribbean Catastrophe — Navies, Cruise Ships and Private Boats Aid Victims

Hurricane Irma absolutely devastated many islands in the Caribbean. Now, in the aftermath of the catastrophic storm, aid is being sent by a small armada of ships and boats from governments, corporations and private citizens.
The need for help is enormous. On the island of Barbuda, 90% of buildings have been damaged or destroyed and 50% of the population of about 1,000 people left homeless. Anguilla suffered major damage first from Hurricane Irma and then from Hurricane Jose, which followed close behind. Eleven people were killed, and more than 100 injured in the French overseas collectivities of St Martin and St Barthélemy (St Barts). 95% of the buildings on St. Martin were reported to be damaged or destroyed. Damage in the US Virgins Islands of St. Thomas and St. John was also extensive, as was damage to buildings in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where a large sailboat charter fleet was also wiped out.
The US Navy has dispatched ships to aid the victims of Irma in the Caribbean. USS Wasp, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship, arrived in St. Thomas last Thursday and helped evacuate critical care patients from the island. Two Dutch Navy ships are providing support in St. Martin, where the US Coast Guard and National Guard have also evacuated visitors. The Royal Navy support ship RFA Mounts Bay has arrived at Anguilla with supplies. HMS Ocean, an amphibious assault ship, is also on its way to the stricken islands.
Cruise lines are also sending ships with supplies and to evacuate stranded visitors to the islands. President and CEO of Royal Caribbean, Michael Bayley told the Miami Herald that four ships will be used for Irma relief efforts. Norwegian Cruise Line, based in Miami, also announced plans Friday to deploy one ship to pick up stranded tourists in the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean’s ships, several of which are sailing empty due to storm-induced cancellations, are fully stocked and staffed, Bayley said. Those resources will instead be used to aid in relief efforts across ports in the Caribbean that were badly hit by Irma.
The Miami Herald reports that the Majesty of the Seas, which can fit 2,767 guests at maximum occupancy, is sailing to St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands to drop off water, ice, food and other provisions on Tuesday. The ship will offer meals to first responders before sailing with displaced tourists to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the airport is operational and where travelers can catch flights home, Bayley said.
Royal Caribbean is working closely with authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands to determine which tourists it needs to transport. The number is estimated to be between 1,500 and 3,000 people.
Mariners in private boats are also doing what they can to help. Puerto Rico was spared the worst of the Hurricane Irma’s destruction. Now boaters on the island are organizing a “boat lift” to deliver food water and supplies to the Virgin Islands. The New York Times reports: Puerto Ricans relieved at being spared the worst destruction donated water, clothing, first aid and other supplies, and dozens of recreational boaters sailed to nearby islands to deliver the assistance and evacuate now-homeless islanders on the return trip.
The civilian sealift … has been largely a spontaneous, volunteer affair. And it has grown out of the longtime affinities and links among recreational boaters in Puerto Rico and the islands to the east.
Puerto Ricans often cruise to the American or British Virgin Islands, known interchangeably here as “las islas,” to enjoy their crystalline beaches or for fishing competitions. One week-long event held in July in the British islands attracts such a large contingent of visiting boats that locals joke about hosting the Puerto Rican Navy.

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Mystery At Sea, Missing Wife, Stolen Coins, Sunken Ship


Lewis Bennett, 38, a British engineer, was recently arrested by the FBI on charges related to possession of stolen rare silver and gold coins. The story behind the arrest gets very strange, involving a Caribbean theft, a missing wife, and a sunken catamaran.

On May 14th, Bennett was sailing with his wife, Isabella Hellman from Cuba to Florida. They had married in February and were on a delayed honeymoon on their 37′ catamaran, Surf into Summer.  They have a 9-month-old daughter who was not with them aboard the boat.

While in the Florida Straits, the boat sank, Hellman went missing and Bennett was rescued from a life raft by the US Coast Guard. He told his rescuers that he had been below asleep, with Hellman on watch on deck. He said that he was awoken when the catamaran hit something and began taking on water rapidly. When Bennet came on deck, he said that his wife was nowhere to be found. The Coast Guard searched for three days for Isabella Hellman without finding any trace of the missing woman.

The Coast Guard was able to retrieve Bennett’s life raft, where, in addition to gear and supplies, they found nine plastic tubes of silver coins, valued at roughly $4,200. The rescue swimmer who helped haul Bennett aboard the helicopter had commented that his backpack seemed unusually heavy. Initially, the coins were returned to Bennett. Then the Coast Guard learned that the coins may have been stolen from a yacht that Bennett was on in 2016. During a June 10 search of Bennett’s house, agents found another 162 gold coins estimated to be worth about $26,100.

In May of 2016, Bennett was crew aboard the yacht Kitty R in St. Martin, when reportedly $100,000 in rare gold and silver coins were stolen from the boat. According to court records, the owner of the boat and the coins said that he did not file an insurance claim because the coins were not “on the list of covered items in his policy.”  

Bennett has been arrested on charges of transporting stolen goods valued at $5,000 or more.

Courtesy of the Old Salt Blog 

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25th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition on Sunday, September 3

Get your tickets, get your tickets! September 3, 2017.


For those in and around New York harbor, the 25th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition, sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee, is coming up on Sunday, September 3rd. The Parade of Tugs starts on the Hudson River at 10 AM. Free viewing is available at  Pier 84 located at W. 44th Street & Hudson River Park. The tugs will proceed to the starting line at 70th Street. The race begins at 10:30 AM.  Nose-to-nose pushing contests and line-toss competitions will start around 11 AM.  At Noon the amateur line-toss and spinach-eating contests will commence followed by an 1 PM awards ceremony.

For an even better view of the parade of tugs and the tugboat race, there is also a Circle Line Spectator Boat available. Boarding begins at 9:00 AM and departure is at 9:30 AM from Pier 83. Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for kids (3-12 years old.)  Tickets can be purchased online here.

In addition, there will be a raffle of a framed print, Schooner Pioneer at Sunset, by renowned seaport artist Naima Rauam. The raffle drawing will take place at the 25th Annual Tugboat Race & Competition on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. on Pier 84 located at West 44th St. & Hudson River Park in Manhattan. You don’t need to be present to win. Tickets are available here.

The Pioneer, launched in 1885, hauled sand to iron foundries along the Delaware River and was the first of only two cargo-carrying sloops with wrought iron hulls built in this country. She was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1970. 




25th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition on Sunday, September 3

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The New (Rebuilt) Bluenose II

The best thing that can be said about the “rebuilding” of the Canadian schooner Bluenose II is that is it is over and that the Bluenose II is a lovely vessel. Unfortunately, it took seven years and cost C$24 million (around US$ 20 million) to complete the “reconstruction and rebuilding,” which, in fact, was effectively the construction of a wholly new schooner.
The original Bluenose was a Canadian fishing and racing schooner from Nova Scotia built in 1921. The schooner became famous for winning the International Fishing Challenge Cup off Gloucester, Massachusetts for many years. The Bluenose is considered by many to be an iconic symbol of Canada. The schooner appears on the Canadian dime and the current Nova Scotia licence plate.
In 1963 a replica of Bluenose was built at Lunenburg, using the original Bluenose plans and named Bluenose II. The schooner was built by Oland Brewery for roughly C$300,000 as a marketing tool for their Schooner Lager beer brand. In 1979, ownership was transferred to the government of Nova Scotia. By 2009 the Bluenose II was severely hogged and in poor condition. Rather than attempt to repair the original schooner, it decided to build another from scratch.
In July 2010, the Nova Scotia government awarded a $12.5 million contract for the restoration of Bluenose II to a consortium of three Nova Scotia shipyards. The total project budget was $14.4 million. The word “restoration” is a something of a misnomer. The original schooner was largely scrapped and the “restored” schooner was built from keel up with new materials. Some equipment and sections of the old schooner were retained, but the schooner is essentially a new vessel. The new schooner was built of different materials and different standards than the original.
The new/rebuilt Bluenose II was launched in Lunenberg in 2012 and expected by many to begin sailing shortly thereafter, but she was hauled back ashore in 2013 for additional work. Late in the process, it was decided that the schooner be should inspected by a classification society. The American Bureau of Shipping was chosen. Unfortunately, to meet ABS rules, an entirely new steel rudder and hydraulic steering system was installed. The new rudder proved to be so heavy that is risked damaging the schooner’s structure. A wooden rudder design was ultimately adopted but not before adding more than a million in building costs.
By 2014, Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil was referring to the project as a “boondoggle.”
And then there were the lawsuits. In 2014, the provincial government settled a copyright infringement lawsuit with the the family of the schooner’s original designer for $300,000. The provincial government says about $1 million has been spent on legal costs since the case was launched.
The Nova Scotian government also settled a lawsuit with the Lunenburg Shipbuilding Alliance for just over $2 million.
For comparison purposes two traditional schooners built in the US in roughly the same period, the Spirit of South Carolina and schooner Virginia, each cost in the neighborhood of US$5 million.
But the schooner Bluenose II is a lovely vessel. Long may she sail.


Thanks Old Salt Blog for the Article!

Bluenose II home again

Bluenose II Facebook page

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Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport

A really great show if you can make it! Some of the best looking and oldest boats still surviving!

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The USS Fitzgerald Is At Fault. This Is Why.

Navy Captain on Bridge

By Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Every ship, regardless of nationality or purpose, is required to carry one terse book . This book is titled the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions but is better know by its acronym “COLREGs”. The chapters are short and to the point and ship officers are required to make marks of 90% on COLREGs tests taken to keep up their licenses. In order to pass this stringent requirement sailors have developed mnemonic aids to help them remember the contents. When the crew loses control of steering, the COLREGs demands that the ship display two red lights in a vertical line. The mnemonic for this rule is “Red over Red, the Captain’s dead”. Sailboats are required to display a red and green light and its said “Red over Green, sailing machine”. There are many more like this but one important rule for avoiding collisions with Navy warships is missing: “If it’s grey stay away.”

While the media, with a very little hard data, attempts to understand the erratic maneuvers of the containership ACX Crystal on the night of her collision with the Destroyer USS Fitzgerald… professional mariners are certain that a long investigation will find the US Navy ship at fault.

Is this conclusion the result of professional arrogance? Or maybe because of resentment and jealousy over the fact that Navy captains are praised and decorated by the public and media while merchant ship captains live mostly unnoticed. Or is it because they are correct?

As a ship captain along with years working with the U.S. Navy both aboard ships and ashore – here are the reasons why I believe they are correct. The USS Fitzerald was at fault.

Communication Failure

Despite recent advancements in electronic collision avoidance tools like automatic identification systems (AIS), the three most important tools for avoiding a collision are a Captain’s eyes, tongue and ears.

Deepwater Horizon Book: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster
Related Book: Deepwater Horizon Book: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster by John Konrad
Eyes, looking out the windows of his ship, are important because they can process information – like erratic course changes – faster and more accurately than electronic RADAR and charting systems.

A tongue because the quickest and most effective way to predict how a ship is going to maneuver in the minutes before a collision is to call the Captain of the other ship on the VHF radio and ask.

Ears are important because language barriers and cultural differences are prominent at sea and you must listen intently to the other ship’s reply if you want any chance of understanding her intentions.

The USS Fitzgerald’s Captain used only one, or possibly none, of these tools when communicating with the ACX Crystal.

In the moments leading up to a collision a merchant ship captain has to do everything but steer the ship himself. With the help of one officer he has to watch the RADAR and AIS, plot the relative courses of nearby vessels, communicate with the Engine Room, talk with other ships on the VHF radio and issue orders. But on a navy ship each of these jobs is performed by a small team of sailors who report changes to, and obey orders from, the officer of the deck (OOD). The OOD relays the important information to the Captain.

This system of many team members – each working on equipment they have been very well-trained to operate and reporting through a command structure that filters all but the most important information to the captain – is highly effective in war when a warship is exchanging salvos of high speed torpedoes and missiles with numerous hostile targets (anyone doubting this should read Jeff Edward’s excellent book “Torpedo”). But this structure is ineffective when dealing with a single slow moving merchant ship.

An eye on the target and direct communication – Captain to Captain – is the most effective means of avoiding collision but this never happens on Navy ships. When a merchant ship attempts to call a U.S. Navy warship he first has to establish contact. Calling another merchant ship is relatively easy, you find the name of the ship on your AIS and hail it on the VHF. But the US Navy often turns off its AIS transmitter to prevent enemy’s from tracking warships via internet sites like which pick up the AIS signal via commercial satellites and publish the positions online.

The alternative way to contact a Navy ship is by calling out its hull number (painted in huge white numbers on the bow) but, for various reasons, the Navy doesn’t always respond to this number.

Provided you do establish contact with the oncoming destroyer you run into another major obstacle. The person who responds to your call is not the Captain but junior officer who then relays the message to the Officer Of The Deck or the Captain. The Captain’s response then has to go back down the chain where time and information is lost, mistakes are made and the delays occur. Hard data is, more often than not, conveyed accurately, but more nuanced information – like the sound or anger, hesitation or exhaustion in the captain’s voice – is lost.

The communication problems don’t stop there. Navy ships require that information from complex systems move quickly between officers and they carry this out with a large vocabulary of acronyms, abbreviations and units of measurement that are highly effective for communication between American naval officers but are gibberish to foreign ship captains.

For example… a foreign ship captain will order his helmsman to turn port or starboard but an American captain orders left and right turns. Merchant Captains prefer true bearings based off the compass but Navy Captains prefer relative bearings based off the centerline of his own ship. And most frustrating of all, merchant mariners use Nautical Miles to denote distance but the Navy measures everything in yards.

Small differences? Maybe but a series of small discrepancies can lead to big problems.

Was VHF contact established between the two vessels before the collision? Why was the USS Fitzgerald Captain in his stateroom and not on the bridge looking out the window? Was he tuned into the VHF radio monitoring the conversation? Was the containership captain fluent in English and, if not, did the navy radioman listen with patience and speak with simple clarity? Did they communicate externally with international accepted standards or use U.S. Navy centric jargon?

This is important because basic communication problems have been found to be a primary cause in nearly every multi-vessel incident gCaptain has reported on in the last ten years.

The Lack Of Specialists

In the not so distant past, merchant ship captains holding a “Master Unlimited” license, the highest license issued by the Coast Guard, were legally sanctioned to command any ship of any size upon oceans. The only limitation placed on that license was large sailing ships (Tall Ships). While that is still technically true today, a containership company would not hire a tanker captain and a cruise ship company would not give a large cruise ship to a containership captain. They want people having experience aboard similar types of ships.

It takes a bachelor’s degree from a Maritime Academy plus approximately 10 years and the completion of weeks worth of intense testing to earn a Master Unlimited license. There are ways around some of these requirements (like having a college degree) depending on the flag state, but all maritime nations have strict rules governing how many days of those 10 years were spent at sea. A civilian ship captain will spend at least a few hours on the bridge of the ship every day of work. That translates to a lot of experience avoiding collision.

The U.S. Navy also has specialized strict standards for enlisted sailors. If you want to operate a RADAR, for example, you must pass general examinations, be selected, attend the Navy’s challenging “A” school and commit to a five year service obligation. Then enlisted sailors have to prove their ability aboard ship under the watchful eye of non-commissioned officers.

Each individual piece of critical equipment aboard a navy ship has a highly trained and competent person(s) assigned to it. The total number of people working, on both the bridge and the Combat Information Center (CIC) to navigate the ship exceeds a dozen.

The merchant ship captain, who has to operate all equipment himself, often has to use his experience and expertise to fill in gaps of information. But the Naval officer has the opposite problem. He is often working with too much information as it comes in from all the enlisted people who work for him… and he has to use his knowledge and experience to filter out unnecessary data. The question is, how much experience does he have?

The captain of a merchant ship does not work in an office, he never gets sent to the engine room to stand a watch, and with just two dozen people aboard his ship at any one time he is free of most of the administrative and disciplinary duties that come with commanding a Navy destroyer with five times the number of sailors.

But unlike the merchant captain and the enlisted specialists working on navy ships, the U.S. Navy Captain and his bridge officer (OOD) are generalists. A large percentage of their careers are spent working shoreside jobs and their shipboard time was spent rotating through positions: the engine room, the combat information room, in administrative positions and elsewhere.

In short, the merchant ship captain and bridge officers have significantly higher number of hours spent on the bridge then their naval counterparts.

Why Was The Navy Captain In His Cabin

One myth that persists among the general public is that Captain Joseph Hazelwood, master of the Exxon Valdez, was drunk at the wheel of his ship when she grounded on Bligh Reef. The truth is far different.

Captain Hazelwood rightfully shouldered the blame for that incident because a Captain is responsible for the actions of his crew but his level of intoxication, if any (blood alcohol tests were inconclusive) was found not to be a primary cause of the incident. How could it be? He was not on the bridge of the ship when it grounded. He was in his cabin! The ship was grounded not by Hazelwood but by a junior officer he trusted to navigate the ship safely.

Ship Captains never take the wheel and drive the ship, helmsmen and autopilots do that job. Ship captains spend most of their time in the office doing paperwork or managing people all around the ship. The actual navigation of the vessel is done on the bridge by a junior officer called the Officer In Charge Of The Navigational Watch (OICNW). The US Navy operates the same way but that officer is the Officer Of The Deck (OOD).

It is this officer’s duty to navigate the ship safely according to the voyage plan laid out by the captain. This officer is in charge of communicating with and avoiding other ships. He is the one responsible for avoiding collisions and he holds this responsibility with important caveat; it is his duty to call the captain whenever there is possible risk of collision or danger of any kind.

And it is the Captain’s duty to go to the bridge whenever he is called for help.

But the captain of the USS Fitzgerald, like Captain Hazelwood, was not on the bridge. He remained in his cabin where he was injured during the collision. Did the OOD fail to call him up to the bridge for help managing the situation? Did he ignore the OOD’s call for help? Or, like the Exxon Valdez, did the bridge team not realize they were in trouble until it was too late?

Either way, a major error was made by someone aboard the USS Fitzgerald.

Available Resources

USS Fitzgerald

Let’s take a quick look at just some of the resources the USS Fitzgerald’s captain had at his disposal prior to the collision.

The USS Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke class destroyer with a top speed well in excess of 30 knots. Speed is helpful in preventing collision because it allows you to put more distance between you and a dangerous ship in the same amount of time. (Yes, speed can also be dangerous.)

She is powered by four gas turbine engines with over 100,000 horsepower available to turn her propellers. Gas turbines are expensive and burn lots of fuel but the Navy uses them because they can provide an immense amount of torque in a very short period of time. Torque translates to acceleration and acceleration is important if you need to get out of the way of something fast.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyer has highly advanced AN/SPY-1 three dimensional RADAR, variable pulse width surface RADAR, AIS transceivers and a hull mounted sonar array tied into an Electronic Warfare Suite capable of tracking objects of small size moving at a high speed in real time.

The USS Fitzgerald is highly maneuverable with a very tight turning radius. While the exact figures are not public information this video of an Arleigh Burke Destroyer turning 180 degrees is very impressive.

Containership ACX Crystal

The Containership ACX Crystal however… has a theoretical top speed of 25 knots but is rarely pushed that fast.

She has a single 8-cylinder diesel engine capable of pushing one propeller with 29,200 horses for 3/10ths the amount of power of the destroyer. The acceleration of a ship like this is measured in miles, not minutes like the destroyer. Diesel engines like hers are the size of a modest house and are locked into a certain speed at night. The bridge officer can cut speed immediately but at the risk of damaging equipment. Changing speed safely requires that the engineers wake up, change into work clothes and walk down to the engine room to check the equipment before moving the throttle.

She has two RADAR sets of modern design that is likely able to overlay digital charts. Said RADAR system requires a minimum of 3 minutes of pinging to properly calculate another ship’s change in course and/or speed.

She also has an AIS receiver that plots the position, course, speed, rate of turn and other useful information on the RADAR display in (close to) real time. In turn, her AIS system transmits her information to other ships including warships. She must, by law, transmit this information at all times. Her AIS unit does not, however, receive any data from Navy ships who cloak their positions.

She weighs four times as much as the destroyer. She can also stop and turn on a dime… but only if that dime is owned by giants and has a diameter measured in nautical miles.

She has 8 officers, a captain and around a dozen unlicensed sailors… versus the destroyer’s 33 officers, 38 chief petty officers and 210 enlisted sailors.

But I thought the Containership Was At Fault?

The media has been publishing reports on “crazy ivan turns” and erratic behavior all based on incomplete and one sided AIS data which can not yet be correlated with the exact time of collision. It is too early, and information too scant, to publish a list of her faults.

That said, she is at fault! Remember the COLREGS? What I failed to mention in the beginning of this article is that, while terse, the book is littered with terms like “safe speed”, “all available means” and “Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate”. These words are nebulous and have remained so for centuries for a reason… so that no captain can ever shirk his responsibility for avoiding a collision. The COLREGS are terse, specific and targeted when it comes to assigning blame but soft and imprecise when it comes to removing responsibility and blame. Thus, every modern admiralty court trial of ships colliding has found fault with both ships, even if one is securely anchored!

Under COLREGS, whenever two ships touch each other, both ships are to blame.

For this reason I am 99.9% confident the USS Fitzgerald will be found at fault… and so will the ACX Crystal.


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Repairing Sextants in the Age of GPS

I first arrived in New York harbor forty years ago, as a freshly minted naval architect working for Moore McCormack. In those days, the Brooklyn docks were crowded with US flag shipping companies, many with their headquarters or sales offices in Lower Manhattan. Just to the north, in the narrow streets of Tribecca and Soho were clusters of little workshops where often elderly craftsmen repaired or calibrated chronometers and sextants, and rebuilt or reconditioned everything from pumps and valves to ship’s order telegraphs to the old tube radar sets.

In New York, these shops are long gone now. I was please to recently learn of a shop in Medford, MA, where Ridge White, 73, proprietor of Robert E. White Instrument Services, is carrying on a three generation family tradition of maintaining and repairing nautical instruments, particularly sextants. From an interview with Cindy Atoji-Keene in

“My forefathers were ship builders on one side and nautical instrument makers on the other. My grandfather, Wilfrid O. White, studied with the revolutionary scientist Lord Kelvin in the UK, then came to Boston and established a store near the Boston waterfront in the early 1900s. He invented the spherical compass, still used by many sailors today. My father continued the business, and early on I was tinkering with marine sextants, aneroid barometers, and barographs.

“Very few places around the country do what I do. I am happy to not be in my right mind helping people who need some service. Just yesterday I received an old English barograph that had a total failure of the sensors, which is like having a car that needs a new engine. I’ll have to install aneroid cells or capsules then put it into my test chamber to make fine adjustments. The owner of this lovely instrument inherited it from his father and it will function like new when I’m done.

“There are few things that I can’t do, and I most enjoy servicing sextants; these precision instruments are a joy to work on. They rarely need a new part, but occasionally need careful adjustment. Sextant sales, while hardly brisk these days, seem to be steady. It’s part of a renewed interest in simplicity. Navigating across the ocean without electronics keeps our minds alive instead of being slaves to the wizardry of modern gadgetry.

“I also teach coastwise navigation, navigating using buoys and coastal aids as well as tides and currents. What happens if you don’t have a GPS or the batteries go low? It’s like learning multiplication tables while you have a calculator at your desk. It’s valuable to know what’s behind the digits on the screen.”


Thanks to Lee Gruzen for contributing to this post.

Posted on May 22, 2017 by Rick Spilman

Sextant Description

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