Friday, July 17, 2009

Regina Maris in the 1972 Pacific hurricane

Robert Eisberg who sailed aboard the Regina Maris in 1972 was kind enough to send me a copy of a report he sent to the F.C.C. at their request concerning Regina Maris radio communication during the 1972 Pacific hurricane. It is quite a tale. I hope you enjoy it. To download a copy of the report click here. He also sent me the e-mail reproduced below which explains some of the items in the report and contains additional information.
My wife Lila, 12-year old daughter Joann, and I sailed on the Regina Maris from Ensenada bound for Tahiti via the Marquesas and Tuamotus. We intended to then fly to Australia where I was to spend a sabbatical leave. The voyage was a "share the work, share the expense" arrangement with Oceanwide Adventure Cruises of Palos Verdes, California. Everyone was assigned a task; mine was to give classes in celestial navigation. For that purpose I brought along a sextant, a nautical almanac, sight reduction tables and a portable multi-band radio to receive the time signals needed for celestial navigation (but I was not the Regina Maris navigator). The multi-band receiver turned out to be useful, as described in the F.C.C. report. But we encountered heavy weather not long after leaving Ensenada and so I never had a chance to teach celestial navigation.

In the pounding the Regina Maris was getting from the turbulent seas she began to leak seriously -- very seriously as hurricane Cecile approached. Continuously pumping at full speed strained the two powered bilge pumps. Finally they both failed and we were then keeping the vessel afloat by a large manual pump and bailing. This is where the F.C.C. report begins. The next paragraph provides some information not in the report to be read while reading the report.

I used the International Phonetic Alphabet in my MAYDAY call. For example "Romeo Echo Golf India November Alpha" spells REGINA. Ocean Station November was a Coast Guard vessel located about halfway between San Francisco and Honolulu to collect weather information (this was before weather satellites), provide a place for airplanes in trouble to ditch, and to listen for distress calls from boats. Single side band is a more sophisticated form of radio transmission normally used at the time by the Air Force jet but not compatible with the older double sideband receiver in the Regina Maris. Because of the hurricane we had not been able to get a "fix" on our position for several days and so knew it to no better than within about 1 degree of latitude and 1 degree of longitude; near the equator that means to within a region of about 60 nautical miles by 60 nautical miles. So the Air Force jet the Coast Guard diverted to look for us said we must make ourselves as visible as possible by spreading marker dye, producing smoke by burning oil soaked rags, raising as much sail as safety allowed, and flashing mirrors in the sunlight. It subsequently told me that what they saw first were the flashing mirrors. The two airplanes that arrived later dropped by parachutes a large number of small gasoline powered pumps and many cans of gasoline. The hurricane had passed by us when the Vishva Tirth arrived, allowing people to transfer to it from the Regina Maris. But some stayed on the Regina Maris to keep the gasoline powered pumps running. Several days after the Vishva Tirth began towing the Regina Maris to San Pedro the hurricane bent back and passed quite near us. The Vishva Tirth crew, who were terrified, said that they are usually able to avoid hurricanes but could not avoid this one because their speed was now limited to the hull speed of the Regina Maris they had in tow. A day later a large Coast Guard cutter arrived and began circling around us. With my multi-band receiver, I heard a message from the cutter to the Vishva Tirth saying they were present to pick up survivors if it or the Regina Maris went down. But it did not prove to be necessary and we all arrived safely in San Pedro 12 days after the tow began.

From San Pedro Lila, Joann and I returned to Santa Barbara, disposed of our filthy clothes, packed clean clothes, flew to Tahiti, spent two weeks there and in Bora Bora, then flew on to Australia. Four years later when applying to Harvard Joann described her experience on the Regina Maris in the essay that was part of the application. Her high school and SAT grades were very good; but the same was certainly true of the many others applying. After enrolling she came across a member of the selection committee who told her that her Regina Maris experience essay was of great interest to the committee and clinched her admittance.

I hope my experience will be interesting to people reading your blog.

Robert Eisberg

Friday, November 21, 2008

Regina Maris group on Facebook

I have just run into a Regina Maris group on FaceBook. I have joined it and posted some of my Regina Maris photos there. Please join us and share your photos and stories of your time aboard Regina.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Regina's Last Winter.

Frank Chillemi took a photo of Regina the last winter she was still afloat in Glen Cove Inlet. He was kind enough to send me the photo I have posted here.

It makes me sad to see Regina in such a sad shape but I always have the memories of the great times I had sailing aboard her. In my mind she is still afloat, sailing the sea, her canvas full of wind.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I Am Certifiable

Here is my certificate that proves I crossed the Equator aboard Regina in Agugust 1978. That day the students were called on deck, where members of the crew, their bodies covered in oil and bits of rope, welcomed us with open arms to intiate us land lubbers into the solemn mysteries of the ancient order of the deep. We would from that day be known as shellbacks. I can't say that has frequently come up in conversation. A few weeks later I had my left ear pierced by Debbie, a deckhand at the time, in celebration of my crossing of the Equator aboard Regina. I wear an earring to this day. If you know Debbie, thank her for me.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Me and Chuck

This photo takes me back almost thirty years. Chuck was the 3rd mate on the first leg of my Regina Maris trip. I was sixteen years old and had just graduated high school. Chuck taught me the art and science of celestial navigation with a sextant. One day he drew a circle on a nautical chart around our current position and made me a bet that if my first reading came in wthin five miles of our position he would buy me a beer when we got to the Galapagos. I won that bet by the slimmest margin. After that Chuck would refer to me as "Chris Columbus." He also gave me a second nickname. He would call me "The Vanishing Venezuelan Squid." I had a tendency to make myself scarce when there was unpleasant work to be done, therefore the nickname.

If anyone knows Chuck or how o contact him, let me know. I'd like to give him a call and remember old times.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Learning the Ropes

The first order of business after getting some sleep was learning the ropes, figuratively and literally. A square rigger needs miles of ropes to operate. As students we were required to learn what every rope did. They had us go on deck and assigned us to stations. I was stationed by the wet lab on the starboard side of the fore mast. My introduction to the rigging was a bit embarrassing. The first mate told me to take a rope and to pull on it when he gave the word. I had the rope off the belaying pin and I was ready. When he gave the word I pulled as hard as I could, nothing happened. I kept pulling on the rope and the damn thing would not move. I literally hung from the rope and it refused to budge. A few seconds later the first mate comes by and looks at me like I am an idiot. I explain to him that the rope is stuck. He gives me a second withering look and tells me to move aside. He grabbed the rope with one hand and tugged on it and the rope just fed right trough for him. When we were done my hands were raw. Handling the manila rope used on Regina’s rigging was like rubbing sandpaper over your hands.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sky, Moon & Studding Sails?

Christopher Golian (read the previous post), sent me this photo of the Regina Maris fore mast. When he was aboard the Regina she had two extra yards on the fore mast, a sky yard and a moon yard. I remember having to stow the royal sail during a gale and that was pretty damn high already. I recall that the shrouds didn't make it all the way to the yard and I had to grab a hold of the mast and shimmy the last couple of feet to the royal yard. That is not too bad in good weather, but it was blowing like mad and the mast was swinging quite a lot. I cannot begin to imagine what it woould have been like to get all the way to the top of a mast with two extra yardarms.

Another cool thing in this photo is the presence of a studding sail. I have seen a painting of the Regina in full sail including her studding sails but I never saw them in use.

If you have any photos of the Regina Maris, don't hesitate to email them to me. I'll be glad to post them on the blog.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Gross Tonnage Anyone?

Over the weekend Christopher Golian contacted me with a question. Chris is a former crewmate from 1971. He is applying for his Masters License and he needs to list the gross tonnage of the Regina Maris. I don't recall what the tonnage was even if I ever knew it. Perhaps someone out there recalls the gross tonnage of the Regina Maris. If you do, let me know and I'll pass the info along to Chris.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Adventure Begins

The year was 1978, I was sixteen years old. I was a high school senior in Caracas, Venezuela. I was about to graduate in July. My father knew I wanted to study marine biology and one of his friends had been on a cruise aboard a sailboat. This friend told my father about the cruise and suggested I might be interested. My father figured that it was a good idea. I could find out if I liked marine biology before I started college. I was two years younger than most of my other classmates, I could afford to take a year off while I explored the possibilities.

The Regina Maris was in Panama getting ready for a cruise to the Galapagos Islands. The cruise was starting soon. I had very little time to prepare. I remember my father helping me pack. He suggested that I would not need a lot of warm clothes since I was going to be in the tropics near the equator (boy was he wrong!). The very day after my graduation from high school I took a flight to Panama.

Thinking back about my trip I am surprised how unprepared I was. To begin with, I was not sure where Regina was. I had some rough directions. I knew she was in Balboa and that she had some connections to the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute. When I landed in Panama, I took a half hour taxi ride to STRI. Once there, they told me that Regina had gone somewhere else, I forget the specific place. I got directions and got back into the same taxi. This time I got lucky and Regina was right where she was supposed to be. She was at anchor and there was no boat at the dock to take me aboard. I asked around and nobody knew how to contact anyone aboard Regina. I took my bag and sat at the end of the dock. I waved my hands to try to attract attention but everyone was too busy to look my way. I gave up and sat down on the dock. Sometime later someone got into the Zodiac and came towards the dock. They had no idea I was coming, someone needed to go ashore and I got lucky. I finally made it aboard. I was shown below to my bunk. Being the last one aboard there was only one bunk left, the one right next to the galley.

The crew from the Regina was used to groceries from the US so they had brought the crates aboard without a second thought. Unfortunately there were some hidden passengers hitching a ride within the crates. The boat had been infested by roaches on their arrival to Panama. These passengers liked to hang out by the galley where the food was. The top bunk next to the galley was their favorite through way. I didn’t know this yet, I would find out later that night as I lay on my back. Instead of counting sheep, I counted the small roaches as they made their way back and forth along the top of my bunk. I suppose I should have protested but I was a shy boy at sixteen and in a very new environment. Frankly I didn’t know whether I could complain. Besides the roaches seemed to stay on their side of the bunk, at least while I was awake.

I had made it aboard somehow. I was the youngest student aboard. I was the only non-native English speaker and I had no idea what I was in for. The adventure had just begun.

To be continued…

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An Old Ship and the Sea

There is a good article about Regina in the community history section of The article by George DeWan talks about Harvey Oxenhorn's experiences aboard the Regina Maris. Harvey wrote a book entitled "Tuning the Rig" after a couple of expeditions aboard Regina. Tuning the rig is what sailors call the process of adjusting the tension of the rigging of a sailboat in order to achieve good performance.