In response to the ‘Help Wanted’ posted by Robert Anderson, Shetland in the February 2019 issue of Sea Breezes.
I was involved in the International Geophysical Year “Mohole” Project in the early 1960s. The US were looking for the thinnest part of the Earth’s crust to the East of the West Indies (specifically Antigua and Guadeloupe). I did most of the navigation for that phase. An earlier phase had been conducted near Hawaii. They had equipped the two seismic ships, Owen Tide and Mrs Maggie with Decca HiFix/LoFix systems. There were two British Decca operators employed, but, unfortunately, I don’t recall their names.
The vessels departed from Antigua in the morning and steamed about 100 miles out into the Atlantic during which time the equipment worked splendidly. Come evening, operations stopped for the night and they launched a huge orange buoy with a heavy dangling length of chain underneath. During the night, they kept a search light trained on this buoy and were expecting to restart operations in the morning, exactly where they left off. What they failed to consider was A: that the ocean currents took both ship and buoy up to 70/80 miles away from where they left off and B: the Decca system lost its lane count in the hours of darkness. Result – in the morning they hadn’t a damned clue where they were.
They tried this for several trips until the truth dawned that the temporary base unit was far too far away from the operational area and not strong enough. Answer – they needed an old-fashioned navigator and they didn’t have one. Their US Gov bosses told them to find one, but he had to “be qualified”! At that time, I was crewing and skippering a charter yacht out of Antigua and some bright spark suggested my name to these guys. I was very happy where I was and had no desire to jump ship onto an uncomfortable tub wallowing out in the Atlantic. They pinned me down at the bar in the Admiral’s Inn at English Harbour and tried for about three hours to get me to agree as I was the only person on the island with a certificate. I repeatedly refused until they told me that I would be paid in cash at the rate of around $1,000/day and the contract would be for about a month. It took me about 30 mins to collect my kit and my sextant and hop on board the Mrs Maggie.
Each morning I got called about 5.30, up to the top of the rolling wheelhouse I went and somehow managed to provide them with a reasonably accurate position on which they reset the Decca. All sort of confirmed with a noon site every day. Job done. Read a few books and ate well. Packed up with my pocket full of dollars at the end of about 27 days followed by three days plotting the vessel’s daily movements on a big chart, gave up the chartering and treated myself to a passage home at their expense as a first-class passenger on a Geest Line banana boat.