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Voyaging Under Power
By Robert P. Beebe, Denis Umstot
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 International Marine
All rights reserved.
Robert Beebe: An Introduction
Born in 1909 and raised as an "Army brat" (his own description), Robert Beebe was introduced to his lifelong passion as a young child. His interest and love for all things nautical began with his experiences in a dugout canoe given to him by his father, the commanding officer of a garrison on the island of Zamboanga in the Philippines.
Recalling his childhood, Captain Robert Beebe states:
I don't think one day passed that we were not out on those marvelous, clear, tropical waters right in front of our quarters. I have never forgotten those days and have been a tropics buff ever since, and a boat nut as well. In a dugout canoe my brother and I, together with some of the neighboring kids, fought more pirates, found more buried treasure, and raised more mysterious shores than any kid today possibly could in the present-day outboard-driven dinks.
Throughout adolescence, Beebe's experience and skill grew, and he began to develop an appreciation for the technical aspects of the various sailing dinghies and small cruisers he had sailed aboard. He studied the few periodicals of the day and paid particular attention to the "How to Build" articles by William Atkin that appeared in Motorboating. As he neared completion of his primary school education, aviation caught his interest, and he was faced with a decision: whether to study aeronautical engineering at MIT or enter the Naval Academy at Annapolis. In the end, his lifelong love of the water drew him to Navy service and Annapolis, where the Academy offered plenty of opportunities to hone his already keen sailing skills, along with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Graduating in 1931 and becoming a naval aviator in 1933, Beebe spent his first fleet tour in the San Diego/Long Beach area. It was there on the West Coast that he began to think of an oceangoing cruising sailboat for himself and his new bride. When it became apparent to the Beebes that his next tour of duty would be in the Hawaiian Islands, they searched for a vessel capable of crossing the Pacific and suitable for cruising the islands. They located a partially completed 30-footer that seemed perfectly suited for the voyage. Beebe later related:
We inspected the boat. She was set up in her own building shed in what is now Newport Beach. The hull was practically complete, and all the material for her rigging and interior was present. All the workmanship was beautiful, all fastenings the best, lead keel, bronze hardware, and so on. She was an Atkin design, number 311, and had never been given a name. She was one of his double-enders. Many vessels of this size go to Hawaii every year, but in 1936 we didn't get much encouragement.
The problem was getting her done in time. We checked everywhere and had several builders in to give us an estimate, more of time than money. We reluctantly had to conclude there was practically no chance for us to get her in time for a proper shakedown and passage before I had to report to Hawaii. We let her go. I've often wished since then we had been a little bolder. She was really an exceptional vessel. The next year a member of the services did sail out for duty in Hawaii—(then) Colonel George S. Patton, U.S. Army, arrived in an Alden schooner.
Stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1936, Beebe found himself piloting the biplane flying boats of the era over the waters west of Hawaii. The Pearl Harbor Yacht Club had a fleet of eight Herreshoff S-class sloops, two of which belonged to the commanding officers of the air station and navy yard. Beebe became sailing officer, responsible for all maintenance of the two vessels, which allowed him to participate in almost every one of the weekly races. What he learned from competitive sailing in the rugged conditions around the island of Oahu would be formative: "I developed a profound admiration for the Herreshoff S and, by extension, a liking for heavy keelboats in general."
His continuing desire to own a cruiser with live-aboard accommodations was as strong as ever, and his experience with the S boats caused him to develop his own ideas about a suitable design. "I started sketching my own ideas, and it was soon apparent I didn't know beans about how to go about it."
Beebe ordered a copy of a newly published book called Yacht Designing and Planning, by Howard I. Chapelle.
I must have read through that book a half-dozen times. It certainly changed my life. Where formerly I had been content to sail in what I could find without much thought as to whether the boats were really good or not, now the fundamentals explained in Chapelle's book led my thoughts to how things could be improved, the advantages of certain shapes, and the influence of various factors.
Beebe continued to develop his own rough sketches, and when time permitted he read the published works of other designers. He began to correspond with William Atkin about his ideas. When his tour of duty in Hawaii ended, he returned to Annapolis for postgraduate studies, where he developed a friendship with his mentor, Howard Chapelle. Chapelle's sharpie designs greatly appealed to Beebe for sailing in shallow Chesapeake waters, and after a visit with the designer in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Beebe returned to Annapolis with a set of Chapelle plans in hand. He commissioned a local Annapolis yard to build a 34-foot sharpie, christened Sara Reid after his mother.
Beebe sailed his new ketch every chance he got and was so impressed by her performance that he wrote numerous articles about her, the first of which appeared in the August 1939 issue of Yachting. The next 40 years saw many articles by Robert Beebe in the most popular boating magazines, and not all of a purely technical nature. Beebe developed the skills of an excellent storyteller, and his adventures gave him a constant supply of new material. He tells of a particular experience aboard the Sara Reid that undoubtedly influenced his lifework:
Working to windward once in the company of a 40-foot ketch, we were in the center of the bay (Chesapeake) with a south wind of 22 knots blowing against an outgoing tide. Naturally we could not hold the ketch under those conditions. We started our borrowed 2-horsepower outboard and ran it at half speed. The Sara Reid caught and passed the ketch both pointing and footing—the best illustration I have ever seen of the effect of a bit of power in windward work.
1939 marked the beginning of World War II, and Beebe found himself called to Florida as a training officer, producing much-needed carrier pilots. He found time to sail the Sara Reid south, and it was while sailing aboard his agile sharpie on the north end of Biscayne Bay on a beautiful winter's day that Beebe learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was no time now to think of yachting.
With his accumulated experience and training, Beebe was given command of an air squadron in the Pacific. But then the unexpected happened:
Well, we did go West, and I did get command of a dive bombing squadron. Unfortunately, just as our air group was ready to proceed to the South Pacific, I had to be hospitalized for some necessary surgery. My squadron went off and left me, and by the time I returned to duty, I was sent to the USS Saratoga as a ship's officer, where I became navigator of this aircraft carrier, one of the world's largest ships, and served in her the rest of the war.
Regardless of how I might have felt at losing my squadron, from the point of view of yacht design, no job could have been better. The navigator's duties, while extremely important, were not overwhelmed with the details of a department with hundreds of men. He did have some free time. In addition, he had at hand an excellent source of drafting paper because so many of the ship's charts were made obsolete by later ones, a process that went on with amazing speed as we probed deeper into the South Pacific. In addition, while the ship was underway, which was most of the time, the navigator was on the bridge and in his charthouse. This kept him out of such mundane distractions as bridge games in the wardroom and encouraged industry. The result was the production of a good bit of work in several fields.
It was this sequence of events that likely sealed Beebe's fate—becoming a designer/authority whose expertise would ultimately equal those for whom he had such great respect.
At the war's end, Beebe had amassed a considerable amount of design work on cruising sailboats, particularly sharpies similar to Sara Reid. Beebe's now close friend Howard Chapelle admitted that he could not justify working on the sharpies for clients who were so value-conscious that they were unwilling or unable to pay a reasonable designer's fee. Beebe, considering himself an amateur and with a primary income paying his bills, took referral work of this type from Chapelle for a number of years.
Robert Beebe proved to be a very modest man. Even in 1980 he continued to refer to himself as an amateur, but note how he qualified the term and considered it an important ingredient in his success in the field of long-range seagoing motorboats:
Certainly I have sold plans from time to time since the earliest days of learning the art. But at no time have I been under any compulsion to try to make designing my principal source of income. I think this is the key. A professional yacht designer is anyone who intends to make designing his primary source of income. He may fail, of course, but if he does have this intention, he is under certain constraints that do not affect the amateur. He must, for instance, seek out the most active and popular field of design of his day and try to carve a niche there. Recently this field has been the so-called cruiser-racer sailing vessel. And here he must work in the restrictions of the rules in vogue, regardless of his own ideas. However much he may wish to experiment and advance the art, he must judge his work not on whether it is, in fact, a new breakthrough, but on what is saleable. An amateur does not labor under any of these restraints. He is free to go where his interest leads him.
Beebe's experience and enthusiasm for sail and his extensive design work in the field were all a solid foundation for his developing concept of passagemaking in specially designed motorboats. The thought process could not have evolved without the sailing experience and possibly the "amateur" association with naval architecture. It should be remembered that in the late 1950s when Beebe was developing his Passagemaker concept, long-range cruising in small motor-boats was almost unheard of.
Let's move now to Robert Beebe's introduction to his vessel Passagemaker and some of the history that led up to her design.
Historical Background of Power Voyaging
Robert Beebe, 1974
It was the last day. As I came on deck for the 0400–0800 watch, a faint light in the east showed the horizon clear, with brilliant stars overhead. There would be a good fix on this, our landfall day.
Sipping a mug of coffee while waiting for sight time, I had much to think about: the years of research and theorizing, the days and weeks of drawing plans, the months of watching the vessel grow in the builder's yard—a vessel whose highly unusual makeup we hoped would prove my theories—the sea trials, the first miles of our cruise, the ports we visited, the weather. Everything. Now, just ahead lay Rhodes, one of the fabled islands of Greece.
My thoughts went back even further: to World War II. Like so many other armchair long-cruise planners, I found myself transported to the South Pacific under circumstances that had never entered my wildest dreams. There, as navigator of the aircraft carrier Saratoga, I observed firsthand the conditions small cruising boats would meet after the war. It was this experience that first turned me toward a vessel distinctly different from traditional long-range types. Now, as we neared Rhodes, the work begun on the bridge of the old Saratoga had passed from dream to reality, and the reality was carrying me and my crew northward across the Mediterranean on this clear, calm morning toward the castle of the Knights Hospitalers.
The yacht Passagemaker was about to complete her first voyage in six weeks to the day we had made the passage to Greece from Singapore. Almost six thousand miles of calms, brisk breezes, and gales lay astern. And through it all, our ocean-crossing motorboat had chugged steadily along, averaging exactly her designed passage speed of 7.5 knots.
I knew now that crossing oceans in owner-operated small craft in the 40- to 50-foot range, under power alone and using crews by no means made up of rough-and-tough seamen, worked well. I had also learned what I'd only suspected before: that a very good case could be made for the power approach over sail for all long voyages.
To generations of seamen brought up on tales of long voyages in small sailing craft, such statements must sound like heresy. Some years ago, I too would have counted myself among those seamen. But certain experiences, certain selective reading with a critical eye, and certain designing in new directions had finally convinced me that it was possible on long voyages to do better. It is the evolution of the theory, its testing with Passagemaker, what we learned, and what can be recommended for the future that this book is all about.
This book, then, is about voyaging under power as contrasted with voyaging under sail. While a vast literature exists about deep-sea cruising under sail, there is little in print about long-range power voyaging. Of course, many of the problems encountered at sea are similar in both cases. But the power approach does differ from sail in several important ways that need consideration. To cite just one example: the naval architecture rules that govern the speed and range of a long-range motorboat are quite rigid and must be thoroughly understood before selecting such a craft or operating it to the limits of its ability. On the other hand, the sailing cruiser, with its "free" propulsion power, is largely independent of these rules.
Of course, I have nothing against cruising under sail. The long sailing cruises I have made have all been great fun. But, there are certain conditions and certain groups of sailors for whom the power approach has definite advantages. It is for those sailors this book is written.
It was the search for a retirement boat that led me to consider power as an alternative to sail. The more I looked into it, the more interesting it became, until the years spent pursuing the matter finally led to the building of our 50- foot Passagemaker. Some sixty thousand miles of deep-water cruising in her, including three ocean crossings, a round-trip to Hawaii, and two East Coast–West Coast passages taught me much that can be safely passed on to those who share this interest. Of course, during those years I exchanged experiences with the few others who had background in this narrow field, considered the features of other ocean-crossing motorboats, and studied the work of other designers.
One of the first things I undertook when I decided to embark on the design of a long-range motorboat was research in the history of the boat type. It is a scanty field, but useful lessons can be learned from what material is available.
Early Atlantic Crossings
There were two early small-boat voyages across the Atlantic under power; both were made to demonstrate the reliability of the internal combustion engines then coming into use in boats. The first voyage was by the Abiel Abbot Low, using a kerosene engine. In 1902, she crossed from New York to Falmouth, England, in thirty-eight days. The second voyage was by the motorboat Detroit in 1912. She used a gasoline engine to cross from New York to Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, in twenty-eight days. What lessons have we learned from these two pioneer efforts?
My first impression after reading the logs of the Low and the Detroit was that the voyages were excellent examples of what not to do. With due regard for the guts of the crews, it is clear that the designers and builders had a lot to learn. This is understandable, of course, because no one had attempted such a voyage. Possibly more important, the men involved in these projects had their major training in sail.
It must have been this sail background, for instance, that produced the astonishing layout of Detroit. She was 35 feet long with a 9-foot beam and a 4-foot 6-inch draft. She was double-ended and resembled a lifeboat in that she had high shelters bow and stern. Amidships she was lowsided, and in the center of this deck space was the steering station—a stand-up wheel with no shelter whatsoever. The watchstander was supposed to stand there with no handholds and steer the vessel while waves washed across the deck from either side. Fantastic! Here was a station well laid out for the watch to keep an eye on the sails—but no sails!
Understandably enough, this feature caused a good deal of discontent among the crew of four when Detroit entered the open Atlantic. However, the engine performed flawlessly, and Detroit arrived in Queenstown in good order.
Excerpted from Voyaging Under Power by Robert P. Beebe. Copyright © 2013 by International Marine. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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