Panbo

Merrimac, finally the true story

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jul 6, 2005

MERRMAC3

Above is the yacht Merrimac supposedly just days after fetching up on Sable Island’s notorious “swallowing sands” in 1999. The dramatic pictures (another here) started kicking around on the Web years ago, and I first saw them referenced in a snippy e-mail bemoaning the dangers of marine electronics.  “A popular theory is that the autopilot was driven by the GPS and sailed a great-circle route, which took the Merrimac to more northerly latitude than intended.” I thought it was hokum at the time and wrote, “The implication seems to be that the operator of the boat was somehow gulled by his or her gizmos. I don’t think so. If the story is true that the crew hadn’t been checking their location on a chart, then the level of incompetence was profound. And traditional navigation can be done incompetently too (believe me, I know).” Now the current issue of BoatUS’s valuable publication Seaworthy (the “Marine Insurance and Damage Avoidance Report”) tells of a witness to the grounding who says the skipper had in fact plotted his Atlantic crossing on a paper chart and was right on course; the problem was that he used a hurricane plotting sheet that omitted Sable Island! In other words, what you see is the result of traditional navigation done badly.  

By the way, I went looking for the obscure site where the pictures—even a graphic of the bogus great circle theory—used to live, and it’s long gone. BUT the amazing WaybackMachine has nine versions of the page as it evolved between 1/2002 and 10/2003. What a phenomenal resource.

 

Comments

Weird Web dept: Someone with the handle "Urinal Cakes" posted that old sunk-in-the-sand Merrimac photo on Redit, a commenter referenced this entry, and Panbo got more than 14,000 unique visits on Thursday and Friday instead of the normal 6,000. Of course they didn't stay long, and probably have no interest in marine electronics anyway, but I'll have a stat spike to explain forever.

Posted by: Ben at April 21, 2012 9:43 AM | Reply

Thanks Ben, The Internet is indeed an odd and mercurial thing. I did some poking around, and I found some pictures from the time of the wreck, and pictures from much later. If you click on the pics there is some dialog about the event.
http://www.greenhorsesociety.com/Shipwrecks/Shipwrecks.htm

Posted by: Bill Bishop at April 22, 2012 9:34 AM | Reply

Here's a bit more info, including the name of the owner:

http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mma/wrecks/wrecks/shipwrecks.asp?ID=3334

The Wayback Machine reveals that Jean Rheault went on to race in the Mini Transit in 2001:

http://web.archive.org/web/20030204092607/http://www.oceanenergie.com/actualites.htm

And later he apparently took a J-41 (just like Merrimac) to Cambodia, had it beautifully redone, and may now be using it for charter and racing:

http://souay1.com/

I'd like to ask him what actually happened on that bad night in 1999, but can't find an email link, and he might not want to talk about it anyway.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Bill Bishop at April 22, 2012 10:24 AM | Reply

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