Staying valuable by learning skills

Published on July 27th, 2020

Scuttlebutt founder Tom Leweck will tell the story of the long distance race when he was teamed up with Kimo Worthington, and came to realize he could do nothing better than Kimo.

While nothing to be ashamed of, as his ascent would lead to America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race victories, Tom still wondered why any yacht owner would want him when they can have a guy like Kimo.

However, Tom also knew what has since been told to every nipper seeking a ride on an offshore yacht: learn skills. At this moment in time, navigation was still many years away from digital charts, routing software, and GPS accuracy, and the skills for the job were not widely held.

So Tom learned navigation, stayed valuable, and holds the mark for having completed the most Mexican distance races (60). In this report by Dr. Paul F. Jacobs, we now have the background of the education:

I have been sailing for 65 years. I do not just like sailing, I LOVE sailing. Even at 81 my wife and I try to go sailing on Narragansett Bay (RI) as often as we can. But my story begins out west when long ago I lived in Pasadena, CA,

In early 1970 my partner George Baker and I decided we would sail our Lapworth 36 Woodwynd in the 1971 TransPac Race. But to do this we needed a navigator, at a time long before GPS, and when Loran and RDF navigation were limited to coastal regions.

As a Ph.D. in physics I decided that I would teach myself Celestial Navigation since the math would not be a problem. Thus began a love affair with a method I personally believe was and remains one of the triumphs of the human mind.

Practicing from the Santa Monica pier, with an ancient 1944 Bendix bubble octant, and later from Woodwynd in Santa Monica Bay, my initial “fixes” were pretty awful (+/- 10 NM). However, like so many things in life, practice may not make perfect, but it surely helps make things better.

Within a month or so I had finally achieved some pretty small LOP triangles (+/- 1 NM), my confidence had improved, and the rest of the crew were no longer concerned about “missing the islands.”.

The race itself lives in my memory all these many years later. We did not win the race. We did not win our class. But the feeling of obtaining a three star fix the night before we finally spotted Haleakela the next morning was nothing short of euphoric.

After the race many friends wanted to know how one actually did Celestial Navigation. Checking with the relevant authorities and getting approval to use the club in the evenings, I decided to teach “Introduction to Celestial Navigation” as a 10 week / two hour per session / one night per week course at Pacific Mariners Yacht Club, in Marina del Rey, where I was a member.

I was very pleasantly surprised when about 40 people signed up, so I decided to break the group up into two 20 person classes that would meet on two nights per week. Much driving back and forth between Pasadena and Marina del Rey was offset by the incredible pleasure of teaching something I love to people who were there because they really wanted to learn the subject.

As fate would have it, one of the students was Tom Leweck. I already knew him from local racing, and he soon became one of the best students I ever taught. He quickly picked up all of the central concepts, asked excellent questions, and indicated that he really wanted to learn Celestial Navigation to further enhance his ability to navigate in various Mexican races.

Tom went on to become one of the best, and most sought-after navigators on the west coast.

Well, one thing led to another, the course went well, I wrote a monograph entitled “Introduction to Celestial Navigation,”, used it in subsequent classes, and taught the course for about 10 years out of PMYC. Ultimately, life changes and a new job caused me to move to Rhode Island, where I subsequently was invited by the Museum of Yachting at Fort Adams in Newport, RI to teach the course for another three years.

Having moved from CA to RI, I lost track of many old sailing friends, but one name I will always remember was Tom Leweck. He was not only the best student I ever had, he was a wonderful sailor and an even nicer human being.

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