Merrimac, finally the true story


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.


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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

3 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    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.

  2. Bill Bishop says:

    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.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Here’s a bit more info, including the name of the owner:
    The Wayback Machine reveals that Jean Rheault went on to race in the Mini Transit in 2001:
    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:
    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.

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