White Squall - the Last Voyage of Albatross
by Langford, Richard E.
pub. by Bristol Fashion Publications, Inc., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1967 / 2001     isbn - 1-892216-36-1 - - 122 p. - - black and white photos
If you have ever wondered about the accuracy of the motion picture White Squall this book will satisfy your curiosity. In short it is a narrative of the last voyage of the Albatross a sailing school ship. The Albatross was rigged as a hermaphrodite brig with 4 squaresails on the foremast and a marconi (fore and aft sail) on the mainmast. It was 92 ft. long and had a 21 ft. beam. It was built in 1929 and was originally rigged as a schooner. Langford was hired as the English teacher for the voyage. He and 2 of the other adults (John Perry = JC the Math teacher and the cook = Spook) formed a close association and often took time off in port together, discovering what was to be seen and experienced there. In the second chapter he introduces the reader to each of the people on board, giving a short sketch about them. They were a mixed group. The captain was Christopher Sheldon had sailed with Irving Johnson aboard his fameous Yankee (featured in National Geographic Magazine). He met Alice aboard Yankee and eventually married her. Alice (who was an MD) was the only woman aboard the Albatross. The voyage started in mid September 1960 sailing from Mystic Seaport, Connecticut to Bermuda. From there they sailed to Tortola BWI and cruised the eastern Caribbean for 5 months. They celebrated Christmas in Grenada. They motored through the Panama Canal and sailed to the Galapagos Islands visiting there and studying what is to be learned, then sailed back through the Panama Canal stopping to visit the San Blas Indians for a memorable visit. They stopped in Progresso, Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula then sailed for southern Florida, they never made it. On May 2, 1961 a front caught them in mid Gulf of Mexico and in that front there was what is sometimes known as a white squall. What was probably a micro-burst from it knocked the vessel over on her beam ends before sail could be shortened. There were enough deck openings that, as the Albatross was held on her side by the wind, she filled and sank. Six went down with her. Sheldon had the presence of mind to order the ships longboats cut free so they would float, which they did. The surviving adults and boys managed to empty the longboats and begin sailing to Florida. After a day and a half they were picked up by a freighter and taken to Florida. Sheldon, the captain, survived and led the self-rescue and beginning to sail to Florida, his wife Alice did not, and went down with the boat.
This book is an engaging read. More of a rememberance than more technical book on the disaster. After a long study of the situation regulations were created to inspect school ships for stability. Re-rigging the Albatross from a schooner to having a square rigged foremast changed stability to the extent that it greatly contributed to the sinking.
~ 2009-12-18 ~

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