In the old days of wooden sailing vessels, small stones often made up the ballast. In California’s early history, trading vessels would sail up from Mexico to collect cargos of hides and tallow from the cattle ranches and haciendas. A favorite loading spot was Catalina Harbor, on the back side of Catalina Island. The ships would drop anchor there and unload their load of ballast stones at one side of the harbor. Today these stones from old Mexico form a long finger of land that curls out into the harbor in the shape of the letter C. The California Yacht Club (Marina Del Rey, California) has its “Ballast Point Station” there.
Ballasting is very important. Today, most vessels incorporate special tanks into which seawater can be pumped to ballast the vessel. Another approach is to pump water into an empty fuel tank. Some shipmasters are reluctant to do this unless absolutely necessary, because later the tank must be cleaned before it can be refilled with fuel—resulting in a possible delay. On occasion, this hesitancy has led to the loss of the vessel in a storm.
Captain Jerry Fee was the director of ship design for the U.S. Navy and also served as the president of the American Society of Naval Engineers for a number of years.6 When discussing ship design with Fee, I asked him how he came to be a ship designer. He told me that in addition to being a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and spending three years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in postgraduate naval engineering training, he spent five years on active duty on destroyers and then a number of years in the Navy’s salvage and repair operations. From these experiences, he developed firsthand knowledge of the effects of heavy weather on naval vessels, as the following incident shows.
“In February 1962, I was serving as junior officer of the deck on a Fletcher class destroyer—the USS Taylor—DD468,” said Fee. “We were involved in patrols and maneuvers about 100 nautical miles off of the east coast of Russia, west of the Aleutian islands and not far from Kamchatka in the Bering Sea. For four days the destroyer wallowed in extremely heavy seas so rough that the ward room was closed and the only meals were sandwiches grabbed at random. The Taylor rolled about 40 degrees in 30- to 40-foot-high waves during the storm, on occasion as much as 53 degrees—so much that from the flying bridge