Recent Events of the MTBE
On March 6th, 2004, James Barry and Hui-min Tsen formally announced The Mt. Baldy Expedition at Dogmatic Gallery in Chicago. The lecture gave an overview of the expedition including information on the history of Mt. Baldy, dune formation, and predecessors in exploration such as Ferdinand Magellan, Enrique de Malacca, and the Polynesian navigators.
Throughout May, The Mt. Baldy Expedition participated in The School of The Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA exhibition. James Barry and Hui-min Tsen met with visitors to discuss the expedition in detail during the Opening Reception and the SAIC President’s Council Tour. They also displayed sixteen black & white images from their series “Exploratory Photographs: Water and Sky, Chicago Lakefront” (see sidebar for photo-album of the series).
The MTBE's First Navigational Instrument
The Mt. Baldy Expedition has recently purchased its first sextant, the Davis Instruments Standard Mark 3. A sextant, when used in conjunction with a Nautical Almanac and timepiece, can tell you your latitudinal position. Shortly after learning how to “shoot the sun” (measure the angle between the sun and the horizon), we discovered celestial navigation can only be used within a five mile margin of error. Consequently, it is difficult to use on a small journey, but we discovered that a sextant can also be used as a pelorus, or “dumb compass,” by laying it on its side.
A pelorus is a navigational instrument that is frequently mounted on a compass and used to find one’s location by measuring the angles between landmarks and triangulating your position. Its legendary creator, Pelorus, used his invention to lead Hannibal through the Alps during the 2nd Punic War. Later in their journey, Hannibal threw Pelorus overboard when he incorrectly thought he had been led him astray. A Sicilian promontory on the Strait of Messina still bears Pelorus’ name marking his place of death. We think a pelorus would be useful on our voyage.
A Brag Flag: The Official History of the MTBE Nautical Ensignia
We are happy to announce that we now have our own Mt. Baldy Expedition flag. It is a three-color pennant: yellow for the sands of Mt. Baldy, blue for the waters of Lake Michigan, and red for luck and the passion of exploration. The horizontal yellow and blue fields create the horizon line we must cross to reach Mt. Baldy, and the red semi-circle is the “mountain” itself. The red field, our origin, represents the impulse for discovery pushing us forward to the mountain and into the future of exploration.
We designed the flag as a distraction while writing the script to our announcement lecture but soon realized that a great deal of research was needed to make sure our pennant wasn’t sending false signals, breaking international laws, or going against nautical etiquette. We began looking into vexillology, the study of flags. Vexillology took its name from the earliest known flag, the vexilloid, which was a small emblem or sculpture placed on a pole and used by the Egyptians as early as 1000 BC.
Prior to the radio, flags comprised the primary method of communication from ship to ship and ship to shore. An entire language of signal flags developed that is still in use today. The International Code of Signal Flags consists of 40 flags made from combinations of red, white, black, yellow and blue -- the only colors easily distinguishable at sea. Twenty-six of the flags represent the letters of the Roman alphabet, ten flags represent the Arabic numerals, three are used as repeaters or substitutes, and one is for “code.” In addition to the letter or number it represents, each flag has it own individual meaning, such as:
The flags have additional meanings when used in combination:
Signals between ships also took the form of semaphore, a system where sailors hold small flags, one in each hand with arms extended, and position them at different angles to signify letters.
Our flag is technically called a “burgee," a flag that shows a boat's an affiliation to an organization, and is commonly called a “brag flag.” We had it fabricated at North Sails Midwest by their sail-maker, Luke. We chose a sail-maker so the flag would be as durable as our sails under the extreme conditions encountered on the water.
Our trip to North Sails came during the beginning of our outreach into the Chicago sailing world. The sail loft is in the same building as Boater’s World, a marine supply store, and Captain’s Emporium, a trophy maker for sailors. After dropping off the flag pattern with Luke, we went next door to Boater’s World to continue our research. We bought Royce’s Sailing Illustrated "The Sailor’s Bible since ’56" and a laminated copy of Rules of the Road: The Rules of Good Seamanship. Having little (and no) Lake Michigan sailing experience, we asked if they had a book about it; they didn’t, but the salesperson cheerfully introduced us to some of the sailors in the store and took us back to the Captain’s Emporium to meet the chair of the Chicago Racing Committee. All of our conversations with sailors have been similar: we ask questions and explain the project, they in turn ask about the Pelican and our route. After learning it isn’t a suicide mission, they are friendly and helpful, gladly giving advice on hypothermia, riptides, and squalls. Many of them have done the trip themselves in bigger boats and readily identify with the wonder of common-place exploration. One sailor even asked to come with us.
Michael Thomas, the owner and operator of Dogmatic Gallery, has donated to the MTBE an office space in his gallery (1822 S. DesPlaines, Chicago). Please visit us on Saturdays from 12-5 PM through July 17th.
Ginger Wolfe of InterReview Magazine (interreview.org) has become an MTBE sponsor. Look for our advertisement in her online magazine and an article about the MTBE in the upcoming issue.
Hui-min is currently crewing for the Penguin Fleet of the Columbia Yacht Club at Monroe Harbor, Chicago.
We are continuing our historical research of exploration. At present, we are studying Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole, Sir Robert Falcon Scott, the second person to reach the South Pole, and the pirate, hydrographer William Dampier.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments about the project or to receive information on becoming an MTBE donor.