The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter

The Northern California Chapter of The Explorers Club presents:

Captain Lawson W. Brigham (FN-92)




DINNER MEETING - Friday, December 6, 1996, Admiral Nimitz Conference Center, Treasure Island (see map )

  • 6:00 PM, Business meeting
  • 6:30 PM, Cocktails
  • 7:30 PM, Dinner
  • 8:30 PM, Speaker
  • $35.00 each


    Lawson Brigham served as a U.S. Coast Guard Officer from 1970 to 1995. Much of his later years were served in the polar seas. At the end of his career, as a Captain, he was Commanding Officer of the icebreaker Polar Sea during expeditions to both ends of the globe.


    Lawson is a true Explorer, with at least one, and perhaps more firsts to his credit. Hear (and see) how, why and where he did it.

    Lawson Brigham's talk will be centered on the Arctic Ocean, but it begins at the southernmost location navigable by ship, along the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. There he captained the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Polar Sea just seven months before, in an impressive venture in its own right, which will also be discussed. After bringing the ship to the far north he then took it across the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Svalbard through the Geographic North Pole.

    As an oceanographer as well as seaman, Captain Brigham commanded the Polar Sea while a scientific party of 70 from the United States and Canada conducted scientific studies on the atmosphere, sea ice, water column (4000 meters depth), and sea bed. Polar bears were observed and tracked and tagged along the entire track to the Pole. Brigham's expedition completed the first oceanographic transit of the Arctic Ocean, gathering a wealth of scientific data which, it is hoped, will provide a better understanding of the role of the Arctic ocean in global environmental change.


    The expedition also included an historic rendezvous near the North Pole, of polar icebreakers from the three largest Arctic nations - Canada (the Louis St. Laurent) Russia (the nuclear icebreaker Yamal), and the United States (the Polar Sea).

    Captain Brigham is currently conducting polar research in the Office of Naval Research, as Arctic Chair, at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He is also a Ph.D. candidate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.



    Peter McMillan, the master-mind, co-builder and co-pilot, with Australian, Lang Kidby, of the 19|94 Vimy Project, was present to describe in detail the events of, and leading up to, the flight of the WW I Vickers Vimy bomber replica from England to Australia. This was a recreation of the first aircraft overflight of the British Empire, in 1919. The first Vimy was flown by its pilots, Ross Smith and his brother, from Newfoundland to Ireland (9 years before Lindberg's transatlantic flight) and then 11,000 miles from London to Darwin, Australia.

    The replica, built by McMillan and his crew in a hangar at Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County between 1990 and 1994, was ferried to England after its flight trials here. It then took the trip from Farnborough, England, to Darwin, Australia, attempting to follow the original plane's path. This trip then continued on another 3000 miles across Australia, to Adelaide.

    Ross Smith, who had been Lawrence-of-Arabia's personal pilot during the war, thought up the idea to fly the length of the British Empire after the war ended, and eventually embarked about a year later. The original flight was not without its excitements, but was immensely successful. The reader can experience the vicarious thrill of that adventure by reading Smith's account, published as "The Greatest Flight".

    The modern-day undertaking experienced some serious difficulties not encountered by the first. McMillan and his crew, first of all, soon found that they would not be able to fly the replica plane across the Atlantic as the Smith brothers had. The modern engines, Chevrolet "342"s, are much heavier and consume at least 50% more fuel than the originals, making it impossible to carry enough fuel for the transatlantic crossing. At a top speed of approximately 75 mph the aircraft had the capability of traveling only about 700 miles in a day, at the maximum.

    McMillan and crew, in addition to all the plans for the plane itself, had access to the detailed reports and plans for the original flight. To their disappointment they learned they could not exactly duplicate the Smith's itinerary because of the necessity to avoid the airspace of certain of the mideast countries. This did add to the length of their flight and their flight time. Since their plane had no navigational aids they were limited to fair-weather flying at relatively low altitudes, especially after the first day, when they became lost flying into a fog over the English Channel. Had it not been for the support of their National Geographic crew, and a hand-held two-way radio for communication, they may have ended their attempt early and ignominiously.

    One of the most difficult challenges for the modern day crew came when one of their engines seized over Sumatra, requiring them to make a forced landing in an abandoned rice-paddy. Not only was their engine defunct, but their landing gear was buried in 2-3 feet of mud and water. In a tribute to both old and new technologies, this apparently overwhelming disaster was overcome when their support crew was able to fly a replacement engine into a nearby abandoned airstrip, the engine was replaced, bullock teams pulled the plane up out of the mire, and then a makeshift airstrip was contrived from the woven walls of the dwellings of most of the inhabitants of a nearby village, laid end-to-end to create a rolling surface of sufficient length to allow takeoff- with no previous practice attempts.

    Suffice to say, the team arrived in Darwin 42 days (and 183 flying hours) after its departure. The original flight had taken only 28 days (135 flying hours). To this McMillan added another 85 hours crossing Australia.

    The team was daunted by the realization that the size and weight of their present-day engines did not allow for a transatlantic flight, but plans are now afoot for the construction of low-revolution low-compression light-weight engines which will allow them to reconstruct that portion of the original flight also.

    Accompanying McMillan and his crew was a National Geographic crew of 23, two support aircraft, and National Geographic photographer Jim Stanfield, who occupied the gunner's seat through much of the flight. When he wasn't in his usual place out at the front of the plane he was standing secured to the wing, in a spot behind the pilots, for some of the spectacular views shown in Peter's still and video photos.

    This was indeed a presentation not to be missed, as had been predicted. If you were unlucky enough to have missed it anyway, you can experience, in a small way, some of the vicarious thrills by viewing and reading Peter's article in the May, 1996, issue of National Geographic magazine.

    Peter is an EC member from the New York chapter, but has recently relocated back to the Bay Area, and we hope to hear and see much more of him in the future.


    Though there was not a formal Northern California Chapter Explorers Club meeting in October, there was the gala GOLDEN GATEAWAY, which was a year in preparation, and which was a runaway success. Here is Chairman Bob Schmieder's account of it:

    As predicted, the GateAway , held in San Francisco on 18-19 October, 1996, was completely sold out two weeks in advance. For the Friday evening Exotics Encounter we had about 200 people. During the day Saturday, about 80 people participated in a variety of activities around the Bay Area, including trips to Ron Reuther's Air Museum, Drakes Bay, and Marin Headlands. Saturday night 332 people attended the black-tie Grand Gathering. We had three Corporate Patrons and 44 individual benefactors. I believe I can safely say that the entire event went off on schedule and on budget. The event realized a modest profit for the memorial exploration grant for which it was designed.

    We were treated to the presence of a dazzling array of world-famous speakers, including Buzz Aldrin, Frank Drake, Paul McCready, Kathy Sullivan, Hugh Downs, Don Walsh, and Jim Fowler and his animal friends. Don Walsh, who made the first and only dive to the deepest place in the ocean, was a gracious substitute for Sylvia Earle, who canceled just as the program went to press. We were graced by the presence of three Club past-presidents, John Levinson, Charlie Brush, and Nick Sullivan. The current president, Fred McLaren, regrettably did not attend.

    The GateAway gave a lot for quite a low price. We offered three major activities over the weekend, at a base cost of $105 for members. The food at both the Exotics Encounter and the Grand Gathering was superb, and the ambiance was world-class. When the home office in New York failed to send us a flag for the occasion, we made a gold one that sparkled like champagne. Jim Fowler exhibited several exotic cats, including a civet and a leopard. He got a great laugh when he enlisted 6 helpers to measure a (very long) python.

    We are giving serious consideration to making this an annual event. If we do, we would look forward to your participation. This decision must be made within a month or so. Any input you may have on this decision will be most welcome. A report on the GateAway is posted on our Web pages at:

    Martha and I want to extend our sincerest thanks to all who worked so hard to make the GateAway happen. We know this event could not have been the success it was without the help and support of many people. We truly had a great time, and would love to do it again. For those of you who missed the GateAway, well, there might just be next year.


    Each year at the December meeting the Chapter elects officers for the coming year. Chairman Schmieder has asked Nonna Cheatham to oversee the nominations, and they are as follows:

    Chairman: Bob Schmieder, FN-82, for reelection.
    Vice-Chairman: Bill Isherwood, FN-70, for re-election.
    Treasurer: Folger (Jerry) Athearn, MN-82.
    Secretary: Charles Geraci, MN-92, for reelection.
    Webmaster: Mike Diggles, FN-92, for reelection.

    Formal election will occur at the December 5 meeting.

    Current Chairman Schmieder has written a campaign speech, and here it is:

    The Northern California Chapter has demonstrated that it is perhaps the preeminent Chapter in the Explorers Club. Not only have we successfully carried out the 1996 Golden GateAway, but we also are leading in attracting new members to the Club, and we are financially successful. We have much to brag about, and many new opportunities. I would suggest we concentrate on the following five:

    1. Consolidation of our formal structure. We need to bring our by-laws, procedures, and legal status up to date. I would suggest proceeding with the production of the Chapter Handbook envisioned several years ago, and drafted in part by Mike Diggles.

    2. Enhancement of our membership. We need more young people in this group. By that I mean in the 30-40 age group. Young professionals, faculty members, and adventurers are potential candidates.

    3. A 1997 Golden GateAway. We would like to repeat the very successful premiere event, making it into an annual event, if possible. It could be made a bit easier on the human resources, but would be a bit more costly on tickets.

    4. The question of an office for the Chapter has been raised repeatedly for the past two years. Though I am in favor of it, we have no resources to pay rent or maintain it. Perhaps a member who has an office suite in the SF Bay area would allow us to use a small room for a few years, while we develop the resources to occupy a more permanent location. In exchange, we could provide the member with a few "perks", such as advertising or tickets to the GateAway.

    5. Finally, I want this Chapter to lead the way in driving the Club toward modernization. The Club currently fails to provide basic minimal services to its member Chapters. I think the best way for us to improve member services would be to do it ourselves, for our Chapter first, and as an example for the Club second. We need to demonstrated that we want more from the Explorers Club than a late Journal. We want to feel that we are part of an energetic and relevant organization that is saving the world a piece at a time.

    Robert W. Schmieder, FN-86


    You may have received the notice from New York stating that member dues are being increased. FYI, I do not support this increase, and I will take some actions to resist it. My reason for feeling this way is that member services are almost non-existent. For instance, when was the last time you received a membership directory? We requested a flag for the GateAway, but were ignored. My donation of $300 to the building fund went unacknowledged until I threatened to withdraw it. When was the last time a national officer showed up for one of our Chapter meetings? We have two Chapter members on the Board, who have never attended any of our Chapter meetings.

    I suggest you let the officers, particularly the Club President, Fred McLaren, know that you are not happy with an organization that charges so much and delivers so little. The GateAway delivered a lot of value for the dollar, and I think an organization like the Explorers Club, that expects and uses so much volunteer effort, should give at least reasonable value for the dollar. I don't feel I'm getting my money's worth from the Explorer's Club, and I doubt if you do. Why don't you make that known to New York?


    Next January/February your Chapter Chairman is leading a team of 20 on a major expedition to Heard Island, in the Antarctic. The project is the largest amateur radio expedition ever attempted. Heard Island is 80 percent glacier-covered. It has the largest penguin colony in the world, and much other interesting wildlife. It is dominated by a 9,000 ft. active volcano. The expedition is taking all life support onto the island, including seven shelters, six generators, a small tractor, and a real outhouse.

    There is room for an additional person or two as guest/sponsors. You will be treated as a guest, with no formal responsibilities, but the opportunity to do whatever you wish. The expedition will guarantee your safety. This should be the adventure of a lifetime. This is something you could not do on your own. Your place can be assured for your commitment of $20K

    You can find all the information concerning the Heard Island Expedition on the Web pages, under: For any more information please contact the expedition leader, Robert Schmieder, at (510) 934-3735.

    Quote of the Month:

    "You never hear the really philosophical say that it is impossible for the builder of the universe to alter his work. Their business is not with the possible, but with the actual; not with a world which might be, but a world which is. They have but one desire: to know the truth. They have but one fear: to believe a lie." Prof. John Tyndall (1820-1893)


    Already it's November and where did the summer go? While most of us were wondering the above, some of the NorCal members were doing something about it.


    Bill Isherwood (FN-70) and Dana made not one but three trips above the Arctic Circle this summer. The most memorable was their sea kayaking trip along the north coast of Baffin Island to search for narwhals, which they did encounter at close range.


    Mike Diggles (FN-92) spent much of the summer in the Sierra doing field work for the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, including much help on the publishing of the report on the project. The three-volume set went to Congress and is available in a "tree-killer" version from U.C. Davis. Mike will be producing a CD-ROM version later in the Spring. More about that in detail later.


    Eve Iversen (FN-86) reported that she made a trip to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, on the upper Walker river near Bridgeport, California, where she found that the marines keep a small herd of (yes!) MULES. As a result, she plans to return in the Spring (an early winter is expected) to instruct the marines in the use of mules for the evacuation of the injured in steep mountainous terrain.

    Sue Estey (FN-92) reported that she had spent last Labor Day at Los Islotes, a small islet group in the Sea of Cortez north of La Paz, diving with the sea lions. Anyone who has done this knows it is a very exhilarating experience. While there, however, her group noticed a large number of manta rays "sunfishing" and "skyhopping" very nearby. Upon swimming over to see how close they could approach the mantas they were astounded to find hundreds of them lying on and PILED UP on the ocean floor in what was apparently - a mating ritual?. Sue's description: AWESOME!


    Joanie (FN-86) and Don Bekins were on an expedition in Suriname's tropical rainforest, bathing with piranhas in Coppename River, sleeping in hammocks, and listening to the chatter of howler and spider monkeys, toucans, and tree frogs. They report that there is true silence for only two hours at night. Their host was Henri Reichart, director for the past 15 years of the World Wildlife Fund's efforts to conserve wildlife and rainforest in Suriname. His specialty is sea turtles. Their group of ten flew by Twin Otter to the interior camp on Foengoe Island at Raleighvallen. From the air, the forest canopy looked like "as sea of broccoli crowns." From the falls on the Coppename River, by dugout canoe and on foot, they made their way to a base camp at the foot of the Voltzberg, a 300-meter-high granite dome. Accompanied by bushnegroes of the Kwinti tribe, they climbed to the top for a spectacular view of the rainforest that stretched all the way to Venezuela. They also visited a nearby site to view the "Cock of the Rock." Their last night in Suriname was highlighted by a visit from Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist and author of Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice. Mark has spent nearly 20 years recording the medicinal uses of plants throughout South America. He works diligently to assure that a portion of pharmaceutical profits will return to the native peoples who have shared their knowledge with the modern world.

    Click for Calendar of future events


    Reservations: MAIL BY Saturday, Nov. 30, 1996

    Please Return To:

    William F. Isherwood
    The Explorers Club
    Northern California Chpt.
    37 La Encinal
    Orinda, CA 94563
    Bill's Phone: (510) 254-0739

    Please reserve spaces for the Lawson Brigham talk at Treasure Island on December 6, 1996.

    $35.00/person...$40 if postmarked after Nov. 30.

    Your Name: _______________________________________

    Your Address: _____________________________________


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    Date created: 11/25/1996
    Last modified: 06/21/2015
    Content from Charlie (Chapter Secretary) and Louise Geraci email to Charlie and Louise
    Web page by: Mike Diggles, Webmaster, Northern California Chapter of the Explorers Club. email Mike

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