In May of 1919, eight years before Lindbergh’s famous solo flight, three small planes set out from Newfoundland headed for London in an attempt to make the first trans-Atlantic flight. Only one of them made it. Twenty-five hundred feet below onboard a station tracking ship, a young navigator, Lt. Cdr. Philip Van Horn Weems, U.S. Navy, gazed up and thought there must be a safer and simpler way than using a small armada of ships as beacons for the flight.
For centuries, man had relied on the heavens, on the circling planets and the constant horizon to guide him in his travels. An accurate clock, a compass, a sextant and charts were the necessary tools for plotting a course, but these required time for computations and a place to spread out and study the charts. The timeworn system of celestial navigation was ill suited to the cockpit, but the airplane was here to stay. Lt. Cdr. Weems, a brilliant, inventive and determined young man knew as he tracked that first flight that navigation was his destiny, and he went on to revolutionize the field with his ideas, writings and inventions of navigational instruments.
The challenge he undertook was complex and involved the invention of new methods and new precision tools and navigational instruments. It required a horizon system independent of the sea horizon that was often not visible from the cockpit of a plane. Weems worked for years to develop a new kind of sextant and to find someone to manufacture it. When an accurate timepiece was needed, Weems invented the Second Setting Watch with its inner rotating dial. He produced the famous Weems Plotter, the more precise and easier-to-use plotting tool, which is still one of our most popular plotters.
All his life, Weems continued to improve navigational instruments and broaden the applications of his methods until they came to include radio astronomy, polar exploration and even space navigation. He published numerous articles and taught navigation at the Naval Academy in the 1920’s. He went on to establish his own school in Annapolis to teach The Weems System of Navigation. Charles Lindbergh studied with Weems before attempting his trans-Atlantic flight. Admiral Byrd, a classmate of Weems at the Naval Academy, came to Weems for instruction before setting out for the North Pole, as did many others.
ABOUT CARL PLATH
A century earlier, C. Plath (a company based in Hamburg, Germany) had been manufacturing the finest commercial sextants and magnetic compasses available. C. Plath was named for the owner (Carl Plath) who was a well-known German instrument manufacturer. This highly respected company manufactured sextants and compasses in the late 1800's and throughout the 1900's. In 1913, C. Plath developed the first gyrocompass to be installed on a commercial vessel.
Because Weems’ school for navigation had become the purveyor of Weems’ instruments, it was a natural development for Weems’ company to become the North American source for C. Plath’s fine navigational instruments; hence the alliance of two distinguished names – Weems and Plath. The exceptional workmanship that both Philip Van Horn Weems and Carl Plath required in developing the manufacturing of precision navigation instruments and tools remains at the heart of all our products today.
BEE WEEMS, THE YACHT
Bee Weems is a 36-foot downeast cruiser-styled yacht, designed by Spencer Lincoln and built by Zimmerman Marine of Cardinal, Virginia in 2005, using a hull formed by Atlantic Boats of Brooklin, Maine. The semi-custom yacht is owned by Weems & Plath. She is a wonderful showcase for Weems & Plath’s well-known nautical instruments and is named after the youngest son of company founder, Captain Philip Van Horn Weems.
The Trogdon's, owners of Weems & Plath, Inc., felt it appropriate to name the Company boat after this promising young man whose life was tragically cut short.
BEE WEEMS, THE MAN
Captain Weems and wife, Margaret Thackray had three children - Philip Van Horn Jr, Margaret Thackray II, and George Thackray. Both sons died before they had an opportunity to begin families of their own. The oldest died while on duty during World War II in the South Pacific and the youngest, George, nicknamed Bee at a very early age, died as a test pilot on the Delaware River at the age of 30 following his successful engagement in the war.
Bee Weems was born in 1921. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy six months early in December of 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was featured in a full-length feature article in the December issue of Life Magazine of the same year. He was credited for being the number one man at the Academy, the “Five Striper,” an exemplary student and a fine example of a Navy officer sure to go far up the ranks, a leader that this country could trust to bring us safely through the war.