Kenneth Crutchlow was invited to a conference of international satellite users here last week to show how sophisticated tracking equipment can pinpoint anything on the earth's surface, including a friend who is furiously rowing across the Pacific Ocean.
Crutchlow's friend, Peter Bird, a London photographer, is 120 days into his attempt to row from San Francisco to Australia. With the help of satellites owned by the French and U.S. governments, Crutchlow located Bird about 700 miles from Christmas Island, southeast of Hawaii.
The conference was sponsored by Argos, a satellite-tracking section of the French space agency, which has a receiver attached to two satellites operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The device is used for collecting environmental data, such as water and air temperatures.
Two transmitters attached to the boat's cabin permit the French and U.S. agencies to track Bird's position. In return, Bird conducts tests to verify the findings of their satellites. For example, Bird is keeping a log of climatic conditions, such as water temperature, to check the accuracy of the satellite reports. At the end of the voyage, Argos will examine the log.
Crutchlow said it is ironic that a simple act, such as rowing a boat, uses such high technology as satellites thousands of miles above the earth.
Bird's craft, "Hele-On Britannia," is 35 feet long and 5 feet wide and resembles an oceangoing kayak, with small cabins at either end that give it the shape of a pea pod. The self-bailing, self-righting fiberglass boat has enough room for such supplies as dried food, 100 books, 100 gallons of water and a Sony Walkman. Some of the foods on board are pork chops, scrambled eggs and ice cream.
Bird, 35, left San Francisco Aug. 23, and is about 5,000 miles from his destination, on Australia's east coast. He crossed the equator last week but is already behind his plan to reach Australia in May.
Crutchlow, 38, like Bird, is a native of England, and a world-class adventurer in his own right. He lives in Sonoma, Calif., where his latest project is importing London taxicabs for sale in this country. On a bet of a pint of beer, Crutchlow said he hitchhiked around in world on $10, and is a long-distance runner, having crossed Death Valley five times.
He and kindred soul Bird met in California, where Crutchlow chose Bird from among nearly 144 people who wanted to row Crutchlow's boat across the Pacific. Bird got the job because he had already made a similar crossing of the Atlantic.
On Wednesday, the mustachioed Crutchlow contacted Bird by radio and conveyed 40 Christmas messages from friends and family along with a special message from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who praised Bird as an intrepid voyager and wished him well.
"Bird's spirits are okay except with being disappointed" about his progress, Crutchlow said after talking with him.
But his spirits rose after hearing the messages and replied, "Merry Christmas"... and would the scientists "please reverse the currents for a Christmas present?"
Crutchlow does not need the satellites' help to radio Bird. They contact each other on the first and 15th of each month, using a signal that is intercepted by a marine radio station.
Bird rows eight hours a day to make his slow, lonely progress across the 9,000-mile span, Crutchlow said.
"Nobody believes we'll do it," Crutchlow said.
"He is driven by determination," Crutchlow said. "He wants to be the first man to row across the Pacific Ocean solo."
The cost of the trip, Crutchlow said, "is astronomical. It's 10 times over budget" and "I'm reluctant to mention it. It would discourage other adventurers."
In 1980, on Bird's first attempt, his boat was hit from behind by a 12-foot wave off the coast of Maui in Hawaii and broke apart.
In 1974 he and Derek King crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Casablanca, Morocco, to St. Lucia, in the Caribbean Sea, in 93 days.
This trip presents a greater challenge for Bird -- he has to do it alone and the Pacific is twice as wide.
Crutchlow said Bird is so confident of success that "at his request, we have no real plans for a rescue."