Seventy-five years today, the Royal Navy sank the German battleship Bismark in a three-day running battle in which the Bismark sunk the British battle cruiser HMS Hood. Ultimately, the German battleship was disabled when her rudder was damaged in a torpedo attack by obsolescent Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Here is a British newsreel of the events. Thanks to Alaric Bond for contributing to this post.
Yesterday thousands lined the shores of the Hudson to watch the Fleet Week Parade of Ships. Unfortunately, this year, I couldn’t be there. Here, courtesy of the US Navy, is a unique view of the festivities from the flight deck of one of the main attractions, USS Bataan. USS Bataan (LHD-5) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1997. The ship carried more than 500 Marines and Sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit who will participate in this year’s Fleet Week.
May 24th was not only the 75th anniversary of the tragic sinking of HMS Hood. It was also Bermuda Day. On this, the morning after Bermuda Day, it seems worthwhile to think of the Dark and Stormy nights spent on the beautiful Atlantic Island. I have a blurry recollection of several Dark and Stormy nights on the docks in St. George after rolling off a ship. I am not referring to the classic opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” from Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s 1830 novel Paul Clifford. No, I am speaking the classic Bermudian sailor’s drink, the Dark and Stormy.
Starting Wednesday this week, the fleet will be in town, well part of it anyway, to celebrate the 28th observance of Fleet Week New York. Eight Navy warships, two Coast Guard cutters, and a Marine expeditionary unit will converge on the harbor. An estimated 4,500 sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, as well as Royal Canadian sailors and Naval Academy midshipmen, will be participating. The festivities kick off with the Parade of Ships on Wednesday, followed by free ship tours at docks around the harbor. Click here to learn more about the ships and locations.
When I first came to New York in the last quarter of the last century, I went to work for Moore-McCormack Lines, which had a terminal in Brooklyn on the Gowanus Canal. For better or worse, the Brooklyn waterfront has undergone some major changes in the last forty years. If you are in the New York area next Thursday, be sure to catch the Working Harbor Committee‘s next Hidden Harbor tour — Brooklyn Waterfront Past & Present to catch a glimpse of what ahs changed and what has stayed the same. Highlights of the tour will include the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the city’s new waterfront recycling facility at Gowanus Bay, and the working rail-to-barge connection at Brooklyn Army Terminal.
The website for the Republic of Null Island reads: “Welcome to Null Island! The Republic of Null Island is one of the smallest and least-visited nations on Earth. Situated where the Prime Meridian crosses the Equator, Null Island sits 1600 kilometres off the western coast of Africa.” The website goes on to describe the geography, the people and the history of this “least-visited nation.”
In, fact Null Island, at a latitude and longitude of 0,0, does not exist. Or does it? It seems that thousands of addresses appearing on the Internet show up as having a longitude and latitude of 0,0. Given all the houses, restaurants and office buildings which share the same 0,0 latitude and longitude, Null Island must be a very crowded place indeed.
Mayflower II is a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower, which carried the Pilgrims to the New England in 1620. The replica was built in Devon, England and sailed to the United States in 1957 under the command of Alan Villiers. Also at Mystic Seaport is the full-rigged iron ship Joseph Conrad which Villiers sailed around the world in 1934-1936 with a crew of sail trainees.
A video of the reconstruction produced by the Seaport:
In December, we posted about a new breed of ocean racing sailboats with foiling daggerboards, which look somewhat like Salvador Dali’s moustache. Safron Sailing Team recently posted a video to explain how these foils work. From an engineering and design point of view, the new developments are fascinating. Whether movable foils, articulating keels, and the other wonderful but complex and expensive innovations on these offshore racing sleds will translate into usable technology for the average sailor remains to be seen.
Last week we made a post with the headline, HMS Victory ‘Collapsing’ Under Her Own Weight. The headline was alarmist at best. (We borrowed it from the BBC, but that is no excuse.) The historic ship will, of course, not be allowed to collapse under its own weight. David Hayes of the Historic Naval Fiction blog was kind enough to pass along this very interesting video about the engineering behind the 136 metal supports being installed to support, or as the video refers to it , “re-support,” HMS Victory to control the bulging and racking of the hull.
Robert John Hopkins was one of the lesser-known heroes on the Titanic. He died in 1943 at the age of 77 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Holy Name Cemetery, in Jersey City, NJ. Last Saturday, his descendants gathered to dedicate a black granite tombstone at his gravesite, 73 years after his death.
Able seaman Hopkins, a rigger by trade, and fireman Fred Barrett were assigned to Lifeboat 13 on the night of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15th, 1912. When the lifeboat was lowered, it drifted beneath Lifeboat 15, which was being lowered directly on top of them. Hopkins and Barrett jumped up and used their pocket knives to cut away the lifeboat falls which were holding their boat in the way of the lifeboat being lowered. They are credited with saving the lives of the more than 100 passengers in the two boats.
One of the passengers in Lifeboat 13 was Madeline Astor, the wife of John Jacob Astor IV, who died in the sinking. John Jacob Astor was believed to be the richest man aboard the Titanic and one of the richest men in the world at the time. Mrs. Astor had been the 18-year-old socialite Madeleine Talmage Force when she married the 47-year-old Astor in 1911. They were returning from an extended honeymoon when they boarded the Titanic. According to the Hudson Dispatch in 1943, “Later Mrs. Astor presented [Hopkins] with a purse for being instrumental in saving her life.”
On Thursday night, May 19th, the Billion Oyster Project is hosting the Third Annual Billion Oyster Party in Brooklyn, NY. The party will feature oysters from 40 oyster farms from all over the U.S. from Washington to Louisiana to New York. The oysters from around the country each have their own delicate flavor and all of the farmers have stories to tell, as they shuck an estimated 20,000 oysters.
On May 4th, the 1441 DWT Panamanian registered product tanker Tamaya 1 drifted ashore on a remote beach in Liberia near Robertsport, with no crew aboard. There appears to have been a fire in the ship’s deckhouse and one of two lifeboats was missing. The vessel’s last known position was recorded on April 22, 2016, as the ship was steaming southward towards Senegal after leaving the port of Dakar. A statement from the Liberian Ministry Of National Defense read: ‘During the search on board the vessel, it was discovered that the abandoned vessel is an oil tanker and but so far no information was established regarding the number of crew members as no crew members were found on board … ‘It was further gathered by the Liberian Coast Guard (LCG) that the vessel was gutted by fire, leaving the bridge (Upper and Control Center) burned along with all documents’.
At this point, what happened to the ship and its crew is all speculation. The ship was operating well south of the region where pirate activity hs been reported. One source speculated about the involvement of Boku Haram. Some have suggested that the ship’s owner may have just gone broke and the crew simply abandoned the ship.
Sailors have long considered Friday to be an unlucky day and Friday the 13th, particularly so. On this Friday the 13th, it seems appropriate to remember the unlikely tale of HMS Friday.
Sometime in the 1800s, it is said that the Royal Navy decided to dispel the stigma attached to Friday. They commissioned a ship and named it the HMS Friday. Her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, and she set sail on her maiden voyage on Friday the 13th, under the command of a Captain James Friday. She was never seen or heard from again.
While this is an oft-told tale, none of it is true. There has never been a Royal Navy ship named Friday, or any other day of the week, for that matter. HMS Ark Royal, on the other hand, was relaunched on Friday, June 13, 2001, following a major overhaul and continued successfully for another decade before she was decommissioned in 2011. Happy Friday the 13th.
Fortunately, the problem is not being ignored. HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, is undergoing a 13-year, £35m restoration. As part of the restoration, more than 130 metal supports are due to be fitted in the dry dock to stop the ship’s structure from deforming.
The crew aboard the schooner A.J. Meerwald had just finished a Saturday evening sail on the Delaware River near Trenton, NJ when they heard screams at around 7PM. They immediately launched a boat and headed in the direction of the screams toward a man in the river clinging to the bottom of an overturned personal watercraft, commonly known as a jet ski. The two Meerwald crew in the boat, Tom Nichols and Hudson Smith, hauled the man, who was not wearing a life jacket, aboard their boat from the cold river water.
The man was able to tell them that his friend, 26-year-old Jesus Diaz Melendez of Trenton, was missing after their jet ski ran ashore. The Meerwald’s crew contacted the US Coast Guard who dispatched a 29-foot response boat crew as well as a helicopter crew. The Meerwald‘s boat also continued searching for Menedez for the next hour, to no avail. The Coast Guard called off the search that evening at around 11PM. Reports are that Menendez was also not wearing a life jacket when he went into the river.
HMS Illustrious, the UK’s only working aircraft carrier and the last surviving ship from the Falklands War is to be scrapped. The 689 ft-long 22,000-tonne Invincible-class aircraft carrier traveled close to one million sea miles in her 32-year career with the Royal Navy, serving in conflicts from the Falklands to Bosnia and Iraq. She was decommissioned in 2014. Proposals to turn the ship into a floating museum or attraction space all fell through. Bids are reportedly being solicited to scrap the ship.
Great Britain has two new aircraft carriers under construction. The first, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to be commissioned in 2017 with initial operations in 2020. Thanks to Alaric Bond for contributing to this post.
Sailing is all about technology and has been ever since the first sailor spread a stretched an animal skin as a sail. The America’s Cup, however, is far more technological than most sailing by a large measure. This thought occurred to me as I was sitting at a restaurant table with fourteen relatives and relations celebrating Mother’s Day, while also watching the second day of the New York Louis Vitton America’s Cup World Series, being sailed on lower Hudson River, on an app on my phone.
I am a huge fan of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The contest is a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. If you are not acquainted with Edward Bulwer-Lytton, he was the English novelist who in 1830 penned the classic first phrase to the first sentence of the novel Paul Clifford which begins: “It was a dark and stormy night …” In all fairness, Bulwer-Lytton gets a bad rap. He also coined other memorable phrases including “the great unwashed“, “pursuit of the almighty dollar“, and “the pen is mightier than the sword.” All the same, the contest is great fun.
Every year contestants attempt to pen opening sentences that are so bad that they are good, or if not good, at least amusing. Here are the winners with a nautical focus from this year’s contest.
After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there. David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, LA