Four Hundred Years of Sailing Ships at the South Street Seaport

Hermione wide

From left to right — masts of the Peking, l’Hermione and the masts of El Galeon

Last week provided a rare opportunity to glimpse over 400 years of sailing ship history in three ships, tied up almost side by side, at New York’s South Street Seaport. Berthed on the south side of Pier 15, El Galeon Andalucia is a replica of a 16th century Spanish galleon. On the north side of the pier was l’Hermione, a replica of an 18th century French Concorde class frigate. On Pier 17, the four-masted barque Peking, built in 1911, represents the culmination of sailing technology, before the world’s commercial sailing fleet was finally pushed aside by steam and motor ships.

What I find fascinating about the three ships is that while their designs are separated by centuries, the DNA of each is easily identifiable in the others.  In some respects, the three ships bracket the great European Age of Sail.

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Hermione — Lafayette Parade of Ships, New York Harbor July 4, 2105

On a nearly windless, overcast and rainy morning, the French replica frigate l’Hermione led an impressive flotilla of every sort of craft from very large yachts to jet skis, from below the Verazzano Narrow’s Bridge through the inner harbor and up the North River. Here is a video I shot and edited of the parade.  I was a passenger on the lovely schooner Shearwater.

Hermione –Lafayette Parade of Ships , July 4th 2015

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Cousteau’s Calypso — Abandoned and Rotting


Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Last March we posted “Will Prince Albert of Monaco Save Cousteau’s Calypso?”  sadly, the answer to the question appears to be, “no.”  Earlier in March, following  a long legal battle, a French court ruled, that Francine Cousteau, the second wife of the late Jacques Cousteau, owed €273,000 in shipyard bills and was required to remove the RV Calypso from a Brittany shipyard.  If she failed to do so the shipyard would be allowed to sell the 43 meter wooden research vessel. Shortly thereafter, rumors began to spread that Prince Albert II of Monaco might rescue the ship and bring it to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco where Jacques Cousteau served as director for more than three decades, from 1957 to 1988.  These rumors appear to have been unfounded. The Calypso has not moved and appears to be in the first stages of being broken up. As reported by the New York Times:

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Gallery — l’Hermione at South Street Seaport

On a hot and hazy afternoon, I stopped by l’Hermione, the replica French frigate docked at Pier 15 at South Street Seaport. A few photographs.

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l’Hermione at NYC’s South Street Seaport, Open to the Public Thursday

hermionestatueThis morning, the replica French frigate l’Hermione arrived in New York harbor and was welcomed  by American and French officials, led by French Minister Ségolène Royal and Mayor of Rochefort Hervé Blanché at Pier 15  at the South Street Seaport on the East River. The ship is a replica of the frigate that carried the Marquis de Lafayette to America in 1780 with the news that France was committing to support George Washington and his forces in the revolution against Great Britain. l’Hermione will be open for the public for ship tours tomorrow and Friday, July 2-3, 2015 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm.

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Voyages of Discovery — Named What?

A light-hearted look at who gets to name the new “discovery” by the British sketch comedy team, David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

That Mitchell and Webb Look – Discoverer

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Glowing Coral in the Deep Red Sea

As reported by Slate Magazine: Scientists have discovered a trippy scene under the Red Sea, full of fluorescent, glowing corals. An international team of researchers discovered the colorful corals at depths of more than 150 feet below the surface and published their findings in PLOS ONE.

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The Ballad of Preserved Fish

Preserved Fish

Preserved Fish

Puritans were notorious for weird names.  Some first names are strangely long, such as “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned” or “Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith”.  Some names were short but just disturbingly odd. Fly-fornication, for example.  In 1766, Preserved Fish was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His first name, Preserved, pronounced “pre-SER-vedd” is thought to be a shortening of “Preserved in Grace” or “Preserved from Sin.”

As a young man, Preserved shipped out on a whaling ship on a voyage to the Pacific. At 21, he became a whaling ship captain. When he came ashore, he became a successful merchant in first New Bedford and then New York City.  He founded the shipping firm,  Fish & Grinnell.  He later became one of the 28 brokers of the New York Exchange Board, which later became the New York Stock Exchange and also became a director of Bank of America.  He also served until his death as President of the Tradesman’s Bank.  His family, which remained prominent in New York, also gave rise to Hamilton Fish, governor, senator, and secretary of state, and Stuyvesant Fish, a notable railroad president.

Preserved Fish has not entirely been forgotten.  Singer/songwriter Ken Ficara immortalizes Preserved Fish with a song by the same name.  The lyrics are below.  Click here to listen to Ken singing his song.

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Droopy Duck — The Continuing Saga of the Philly Giant Rubber Duck

brduckphillyThe 61′ high 11 ton inflatable Giant Rubber Deck, featured in the Philadelphia-Camden Tall Ships Festival 2015, had some problems in the “Parade of Ships” on Thursday.  The duck was being towed on a pontoon, which was found to have holes and was sinking, causing the duck to become unstable.  Initial reports said that the duck was undamaged but later accounts suggest that the duck was damaged and leaking and has been taken ashore repairs.  With luck, festival-goers will be so involved with incredible fleet of tall ships tied up along the banks of the Delaware River that they will not notice the absence. Thanks to Robert Rustchak of the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild and the tall ship Gazela, for passing along his sister-in-law’s photo of the droppy duck.

The Philly giant inflatable duck been the subject of some controversy. The Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman who created sculpture named “Spreading Joy Around the World” but universally known simply as “Rubber Duck,” is charging that the Philly duck is an “unauthorized rubber duck project.”   Various incarnations of the rubber duck have appeared at over 20 locations around the globe.

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LightSail — Sailing on the Light of the Sun

This post is not quite nautical, but it does involving sailing. The Planetary Society, a non-government, nonprofit organization, is sending sailing ships out to explore space, sailing on the light of the sun.  The first prototype completed a generally successful test mission earlier this month. A larger 32 square meter LightSail is scheduled to be launched in 2016. The project is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

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Artist’s Midsummer Party on the Cutter Lilac

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by the Cutter Lilac on Saturday for the Artist’s Midsummer Party at the Hudson River Park’s Pier 25. The ship opens to visitors at 2:00 PM. The party is from 6:00 – 9:00 PM.


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Is the Philly Giant Rubber Duck an Imposter?

Photo: Craig Samborski

Photo: Craig Samborski

In addition to a fleet of tall ships attending the Philadelphia-Camden Tall Ships Festival 2015, there will be a 61-foot tall, 11-ton inflatable rubber duck. The duck is said to be based on a the plans for a inflatable sculpture originally made by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman named “Spreading Joy Around the World” but universally known simply as “Rubber Duck.”  While the rubber duck has indeed been spreading joy around the world, appearing at over 20 locations around the globe, the artist is not happy about this rubber duck. Hoffman is charging that this is an “unauthorized rubber duck project.” Is the Philly Rubber Duck an imposter?

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The Philadelphia-Camden Tall Ships Festival 2015

philadelphiafest1The Philadelphia-Camden Tall Ships Festival running from June 25-28th, promises to be something special. I am sorry that I will be out of town and will miss the festivities. The events begin on Thursday, June 25, with a “Parade of Ships” up the Delaware,  starting around 1 PM and continuing all afternoon, as the more than 16 tall ships arrive on the Philadelphia and Camden waterfronts.  Headlining the tall and historic ships will be l’Hermione as she continues her tour of the East Coast. l’Hermione is a replica of the 145-foot long Concorde class frigate that brought General Lafayette to the aid of the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War.  l’Hermione will be docked just outside the Independence Seaport Museum.

Also joining in the festival will be the USCG Barque Eagle; as well as El Galeon Andalucia, a replica of a late 16th Century fabled merchant vessel and warship; Philadelphia’s official Tall Ship Gazela; the world traveling barque Picton Castle, New Jersey’s tall ship A.J. Meerwald, and Portugal’s training ship Sagres, among other vessels. Click here for a more complete list of participating ships.  Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

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Captain Hansen Gregory & the Birth of the Modern Donut

Captain Hansen Gregory

Captain Hansen Gregory

Some friends of mine think that I am crazy because I seem to find nautical connections in just about everything. (Other friends think I am crazy for other reasons.)  Take for example, the modern donut.  What about a donut could possibly have anything to do with sailors, ships or the sea?  In fact, the development of the modern donut is usually attributed to Hansen Crockett Gregory, 1832-1921, a ship’s captain from Rockport, Maine.  Here is the “hole” story.

The first donuts in America did not have holes.  They are believed to have been introduced to the continent by the Dutch who fried dough in oil. Washington Irving was the first to mention doughnuts in “The History of New York” in 1807.  We wrote, “[I]t was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough-nuts, or oly koeks: a delicious kind of cake, at present known scarce to this city, except in genuine Dutch families.

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Summer Solstice – Moonlit Sailor

In honor the summer solstice today, Summer Solstice by Moonlit Sailor, a Swedish post-rock instrumental group.

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Why is the Ocean Salty? Is the Old Answer Wrong?

I remember when I was quite young, I asked the question, “Why is the ocean salty?” We had just visited my grandparents in Florida and I had discovered first hand just how salty the seawater in the Gulf of Mexico could be.  I was told that salt dissolves in water and is carried to the oceans by rivers, so that over time the sea keeps getting saltier.  It seemed like a good answer to me, so I moved on other questions.

Recently, however, I heard Robert Ballard, the famous oceanographer and underwater archaeologist of Titanic and Thresher fame, say that, until recently, oceanographers did not know why the ocean was salty. They didn’t know until 1979 to be exact. The problem is that the old explanation, that salt was carried in from the rivers, didn’t quite work. The chemistry of the oceans and the chemistry of the rivers were different enough to suggest that something else was going on. Here is Ballard explaining their discovery on National Geographic.

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Happy Juneteenth! Emancipation on Galveston Island 150 Years Ago Today

Model of SS Cornubia of 1865

Model SS Cornubia

Today is Juneteeth, a commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas, in particular, and  in the Confederate states in general, one hundred and fifty years ago today.

On June 5, 1865, two Union Navy ships, USS Cornubia and USS Preston, steamed into Galveston harbor. Both ships had been captured from the Confederacy. USS Cornubia was a 210′ long British fast iron paddle steamer, purchased by Confederate agents as a blockade runner, renamed Lady Davis, and then captured by the Union Navy in 1863. USS Preston was a 170′ twin screw British blockade runner named Annie, captured in 1864. The ex-blockade runners carried Captain B. F. Sands with a detachment of Union troops to raise the United States flag over the federal customs house on the Texas island city. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops and took full control.

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Derelict Gunboat 55, Rainmaker, Spotted Adrift Off Cape Hatteras

gunboatrainmakerAfter five months, an abandoned catamaran has been sighted by a passing container ship. On January 30th of this year, Rainmaker, a brand new a $2.5 million carbon fiber Gunboat 55 catamaran, the first of its class, set off on a voyage from the Gunboat yard in North Carolina to St Martin in the Caribbean. Roughly 200 miles off the North Carolina coast, the boat dis-masted in a severe squall. The five crew were airlifted to safety by the Coast Guard and the boat was abandoned. Now five months later, the Hapag Lloyd container ship, Chicago Express, has spotted the derelict catamaran roughly 650 miles east of Cape Hatteras.

Sailing Anarchy reports that the container ship captain sent the following message:

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HMT Lancastria – A “Secret Sacrifice” No Longer

The tragic loss of an estimated 6,500 men, women and children on the Lancastria was covered up for more than seventy years. It was the greatest loss of life in the sinking of a single British ship, claiming more lives than the combined losses of the RMS Titanic  and RMS Lusitania (1,200 passengers).  Here is a repost from 2011, in honor of those lost on this day seventy five years ago.  First posted October 2, 2011:

The evacuation of British troops and civilians from France in 1940 did not end with Dunkirk. Several weeks later,   on June 17, 1940, the British Cunard liner Lancastria was loaded to capacity with troops and civilians off the French port of St. Nazaire, when she was struck by three direct hits from a German Junkers 88 bomber.  As many as 6,500 men, women and children were lost when the ship sank.  News of the disaster was covered up. Churchill said that, “The newspapers have got quite enough disaster for today, at least.

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The French Navy Ship Insere and the Statue of Liberty

googlesolToday’s “Google Doodle,” the changing graphic that appears at the top of the Google search page, is a whimsical memorial to the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York. “Google is celebrating America’s most famous gift from France today with a logo marking the Statue of Liberty’s arrival in the New York Harbor 130 years ago on June 17, 1885.”

Many sources put the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York as two days later on the June 19th. Likewise, the Google Doodle takes artistic license in showing the Statue of Liberty teetering on the deck of a tiny generic steam ship. So when and how did the Statue of Liberty arrive in New York?

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