Struggle over Kurdish Oil — Tanker United Kalavrvta Goes Dark in Gulf of Mexico

A still image from video taken by a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft shows the oil tanker United Kalavyrta carrying a cargo of Kurdish crude oil, approaching Galveston, Texas last month. (Reuters)

A still image from video taken by a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft shows the oil tanker United Kalavyrta carrying a cargo of Kurdish crude oil, approaching Galveston, Texas last month. (Reuters)

The Suezmax oil tanker United Kalavrvta has been motoring in large circles in the Gulf of Mexico for over a month. Today her AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponder was turned off, making her far more difficult to track. The ship has, at least electronically, gone dark.

United Kalavrvta is fully loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil belong to … well, that is a point of contention. The Kurdish oil is claimed by both the government of Iraq in Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq. In July, a US court ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to take control of the cargo, on behalf of the Iraqi government. A few days later, however, the court said it lacked jurisdiction to carry out the seizure as the tanker was about 60 miles offshore. That prompted the Kurds to file a request to vacate the order. The request was granted on Monday.

Disputed Kurdish oil tanker mysteriously goes dark off Texas coast

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Rocking the Boat in Hunts Point — Where Boats Build Kids

wbI recently learned about Rocking the Boat, a wonderful organization in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, one of the five boroughs of the City of New York.  Since 1998, the after-school program has been teaching neighborhood kids to build wooden boats. In the last 15 years, students have built about 50 vessels.  But Rocking the Boat is more than just boatbuilding. Their tag line is — “Kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids.”

Rocking the Boat provides their students with a safe place to work together with others, to set goals, learn skills and accomplish something real and tangible. The program also provides counselling and job skills training.  And yes, they build some beautiful boats. Their website notes that “seven Rocking the Boat Job Skills Apprentices are nearing the final stretch of a two-year effort to construct a 29-foot whaleboat on commission for the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut….for the Charles W. Morgan whaleship.”

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30th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival

Photo: Doug Mangum

The schooners start arriving in Gloucester, MA tomorrow for the 30th Annual Gloucester Schooner Festival.  Twenty three schooners are participating this year. The US Coast Guard barque Eagle, while definitely not a schooner, will also be visiting. On Saturday, the schooners will be at the dock for visitors, while onshore, the town will be celebrating Maritime Gloucester Heritage Day. Sunday begins with a Parade of Sail followed by the Mayor’s race for the Esperanto Cup.  Click here for information on reserving a place aboard one of the schooners during the Parade of Sail.

A video of the Parade of Sail from last year: Continue reading

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John Broadwater’s USS Monitor – A Historic Ship Completes Its Final Voyage, a Review

monitorrevOn December 31, 1862 while under tow in a gale off Cape Hatteras, USS Monitor sank. The Monitor had been in service for only ten months and yet in that brief time had revolutionized naval warfare. The wreck of the Monitor was finally located in August of 1973. In his book, USS Monitor – A Historic Ship Completes Its Final Voyage, John Broadwater tells the remarkable story of the ship and of the dedicated teams of archeologists, historians, divers and engineers who worked over the last forty years to preserve the ship and to rescue what could be saved from the wreck.

Broadwater is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the “ship that changed everything.” He was the only person involved in the Monitor from the discovery of the wreck in 1973 through preservation, management and the recovery of the portions of the ship being preserved ashore today. He recently retired from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, where he served as chief archaeologist.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the USS Monitor. Continue reading

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22nd Annual Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition, Sunday August 31st

northrivertugraceThe 22nd annual running of the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition is coming up on Labor Day off Pier 84, which is at West 44th Street and the Hudson River in Manhattan.  The race is sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee & Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises.  You can watch the race from shore, or for an even closer view, tickets are available on the Circle Line Spectator boat.  If you are anywhere near New York harbor, do stop by. It is the best show around.

The festivities will begin at 10:00 AM with a parade of tugs from Pier 84 to the start line.  The race starts at 10:30 AM from south of the 79th Street Boat Basin to Pier 84.  Following the race, at around 11 AM, there will be nose-to-nose tug pushing contests as well as a line throwing competition.  The tugs will tie up around noon. There will be exhibits, an amateur line toss, and a spinach eating contact for would-be Popeyes of all ages.  The award ceremony will be at 1 PM with the tugs departing around 2 PM.

A short video of the race from a few years ago. Continue reading

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Choking the Oceans With Plastic

Yesterday, we posted about a beach where the ocean has worn down glass, which once had been discarded as trash. The “glass beach” is now beautiful and enjoyed by thousands.  If only all our trash was glass.

Another beach comes to mind on Palmyra Atoll, a tropical atoll in almost the geometric center of the Pacific Ocean. It should be the image of an island paradise. Instead, the beach resembles more of a trash heap.  From the Palmyra Atoll Wikipedia page:  Palmyra Atoll’s location in the Pacific Ocean, where the southern and northern currents meet, means that its beaches are littered with trash and debris. Plastic mooring buoys and plastic bottles are plentiful on the beaches of Palmyra.

In today’s New York Times, Captain Charles J. Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute in Long Beach, California, writes of a recent six week voyage he took with a team of scientists conducting research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — one of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the equator. Continue reading

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Of Kwakiutl Shell Beaches and Beaches of Glass

glass-beach-660x330Many years ago my wife and I kayaked with a group in Blackfish Sound off Vancouver. We paddled with orcas by day and by night camped on the many islands of the sound. On several nights, we camped at what had been summer campsites of the Kwakiutl tribe.  The one tell-tale sign that a given spot had been a campsite for hundreds of years was the white shell beach, where the natives had feasted in the summer on shellfish and tossed their shells. The white crushed shell beaches were essentially the tribal garbage dump.  I recall thinking, at the time, how wonderful it would be if even our garbage dumps were as beautiful as those left by the Kwakiutl Indians.  I have recently learned that, at least in a few cases, that they are.

In Fort Bragg, California, tourists now come to see Glass Beach.

In the early 20th century, Fort Bragg residents threw their household garbage over cliffs owned by the Union Lumber Company onto what is now Glass Beach, discarding glass, appliances, and even vehicles. Locals referred to it as “The Dumps.” Fires were lit to reduce the size of the trash pile. 

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2014 Race to Mackinac

A beautiful short video. “The 2014 Chicago to Mackinac Yacht Race aboard Chief was 289 non-stop nautical miles. For 106 years the race has been many things. It’s an annual ritual, a reunion, a test of skill, of boat handling and navigational judgement and once in a while, sanity. When it’s all said and done it’s about relationships, stories and the greatest of memories.

2014 Race to Mackinac from Froeter Design Company on Vimeo.

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SeaWorld, the Blue World Project and the Blackfish Effect

Last October, the documentary Blackfish aired on CNN. The documentary looked at the almost 40 year history of orcas in captivity, leading up to the killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau  in 2010 by the 12,000-pound orca, Tilikum, a whale previously associated with the death of two other people.  At the time, SeaWorld dismissed the documentary and went on with business as usual.

On August 13, however, SeaWorld Entertainment’s shares dropped by 35 percent to a record low after the company reported year-to-date losses of 5 percent in revenue and a 4.3 percent slide in attendance, with second-quarter revenue down 1 percent and attendance up 0.3 percent. (The first-quarter figures were worse, an 11 percent revenue plunge driven by 13 percent fewer visitors.)  For the first time th ecompnay acknowledged the protests following the airing of Blackfish. The company blamed its woes in part on protests against its orca shows and legislation introduced in California that would ban using killer whales for entertainment in that state.

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USS Houston Wreck, Popular Dive Site for Years, Finally Confirmed by US Navy

USS Houston

USS Houston

This week, US Navy divers confirmed the location of the wreck of the USS Houston in Banten Bay off the Java Sea.   The heavy cruiser was nicknamed the “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast,” and sank along with the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth in the Battle of the Sunda Strait during World War II, on the night of February 28, 1942.

From the various headlines in the media, the wreck confirmation sounds like a new discovery.  The Daily Mail headline reads, “USS Houston … is finally found in Java sea. ”  Likewise, NPR reported: “Wreck Of World War II-Era U.S. Ship Dubbed ‘Galloping Ghost’ Is Found.”  The BBC has a similar headline — “US Navy: USS Houston wreck found in Java Sea.”   It seems unlikely that the wreck was actually “found” as it never seems to have been lost.

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Russian Barque Kruzenshtern Withdraws from Race After Sinking Tug



The Russian four-masted barque Kruzenshtern has been forced to withdraw from the Falmouth Tall Ships Regatta, after it was involved in the sinking of a tug in the Danish port of Esbjerg last week. The Kruzenshtern, ex-Padua, was built in 1926 and is one of the largest tall ships in service.  The Packet  reports that the barque was permitted to continue its journey to Germany, but an investigation into the sinking has been launched by authorities.

On August 4, the tugs Dive Master and Svitzer Helios were assisting the Kruzenshtern as it departed the port of Esbjerg.  A hawser between the barque and the tug Dive Master fouled on being released, pulling the tug toward the sailing ship. Diver Master capsized and sank in 10 metres of water near Fano Island.  The tug crew was rescued without serious injury.  Thanks to Ulrich Rudofsky for contributing to this post.

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Australian Salt Water Crocodile Kills Fisherman

crocA 57 year old fisherman, wading in the Adelaide River, south of Darwin, was attacked and killed by a 15 foot long (4.5 metre) crocodile.  The fisherman was attempting to unsnag his line when attacked.  As reported by the BBC:  The attack took place in a stretch of the river close to where cruise ships show sightseers crocodiles leaping from the water to snatch chicken carcasses suspended from poles. The killer crocodile is believed to be a rare half-albino who had regularly approached the cruise ships.  This is the fourth person to be killed by a crocodile in Australia’s Northern Territory this year.  In the recent past, deaths from crocodile attack have averaged about one a year. The crocodile population has increased since being declared a protected species in 1971.

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From Lakes Freighters to Lake Houses — Benson Ford & John W. Boardman

Benson Ford

Benson Ford

Great Lakes freighters are known for their longevity. Compared to their salt water sisters, lakes boats, as they are called, rust slowly and tend to be around for a long time. Here are two lakes freighters, Benson Ford and John W. Boardman, which may be around even longer than usual. Their hull and engine rooms have been scrapped but their forward deck houses have become lake houses.

Put-In Bay, Ohio is a village on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. It is probably best known for being the site of Oliver Hazard Perry’s War of 1812 victory over British Naval forces, known as the Battle of Lake Erie, and sometimes referred to as the Battle of Put-in-Bay. The bi-centennial of the battle was celebrated last year.  Put-in_Bay is also known as the resting place for the forward deck-house of the Great Lakes freighter Benson Ford. The forward deck-house is now a lake house on a cliff high above Lake Erie.

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Slow Life — Time Lapse Sponge and Coral

A wonderful suitable video for a summer Sunday. From the video description – “Slow” marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Slow Life from Daniel Stoupin on Vimeo.

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Fukushima Fear Mongering & the Damage it Does

No, this is not radiation from Fukushima

No, this is not radiation from Fukushima

In March of 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hit by a tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake.  Three operating nuclear reactors suffered partial meltdowns and a fourth reactor which was not in service suffered hydrogen explosions which threaten the containment of highly radioactive spent fuel rods. Significant radiation was released into both the air and into the ocean. The Fukushima disaster is the largest nuclear incident since the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 and the second (after Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.  One ongoing problem is that Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the Japanese utility company that operates the plant, has been grossly incompetent, deceptive and guilty of downplaying the extent of the damage.  Tepco initially denied that radioactive cooling water had leaked into the ocean and then belated admitted that many hundreds of tons had been leaking and continue to leak into Pacific.

While Tepco has been downplaying the problem, some in the United States have been spreading wild, bizarre wholly dishonest claims about the extent of the radiation from Fukushima. Continue reading

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The Cooperage at Mystic Seaport: A Woodworking Craft

Just about 40 years ago, while a student studying naval architecture, I had a summer job working for a major oil company in New York City. One weekend, two friends and I took a train out to visit Mystic Seaport. Departing Manhattan and arriving in a 19th century seaport village was a revelation. I recall being very impressed by the Charles W. Morgan and the Joseph Conrad. The chandlery, the pharmacy and the rope walk were both interesting. Oddly, the one shop that I recall most distinctly was the cooperage — where the barrels were made. I had known at least something about whaling ships before I arrived yet I simply hadn’t given the work of the cooper any thought. Without the cooper’s staves, hoops and barrels, no whaler would have a profitable voyage. Here is an excellent video about the cooperage at the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The Cooperage at Mystic Seaport: A Woodworking Craft

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Italy Bans Largest Cruise Ships from Venice

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

We posted in June 2012 about protests over the docking of large cruise ships in Venice, Italy.  The arrival of the MSC Davina at 139,400 GT, almost 1,100 feet long, about 125 feet wide and carries up to 5,329 passengers and crew, kicked off a campaign to limit the size of cruise ships calling on the island city.

Critics of the cruise ships argued that the large ships damaged the ecology of the lagoon and the pollution and vibration might damage the city’s historic buildings.  In 2013, Venice proposed banning liners of more than 96,000 tonnes from Saint Mark’s basin and the Giudecca Canal,  but the decree was overturned by a regional tribunal. Now the Italian government has reinstated the ban which also limits the number of smaller cruise ships calling on the city. Italian news agency, ANSA, reports that 650 cruise ships currently pass through the city annually.  Eight large ships currently calling on Venice will be banned under the new rules.

The the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry lobbying group, is calling for the Italian government to dredge a new channel in the Venice lagoon to allow additional cruise traffic.  Local groups, however, oppose the new dredging. An environmental report on the potential impact of the new channel is expected be completed within 90 days.

Italy to ban large cruise ships in Venice

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The Last of the Caballito de Totora, the Little Reed Horses of Peru

For the last thirty five hundred years, Peruvian fisherman have paddled boats called caballito de totora, the little reed horses, out through the surf to cast their nets offshore.  At the end of the day, they ride the waves back to shore almost like modern surfboards. The fishermen build the boats themselves– growing the reeds, harvesting and drying them, and then bundling the reeds together, in the same way that the boats have been built for the last three millennium.

The little reed horses, however, may be on their way out, as the marshes where the reeds grown are drained by developers and the children of the fishermen look for a better life at universities or by working in construction or in the tourist hotels that now line the beaches in resort town like Huanchaco.

See also: Town’s Floating Symbol Fading Into the Sunset

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Concordia Yawls — An Appreciation

Photo: Concordia Company

Photo: Concordia Company

The recent sinking of the Concordia yawl, Winnie of Bourne, brought to mind just how remarkable this class of boats indeed is.  Winnie of Bourne was raised from the bottom near the entrance of Nantucket harbor just two days after she sank, so we hope that she will be salvaged and restored.

The Concordia yawl is the most successful and beloved class of wooden offshore sailboats ever built. The first was built to replace Llewellyn Howland’s family’s Colin Archer designed pilot cutter, which was destroyed by the Great Hurricane of 1938. The first yawl, named Java, was (and is) 39ft 10in long with a 10ft 3in beam, 5ft 8in draught, an 18,000 pound displacement, a 7/8ths fractional rig and a coveline with the iconic star on her bow and a crescent moon on her stern.

Over the next 28 years, over 100 Concordia yawls would be built.   Continue reading

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The Super Moon on the Schooner Pioneer in a Frenetic New York Harbor

"Supermoon" over the bow of Clipper City.  Click for a larger image.

“Supermoon” over the bow of Clipper City. Click for a larger image.

Last night, my wife and I took to a two hour sail on the schooner Pioneer to watch the “super moon” rise over New York harbor.   The “super moon,” is in scientific terms referred to as a “perigee moon,” a full moon at perigee, when the moon is closest to the earth.  This year we are having a solid streak of “supermoons.”  We had one last month on July 12th, one last night August 10th and will will have another on September 28th.   On nights with a “supermoon” the moon is roughly 14% larger and 30% brighter than other, non-super full moons. So, supermoons are not really all that impressive, but it was a beautiful night for a sail on the harbor.

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