Seven Still Sailing in Vendee Globe

One month ago, French sailor, Armel Le Cléac’h, 39, crossed the finish line at Les Sables d’Olonne, France to win the 8th Vendée Globe. Since then another 10 boats have followed Le Cléac’h across the line. It is a testimony to the enormity of the single-handed around-the-world race that seven of the original 29 to set sail are still racing, in a competition where finishing is a victory in its own right. Even of the original 29 racers withdrew from the race.

The closest of the remaining racers is Alan Roura sailing La Fabruque, who is less than 100 nm from the finish, while the farthest is Sebastien Destremau sailing TechnoFirst – faceOcean, who has over 3,000 nm to sail. Rich Wilson, sailing Great American IV, , the oldest sailor in the race at 66, will in all likelihood be the next to follow Roura across the finish line. Roura is the youngest sailor in the Vendee Globe at 23.

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King Harald “Blåtand” Gormsson, Bluetooth & the Jelling Stone Ship

Remember King Harald “Blåtand” Gormsson? No? The king of Denmark and later Norway in the late 10th century. The name still doesn’t ring a bell?  His rune mark is embedded in your phone and possibly your earbuds and speakers. His nickname, “Blåtand,” means “Bluetooth” in English.  

King Harald Bluetooth’s claim to fame is that he united Denmark and Norway. When Intel engineer, Jim Kardach, was working on a new wireless technology he was also reading a book about Viking history. He decided to name the new technology after the Danish king. Kardach was later quoted as saying, “Bluetooth was borrowed from the 10th-century, second king of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth; who was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

The Bluetooth symbol adopted for short-range wireless communications is made of King Harold Bluetooth’s initials, B and T in Viking runes.

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US & Soviet Nuclear Submarine Collision Kept Hidden Over 40 Years

USS James Madison

A Russian spy ship lingering off the US coast has been in the news recently. Within the last day or so, the spy ship Viktor Leonov was hanging out off the US Navy submarine base at New London. (The ship has apparently now shifted to Norfolk.) The Navy has dismissed the importance of the spy ship. More threatening, however, may be submarines waiting underwater to follow US submarines from their bases. In some cases, high-stakes games of underwater “chicken” have been reported.  A recent release of documents by the CIA has confirmed a previously top-secret report of a collision between a US and a Soviet nuclear submarine off Scotland 43 years ago.

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Black History Month — William Tillman and the Privateer Jefferson Davis

William Tillman retakes the schooner Waring

A post in honor of Black History Month. On Throwback Thursday, a slightly revised post from July, 2011. 

William Tillman was the first black hero of the American Civil War. He was not a soldier but rather a 27-year-old  cook-steward on the schooner S.J. Waring.  On July 7, 1861, the schooner was captured by the Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis while about 150 miles from Sandy Hook, New York.  Captain Smith, the master of the S.J. Waring was taken aboard the Jefferson Davis, and a five man prize crew was put aboard the schooner, with orders to sail her to a Southern port where the ship and her cargo would be sold.

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Cancer-Causing Chemicals Found in Deepest Ocean Trenches

Photo: Dr. Alan Jamieson

There appears to be no limit to the man-made pollution of the oceans. Toxic chemicals have now been found in the deepest portions of the ocean, at the bottom of the Marianas and Kermadec trenches. Each trench is over 10 kilometers deep and 7,000 kilometers apart in the Pacific Ocean. A study based on expeditions led by Newcastle University’s Dr Alan Jamieson found high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the fatty tissues of amphipods, a crustacean, in the trenches.  PDBs and PBDEs were banned in the 1970s after they were determined to be carcinogenic. These chemicals are classed as Persistent Organic Pollutants – or POPs, because they are highly resistant to natural degradation and can persist in the environment for decades.

In a press release, Dr Jamieson, said, “We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, the amphipods we sampled contained levels of contamination similar to that found in Suruga Bay, one of the most polluted industrial zones of the northwest Pacific. What we don’t yet know is what this means for the wider ecosystem and understanding that will be the next major challenge.”

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Frederick Douglass — “I Will Take to the Water”

Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglass never knew his birthday but he chose to celebrate it every year on February 14th. So happy Frederick Douglass’ birthday and a most joyous Valentine’s Day. 

Frederick Douglass was born a slave around 1818. He taught himself to read and write and at 20 years of age, escaped to freedom. He would become known worldwide as a gifted orator, author and editor and as a leader of the abolitionist movement. He was a severe critic of President Lincoln and also a close adviser. He would help recruit black soldiers to fight for the Union in the Civil War and, after the war, would fight against Jim Crow laws in the South and for women’s suffrage and immigrant’s rights. Frederick Douglass is an American hero, of his time and of ours. 

From an early age, Douglass developed a close attachment to ships and the sea. His path to freedom led directly through the docks and shipyards of Baltimore, Maryland. Continue reading

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Pods Strike Again — Norwegian Star Breaks Down in Tasman Sea

Azipods strike again. The Norwegian Star, operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines, was towed into Melbourne, Australia over the weekend after losing propulsion when the ship’s azipods failed, leaving the ship adrift last Friday. In the latest round of failures, the ship’s Azipods have been breaking down on cruises since December, which has limited the ship’s speed and resulted in cancelled port calls.  

Pod failures have been a chronic problem on the Norwegian Star.  The sixteen year old ship has had intermittent problems with its Azipod propulsion system for at least the last 12 years, dating back to 2004. Pod failures persisted through 2006 and then reemerged in 2015 and have continued despite NCL efforts to repair the pods. 

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Yale & Naval Academy Honor Admiral “Amazing Grace” Hopper

Yale University has announced that it is renaming Calhoun College the Grace Hopper College in honor of Grace Murray Hopper. The University decided to change the name of the residential college which had been named after John C. Calhoun, who attended Yale in 1804 and was also a white supremacist and vocal advocate of slavery. Grace Hopper was a pioneering computer scientist and a United States Navy Rear Admiral. Hopper received both a masters degree and a PhD in mathematics from Yale. She is often referred to as “Amazing Grace” and as the “mother of computing.”

In September, 2016, the U.S. Naval Academy announced that it will name its future cyber building after Grace Hopper. The cyber facility, which will be called Hopper Hall, will be the first building named after a woman at the three main service academies.

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All Royal Navy Attack Submarines Down for Repairs, or Maybe Not

Graphic: The Sun

On Friday, the British tabloid The Sun reported that the Royal Navy’s entire fleet of seven attack submarines was out of service. They wrote: “Repairs and maintenance to all seven have left none to defend our waters — or monitor Russia’s relentless probes….Sources say the Navy’s three new Astute class subs, costing £1.2 billion each, are beset by problems. And the four remaining Trafalgars are said to be “on their last legs”.”

The UK’s Vanguard ballistic missile submarines, which carry Trident nuclear missiles, are reported to be in operation but according to the newspaper, it is the first time in decades the Royal Navy has no attack submarines ready.

By Friday afternoon, the UK’s Ministry of the Defense (MoD) was denying the reports, saying that they were “categorically not true.” That is also about all that the MoD would say. Which submarines were in service and where was understandably a secret.  “Where they might be is clearly sensitive operational information that the MOD will not comment on.”

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Over 400 Pilot Whales Beached in New Zealand — Rescue Efforts Ongoing

Over 400 pilot whales became stranded after they swam into the shallow waters of Golden Bay, near Farewell Spit, at the northernmost tip of the South Island of New Zealand.  An estimated 300 of the whales have died, as a small army of rescuers frantically work to save the rest. 

The whale stranding was the largest in the country since 1985, when 450 whales were stranded near Auckland. Worldwide, every year, up to 2,000 cetaceans beach themselves. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings. No one knows what causes whale strandings but some theorize that they may be due to navigational mistakes while chasing prey, escaping predators or trying to protect sick members of the group.

At least 300 whales found dead in mass stranding on New Zealand beach

Thanks to David Rye for contributing to this post.

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More Illegal Wreck Salvaging — Japanese WWII Shipwrecks off Borneo

Remains of Rice Bowl Wreck

Last November, we posted about the wrecks of three Dutch World War IIship wrecks in the Java Sea that have apparently vanished.   The three ships; the HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java and HNLMS Kortenaer;  had been in waters 70 meters deep, 60 miles off the Indonesian coast.  Now, two of the three wrecks have disappeared, while a significant portion of the third is missing. Illegal scrappers operating grabs from barges are considered to be the likely culprits.

Now, the Guardian reports that the wrecks of three Japanese transport ships sunk off Borneo during World War II have been largely destroyed by a Chinese crane ship engaging in illegal scrapping. The ships; Kokusei Maru, Higane Maru and Hiyori Maru; were all within a kilometer of each other and have been popular dive sites in Malaysia’s Sabah state. 

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Schooner Jobs — A.J. Meerwald & Lois McClure

A.J. Meerwald

Two fine schooners are looking for crew. The A.J. Meerwald is looking for various crew and staff positions.  A.J. Meerwald was built in 1928 as a Delaware Bay oyster schooner and is New Jersey’s official Tall Ship. A.J. Meerwald is operated by the Bayshore Center at Bivalve for onboard educational programs in the Delaware Bay near Bivalve, and at other ports in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware region. They are looking for a Shipboard Program Coordinator, an Assistant Shipboard Program Coordinator, a Chief Mate, a Cook, Educator/Deckhands and Spring, Summer & Fall Interns.  Click here to learn more.

In New York State, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has numerous crew positions open aboard the replica 1862 Canal Schooner Lois McClure. Based on the archaeological remains of shipwrecks Lois McClure was built and launched in Burlington, Vermont. For the past 13 years she has been traveling the northeast, interpreting the shared history along the inland waterways. From the museum’s job posting:  Continue reading

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Riverboat Delta Queen & SS Badger — How Much Leeway Should Historic Ships be Given?

Is the classic 1927-built stern-wheel steamboat Delta Queen a national treasure or a not safe enough to operate?  The ship does not meet current safety standards as established by the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations.  A series of rolling two to four year exemptions had allowed the riverboat to operate from 1968 to 2007, despite not meeting the rules. After being laid up since 2008, there is now an effort underway to pass legislation to provide a new exemption to allow the venerable old boat to be put back into service.

The concerns about safety are real. In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft addressed issues related to fire safety, access and vessel condition.  Currently the Delta Queen’s boilers, which date to 1926, are exposed to bare wood, for example. He also was concerned that there’s only one way on and off the boat. He commented on how little work has been done to get the boat up to date. 

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The Fatal Shore, the Loss of the Herzogin Cecilie

Given that so much of what is happening in the world today seems like a shipwreck, it seems appropriate to post a very well done short documentary of the wreck of the great four-masted steel barque the Herzogin Cecilie, which grounded off south Devon on April 25, 1936, the last windjammer to be wrecked on the English coast.

In her day, Herzogin Cecillie was considered to be the most beautiful and may have been the fastest windjammer ever built, once clocking over 20 knots over a measured course between two lightships.  The barque, named after German Crown Princess Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, was also the winner of eight grain races, the annual races between Australia and Great Britain, carrying the yearly grain harvest.

In 1936, Herzogin Cecillie had just completed  a voayage from Port Lincoln in South Australia to Falmouth in 86 days, beating all her competition. From Flamouth she sailed for Ipswich in dense fog and on April 25, 1936 ran aground on Ham Stone Rock and drifted onto the cliffs of Bolt Head on the south Devon coast.

The Fatal Shore, the loss of the Herzogin Cecillie

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Newly Discovered Deep Water Coral Reef off Amazon River Threatened by Drilling

Graphic: The Guardian

A 3,600 sq mile (9,300 sq km) coral reef has been discovered off the mouth of the Amazon River. Stretching for over 600 miles, from French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhão state, the reef is in water from 160 to over 320 feet deep.  Scientists say that the massive reef is unlike any other known on Earth.  Unfortunately, the newly discovered and unique reef is also in the path of where energy giants BP and Total plan to drill for oil

Smithsonian reports: The reef is so odd, in fact, that its discoverers believe it may constitute an entirely new type of ecological community.  

“This is something totally new and different from what is present in any other part of the globe,” says Fabiano Thompson, an oceanographer at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. “But until now, it’s been almost completely overlooked.”   Continue reading

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“The Twentieth Century”: The Sailing Oystermen

At one time, 2,000 skipjacks dredged for oysters under sail. Now they number fewer than 40 and less than half are actively fishing. Walter Cronkite hosts this documentary that examines a disappearing way of life for Chesapeake Bay skipjack sailors, dredging for oysters under restrictions aimed at preserving a dwindling supply. The film also captures life on Smith Island. Originally broadcast February 7, 1965.

“The Twentieth Century”: The Sailing Oystermen

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Death on the Great Barrier Reef — Laws of Chance or Deadly Jellyfish?

Recently, a 63 year old British tourist died suddenly while snorkelling on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  He is the fifth tourist to die in the last three months. In November, a 60-year-old British man and two French tourists, aged 74 and 76, died within days of each other while diving and snorkelling in spots north of Cairns. Ten deaths occurred on the Great Barrier Reef last year. 

The Great Barrier Reef is a major Australian tourist destination, attracting upwards of 2 million people each year and generating over $4 billion in revenues. Given the large numbers of tourists, the deaths of ten people on the reef might be explained by the laws of probability.  As is the case in the United States, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. Many of the deaths on the reef have been attributed to heart attacks. 

Many, however, are concerned that something even more deadly may be killing people on the reef — the Irukandji jellyfish, the smallest and most venomous jellyfish in the world. Tiny and translucent, its venom is said to be 100 times stronger than that of a cobra. Irukandji are native to the Great Barrier Reef.

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“Black Jacks” at Noble Maritime in Snug Harbor This Saturday

I read Dr. Jeffrey Bolster‘s book, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, not long after it came out a few years ago. It is a fascinating study of the largely untold story of African-American sailors in the maritime trades from colonial times through the Civil War. This Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 2 PM, the Noble Maritime Collection at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island will be hosting a presentation of Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail  by Dr. Bolster. Using historical sources and images, Dr. Bolster will explore the role African Americans played in the nation’s maritime culture.  The presentation is free and all are welcome. Sounds like a fascinating afternoon.

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Free Online Course — Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology

For anyone with an interest in shipwrecks, here is a very interesting free online course that marine archaeologist John Broadwater pointed out on Facebook.  It has just started but there is still time to sign up. 

People have explored and depended on the oceans of our planet for millennia. During that time the geography of our world has changed radically as coastal regions have flooded and islands have risen up, or been lost beneath the waves. With 70% of the world’s surface covered by water, an unparalleled, yet largely untouched record of human life has been left beneath the sea for us to discover, from our earliest ancestors right through to present day. Over the length of this Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds course we will learn about maritime archaeology together – exploring underwater landscapes from the ancient Mediterranean to the prehistoric North Sea, and consider Shipwrecks from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific coast of the Americas.

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Blue 52 — Which May or May Not Be the Loneliest Whale

Somewhere in the vast North Pacific Ocean, there is a singular whale singing a unique song, which was first recorded in 1989. For close to thirty years, researchers monitoring anti-submarine hydrophone arrays have heard a whale call which is much higher than the calls of other large whales. While most blue whale calls are around 10–25 hertz and fin whales tend to be around 20-hertz, this whale has been calling at 52-hertz. If most blue and fin whales are singing bass, this whale is an alto, at least by whale standards. 52-hertz is just higher than the lowest note on a tuba.

Scientists do not know even what type of whale it is. The whale’s movements have been similar to a blue whale but the timing of its calls are similar to fin whales.  Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute speculate that it could be malformed, or a hybrid of a blue whale and another species. 

The whale has been nicknamed the 52-hertz whale as well as Blue-52. Continue reading

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