The Glory and the Danger of Open Water — Thoughts on Two Missing Teens

capsized boatOn Friday, two 14 year old boys went missing in the Atlantic off Jupiter, FL. Their 19′ boat was found capsized on Sunday night. The Coast Guard, and now the Navy, is continuing the search for the teens, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen.

The missing boys reminded me of how easily that could have been me, almost a half century ago. Open water can be such a glorious and also very dangerous place if you are young, adventurous and think that you know what you are doing.

When I was around 15, my family moved to Treasure Island on the west coast of Florida. I got a job cleaning boats at a local marina and saved enough to buy an old 16′ runabout with a 33 hp outboard motor.  Most of the time I used the boat to run around the sheltered waters of Boca Ciega Bay, but I would often head out through John’s Pass into the Gulf of Mexico to go fishing or just cruise around offshore.

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‘Sea Slaves’: the Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock

Slave labor on fishing boats, particularity in Asia, has been a serious problem for many years. In 2011, we posted about reports that the crews of of chartered fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters were being systematically abused and robbed of their pay. More recently, the AP investigated the abuse of seamen in Thai shrimping business. They found that Thai and Burmese fishermen were being held against their will and often beaten or killed on trawlers catching “trash fish” also know as bycatch, to supply Thai shrimp farms. The bycatch is also used to make pet food and food for livestock.

Now in the third of his series, Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina, of the New York Times, writes of ‘Sea Slaves’: the Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock.  Well worth reading.  A short video companion to the article:

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Will Pollution Limit Faroe Island Pilot Whale Hunts?

pilotwhaleAround the world, pollution is a serious threat to whales. Ironically, on the Faroe Islands, pollution may help to curtail whaling, where protests have failed.  The residents of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic have been hunting pilot whales for almost a thousand years, since about the time of the first Norse settlements on the islands. The yearly hunt has been the subject of considerable controversy for some time. The Faroe islanders argue that the pilot whales are not endangered and that the hunt is wholly sustainable. Protests against the hunt have hardened the resolve of many on the islands to continue it.

This year, as in years past, protesters from Sea Shepherds have been arrested for attempting to interfere with the hunt.  Other conservation groups, notable WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, have abandoned the confrontational approach taken by the Sea Shepherds, who are best known for their reality TV show.  WDC state on their website:

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Kick ’em Jenny – Ready to Rock Out From Underwater

kick'emjennyBack in 2011, we posted a short quiz: Is Kick’em Jenny a Dutch rockabilly singer, a Dutch Celtic Symfo-Folk band or an active submarine volcano on the floor of the Caribbean Sea? The answer is yes to all three. I am not sure what the first two are up to these days, but the underwater volcano is acting up.

Kick’em Jenny, is located off the northern coast of Grenada, in the Lesser Antilles, and is roughly 600 feet underwater. As reported by CNN, officials raised its threat level Thursday to orange, which means it could erupt with less than 24-hour notice. An eruption could sink ships and hurl hot rock and ash into the air. Kick’em Jenny started rumbling on July 11, and has produced more than 200 small earthquakes since then, according to the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies.

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Fifty One Years Ago, Trawler Snoopy and Eight Crew Casualties of Torpedo Alley

snoopyFifty one years ago this week, on July 23, 1964, the scallop trawler Snoopy was trawling off Currituck Sound, NC.  During World War II that stretch of the coast earned the grim nickname, Torpedo Alley, when German U-boats sank nearly 400 ships in the area, killing over 5,000 merchant seamen. That Friday night, Torpedo Alley would claim eight more sailors, among the last causalities of the unrestricted submarine warfare of World War II.

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Stowaways — Complicated, Messy, Expensive and Possibly Dangerous

stowawayFirst published in gCaptain.

Recently, the New York Times published Stowaways and Crimes Aboard Aboard a Scofflaw Ship, the first of a four part series, by Ian Urbina. At the core of the article, Urbina tells the story of two South Africans who have the misfortune to stowaway onboard a Greek reefer ship whose owner is notorious for shady dealings. Only one of the stowaways ultimately survives. The account is vivid, well researched and well told. Nevertheless, it doesn’t and really can’t capture the full scope of the problem of stowaways in shipping today.

The good news is that most shipowners and ship owning corporations are not the sort of shoddy fly-by night operators described in Urbina’s article. The bad news is that dealing with stowaways on shipboard is usually expensive, complicated and in some cases dangerous.

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Lucy Bellwood’s Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea

lucybaggywI have long been a fan of Lucy Bellwood. A tall ship sailor and cartoonist; she is talented, smart and funny. Her  wonderful series, Baggywrinkles, based on the time she has spent working aboard replica 18th-century tall ships, has appeared an issue at a time online. She is now raising money via Kickstarter to publish the entire series, including new and as yet unseen work, as Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea.

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Fanning to Shark — “Thanks For Not Eating Me!”

Shark attacks are rare. Shark attacks on live television are virtually unprecedented, which is why the video of an encounter between Australian champion surfer, Mick Fanning, and a large shark in the waters off South Africa caught on live TV spread so rapidly across the internet, like chum on the virtual ocean. While competing in the J-Bay Open, viewers were horrified to see a large shark fin suddenly appear next to Fanning, who then a few seconds later appears to be dragged underwater. Amazingly, Fanning fought off the shark and escaped unscathed.  While suffering emotional trauma, Mick Fanning is OK.  If the shark had bitten Fanning, it easily could have been otherwise. When asked what he would say to the shark, Fanning replied, “Thanks for not eating me!

Surfer fights off shark attack on live TV

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SSV Oliver Hazard Perry on Her Maiden Voyage

Last weekend, Oliver Hazard Perry, America’s newest and largest civilian sailing school ship sailed into Portland harbor in Maine on her maiden voyage, to participate in the Tall Ships Portland 2015 festival, which wrapped up yesterday.  Based in Newport, RI, the ship is the first ocean-going full rigged ship to be built in the United States in 110 years.  The video below from WGME Channel 13 provides some great background and a tour of the new ship.

Oliver Hazard Perry: Largest civilian sailing school in the United States

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Outlaw Ocean — An Excellent New Series in the NY Times

stowawayThe New York Times is featuring a new four part series, Outlaw Ocean, by Ian Urbina, which presents a vivid and disturbing look at crime at sea.  Definitely worth reading.

The first installment, Stowaways and Crimes Aboard Aboard a Scofflaw Ship, looks at the case of two desperate men from South Africa who have the bad luck to stowaway aboard the Dona Liberta, Greek refrigerated ship, notorious for not paying its crew, cheating creditors and fouling the oceans. Only one of the twos stowaways survived.

The second installment, Murder At Sea: Captured on Video, But Killers Go Free, begins with a highly disturbing video of men floating in the wreckage of some sort of boat, being shot by unseen gunmen on boats circling around them. The article looks at the impunity in which murders are committed on the high seas by pirates, smugglers and even rival fishing boats.

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What’s in a Name? Google Drops Chinese Name for Scarborough Shoal

scarbshoalWhat’s in a name? Google has renamed a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon island in the South China Sea on their maps as Scarborough Shoal.  They had previously identified the hazard to navigation by its Chinese name, Huangyan Island.  Why does this matter to anyone?

The shoals, consisting of an atoll and a series of rocks and shallows, covering 58 square miles of the South China Sea, is claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines. In recent years, the South China Sea has become an area of conflict between China and its neighbors over conflicting claims over rights to fishing and oil reserves. The Philippines had complained to Google that the use of the Chinese name could suggest Chinese sovereignty, which the Philippines and Taiwan deny.  Of the at least seven names used to identify the shoals, Scarborough is the most diplomatically neutral. Indeed, it is the one name not used by any of the three nations which claim sovereignty over the rocks and islands that make up the shoal. The name is one of the more recent given to the shoals, named after the East India Co. tea-clipper which was wrecked there in September 12, 1784.

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Key & Peele’s Feminist Pirate Song (Just Barely NSFW)

The sketch comedy team of Key and Peele have come up with what may be the very first feminist pirate song, examining issues of respect, equality and consent, as sung by a bunch of scurvy sea dogs. (It is just barely Not-Safe-For-Work. If you listen very carefully to the lyrics, there is one clinical reference to oral sex.) The chorus goes: “We’d say ‘yo ho!’ / But we don’t say ‘ho’ / ‘Cause ‘ho’ is disrespectful, yo!” Thanks to Irwin Bryan for pointing out the sketch.

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Bitten by Blackfish, SeaWorld Responds with Falsehoods

Seaworld continues to be bitten by the “Blackfish effect.”  In October of 2013, CNN aired “Blackfish,” a scathing documentary which 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.  Since then, SeaWorld has been coping with the backlash from the documentary. The company has faced boycotts, lawsuits, falling tickets sales and an avalanche of bad press. Seaworld’s stock has fallen by more than half and, in terms of market capitalization, the company has lost roughly 1.7 billion dollars in value.

Recently, SeaWorld has launched a new campaign on television to rebut the claims that they abuse orcas. Unfortunately, the commercial is far less than accurate. Here is the commercial, as critiqued by Slate, providing counterpoint to the claims made by SeaWorld and its staff.

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Goodreads Giveaway — Water Ghosts by Linda Collison

We recently reviewed Linda Collison’s Water Ghosts and called it “an absolutely gripping paranormal nautical adventure.” From July 18th — 25th. Linda will be giving away ten copies of her book on Goodreads. Click here to learn more.

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Annie C. Maguire and the Wreck at Portland Head Light

anniecmaguire1Was the wreck of three-masted bark, Annie C. Maguire, which very conveniently wrecked at Portland Head Light on Christmas Eve 1886, simply an insurance scam? It is said that the ship wrecked so close to the light that the lighthouse keeper Joshua Strout, his son, wife, and volunteers were able to rig an ordinary ladder as a gangplank between the shore and the ledge the ship was heeled against. Captain O’Neil, the ship’s master, his wife, two mates and the nine-man crew crossed the ladder to safety. Thanks to Harry Milkman for passing the story along.

The tale of the shipwreck at Portland Head Light

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Shell’s Arctic Troubles Continues — Icebreaker Fennica Sent South for Repairs

fennikaIn 2012, Shell’s attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea in the Alaska’s Arctic proved to be an expensive and dangerous farce, featuring groundings, equipment failures, explosions and citations for safety violations. Returning two years later with an flotilla of 29 ships, Shell’s fortunes have not improved. Rather than discovering oil, the 380-foot icebreaker and supply vessel Fennica discovered an unmarked shoal soon after leaving Dutch Harbor ripping a 39″ gash in her side. The icebreaker, one of two in the flotilla, is being sent to Portland for repairs.

The problem for Shell is that the Finnish-owned Fennica is carrying a capping stack, a vital piece of spill-prevention equipment designed to fit over a damaged well and prevent a blowout. Without the capping stack onsite, Shell may not be allowed to do any deep drilling.  As reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

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Captain Kate McCue — First American Woman to Command a Large Cruise Ship

kayemccueCongratulations to Captain Kate McCue. This August, she will take command of the Celebrity Summit, sailing from Bermuda from the East Coast.  She will be the first American woman to command a large cruise ship.  The Celebrity Summit is a 91,000-ton ship which can carry 2,158 passengers and 952 crew. Captain McCue, 37, previously sailed for Royal Caribbean Lines, Celebrity Cruises parent company. She is a graduate of California Maritime Academy.  Thanks to Mai Armstrong on the Working Harbor Committee blog for passing along the news.

In 2010, we posted about Inger Klein Olsen, the first female Cunard captain on the Queen Victoria.

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Continuing Discomfort on Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort


We posted last April that the hospital ship USNS Comfort has deployed on Continuing Promise 2015, a five month mission to eleven nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Not all has gone well. On July 9, as reported by the Navy Times, the command senior chief of the medical facility on the hospital ship was fired after allegedly getting drunk and acting up at a reception for the president of Panama, according to a source familiar with the incident. Command Senior Chief Aurelio Ayala was reassigned to Military Sealift Command in Norfolk, Virginia, pending the outcome of the investigation.

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Belfast Tall Ship’s Festival

Belfast hosted the Tall Ships Belfast 2015 from July 2-5. It sounds like a great success. As reported by the Belfast Telegraph: The fleet of 46 sailing vessels drew record crowds to Belfast, making it one of the biggest events to be staged in the province. During four fabulous days docked in Belfast one ship recorded its highest ever number of visitors. Brazilian vessel, Cisne Branco, had 32,000 visitors on board during its stay in Belfast, the highest number it has recorded anywhere in the world. Thanks to Irwin Bryan for passing along the news.

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Captain John Newton & Amazing Grace — The Story Behind the Myth

agmusicalA new musical is coming to Broadway this summer, which features a ship’s captain and stage sets with lots of ship’s rigging. It is based on the story of Captain John Newton and the song Amazing Grace.  The musical is described: AMAZING GRACE is a new original musical based on the awe-inspiring true story behind the world’s most beloved song. A captivating tale of romance, rebellion and redemption, this radiant production follows one man whose incredible journey ignited a historic wave of change.

The story of Captain Newton and the song Amazing Grace is quite remarkable. The problem is separating the myth from what actually happened.

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