Kirkus Starred Review of The Shantyman

The Shantyman was recently reviewed by Kirkus Reviews. I am pleased to say that gave it a Kirkus Star. What does that mean? (I didn’t know either.) “The Kirkus Star is one of the most prestigious designations in the book industry. Look for the icon to discover books of exceptional merit.”  An excerpt from the review: “Spilman’s colorful, well-researched novel will enthrall both sailing enthusiasts and landlubbers.  A fabulously gripping sailor’s yarn.


With eloquent accuracy, Spilman’s novel captures the life of a 19th-century sailor.

Continue reading

Posted in Newbooks, Reviews, Seastories | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Coming Home to USCG Cutter Lilac — A Voice Tube, the Wheel and the Builder’s Plate

Sometimes restoring a historic ship involves starting at the keel and working up, or the deck and working down.  And sometimes it involves rediscovering the ship one piece at a time.  That was the case this year when three missing parts came home to the ex-USCG Cutter Liliac.  An account by Museum Director, Mary Habstritt:

lilacvoicetubeThe Voice Tube:  One day in February last year, our Museum Director got an email asking, “Is LILAC missing a voice tube from her bridge?” The ship was missing the mouthpiece to that very voice tube, but, how did the writer know to ask that question? He had it, of course. Ed Hlywa did, however, come by it honestly, buying it for $10 in the 1980s from LILAC’s last owner, Henry Houck. He says, “I always assumed that LILAC was heading to a shipbreaker and that I was preserving a little bit of nautical history.” Reminiscing one day, he Googled “LILAC Falling Creek” and was amazed to discover that she had survived and that the Lilac Preservation Project was working to restore her. Ed graciously offered to return this little piece of history, saying, “It has served me well and if you hold it to your ear, you may be able to still hear the orders being called down to the engine room.”

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged | Leave a comment

Shipstrikes & Blue Whales — A Whale Too Large?

There is good and bad news about California blue whales. The good news is that the number of whales along the west coast of North America has rebounded to close to levels prior to whaling.  The bad news is that blue whales are in ever greater danger of dying from run down by ships.  Blue whales can be difficult to see from the bridge of a ship and, for reasons not well understood, the blue whales do not necessarily move to avoid the oncoming ships. A recent, pioneering study may suggest a reason why. The whales may have evolved to be simply too large.  As reported by Takepart:

The short answer, according to a first-of-its-kind study, is that they have never learned to steer clear of big objects like ships. The largest animal that’s ever lived, at more than 100 feet long and 320,000 pounds, the blue whale for 30 million years never had to move out of anything’s way.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Captain Kidd’s Treasure Found in Madagascar? The Legendary Treasures of Captain Kidd

captkidd1Earlier this month, salvors reported finding a 50 kg silver bar off the coast of Madagascar, which they believed to be part of Captain Kidd‘s treasure lost in the sinking of the Adventure Galley in 1698.  The salvors are confident that they will find more silver in the wreck.  Whether they will remains to be seen.  In most historical accounts, after the ship became so rotten as to be unseaworthy, Captain Kidd stripped the Adventure Galley of anything worthwhile down to the hinges on the ship’s cabin door.  Kidd and his crew then sailed away on the Adventure Prize.  If Kidd stripped the ship, it seems unlikely that he would leave a large treasure of silver behind.

Captain William Kidd was a most unusual pirate, if he was a pirate at all.  Before 1696, Captain Kidd was a successful merchant and privateer.  Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1645, Kidd married a young English widow, Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, in 1691, who was also one of the wealthiest women in New York City at the time. They lived in a large house on Pearl Street with their two daughters. Kidd was a member and financial supporter of his church. Block and tackles from his ship are said to have been used to raise the spire on the Trinity Church in New York.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, History, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Star Clippers Building World’s Largest Square-Rigged Passenger Ship

Royal Clipper Photo: Star Clipper

Royal Clipper Photo: Star Clipper

Exciting news! Star Clippers is now building what will be the world’s largest square-rigged passenger ship.  The new ship, the fourth in the Star Clippers fleet, is expected to launch mid-2017.  Modeled after the five masted France II of 1912, the ship will be larger than the current world’s largest square rigged ship, the company’s five-masted Royal Clipper.  Star Clippers also operates the sister ships, Star Clipper and Star Flyer, which are four masted barquentines.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sonya Baumstein Rowing Across the Pacific Alone

In 2012, Sonya Baumstein, biked from Mexico to San Francisco. In 2013 she used a standup paddleboard to travel across the Bering Strait. In the winter of 2011, she rowed 2,600 miles with three male rowers from Spain to Barbados. She is now attempting to row the 6,000 miles alone from Choshi, Japan, to San Francisco, California — without a support vessel. The 30 year old from Orlando set off Sunday on her epic voyage. Thanks to Phil Leon for contributing to this post.

Sonya Baumstein of Orlando to Row Across Pacific

Posted in Lore of the Sea | 1 Comment

Fleet Week 2015 in New York Harbor

Fleet Week 2015 kicked off with with a parade of three U.S. Navy ships, four U.S. Naval Academy yard patrol boats, and two U.S. Coast Guard cutters. More than 1,800 servicemen and women are participating, and activities and events will last through next Monday.

Fleet Week 2015 ‘Parade of Ships’

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Restoring the Wavertree 2015

wavertreetug1If you are in the neighborhood tomorrow, Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 12:30PM, you may wish to stop by the “bon-voyage” party on Pier 17 in New York’s South Street Seaport for the Wavertree, as she slips her lines and is towed across the harbor to Caddell Dry Dock in Staten Island. The Wavertree, built in Southampton, England in 1885, was one of the last large ships to be built in wrought iron and is one of the few survivors. She will be undergoing a $10.5 million, almost year long, drydocking and refurbishment.

Captain Jonathan Boulware, Executive Director of the South Street Seaport Museum outlined the scope of the refurbishment at the New York Shiplore Meeting last Monday. He said that approximately 20 plates would be replaced below the waterline. The existing concrete ballast will be removed and replaced with a pumpable fixed ballast system. The tween deck will be replated. The main deck will be replaced with a steel deck which will then be clad in wood. Boulware acknowledged that this was a compromise. The original ship’s main deck was wood over iron frames, which is difficult to maintain and to keep watertight. The new metal deck will make preserving the ship easier and ultimately less expensive.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

USS Constitution Shifts to Drydock

Last night, the USS Constitution was shifted to Dry Dock #1 at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. The ship, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, will be undergoing a three year refurbishment. USS Constitutionnicknamed “Old Ironsides,” entered service in the U.S. Navy on Oct. 21, 1797 and remains a commissioned U.S. Navy warship.  Since 1907, the ship has been on display opening her decks to the public. An interview with Naval History and Heritage Command Director Sam Cox.

USS Constitution Dry Dock Sam Cox Interview

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lilac Arts Launching Tuesday, May 19, on ex-USCG Cutter Lilac

Click for a larger image

Click for a larger image

If you are near New York harbor tomorrow be sure to stop by from 6 — 9 PM, for a reception to launch the LILAC Art Series on the historic ex-Coast Guard Cutter Lilac.  The LILAC Art Series is a three month art exhibition by 25 artists with a focus on three themes inspired by the ship’s story – “Steam”, “Work + Labor” and “Restoration/Reinvention.”  Open free to the public. Regular hours on the Cutter Lilac resume on May 23, 2015. Also, stop by on Memorial Day for birthday cake celebrating LILAC’s 82nd year!

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Paddle in Seattle” Protests Around Shell’s Polar Pioneer — Saying “Shell-No” to Arctic Drilling

Photo: Ellen M. Banner

Photo: Ellen M. Banner

Just over a week ago, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management granted conditional approval for Shell to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic. Last Thursday, the Polar Pioneer, a semi-submersible drilling rig, owned by Transocean, but operated by Shell, arrived in Seattle. This weekend protesters, calling themselves “Shell-No kayak-tavists,” joined in the “Paddle in Seattle” in a fleet of hundreds of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and other small vessels, swarmed near the massive drilling rig, to send a message to Shell opposing their continued attempts at Arctic drilling.  One of the primary concerns about Arctic drilling is that the harsh conditions make oil spills likely and extremely difficult to clean up. The damage to the Arctic environment could be severe.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mystery of Beluga Whales in Narragansset Bay

Almost a week ago, three beluga whales were spotted in Rhode Island’s Narraganset Bay. Normally the white whales would be expected to stay much farther north.  Teams of scientists from the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration watched video of the whales and traveled to Jamestown, RI, to see the beluga whales first hand, by boat.  Why the whales are so far south is a bit of a mystery.  They usually do not travel much farther south than the St. Lawrence river in Canada. As reported by WNPR:  “The fact that there are three whales is even more unusual,” said Tracy Romano, a biologist at Mystic Aquarium….

Beluga Whales In Narragansett Bay

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea | Tagged , | Leave a comment

12,000 Visitors to STV Oliver Hazard Perry in Newport

Photo: Graeme Smith

Photo: Graeme Smith

From May 9th through 13th, Oliver Hazard Perry, the largest civilian Sailing School Vessel in the US, was host to 12,000 visitors during the Volvo Ocean Race Stopover in Newport, RI.  The contrast between the new tall ship and the carbon fiber racing sleds could not have been more stark.  Six high-tech Volvo Ocean racers were tied up on one side of the pier, at Fort Adams in Newport harbor, while on the other side of the dock, the three masted square rigged Sailing School Vessel Oliver Hazard Perry towered over then all.  The  Perry has a sparred length of close to 200′ and her masts soar 120′ from the deck.  The Volvo Ocean 65s are 72′ overall with single masts reaching 99 feet above the water. The contrast didn’t end with the difference between the Perry and the racing yachts. Visitors to the ship had the chance to walk through the ship and see our progress and the contrast of a traditional rig above deck and modern features below.

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rebuilding the Schooner Nathaniel Bowditch

Last November, we posted about the restoration of the schooner Nathaniel Bowditch, by its new owners, Noah and Jane Barnes at the Lyman Morse Boatbuilders yard in Thomaston. Here is a short article and video about the rather extensive rebuilding of the Nathaniel Bowditch.  Seeing the scope of the rebuilding, one might conclude that wooden schooners are a bit like the axe that never wears out, just as long as you keep replacing the head and the handle.

Historic midcoast schooners get overhaul 

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , | 2 Comments

U.S.C.G. Cutter Lilac Re-Opens May 19th with Lilac Arts Series

lilacstern1The U.S.C.G. Cutter Lilac, America’s only steam-powered lighthouse tender, is reopening on May 19th at her berth on Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 at West Street and N. Moore Street in New York. This season, the historic ship will host the Lilac Arts Series from May 19 to August 15, 2015.  To celebrate the new exhibition, the ship will host a reception on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 6-9pm.  If you are in the neighborhood be sure to stop by.

The exhibit will focus on three themes inspired by the ship’s story – “Steam”, “Work + Labor” and “Restoration/Reinvention“. The visual art exhibition will feature the work of over 25 artists within the ship’s unique spaces, including several site-specific installations. In addition to the exhibition, the Lilac will host performances, artist talks, film screenings, readings, community activities and educational events. The schedule of events is available on the Lilac Arts Series website at The exhibition and events are all free and open to the public.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swedish Singing Sailor to Russian Subs — ‘This Way if You Are Gay’

singingsailor1In the general category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS), a group dedicated to the study and promotion of peace, released details of their “Singing Sailor Campaign.”

Last October, we posted about a reported incursion into Swedish waters by what was believed to be a foreign and probably Russian submarine.  See our post “Swedish Navy Still Hunting Mystery Submarine.” The Swedish Navy searched for the submarine but couldn’t locate it. In the wake of this failure to track down the submarine intruder, there have been calls for increased military spending in Sweden.

SPAS is suggesting a different approach. They have proposed the “Singing Sailor subsurface defense system,” which would involve lowering submarine message buoys featuring an animated dancing sailor attired only in underwear and a sailors cap, with the messenge, “Welcome to Sweden, Gay Since 1944.” The buoy would also send the Morse code message, ‘This way if you are gay.’  Given that Russia has recently been increasingly homophobic in its policies, this otherwise welcoming message might be enough to turn Russian subs away.  See the video after the page break.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Diving Pigs Join Dock Dogs and Diving Horses


Pigs leap from a diving platform at Shiyan Lake in Changsha, Hunan Province. Photo: Hunan Daily

A few years ago, we posted about a new competitive sport in which dogs compete by jumping off docks. Apparently, the competitions are continuing. The DockDogs website describes it as the “The World’s Premier Canine Aquatics Competition.” As no other canine aquatics competitions come to mind, they are probably right. Dogs diving off docks is definitely preferable to the old American carnival attraction, diving horses.  Now we hear that Chinese farmers have introduced diving pigs into the mix.  Apparently, in addition to being a source of entertainment, the farmers claim that it provides exercise and makes the pigs healthier, as well as making the pork taste better.

The New York Times Sinosphere blog reports: Images on the Internet and reports in newspapers suggest that creating a leaping, amphibious pig is another realm where China, which raises more than half the world’s pigs, can claim global pre-eminence. Online photos show piglets prodded to dive off a bridge into a lake. Others show a spotted-pig triathlon of diving, swimming and hurdling.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The End of Falls of Clyde? Too Many Broken Promises?

The State of Hawaii has notified the Friends of Falls of Clyde, the organization responsible for rescuing the historic ship of the same name, that the state plans to terminate its permit which allows the ship to be docked for free.  “They received the ship from the Bishop Museum with the understanding it would go into dry dock quickly. It has been 6 years and it doesn’t appear we are any closer to putting it into dry dock,” said Hawaii State Department of Transportation Deputy Director Darrell Young.  If anything, the organization’s finances have grown worse over time and the ship continues to deteriorate.

Falls of Clyde is the last four-masted full-rigged iron ship and the only surviving sailing oil tanker. The ship was launched in 1878 in Port Glasgow, Scotland, for the Fall Line. She became a museum ship in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1971, but was never properly maintained. In 2008, the Bishop Museum, which had control of the ship, was preparing to tow her out sea and scuttle her. In September 2008, the Friends of the Falls of Clyde, a non-profit group of volunteers, acquired the ship. Unfortunately, the organization has been longer on promises than on performance.  For six years, they have been promising that they would be dry docking the ship, as the first step toward restoration, yet nothing seems to be happening.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Sailors’ Tattoos on Mother’s Day

momtat1Sailors choose their tattoos for various reasons. Among the most popular sailor tattoos are anchors, hearts and swallows.  Not infrequently, “Mom” also made an appearance as a reminder of loved ones and home.  On Mother’s Day it seems appropriate to look at sailors’ tattoos which reminded them of “Mom.”

Remy Melina, in the Live Science blog, writes about the popularity of “I Love Mom” tattoos:  The “I Love Mom” tattoo first became popular during World War II. As they traveled around the world, U.S. Navy sailors got tattoos to document their achievements and memories. Tattoo parlors began to pop up near military bases and patriotic tattoos came into vogue, according to John Gray’s book “I Love Mom: An Irreverent History of the Tattoo.”

Aside from wanting to express their patriotism, the homesick sailors started to request “mom” or “mother” tattoos as a sentimental reminder of home.

Continue reading

Posted in Current, Lore of the Sea | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

USS Recruit — The Unsinkable Warship


USS Recruit, 1917, Union Square, NYC

Perhaps no warship is unsinkable, but the several USS Recruits came close, primarily because they were based entirely on land.  In 1917, the 200′ USS Recruit, also known as the Landship Recruit, was built in Union Square, in the middle of New York City. USS Recruit was a wooden dreadnought battleship, commissioned as vessel of the U.S. Navy and manned by a crew of trainee sailors. She was used for recruiting and training during World War I.  The New York Times reported at the time that the “Landship” helped the U.S. Navy recruit 25,000 men or enough to crew twenty-eight Nevada-class battleships.  In 1920, with the end of the war, the ship was dismantled.

Almost 30 years later, a second USS Recruit was built, this time on the West Coast of the United States. The second landbound USS Recruit was built at the Naval Training Center in the Point Loma area of San Diego. Not a dreadnought like her predecessor, she was a two-thirds scale Dealey-class destroyer escort.  She was used to train recruits from 1949 until the base was closed in 1997.  The Recruit still stands, unused, adjacent to a retail area of Liberty Station, as the redeveloped base is known.

Posted in History, Lore of the Sea, Ships | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment