Collision in Volvo Ocean Race Kills Chinese Fisherman, Nine Others Rescued

Around 30 NM from Hong Kong, the Volvo Ocean racer Vestas 11th Hour collided with a Chinese fishing vessel on Friday night around 1:20 a.m. local time, which resulted in the death of a Chinese fisherman. The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team issued a Mayday distress call, alerting the Hong Kong Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (HKMRCC). A nearby commercial vessel rescued nine of the crew from the fishing boat, while a tenth was taken to the hospital by helicopter after he was rescued from the water by the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew. The medevaced crewman later died. None of the Vestas 11th Hour race team was injured in the collision.

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Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin

The Great Lakes are rightly referred to the United State’s “fourth coast.” Here is a fascinating short video about shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay,  Wisconsin, off Lake Michigan.

Historic Door County – Shipbuilding

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Longest Underwater Cave Identified in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Several years ago, my wife and I went snorkeling in the Dos Ojos cenote in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula near Tulum.  A cenote is a deep, water-filled sinkhole in limestone, often connected to freshwater underwater caverns and tunnels. The limestone filtered water was crystal clear and we were able to swim between multiple cave chambers. Divers with scuba gear swam 60′ below us and provided the only means of judging the depth of the water. It was an amazing afternoon.

Dos Ojos, meaning “two eyes” because of its two sinkholes to the same connected underwater chambers, was thought to be connected to submerged caves extending 93 kilometers or 57.8 miles. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that the Dos Ojos cave system is, in fact, connected to a nearby cave system, Sac Actun, meaning White Cave. The combined cave network stretches for 216 miles, a world’s record. 

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What Did Pirates Read? Blackbeard, Captain Cooke, and Woodes Rogers

A lump of paper wadding found in a cannon from the pirate Blackbeard‘s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge has been identified as containing scraps of paper from a book by Captain Edward Cooke written in 1712.  Researchers were able to identify the tiny paper scraps as coming from A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711. They were able to identify specific words on the paper scraps which corresponded to the text of the book. 

The discovery raises several questions. Who was Captain Edward Cooke and why was Blackbeard reading his book? Or, on the other hand, why did the pirate think the pages were suitable as wadding for one the guns on his ship? Was this out of necessity or a dislike for the book? If Blackbeard did indeed read the book, was it for pleasure as a diversion, or was it a practical desire to learn more about a potential foe? Was the book already on the ship when Blackbeard captured it in 1717? Did the book remain unread by the pirates with its pages used only for wadding for the guns? 

A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World is an account of a voyage around the world in two ships, under the command of Woodes Rogers. It also includes a firsthand account of castaway Alexander Selkirk, whose tale inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. What does this have to do with Blackbeard? Perhaps nothing, but Woodes Rogers was the great vanquisher of pirates who arrived in New Providence as Governor, a year after Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, departed.  Continue reading

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The History Behind “Evening Gray Morning Red” — Shiplore NYC January 22nd, Melville Library

If you are in the area next Monday night, January 22nd at 7:30 PM, be sure to stop by the South Street Seaport Museum’s Melville Gallery at 213 Water Street, in lower Manhattan.  I will be presenting “From John Hancock’s Sloop Liberty to the Burning of HMS Gaspee” — the fascinating but often forgotten history that inspired my latest novel, Evening Gray Morning Red and had a major impact on the course of the American Revolution. The event is being hosted by the Shiplore and Model Club, the oldest nautical interest group in New York City.  The event is free. Stop by and say hello. It should be a fun evening.      

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Ex-Commanders Facing Criminal Charges for Fitzgerald and McCain Collisions

The Navy has announced that five officers involved in two deadly ship collisions are facing a variety of criminal charges including negligent homicide. The officers facing charges include Cmdr. Bryce Benson, former captain of the USS Fitzgerald, and Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, former captain of the USS John S. McCain.  USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship on June 17, off the southern coast of Japan, killing seven sailors. USS John S. McCain was in a collision with a tanker on August 21, near Singapore, killing 10.  Three other officers aboard the Fitzgerald, two lieutenants, and one lieutenant junior grade also will face charges. 

The fallout from the two collisions is not limited to the ships’ personnel. As reported by the Washington Post:  In August, the Navy removed Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who oversaw its 7th Fleet. Aucoin’s replacement, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, then removed Rear Adm. Charles Williams and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, who oversaw aspects of the ships’ deployments. 

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How Damaging is a Condensate Spill? With Sanchi Sinking, We May Find Out

Tanker Sanchi on fire, shortly before sinking

On January 6th, the Iranian tanker Sanchi carrying 130,000 tonnes of condensate collided with the Chinese bulk carrier CF Crystal. The condensate on the Sanchi caught fire, resulting in the death of all 32 of the tanker’s crew. The tanker burned for 9 days before sinking after a series of explosions. Initial concerns were that the oil slick might reach the Japanese coast. An official from the Japanese environmental ministry told Reuters that the oil slick is being carried north by an ocean current and is unlikely to hit the coast of Japan.

Rick Steiner, a marine conservation specialist formerly with the University of Alaska, told the Associated Press that 60,000 to 90,000 tons was likely to have spilled into the sea, calling it “enormous” and “as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster” off the coast of Alaska in 1989. He also suggested that the Chinese government was likely to be understating the magnitude of the spill.

How serious is a major condensate spill? It is difficult to say. Continue reading

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Fire on Florida Casino Shuttle Boat Kills at Least 1 and Injures 15 in Gulf of Mexico

A fire broke out on the casino shuttle boat, Island Lady, around 4PM on Sunday, in the Gulf near Port Richey, Fl. The 34 passengers and 14 crew aboard were forced into the 59-degree water. At least one passenger, a 42-year-old woman, died. 15 passengers were transported to a local hospital with for chest pains, smoke inhalation and other injuries initially reported as not life-threatening. The Island Lady was shuttling passengers to the Tropical Breeze Casino when the fire broke out. The cause of the fire is, as of yet, undetermined.

Other than in casinos on Indian reservations, gambling is not generally legal in the State of Florida. To meet the demand, the casino “cruise to nowhere” industry operates excursion boats and ships which cruise offshore in international waters where passengers can legally gamble. Shuttle boats carry gamblers back and forth from shore to the casino ships.   

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Kilkea, Luxury Yacht Converted from Platform Supply Vessel — No, Not a Container Ship

The article begins, “Your average container ship could never be described as luxurious, but the Kilkea is not your average container ship.” Indeed. And it never was. Several other media sources also describe the yacht as a “converted container ship.” It is not. Apparently, container ships are now sufficiently ubiquitous that anything that floats seems to qualify. 

In fact, the luxury yacht Kilkea will be a converted Platform Supply Vessel (PSV), not a container ship. Unlike most luxury yachts the Kilkea is designed to operate as an”expedition yacht” capable of going virtually anywhere on the globe. While not an icebreaker, the yacht is reportedly ice-classed. It features a helicopter hangar and pad and is capable of operating for 30 days without resupply. 

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“Hero” Humpback Whales to the Rescue

Recently, biologist Nan Hauser was snorkeling in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, when she was approached by a humpback whale. The whale nudged her forward with its closed mouth, tucked her under its pectoral fin, and even maneuvered her out of the water with its back. Hauser was initially frightened and confused by the humpback’s behavior. Only when she got out of the water did she see a large tiger shark on the far side of the whale. Hauser concluded that the whale was attempting to protect her from the shark.

While her conclusion might initially sound far-fetched, for at least the last sixty years, scientists have observed, without quite understanding what they were seeing, a series of strange and stunning events — humpback whales appearing to launch coordinated rescue missions to prevent seals and other whales from being attacked by orcas. Hauser’s experience may be just another form of this not well-understood humpback behavior.

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Royal Clipper — the Not Always Obvious Technology Behind a Modern Clipper Ship

Here is a look at a modern sailing ship, Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper, a high-tech square-rigger whose technology is not always obvious.  Click here for a photo tour of the Royal Clipper recently featured in USA Today.

We recently posted about the high-tech three-masted square-rigger, Black Pearl, which features a next-generation Dynarig with automated sail trimming and furling. Flexible solar panels are also incorporated into the sails to help meet the electrical needs of the vessel. 

Compared to the Black Pearl, the five-masted fully-rigged sailing cruise ship Royal Clipper looks almost entirely traditional. This is no accident. The Royal Clipper is modeled after the famous Flying P Liner, the five-masted ship Preußen of 1902. 

According to the Guinness World Records, the 439′ Royal Clipper is the largest square-rigged ship in service, with 5,202 square meters of sail area (or almost twice that of the Black Pearl.)

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Restoring the Schooner Rhoda Mary

A crowdfunding campaign is underway to rescue what is left of the Cornish schooner Rhoda Mary, lying in the banks of the Medway river, Kent, UK. The goal is to rescue the remains of the schooner and transport it back to its birthplace in Truro, where it will be restored.

The Rhoda Mary is a West Country topsail schooner built at Point in Devoran in 1868. She was renowned for her speed and beauty. After an over fifty-year career carrying cargo, she was decommissioned in 1925 and became a houseboat on the River Medway in Kent. In the mid-60s, the hull burned to the waterline while the underwater hull settled into the river bank. Paradoxically, the loss of the upper decks and sides may have helped protect the shape of the lower hull.

The plan is to salvage the remains of the schooner and move them by barge to Turo for restoration. In addition to saving the Rhoda Mary, the goal is to provide vocational training in the maritime trades to young people in Cornwall and across the UK through the reconstruction and operation of the legendary Cornish 19th-century schooner.

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Everett A. Pearson — Founding Father of Fiberglass

A day before Christmas, Everett A. Pearson died at the age of 84. The co-founder of Pearson Yachts and Tillotson-Pearson Inc., Everett Pearson was a pioneer in the production of fiberglass boats and played a significant role in bringing affordable production boats to the middle class.

In 1955, Everett and his cousin Clinton Pearson began building fiberglass dinghies in their garage in Seekonk, MA. Fiberglass as a boat-building material was considered to be a new and unproven technology. They were approached to build an auxiliary sailboat which would sell for less than $10,000. Designed by Carl Alberg, the boat became the Triton 28. The boat was launched at the New York Boat Show of 1959 and was an immediate success.

Within a year Pearson Yachts had over 100 employees and expanded their line of yachts, many designed by Alberg. In 1961,  Grumman Industries purchased a majority interest in Pearson Yachts.  In 1969, Everett Pearson, who had left the firm following the Grumman acquisition, founded Tillotson-Pearson Inc. (TPI) with Neil Tillotson. Over the years TPI built many sail and powerboat brands including Freedom, J-Boats, Rampage and Alerion Express. TPI also building wind blades, all-composite bus bodies, SwimEx pools, marine pilings, and many Disney amusement rides and airport people movers. 

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Tanker Sanchi’s Condensate Cargo Still Burning — What is Condensate?

An Iranian tanker, Sanchi, carrying 134,000 tonnes of cargo collided with the Chinese bulk, CF Crystal, on Saturday, in the East China Sea off Singapore. Sanchi’s crew of 32 were killed or are missing in the resulting fire. There has been considerable concern that the burning tanker might explode, spilling close to a million barrels of oil into the sea.

The reason for the concern is that the cargo carried aboard the tanker is not typical crude oil. The cargo is called condensate, which is a liquid, usually a byproduct of natural gas production, formed by a variety of gases which condense when extracted. Unlike crude oil, the liquid is often clear and odorless. Condensate is usually composed of propane, butane, pentane or hexane but can also contain carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, aromatics and naphthenes, known as impurities.

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Fire on Iranian Tanker Sanchi Risks Major Oil Spill

Response teams are struggling to bring a fire aboard the Iranian Suezmax tanker Sanchi under control following a collision on Saturday night with the Chinese bulk carrier CF Crystal.  The body of one crew member from the tanker has been found while the remaining 31 are still missing. The collision took place about 160 nautical miles (296 km) off the coast of Shanghai. 

The longer the tanker fire burns the greater the concern that there may be an explosion or that the tanker will fail structurally and sink.  When the two ships collided, the tanker was loaded with approximately 130,000 tonnes of light crude oil. If the ship does sink close to one million barrels of oil could eve spilled into the East China Sea.

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Iranian Tanker & Chinese Bulk Carrier Collide in East China Sea, 32 Missing

Thirty-two crew are reported to be missing from an Iranian Suezmax tanker which collided with a Chinese bulk carrier in the East China Sea on Saturday night. The 160,000 DWT tanker, Sanchi, collided with the bulk carrier CF Crystal, which was loaded with 64,000 tonnes of grain, about 160 nautical miles (296 km) off the coast of Shanghai. The Sanchi is afloat and on fire and leaking oil. 30 Iranian and two Bangladeshis crew from Sanchi are missing. The 21 crew aboard the CF Crystal have all been rescued. 

Eight Chinese ships have been sent for the search-and-rescue operation, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. South Korea has also sent a coastguard ship and a helicopter to aid the relief effort. Poor weather and huge plumes of smoke rising from the tanker are making rescue attempts difficult, Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, told Iranian television.

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Ark in Urk Goes Berserk — Second Casualty in Two Years

Ark in Urk Photo: EPA

A half-scale notional replica of Noah’s Ark went adrift in storm winds of 70 mph in the Dutch port of Urk last Wednesday, damaging several boats. People and animals aboard the “ark” were rescued, possibly two by two.

To be clear, the “ark” is a wooden structure sitting on a steel deck barge. It is one of two “arks” built by Dutch contractor and creationist Johan Huibers. Both craft are often referred to as “Johan’s Arks” and are maintained as Biblical attractions. The “ark” in Urk is 230 feet long, adapted to travel in the Dutch canal system, and was sold to Dutch artist Aad Peters in 2010. It has been moored in the Port of Urk in the Neverlands since January 2016.     

This is the second casualty resulting in two years from losing control of this “ark.” In June 2016, while in Oslo harbor, the “ark” collided with a Norwegian Coast Guard patrol boat, damaging both vessels. A two-story hole was knocked in the side of the “ark’s” wooden cladding.

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Quarterdeck Review of Evening Grey Morning Red by George Jepson

A review of Evening Gray Morning Red by George Jepson in the Winter 2018 issue of Quarterdeck:

Cracking open Evening Gray Morning Red, Rick Spilman’s new novel, I was hooked by the first paragraph, which took me back four decades to – yes, wait for it – “a dark and stormy night” on Lake Michigan. Caught in a tempest aboard a 30-foot sloop, a stiff nor’wester drove us into towering seas. Flying only a headsail, we slid down one wave and up another under an inkblack sky, bound, we prayed, for a snug harbor.

Spilman’s description of a similar voyage, written by a man who has spent his life steeped in ships and the sea, promised a rousing yarn freshened by a salt breeze.

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Update: Looking Back at When New York Harbor Froze

Strolling on the East River, 1867

Today, the East Coast is being pummeled by what meterologists are referring to as a “bomb cyclone,” a term which is equal parts concerning and confusing. A “bomb cyclone” is simply a rapidly intensifying low pressure front, which is now causing blizzard conditions across much of the East coast from Delaware to Maine.   

Even before the “bomb cyclone” the conditions have been brutally cold. As pointed out by an article in The Atlantic, recent temperatures in parts of the Northeast have been colder than temperatures on Mars. 

Yet, as frigid as the recent cold snap has been, it has been a lot worst in the past. Even the recent past. In 2015, ferry traffic was interrupted by heavy ice in New York’s East River and sections of the Hudson River partially froze over. And that is nothing compared to conditions in the late 18th and 19th centuries. An update on a post from January 2014

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HMS Ocean to be Sold to Brazil

HMS Ocean, amphibious assault ship and flagship of the Royal Navy has reportedly been sold to Brazil for £84.3million. HMS Ocean is the last British warship capable of launching aircraft.  The Ocean carries 18 helicopters. Britain has lacked the capacity to launch and land fixed wing aircraft since 2016 when it scrapped its last aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious. The Royal Navy’s new flagship, the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is not expected to be fully operational until 2020.  

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