Great news from the SS United States Conservancy. At the beginning of October, the Conservancy announced that its board had retained the services of a broker to explore selling the SS United States for scrap “over concerns about the organization’s long-term ability to continue financing the upkeep of the ship in the absence of firm redevelopment commitments and capital.” Since then the Conservancy has raised sufficient funds to keep the ship afloat well into next year. From the Conservancy press release:
Thanks to several major donations, as well as additional contributions from more than 800 supporters, the Conservancy’s Board of Directors voted late Monday not to accept any of the three bids submitted by the recyclers. The Conservancy has now raised well over $600,000 since it issued last month’s SOS, including two $100,000 gifts and a $250,000 donation.
Around 1847, Henry Manning, a London carpenter, started building houses in components that could be easily stowed on ships and reassembled by emigrants on the other side of an ocean. Several hundred “Manning cottages” were shipped to Australia. It turns out, however, that Manning was a late-comer to prefabricated buildings. Byzantine Emperor Justinian, over a thousand years before, was dispatching ships carrying prefabricated marble churches from quarries around the Sea of Marmara to sites in Italy and North Africa. Some of the ships never made it to port. As reported by the Belfast Telegraph: In the 1960s, German archaeologist Gerhard Kapitan excavated a shipwreck off the south-east coast of Sicily. Hundreds of prefabricated marble elements of the basilica were brought to the surface, including 28 columns, slabs and pieces of a pulpit. Much still remains on the seabed and the site has been under investigation again since 2012.
Now the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford will assemble marble pieces of the church from the shipwreck as a part o f their exhibition called Storms, War And Shipwrecks: Treasures From The Sicilian Seas. The museum’s director has joked that he hopes putting the church together will be “easier than an Ikea wardrobe“.
Scientists have reported the largest whale stranding on record — 337 dead whales were discovered in a remote fiord in the Patagonia, southern Chile. The discovery was made using aerial and satellite photography last June but was first leaked the Chilean press last Friday. As reported by National Geographic:
Because of the remoteness of the area and the roughness of the seas, scientists have not been able to examine the whales directly, but aerial and satellite photography identified 305 bodies and 32 skeletons in an area between the Gulf of Penas and Puerto Natales, toward the southern tip of the continent.
Last year we posted about a very bad night for the schooner, Ada C. Lore. In the early morning hours of December 4, 2014, the Eastport, Maine breakwater pier where she was berthed suddenly collapsed onto the Ada C. Lore, doing considerable damage to the 1923 built converted oyster dredger. The good news is that the historic schooner is being restored, which will take approximately 6-8 months. Ada C. Lore is a near-sister vessel to the A.J. Meerwald, New Jersey’s official Tall Ship.
The restoration will include all or partial replacement of: top timbers, topside planks, covering board, cap rail, rub rail, decking, cabin tops, running and standing rigging, center board trunk, helm and steering gear, quarter bits, electrical wiring and components, plumbing associated with firefighting, re-caulking, and paint. To ensure the highest quality standards, the restoration crew will be working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard through every step of the process.
To help out in the restoration process, go to the Ada C. Lore donation page. Thanks to Jesse Briggs on Facebook for the heads up.
Given the current heated debate over Syrian refugees, it seems worthwhile to remember the ill-fated voyage of the German ocean liner St. Louis in 1939. The ship carried 908 Jewish refugees who were fleeing from Nazi Germany. The ship and its passengers were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada. Finally, the ship turned around and returned to Europe. Despite the US government’s refusal to accept the refugees, private Jewish aid groups in the United States did manage to place most of the refugees in Belgium, France and Holland, to avoid returning them to Nazi Germany. Tragically, many were later captured when the Nazis invaded. Two-hundred-and-fifty-four of the refugees are believed to have died in the German death camps. The voyage has been the subject of at least one book and two movies. The movie, Voyage of the Damned, in 1974 was based on the book of the same name by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. A second movie, The Voyage of the St. Louis, was released in 1995.
The expedition cruise ship, Le Boreal, operated by French line Ponant, has been evacuated after a fire in the engine room. Fire broke out on the 264-passenger ship as she was sailing off the Falkland Islands early Wednesday. The passengers were transferred to a sister ship, L’Austral, which was nearby. They will be taken to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands to be sent home. The remainder of the cruise has been cancelled. Le Boreal was built in 2011 by Fincantieri.
It is easy to get caught up in the bad news. The oceans are filling with plastic. Coral reefs are dying due to ocean acidification caused by climate change. Overfishing will wipe out all currently fished seafood by 2050. And so on. With all the bad news, there is still some good. This has been a great year or so for the creation of marine reserves, also known as marine protected areas or ocean sanctuaries. In just over a year’s time, roughly 1.3 million square miles of the ocean have been protected by new sanctuaries.
We know that the ro/ro El Faro sank with all hands after it lost power in the path of Hurricane Joaquin in early October. The captain reported a hull breach. All 33 crew were lost. We may never know too much more. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced that it has completed its search and video documentation of the sunken El Faro, which was located at a depth of 15,000 feet underwater. The Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), the so-called “black box,” which might have provided answers to additional questions about the sinking, was not found, however. From the NTSB press release:
On Nov. 11, the navigation bridge was found but neither the mast nor the VDR was found in the vicinity of the navigation bridge structure.
After five more days of searching with CURV-21, it was determined that the VDR could not be located. The search and video documentation efforts of El Faro were completed on Nov. 15. No further search missions are planned.
Peking was one of the last generation of the great windjammers — iron and steel ships built as bulk carriers to sail the long windy passages around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope where steamships could not economically operate. Peking was one of the Flying-P Line, owned and operated by the German shipping company F. Laeisz of Hamburg. They continued building steel sailing ships into the mid-1920s. Peking carried wheat and nitrates around Cape Horn between 1911 and 1932, when she was converted to a children’s home and training school. In 1975, the ship was acquired by New York’s South Street Seaport Museum and brought to New York.
Great news. The schooner Spirit of South Carolinais on her way home to Charleston, South Carolina. We recently heard from Meryl Huckabey:
“As a long-time reader of oldsaltblog.com I am pleased to tell you that the Spirit of South Carolina, tall ship out of Charleston, South Carolina just finished sea trials and Coast Guard inspection in Newport, Rhode Island. The Spirit will leave for her home port of Charleston, SC in the next day or so. She is skippered by Christopher Trandell, recently the captain of Spirit of Bermuda. The Spirit is a two-masted, 140-foot-long wooden ship built in a field near Charleston harbor, modeled after a 19th century, Charleston-built pilot schooner. She was launched in 2007, running educational programs until financial difficulties stopped her from sailing. The Spirit was bought by local businessmen Tommy Baker and Michael Bennett to keep her in Charleston harbor. Plans for educational programs, recreational trips, and dock tours are being considered, although “teaching children will still be our focus” according to Director Ashley Bridges.”
Congratulations to all involved with the schooner Spirit of South Carolina.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Thursday that U.S. Navy salvage tug Apache has located the bridge deck of El Faro roughly a mile from the main wreckage of the ro/ro cargo ship. 33 crew died when the 790-foot long ship sank in Hurricane Joaquin in the beginning of October. The wreckage lies in approximately 15,000 of water or roughly a half mile deeper than the wreck of the Titanic. The tug Apache is equipped with side-scanning sonar and a remote operating vehicle or ROV capable of operating at these depths.
The search continues for the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), often referred to as the “black box.” The VDR, which is, in fact, orange, would provide valuable information on what happened prior to the ship’s sinking. The VDR is designed to collect data from various sensors on board the vessel for the prior 24 hours.
On November 7th, two balsa rafts set out from Lima, Peru, bound for Easter Island on the Kon-Tiki 2 expedition. The voyage is both an homage to Thor Heyerdahl’s famous voyage on the raft Kon-Tiki in 1947 and a voyage to collect data on climate change, ocean currents, marine life and plastic pollution. The expedition will also attempt to sail back from Easter Island to Peru, which creates particular challenges for rafts capable of sailing primarily downwind.
The expedition is something of an anachronism. On one hand, it will be using the most up to date technology to monitor ocean conditions and levels of pollution, while, on the other, the rafts harken back to the largely discredited Thor Heyerdahl “westward drift” theory” of migration to Polynesia. The expedition has added the new twist that it will attempt to actively control the course of the rafts to allow them to make a return trip to South America. To do so, the new rafts feature adjustable “guara boards” to steer the craft. The intent is to sail the rafts far enough south to catch the westerly winds of the Roaring 40s and then catch the Humbolt current for the trip northward. Whether or not this course is possible on balsa rafts remains to be seen. Whether it is reasonable to assume that this course was ever sailed by ancient Polynesians seems far less likely.
A fisherman recently may or may not have caught a three-eyed catfish in New York’s Gowanus Canal. Why anyone would fish in the canal is a question that immediately comes to mind, immediately followed by “what would you do with any fish that you caught?” In the case of the three-eyed mutant fish, the answer is “call the media.”
When I came to New York, forty years ago, I went to work as a naval architect for Moore-McCormack Lines, whose terminal was at 23rd Street in Brooklyn on the Gowanus Canal. The water in the canal literally stank. The pilings on the piers were not treated with creosote because the water was so too polluted for teredo worms. Four decades later, not much has improved. Acknowledged as one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, the Gowanus Canal has been a “Superfund” site since 2010. It is expected to cost over a half billion to clean up and won’t be completed by 2022. Last April, we posted about an environmental activist who went swimming in the canal on Earth Day to call for “an accelerated cleanup of the Canal.” Given the range of toxins in the water, the swim seems more likely to have shortened the gentleman’s life than to necessarily accelerated the cleanup. Two years earlier, a dolphin swam into the canal and died.
And now, a fisherman claims to have caught a three-eyed mutant fish in the Gowanus Canal. Continue reading →
In the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th century, windjammer sailors in the nitrate and guano trades to Peru and Chile drank significant quantities of pisco when they arrived on the west coast of South America. Pisco is a brandy named after a southern Peruvian port. No doubt, most sailors drank it straight. These days the favored drink is the pisco sour, which is claimed as the national drink of both Peru and Chile. On a recent trip to Peru, I downed more than a few pisco sours and enjoyed each one. The drink is fundamentally a blend of pisco, sugar, lemon or lime juice and ice. The Peruvian version, developed in the 1920s, is a touch fancier, with a blended egg white for frothiness and a dash of Angostura bitters as an accent.
Since returning from Peru, I have come up with my own variation — pisco grog. Continue reading →
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, better known as Hedy Lamarr, was born to Jewish parents in Austria on November 9th, 1914, one hundred and one years ago today. At the height of her movie career, she was known as the “most beautiful woman in the world,” a description that I would not argue. In addition to her beauty and her skill as an actress, Hedy Lamarr was also a scientist, inventor, and mathematician.
During World War II, Hedy Lamar and George Antheil developed a radio-controlled guidance system for torpedos. Because they realized that a radio signal could be jammed, they developed a “frequency-hopping” radio system that was almost impossible to jam. They were jointly awarded a patent on the system in 1942 and they turned it over to the US Navy, which then essentially did nothing with the system for the rest of the war. It was finally adopted in 1962 when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba, one year after the patent had expired.
Hedy Lamarr’s invention, however, was applied to far more than just torpedos. The Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum described in her patent is integral technology in cell phones, GPS, Bluetooth devices, and wi-fi. Lamarr received no credit for her pioneering invention until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honored her with a belated award for her contribution to communications. Hedy Lamar died in 2000, at the age of 86.
Last night, right about sunset, the western sky over Southern California was filled by a weird blue-green light streaking across the heavens. Visible as far as Arizona, the mysterious light didn’t look like a meteor. For a time, it was literally an Unidentified Flying Object, a UFO. The Twitter-sphere was filled with speculation about alien invasion, the Death Star, and doom, among other topics. Soon, however, it was identified as a being the launch of an unarmed Trident II (D5) missile fired from the USS Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine that sits off the coast of Southern California in the Pacific Test Range. There is a video of the missile launch after the page break.
At the beginning of October, the SS United States Conservancy announced that its board had retained the services of a broker to explore selling the SS United States for scrap “over concerns about the organization’s long-term ability to continue financing the upkeep of the ship in the absence of firm redevelopment commitments and capital.” Since then the Conservancy has raised $100,000, which has given the organization some breathing room, although not much. With monthly expenses for berthing and other costs running at $60,000, the newly raised funds will not last long. Yesterday, the Conservancy issued a statement saying, in part:
“Progress has been made due to your commitment and we are still compiling the necessary information to help the Board fully and responsibly evaluate our current situation from a financial and redevelopment standpoint. As a result, the Board has opted to defer any additional determination about the ship’s immediate future until later this month.”
Queimada Grande is a Brazilian island in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 90 miles from São Paulo. It is off limits to most visitors, not because it harbors secrets or treasure, but rather because it has more snakes, between one and five per square meter than perhaps any other spot on the face of the earth. And these are not just any snakes, but a unique and deadly species of pit viper, the golden lancehead. Not surprisingly, Queimada Grande is nicknamed Snake Island.