On “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” Why Romanticize Thieves and Murderers?

jack-en-piratas-del-caribeOn this the official “Talk Like A Pirate Day,” all I can say is, “No, thank you. I would rather not.”  The problem is that there are still real pirates plying their trade around the globe, abusing and and too often killing merchant seamen.  So, pretending to speak in some stilted form of 17th century nautical English, by way of Hollywood and Disney, while pretending to be a faux-pirate, seems in bad taste, at best.  The larger question is, why romanticize pirates in the first place?  In the real world, pirates, whether of the so-called “Golden Age of Piracy,” or of today, were and are nautical thieves and, more often than not, murderers as well.

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Tommy Thompson, SS Central America & the Plague of Gold

TTbillboardOdyssey Marine Exploration Inc. recently wrapped up recovery efforts on the wreck of the SS Central America for the year. In last five months, they have recovered more than 15,500 gold and silver coins, 45 gold bars and hundreds of nuggets, jewelry and other artifacts from the wreck, which lies in 7,200 feet of water, 200 miles off the Carolina coast.  After repairs and study of the data collected thus far, Odyssey plans to return to the site in 2015.

Odyssey got the contract to salvage the cargo of the SS Central America from a court appointed receiver representing investors in a venture once lead by Tommy Thompson, which located the wreck in 1988.  Therein hangs a tale of Tommy Thompson and his “plague of gold.”

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From Blue Water, White Death & Jaws to Katherine the Great White Twitter Shark

Katharine, Celebrity Great White Shark

Katharine, Celebrity Great White Shark

In 1971, Blue Water, White Death,  a documentary about great white sharks hit the big screens. I recall the documentary as thrilling and absolutely terrifying.  White sharks were portrayed as monstrous killing machines, swimming in every ocean, ready to gobble us all up. And if that was not enough reason to stay out of the water, scenes from Blue Water, White Death were said to have inspired Peter Benchley’s best-selling 1974 thriller, Jaws. (Benchley also borrowed heavily from Melville’s Moby Dick, swapping out a white whale for a white shark.) Jaws the book was followed by Jaws the movie, followed by three sequels. The message was clear — sharks were viscous and terrible beasts.  Be afraid! Be very afraid!

How times have changed.   Continue reading

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The Schooners Columbia — 1923 & 2014

Columbia  1923 launch (left) Columbia 2014 launch (right)

Columbia 1923 launch (left) Columbia 2014 launch (right)

The Columbia of 1923 was a fishing schooner built at the Arthur Dana Story shipyard in Essex, MA, from a design by Starling Burgess. She was famous for her speed and seaworthiness and for winning international schooner races, including one against Bluenose. Columbia was lost with all hands in a hurricane off Sable Island, Nova Scotia in 1927.

The Columbia of 2014 was recently launched at Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, FL. The 141 foot long schooner was also built to the same design as her namesake, although the new Columbia is built as a yacht rather than as a fisherman and of steel rather than wood. Burgess’ plans were adapted for steel construction by Gilbert Associates, naval architects in Boston.  Columbia will continue to undergo outfitting and begin sailing trials. She will also be exhibited at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show October 30th – November 3rd, 2014.

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Frigate Hermione is Under Sail!

accueil__066374100_1654_28062007After close to two decades of construction, the frigate Hermione  is finally under sail. In 1997, a group of historical and tall ship enthusiasts formed the Association Hermione-La Fayette and set about building a replica of the French frigate, Hermione, which carried Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, across the Atlantic in 1780 to join the American rebels in their struggle for independence.

The original Hermione was built in eleven months in 1779, in Rochefort, France by the shipwright Henri Chevillard. The replica took seventeen years in what proved to be part shipbuilding project and part living history museum. While observing the requirements of current safety regulations, the shipyard used primarily 18th century shipbuilding techniques and invited visitors to learn about the process. The 25 million euro cost of the project was largely financed by 3.7 million visitors to the shipyard during the years of construction. The Hermione Association has attracted artisan craftsmen from all over the world and now has close to 8,000 members.

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Battle of Trindade — Battle of the Doppelgänger Passenger Liners

Sinking_Cap_TrafalgarOn September 14th, 1914, one hundred years ago today, off the Brazilian island of Trindale, one of the stranger naval battles of World War I was fought between two converted passenger liners, one of which was disguised to look like the other. In a battle of doppelgängers, the German liner lost to the British ship that it resembled.

Cap Trafalger was a passenger liner built for the Hamburg-South America Line for their service between Germany and the River Plate. She was 613 feet long with a beam of 72 feet,  18,710 GRT and could carry nearly 1,600 passengers.  She went into service in April of 1914, but by August, with the outbreak of war, she was requisitioned by the German Imperial Navy as an auxiliary cruiser. Cap Trafalger rendezvoused at the remote Brazilian island of Trindade, 500 miles east of the Brazilian mainland, with the gunboat SMS Eber, which transferred naval officers, ammunition and armaments to the liner. Two 4.1 inch guns and six one-pounder pom-poms were installed on the ship. All were manned by German naval personnel.  The ship was given the mission to act as a commerce raider, sinking British merchant shipping.

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The Battle Of Fort McHenry & the Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner over Fort McHenry

The Star Spangled Banner over Fort McHenry

At around 6AM, 200 years ago today, the British Royal Navy began a fearsome bombardment of Fort McHenry at the mouth of Baltimore harbor. The British had attempted to take Baltimore by both land and sea. The British army attack stalled the day before, with the loss of Major General Robert Ross. As the British Army prepared a second attack on the American earthworks, the Royal Navy took its turn. Baltimore’s defenders had sunk 22 ships in the main channel. Any attempt to clear the channel would bring the British under the the guns of Fort McHenry and other American batteries.

After initial skirmishing, the Royal Navy anchored just out range of Fort McHenry’s guns and brought to bear the most advanced weaponry of their day. Five bomb ships; HMS Terror, HMS Volcano, HMS Meteor, HMS Devastation, and HMS Aetna; could each fire cast iron exploding shells weighing upwards of 200 pounds for a distance of two miles. HMS Erubus, a ship carrying Congreve rockets with a range almost as great as the mortars, fired their novel, if not very accurate rockets at the fort, as well.  (The bomb ship, HMS Terror, would later serve in the ill-fated Franklin expedition. Her wreck may have recently been discovered. )

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NOAA Expands Thunder Bay’s Shipwreck Alley Sanctuary Tenfold

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is increasing the size of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles, doubling the number the number of shipwrecks protected to 200. Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.”  Thunder Bay is the only Marine Sanctuary in fresh water.

A Sanctuary for Sunken Ships

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Bicentenial of the Battle of Plattsburgh — the False Nile & Defeat of the Royal Navy

Battle of Plattsburgh

We may always associate September 11th with the tragic attacks of 2001. September 11th of 1814, however, 200 years ago today, saw a significant naval victory by the young American Navy at the Battle of Plattsburgh that may have changed the outcome of the War of 1812.

On this day, an American squadron, under the command of Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough, defeated the Royal Navy on Lake Champlain in a bloody battle at Plattsburgh Bay.  The Battle of Plattsburgh turned back an invasion force of 11,000 British troops which was intended to do nothing less than redraw the map of the United States. Like the Battle of Lake Erie, a year before, the Battle of Plattsburg was fought in fresh water hundreds of miles from the ocean.  It was not a large fleet battle, and yet, was no doubt one of the most important naval victories of the war.

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Repost: BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience

On the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks 9/11, it seems worthwhile to revisit the amazing story of the spontaneous maritime evacuation of somewhere between 300,000 and one million people who were trapped in lower Manhattan on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. It truly was an American Dunkirk.

Here is an amazing video that captures the madness, wonder, determination and commonplace heroism of that Tuesday in September, thirteen years ago today.

BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience

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A Super-Hero Suit to Dive on Antikythera Shipwreck

exosuit-main1An international team of archaeologists and divers wearing an Exosuit will be diving on the Antikythera shipwreck this month. The suit is described as a part robot and part submarine, and evocative of the suit from the “Iron Man” movies and their hero, Tony Stark. With the Exosuit, divers can descend safely to 1000 feet (300+ m) and stay for hours, without having to decompress on the way back to the surface. It is fitting that the most modern high-tech suit is using to explore the shipwreck that was the source of the most advanced high-tech device know from the ancient world, the Antikythera mechanism.

Exosuit Hublot

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Ship From Franklin Expedition & Possibly the Battle of Baltimore Found

HMS Terror in ice

HMS Terror in ice

The wreckage of one of two missing ships from Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845 is believed to have been found. It is not known yet if the wreck is of HMS Terror or HMS Erebus. The Franklin expedition was an attempt to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage.  Franklin, 128 men of the expedition and the two ships, were all lost.  Searches for the lost expedition began in 1848, and continued through much of the 19th century. Since 2008, Parks Canada has led six major searches for the ships. A remotely operated underwater vehicle searching the Victoria Strait made the discovery on Sunday.

Before serving as an expedition ship, HMS Terror played a memorable role in American history. Indeed, so did a ship named HMS Erebus. Continue reading

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Great News — California Blue Whales Rebound to Near Historic Levels

bluewhale1Despite being hunted from 1905–1971, the California blue whale has rebounded so that today it is approximately 97% of pre-whaling levels.  The journal Marine Mammal Science recently published a study, “Do ship strikes threaten the recovery of endangered eastern North Pacific blue whales?”  The analysis by the researchers from the University of Washington investigated why the observed increase in the whale population has slowed in recent years. They asked whether the cause might be ship strikes — whales being killed when hit by ships.  They concluded that while ship strikes were too frequent, the reason that the rate of growth of the blue population has leveled off is because they have reached the capacity of the habitat to support them.

“The real key finding here is that they are close to recovery, which is a bit of a surprise. … Our perspective is that we’d rather there were no ship strikes at all, and they are over the legal limit,” said Dr. Trevor Branch in an interview with the BBC.  “They have to do something to stop it, but 11 per year is so much lower than historic catches.”

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Chinese Supercavitating Supersonic Submarines? Is Supercavitation the Future of High Speed Ocean Travel?

shkval2The headline in the South China Morning Post was, at the very least, eye catching — Shanghai to San Francisco in 100 minutes by Chinese supersonic submarine.   The article makes it clear that while the Chinese may be researching such a submarine, they are no where close to actually building one. So how does one, even theoretically, build a “supersonic submarine?”  The answer may be by using supercavitation.  How close are the Chinese to actually designing and building one — not very.

Cavitation is the creation of water vapor bubbles in areas of low pressure on a hull or propeller underwater.  In most cases cavitation is something to avoid, if possible.  Cavitation bubbles forming and collapsing on a ship’s propeller can damage the blades.  The formation and collapse of the bubbles is also noisy, so submarine designers try to design to avoid cavitation in order that submarines be a stealthy as possible. Cavitation also reduces the lift on hydrofoils.

Supercavitation is very different, however. Continue reading

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Floating Library Launches on the Lilac

floatinglibrarylilacStarting today and running through October 3rd, the 1933 lighthouse tender Lilac, on the Hudson River at Pier 25 in New York, is being transformed into the Floating Library, a mobile device-free salon for reading, writing, research, debate, and fearless dreaming. Created and organized by artist Beatrice Glow, who also brought the Aquarium from Austronesia to the the ship in 2012, custom-made lounge furniture and bookshelves filled with donated books offer space to relax and ideas to inspire. Workshops, discussions, and presentations will provide further food for thought. Activities take place almost daily Wednesday through Sunday and hours will vary. Please consult the calendar for times and details of the events.

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Mystery Munitions Recovered from Lake George

AMMO1_19079A team of US Navy divers recovered five crates of live munitions from the bottom of Lake George, NY, in about 60′ of water. The munitions were found by recreational divers over the Labor Day weekend. The Navy divers are reported to have recovered 37mm shells, believed to be from an 1870s Hotchkiss gun, as well as German WWII anti-aircraft rounds. How and why the live munitions ended up at the bottom of Lake George remains a mystery.

The munitions apparently have whatsoever nothing to do with the history of the lake. Nevertheless, whoever dumped them happened to pick a location on the lake that has a legacy of bloody warfare. Today, Lake George is a tourist destination and many of the islands in the lake are popular sites for campers. The lake was not always so peaceful.

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A New Owner for HMS Pickle

HMSPicklereplica2We have been following the 1995 built replica of the topsail schooner HMS Pickle for some time. In 2008, she was offered for sale for £350,000.00 (US$626,640). In July, she reappeared on the market on E-Bay where the winning bid was £69,500.00. The Seller’s Notes of Ebay read: “Pickle is in need of some work to bring her up to scratch.”  The original HMS Pickle was the first ship to bring the news of Nelson’s great victory and tragic death at Trafalgar back to England.

An article in In the Boatshed, identifies the owner as Malcolm Nicholson who also owns the 1926 iron hull Humber sloop Spider T.   From In the Boat Shed:

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Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival 2014

thamsetallshipAnother great event that I wish I was attending.  Starting tomorrow September 5th and lasting through the 9th, the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival will take place at three sites across Royal Greenwich and one in neighboring Canary Wharf.  The tall ships will start arriving on the Thames today after an exciting race from Falmouth.  More than 50 tall ships will be participating.  The event is said to be the largest gathering of tall ships on the Thames in over 25 years.

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Tuvalu — Tiny Pacific Island Nation in the Age of the Internet

Tuvalu_-_Funafuti_-_ApproachTuvalu is a tiny Polynesian island nation in roughly the geometric center of the Pacific Ocean.  The CIA World Factbook describes the nation’s economy as follows: Tuvalu consists of a densely populated, scattered group of nine coral atolls with poor soil. Only eight of the atolls are inhabited. The country has no known mineral resources and few exports and is almost entirely dependent upon imported food and fuel. Subsistence farming and fishing are the primary economic activities. Fewer than 1,000 tourists, on average, visit Tuvalu annually. Job opportunities are scarce and public sector workers make up most of those employed. About 15% of the adult male population work as seamen on merchant ships abroad….

By pure luck, the growth of on-line video is helping to support Tuvalu. On-line video is booming. Last month, 190 million Americans watched online video content, according to comScore.  So what does this have to do with Tuvalu?

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Italian Navy’s Operation Mare Nostrum Rescues 4,000 Refugees

boat-carrying-african-immigrants-sinks-off-libya-coastYesterday, we posted about Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a privately funded operation to assist refugees in trouble attempting to cross the Mediterranean. While we obviously wish them well, a recent report reminded us again of the scope of the refugee crisis. The Italian Navy’s Operation Mare Nostrum recently rescued close to 4,000 refugees in the Mediterranean near Sicily. Helicopters, patrol boats and frigates were part of the combined rescue operation.  Almost 110,000 people have been rescued since January, but nearly 2,000 have died attempting the crossing, according to the UN’s refugee agency.  The Mare Nostrum operation, costs £7.5m per month and was started in October 2013 after 360 migrants drowned off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

Italian Navy Rescues 4,000 Migrants Off the Italian Coast

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