Help Urban Boatbuilders Win $62,000!

In August we posted about Rocking the Boat, an after-school program in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, a borough of New York City, which has been teaching neighborhood kids to build wooden boats for the last 15 years. Urban Boatbuilders offers a similar program which teaches boat building to youth in the St.Paul/Minneapolis area.   Urban Boatbuilders is now a finalist in the Building Community Award. If they win, the program will receive a $62,000 grant.  All it takes is votes, which cost nothing but a moment of your time. If you have a moment click here to vote for a good cause.

Urban Boatbuilders on Twin Cities Live

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Working Harbor Committee Movie Night — MV Liemba

liembaIf you happen to be near New York City next Tuesday night, March 31st, be sure to stop by the Community Church to “take an epic journey down the longest lake in the world on Africa’s last surviving steamship…. the MV Liemba,” and all without leaving midtown Manhattan.

The Working Harbor Committee is sponsoring the showing of a wonderful documentary on the MV Liemba, an ex-German warship, a minor movie star, and also, at one hundred years old, the world’s oldest passenger ferry in service. The venerable ship provides a critical link to the isolated ports along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. (See our post from last November, MV Liemba — the World’s Oldest Passenger/Cargo Steamer at 100 .)  A trailer for the documentary appears below the page break.

From their announcement:
Before there was the African Queen, before there was the East River Ferry and the NYC Ferry plan, there was Liemba! A ferry connecting communities and people with work on the great Lake Tanganyika. Come see this warming and entertaining documentary about the 100 year old vessel; its history, interviews with the people who run and use it; and hear the marvelous sound track of East Africa music.

Special guest speaker: James Wong, Director of Ferries, NYC Economic Development Corp.

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Lan Yu “Canoes”

We are very pleased to have a guest post from Joan Druett, who recently visited Taiwan. Joan is the multi-award winning author of more than 20 books, including her latest, Lady Castaways and Eleanor’s Odyssey.

A priority for anyone from the Pacific who visits Taiwan is the Shung-Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines.  After all, it is now both scientifically and popularly believed that the greatest migration of seafarers in history — the discovery and settlement of the islands of the Pacific — began in Taiwan.  It was from the east coast of this mountainous island off the coast of mainland China that the people we now call Polynesians set out on their epic voyages.  Our New Zealand Maori are distant cousins of the Formosan Aborigines, with a great deal in common, both in appearance and in personality. There are echoes of the local language in Maori te reo.

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Commodore John Barry — the Other Father of the US Navy

John Barry by Gilbert Stuart 1801

John Barry by Gilbert Stuart 1801

This seems like a good day to celebrate birthdays.  So, happy birthday to Commodore John Barry, born on this day in 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland.  He is considered by many to be the “father of the United States Navy.”  But wait, isn’t John Paul Jones also considered to be the “father of the United States Navy?”

As the saying goes, success has many fathers. Over the years, the birthday of the US Navy has been celebrated on at least four different dates. Likewise five different cities and towns lay claim to its birthplace. So, perhaps it is not surprising that the Navy has more than one candidate as father.

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The Kelly Brothers — Starship Sailors, A Shared Mission to the Heavens and on the Ground


Mark & Scott Kelley

In January 2011, we posted about Mark and Scott Kelly, two “starship sailors” — identical twin brothers who both graduated from merchant marine academies and went on to be astronauts in the US space program. Now, Scott Kelley is about to embark on a marathon, year long voyage on the International Space Station, while his brother Mark will remain on the ground, yet will still play an important role in the mission.

Identical twins, Mark and Scott were raised in New Jersey and both attended merchant marine academies. Mark graduated from United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, while Scott is a graduate of the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, only a few miles across Long Island Sound from Kings Point. Both served as naval aviators and then became astronauts.  They are the only siblings and the only twins to ever have flow in space.

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Will Prince Albert of Monaco Save Cousteau’s Calypso?

Calypso in better days

Calypso in better days

We posted recently that Jacques Cousteau’s famous research vessel, Calypso, might be in danger of being sold or scrapped.  The Calypso, however, may have a savior in Prince Albert II  of Monaco.

After a long legal battle, a French court ordered Francine Cousteau, the second wife of the late Jacques Cousteau, to settle outstanding yard bills and remove the RV Calypso from a Brittany shipyard by March 13. If she failed to do so, the shipyard would be allowed to sell the 43 meter wooden research vessel.   Apparently for the last several months talks have been underway between the Cousteau Society and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. The Prince is said to be interested in acquiring scientific and educational material of the famous French oceanographer, consisting in movies, books, photos including the ship Calypso.

If the ship is brought to Monaco, it will be something of a homecoming.  Jacques Cousteau served as the director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for more than three decades, from 1957 to 1988.  The Calypso was featured in Cousteau’s books and the award winning documentary “Silent World” as well the American TV series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which ran from 1968 to 1975.   Thanks to Erik Abranson for pointing out the news on the MarHistList.

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Star of India Tacking and Wearing

Maneuvering a square-rigged ship can be a highly choreographed performance requiring both skill and timing. Here is a well done video of the 1883 built Star of India tacking and wearing.

Star of India tacking and wearing

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The Shantyman, Reviewed by David Hayes

David Hayes recently reviewed The Shantyman on his Historic Naval Fiction blog.  Reposted with permission.

If you want to be taken to the deck of a clipper in the mountainous seas of a southern ocean gale, Rick Spilman is the author for you. His description of life at sea in such vessels are vivid and bring to life the conditions faced by the officers and crew of such vessels.

In his latest book, The Shantyman, he tells the story of one such crew, on the Alhambra, voyaging from Sydney to New York in 1870. Jack Barlow is hoisted aboard paralytic drunk but proves to be not just an able shantyman, but when the captain dies and the murderous mate is washed overboard, the man who will pull the crew together and as the new captain get them home. Facing the southern ocean ice and later a hurricane, he overcomes his tragic past to get them to safety and restart his life.

Successful, tragedy strikes again, but will the crew he has saved now rally round and manage to save him.

A fast paced and well written story of life at sea and also of New York at this time. Hard to put down and highly recommended.

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Happy First Day of Spring — Equinox, Eclipse, Supermoon & Snowstorm

EclipseHalo1Happy first day of Spring! The arrival of the vernal equinox happens to coincide with a solar eclipse, as well as with a “supermoon,” and here on the west bank of the Hudson River, a snowstorm designated “Winter Storm Ultima.” (Let us hope the name “Ultima” is as in, “last or final.”)  A very busy day, indeed. I would have been happy just settling for warm winds and blue skies.

The solar eclipse is expected to be visible in parts of Northern Europe today, although there have been reports of cloudy skies which may obscure some of the better vantage points. Clouds are not the only concern.  Yesterday, a Czech tourist who was camping on the remote Arctic island of Svalbard in order to watch the solar eclipse, was dragged out of his tent by a polar bear. Fortunately, the bear was driven off and the Czech’s injuries were reported not to be life-threatening.

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Is Captain Mary Becker Greene Still Watching Out for the Delta Queen?

Captain Mary B. Greene and her husband Captain Gordon Greene

Captain Mary B. Greene and her husband Captain Gordon Greene

Some say that Captain Mary Becker Greene is still watching out for the riverboat Delta Queen. Captain “Ma” Greene served for almost sixty years as master and pilot of some of the finest steamboats on the inland rivers. She died in her cabin aboard the Delta Queen in 1949. Some say that she never left. Employees and guests have reported sounds and activities aboard, particularly around her cabin.

Mary Becker married Captain Gordon C. Greene in 1890 and set up housekeeping on his Cincinnati packet boat, the H. K. Bedford. In 1896, she earned her pilot’s license and took command of the riverboat Argand. She and her husband built the Greene Line, which at its peak operated twelve riverboats carrying freight and passengers on the Ohio and its tributaries. When Gordon Greene died in 1927, two her sons, Tom, who has been born on riverboat, and Chris, helped their mother run the company.

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Will the Steamboat Delta Queen Sail Again?

dq1Since 2008, the 1927 built sternwheel steamboat Delta Queen has been tied to a dock in Chattanooga, Tennessee, serving as a hotel.  Now, with luck and a considerable investment, the old steamboat may be returning to the rivers to carry passengers once again.  This weekend, she will be slipping her lines on the way to a major restoration. Her new owner, New Orleans businessman Cornel Martin, is arranging to have the steamboat moved to undergo a $5 million reconstruction.  From a press release posted on their the Delta Queen Facebook page:

“My partners and I are thrilled to be taking this critical first step toward the preservation and restoration of this important piece of American and river history,” said Cornel Martin, President and CEO of Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “We look forward to the day when the Delta Queen will once again be able to ply America’s waterways and allow passengers to relive the experiences of Mark Twain and his unique cast of river characters from the decks of a true 1927 steamboat.”

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Did Saint Brendan the Navigator Sail the Atlantic?

brendan_origOn this St. Patrick’s Day, it seems worthwhile to recall the story of another Irish saint, Brendan the Navigator, who is said to have sailed off on a seven year voyage across the Atlantic, from Ireland to the “Isle of the Blessed” and back.  The tale is recorded in the Latin text, “Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis“,  “The Voyage of Saint Brendan, the Abbot.”  The text is thought to date to AD 800 and to describe events of AD 512–530.

According to the legend, Brendan set sail in a currach, a boat made of animal skins stretched over a wooden frame, with a crew of around 18.  On the voyage, Brendan is said to have seen towering crystal pillars afloat on the sea, a huge sea monster, an island with giant sheep and a land where giants hurled fireballs reeking of sulfur at their boat. They finally arrived at the “Promised Land of the Saints” where they stayed for 40 days and then sailed for home.

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Shinano — WWII’s Largest Aircraft Carrier and the USS Archerfish

Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano

Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano

We recently posted about the discovery of the wreck of the Japanese battleship Musashi, in the Sibuyan Sea off the Phillipines. The Musashi was the second of the Yamato class of battleships, which were considered by many to be the largest battleships every constructed.  There was a third Yamato class ship under-construction in Japan toward the end of the World War II.  It was the Shinano, which was converted into a “super-carrier,” the largest aircraft carrier ever built at the time.  Not only was Shinano the largest of her type, but she also had the shortest career of any major warship of World War II.  From commissioning to sinking, she survived only ten days.

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Sailing A Sinking Sea, a Film about the Moken People

A trailer of Sailing A Sinking Sea, a feature length film by Olivia Wyatt which recently premiered at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.  It explores the lives of the Moken people, a small group of seafarers have kept their nomadic culture alive, along the coast of Myanmar and Thailand.

Sailing A Sinking Sea – Trailer from olivia wyatt on Vimeo.

More about the film from Olivia Wyatt: Continue reading

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Cousteau’s Calypso in Peril

Photo: Olivier Bernard

Photo: Olivier Bernard

After a long legal battle, a French court has ordered Francine Cousteau, the second wife of the late Jacques Cousteau, to settle outstanding yard bills of €273,000 and remove the RV Calypso from a Brittany shipyard or the shipyard will be allowed to sell the 43 meter wooden research vessel.  Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a former French naval officer, writer, conservationist, scuba diver, documentarian and explorer who became famous for his expeditions on RV Calypso.  The ship was featured in his books and the award winning documentary “Silent World”  as well the American TV series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which ran from 1968 to 1975.  Kim Willsher, writing in the Guardian describes the Calypso as the “the ship that launched a thousand childhood dreams.”

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Sick Seven Year Old Girl Rescued from Saint Helena

mv-traveller-960-copyright-bigliftWhen Alaric Bond wrote of the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic in his novel, The Torrid Zone, set during  the Napoleanic wars, it was one of the most remote islands in the world. A recent rescue of a sick seven year old girl suggests that not too much has fundamentally changed. The nearest mainland, Angola is 1950 kilometers across open ocean. Saint Helena has no functioning airport. One is under construction but is not expected to operational until 2016.

When the call went out about a seriously ill girl, the heavy-lift ship MV Traveler responded, but was initially told that the ship was unsuitable. Two days later, when no other options became available, the ship was called again, and so the MV Traveler steamed back 180 miles to pick up the sick child. The ship carried the girl 700 miles to Ascension Island, the site of the closest airport, where she was airlifted by military plane to a hospital in London.  Thanks to Alaric Bond for passing along the news.

Ship diverts 180 miles to pick up sick girl – after first offer of help was turned down

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Woman Dies and Two Are Injured After Boat Hit by Gray Whale

Gray whale breaching

Gray whale breaching

A Canadian woman was killed and two others were injured when a gray whale collided with their excursion boat off the resort city of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. One report said that the whale breached and landed on the boat filled with 24 people.

Gray whales have a complex history of interacting with people.  When they were hunted by whalers in the 19th century, they earned the nickname “devil fish” for aggressively attacking the whale boats and killing or maiming up to 20% of the whalers who came after them. Despite their aggressive behavior, gray whales along the coast of Mexico and California were hunted to near extinction.

With the end of whaling in the United States in 1936, the gray whale population has slowly recovered, from only several hundred whales to over 20,000 today. The population is still only one fourth to one third the the estimated pre-whaling size. Once whaling ended, the gray whales stopped their aggressive behavior and over time, whale watching in the lagoons of the Baja peninsula and the sea of Cortez grew increasingly popular.

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A Vision to Save the South Street Seaport

SouthStreetSeaportBannerThe Howard Hughes Corporation, a real-estate firm based in Dallas, TX, is proposing a $1.5 billion redevelopment of the historic South Street Seaport in New York City. Their plan includes destroying several historic buildings and erecting a controversial 494-foot residential tower just outside the landmarked South Street Seaport Historic District, yet still within the borders of state and federal historic registry areas.  Many local organizations and politicians, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, think that the development plan is totally out of character with the historic district.

Yesterday, the grass-roots community organization, Save Our Seaport, unveiled an alternative proposal to the Hughes project, which they argue would result in the devastation of New York City’s only lasting tribute to its seafaring heritage. From their press release:

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Team Vestas Wind on Cargados Carajos Shoals — Chartplotter Assisted Grounding

Photo © NCG Operations Room – MRCC Mauritius

Photo © NCG Operations Room – MRCC Mauritius

How did a crew of highly skilled professionals, sailing the $6 million Team Vestas Wind in the current Volvo Ocean Race, succeed in hitting the Cargados Carajos shoals, in the Indian Ocean off Mauritius at 16 knots on the night of November 29, 2014?  An independent accident report was released at the end of January which looked into the causes of the grounding.

Despite having state of the art electronic chartplotting systems and software, the navigator plotted a course that crossed what he thought was a seamount with a depth of 40 meters. Instead, they sailed straight into a reef.  Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt and the crew successfully evacuated the Volvo Ocean 65.

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The $300K Grinder & Latest Team Oracle USA Lawsuit

Joe Spooner. Photo: NZ Herald

Joe Spooner. Photo: NZ Herald

Last Friday, the US District Court in San Francisco issued a warrant to seize Oracle Team USA’s prototype America’s Cup foiling multihull sail boat, in response to a lien filed by New Zealand sailor Joe Spooner, whose contract was terminated in January. Spooner is a New Zealander who was a grinder with Oracle Team USA during its America’s Cup victories in 2010 and 2013. He was hired for the upcoming America’s Cup series at a salary of $25,000 per month.  The dispute is, in part, over the terms of his work visa which Spooner’s lawyer claimed required him to be working under a fixed-term contract, while Oracle argued that Spooner had an at-will contract.  They also claimed that Spooner was fired after asking for a raise to $38,000 per month to cover the expense of relocating to Bermuda.

Without having an opinion of the outcome of the lawsuit, it serves as a reminder of the cost of professional yachting these days. In the last America’s Cup, costs to mount a challenge averaged around $100 million with Oracle spending between $250 – $500 million to defend the cup.  And from the current lawsuit, we learn that the going rate for a sailor to grind the winches is at least $300,000 per year.

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