Captain 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.  A repost from two years ago.

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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Admiral Paul Zukunft & the State of the Coast Gaurd — Billion Dollar Drug Busts and Geriatric Cutters

We recently posted about a budget proposal by the current administration which would drastically cut the US Coast Guard’s budget. While the budget proposal is unlikely to survive in its current form, it does suggest a fundamental lack of an understanding of the critical role that the Coast Guard plays in our national security. Within a few days of the budget proposal’s release, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, in his annual State of the Coast Guard speech at the National Press Club in Washington, addressed why the Coast Guard should be expanding, rather than cutting its operations and its fleet.   

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Update: Coast Guard Report — Kayaks & NYC Ferry Collision, Enough Blame to Go Around

On August 30, 2016, just before 6PM, a commuter ferry collided with a group of nine kayakers, shortly after departing from the NY Waterway terminal at 39th Street on the Hudson River in Manhattan. Four of the kayakers were injured included the group guide who suffered a nearly severed arm. Now, the Coast Guard’s report on the accident concludes that blame for the accident was shared by all parties.

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First New Citywide Ferry Sets Sail For New York City

The first of twenty new ferryboats has begun the 1,700 mile voyage from the Gulf Coast to its new home in the waters of New York harbor.  The new ferry is the first of a new fleet of aluminum catamaran ferries to be operated by Hornblower Cruises, as part of the Citywide Ferry Service (CFS), a major expansion of ferry service in New York City.

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US Navy — Take Bribes, Reveal Secrets, Get Caught & Convicted, Keep Your Pension, For Now

Last June, Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first active duty admiral in modern times to plead guilty to a felony. He will be sentenced next month and faces up to five years in Federal prison for charges related the massive “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal. Despite his conviction Gilbeau and six other senior officers convicted in the scandal are still collecting their full pensions from the Navy. Gilbeau’s pension is reported to be approximately $120,000 per year.  Whether the seven continue to receive their pensions will be up to the courts and the Navy.

As reported by the Washington Post: “Gilbeau is one of seven current or former Navy officers who have pleaded guilty in an epic corruption and bribery scandal but are still eligible for generous retirement benefits, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

In exceptionally rare cases, military officers who are sentenced to prison or classified as deserters can be “dropped from the rolls” — the harshest category of discharge — and their rank, privileges and benefits erased completely. Continue reading

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Vendee Globe Racer Kito de Pavant’s Boat Hit Sperm Whale

Last December we posted — so far, of the original 29 competitors in the Vendee Globe singlehanded around the world race, 5 have been forced to retire after being damaged by collisions with UFOs, unidentified floating objects. One of the five, French skipper Kito de Pavant, on his boat Bastide Otio, struck an object in the Southern Ocean which destroyed his keel housing, ripped off his aft keel mountings and left the appendage supported only by the hydraulic keel ram. Pavant was subsequently rescued by a French research and supply vessel.

The “unidentified floating object” which damaged Kito de Pavant’s boat, Bastide Otio, is unidentified no more. After analyzing video footage found on a hard drive taken from the sinking boat, the distinctive head of a sperm whale can be seen briefly surfacing aft of the boat shortly after the collision. Sadly, it seems unlikely that the whale survived being run down at 16 knots by the keel of the 8 tonne IMOCA Open 60 racing sailboat. Pavant was not injured during the collision.

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Museo Atlántico, Europe´s Only Underwater Sculpture Museum

In 2012, we posted about the Museo Subacuático de Arte, MUSA, an underwater museum of art between the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cancun. MUSA displays the sculpture of Jason deCaires Taylor. Now a new museum featuring Jason deCaires Taylor’s work has opened off Playa Blanca, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The Museo Atlántico is Europe´s only underwater sculpture museum.  The museum includes over 300 life-sized sculptures across 12 installations on the sea bed accessible to divers 39 feet below the surface.

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PT-305, U.S.S. Sudden Jerk, Comes Roaring Back, Sudden Jerks and All

The National WWII Museum has fully restored PT-305 and is putting her back in service on Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain. PT-305, nicknamed U.S.S. Sudden Jerk, is the only surviving fully-operational patrol torpedo boat to have seen combat in World War II. She has now earned U.S. Coast Guard approval to carry passengers, with public rides expected to begin on April 1.

The restoration of the boat, originally built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans in 1943, has been a ten year project involving over 200 volunteers and more than 105,000 hours of labor.  As reported by Maritime Executive, 10 other PT boats are known to exist in the U.S., four of which are partially or completely restored but not operational, and four of which have undergone little or no restoration. (The remaining boat, PT-658, is restored and operational but not a combat veteran.)

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Humpback Whale Super-Pods?

Strange and interesting doings in the world of humpback whales. Over the past few years, scientists have observed large numbers of humpback whales feeding together off the southwestern tip of South Africa between St. Helena Bay and Cape Point. While dolphins and orcas are known to form, from time to time, what are called “super-pods,” large groups of different extended families, humpback whales have been considered to be far more solitary creatures, usually swimming alone or in in pods of two or three. Now, however, groups of between 20 and 200 humpbacks have been observed feeding together. Scientists have observed 22 instances where these groups have formed over the last several years. They are not sure what to make of what appears to be a significant change in humpback whale behavior.

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Remembering the MS St. Louis and the “Voyage of the Damned”

stlouisGiven the current heated debate over immigration and refugees, this seems like a good time to remember the consequences of when the United States slammed the door on refugees. On Throwback Thursday, here is a revised and updated post from two years ago.

With immigration and refugee policy at the center of significant polciy disagreement, 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.  Here is an A&E documentary from 1998, narrated by Patrick Tull.

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Admiral & Eight Officers Arrested in “Fat Leonard” Sex for Secrets Scandal

A retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and eight other high-ranking Navy officers were arrested on Tuesday on charges of accepting luxury travel, elaborate dinners and services of prostitutes from foreign defense contractor “Fat Leonard” Francis, the former CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), in exchange for classified and internal U.S. Navy information. GDMA used the information to overbill the US Navy for services by more than $30 million.

The highest ranking of those charged was retired Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, who was arrested at his home in Coronado, Calif. Loveless was the former Navy director of intelligence operations and had retired from the service in October.

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Schooner Kirk and Sweeney — the Rum-Runner Behind the Rum

A March snowstorm has descended on the banks of the Hudson River. To be ready for all contingencies, I went out and purchased a decent bottle of rum. One can never be too prepared. I chose a 12 year old Dominican rum, Kirk and Sweeney, named after a Prohibition-era rum-running schooner.  That it is named after a schooner wasn’t the only reason that I bought the rum, but it contributed to the decision. 

I became intrigued by the schooner behind the rum. According to the distiller, 35 Maple Street,  “In 1924, [the Kirk and Sweeney] was seized off the coast of New York with a massive amount of rum aboard.”

The USCG web page — RUM WAR!  The Coast Guard & Prohibition tells a similar story : 

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Maiden Voyage for Boaty McBoatface, the Yellow Submarine

Having successfully completed sea trials, the new yellow submarine Boaty McBoatface is about to be deployed on its maiden voyage, on a research expedition to some of the the deepest, coldest waters on earth. 

Boaty McBoatface is one of three autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) developed at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) designated as Autosub Long Range vehicles. Each are able to travel thousands of kilometers on missions lasting several months at a time.  The NOC website notes: The ability to travel under ice and reach depths of 6000 metres will enable Boaty and friends to explore 95% of the ocean. Boaty and similar autonomous vehicles will help oceanographers investigate the processes driving change in the Polar Regions, including the extent of the ice melt, and conduct a range of research in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans without the need for the constant presence of a research ship. Scientists won’t need to wait to get access to the data, since Boaty will periodically surface and transmit the data back via a radio link. Continue reading

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Chris Bertish — First Person to Cross Atlantic by Paddleboard

On Thursday, South African Chris Bertish paddled his ocean-going stand-up paddleboard into Antiqua’s English Harbor becoming the first person to cross the Atlantic by stand-up paddleboard. He left Agadir, Morocco, 93 days ago, on the epic 4,050-mile voyage.  Bertish was wholly unassisted and unsupported during the trip.  He averaged 44 miles a day — paddling mostly at night to avoid exposure to the sun — and alternated between resting and paddling every two or three hours. Bertish also set a new world record for paddling a 24-hour solo open ocean distance of 71.96 miles.

Man Paddle Boards Across Atlantic Ocean Unassisted

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Collapse of Malta’s Azure Window

The Azure Window collapsed in a storm on March 8, 2017. Before and after.

The Azure Window is no more. The iconic limestone arch on the island of Gozo in Malta was destroyed in a winter storm on March 8th. The 92′ high arch, a product of the erosion and collapse of two sea caves, finally succumb to erosion and entirely collapsed into the sea. The arch had been growing progressively wider over the last thirty years as portions of the top slab and pillar of the arch fell away. In 2014, after rocks falls in 2012 and 2013, it was made illegal to walk on the arch. 

The Azure Window was a major Maltese tourist attraction served as the backdrop for numerous movies and television programs, including Game of Thrones, Clash of the Titans, The Count of Monte Cristo and the Odyssey.

The video below includes photos of the Azure Window from 1880 to the present. 

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Jewel of Muscat — 9th Century Dhow Inspired by Tang Shipwreck

We recently posted about a new exhibit at New York City’s Asia Society featuring artifacts from the wreck of an Arab dhow which sank with a veritable treasure trove of Tang Dynasty goods off Indonesia’s Belitung Island in the 9th century. The shipwreck was discovered by local fishermen in 1998 and represented the first example of sea trade between the Middle East and China in the period. In addition to the historical value of the cargo, the remarkably well preserved ship proved to be invaluable to archaeologists and maritime historians. Based on the dimensions taken from the wreck and the construction details observed, a replica of the trading ship was built in Oman in 2008 and was christened Jewel of Muscat. In 2010, Jewel of Muscat recreated a 9th century trading voyage from Oman to Singapore

The Jewel of Muscat is now on display in the Maritime Experiential Museum in Singapore. The museum was built to to house the ship and some of the 60,000 artifacts salvaged from the Belitung shipwreck.

The Story of the Jewel of Muscat

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She Sells Seashells by the Seashore — Remembering Mary Anning

Mary Anning

Remember the old tongue twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore?” (Try saying that three times fast.) The tongue twisting seashell seller was inspired by a real woman named Mary Anning, who was an English fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist, and who did indeed sell seashells by the seashore, as well as accomplishing much, much more. She died 170 years ago today.  

Despite a lack of education and a life of poverty, Mary Anning became known as the “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.” She is credited with the finding the first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton as well as the first nearly complete Plesiosaurus.  She also found the first British Pterodactylus macronyx, a fossil flying reptile; the Squaloraja fossil fish, a transitional link between sharks and rays; and the Plesiosaurus macrocephalus.

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Proposed Budget Slashes Billions from Coast Guard to Fund Border Wall

The current administration is considering major cuts to the Coast Guard budget in order to fund it’s plans to build a multi-billion-dollar border wall and to crack down on illegal immigration. In the draft budget proposal, the already over-stretched Coast Guard will have its funding cut by 14% from $9.1 billion to about $7.8 billion.

The taxpayer-funded border wall is notionally intended to protect the less than 2,000 mile southern border with Mexico. Notably, illegal crossings of the southern border are already at a 40 year low. The wall would come at the expense of the Coast Guard’s protection of the nation’s 12,000 mile coast. The shoreline itself, including bays, rivers and capes is over 85,000 miles long. 

In addition to saving mariners’ lives, the Coast Guard plays a critical role in coastal security, drug interdiction, and environmental protection. As reported by Politico: Continue reading

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Secrets of the Sea — A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia

A new exhibit opens today at the Asia Society Museum in New York City, ‘Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia.‘  The exhibit features a selection of 78 artifacts including ceramics, gold and silver items and bronze mirrors, from the 9th century Belitung shipwreck. On view for the first time in the United States, these objects are evidence of an active trade between between far-flung kingdoms in Asia over a millennium ago.

In 1998, Indonesian fishermen diving for sea cucumbers discovered a shipwreck off Indonesia’s Belitung Island in the Java Sea. The ship was an Arabian dhow with a rich cargo of Tang dynasty ceramics, and objects of gold and silver. The ship is believed to have been on its return voyage from China, bound for what is now Iran or Iraq, when it sank around 830 CE.

The exhibit at the Asia Society runs from March 7 through June 4, 2017. In the video below, Asia Society Executive Vice President Tom Nagorski discusses Secrets of the Sea with Museum Director and Vice President for Arts & Cultural Programs Boon Hui Tan:

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Danny Spooner — Thames Bargemen, Historian & Folk Singer

We have learned that Danny Spooner died last week.  Spooner was a well loved singer of traditional and contemporary folk songs of Britain and Australia. As a social historian, he explored British and Australian culture through folk music. Leaving school at the age of 13, Spooner went to work on a Thames sailing barge, learning songs from working sail from the deck of the barge. In 1962, he moved to Australia and became deeply involved in the folk music scene. He performed in folk clubs and music festivals all over Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the US.  He will be missed.

Danny Spooner sings for The National Library of Australia collection

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