A Belaying Pin from Frigate l’Hermione

hermionebelayingpin1Within a few hours after the replica French frigate l’Hermione set sail on her maiden voyage to the United States, friends stopped by our house on the west side of the Hudson River for drinks and brought an unexpected gift. They had recently returned from France and brought back a belaying pin. But not just any belaying pin. The pin has a brass plate attached which reads “L’Hermione,  La Frégate de la Liberté.”  The tag also reads: “Ce cabillot servi à bord de la frégate de XII l’Hermione lors des essais en mer de l’automne 2014” (This belaying pin served aboard the frigate Hermione XII during the tests at sea Autumn 2014.)

So at least part of l’Hermione has arrived before the ship itself. Thank you so much, Sheridan and Sylvie.

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l’Hermione Sets Sail To America Today

Today the replica frigate l’Hermione will sail from its mooring off the small island of Aix on the west of France, and navigate up the Charente river to the historic naval town of Rochefort, before setting out across the Atlantic to recreate the voyage of its namesake frigate which carried the Marquis de Lafayette to America with the news that the King of France had agreed to support the American rebellion against the British. l’Hermione is expected to arrive in Yorktown on June 5 to begin an tour of the east coast.

Warship replica ‘L ‘Hermione’ sets sail for North America

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Farewell to Newtown Creek, New York’s Lovely “Honey Tanker”

Photo: Will Van Dorp

Photo: Will Van Dorp

The Newtown Creek was recently sold at auction. At 324′ long and 49.6′ wide, she is a lovely coastal tanker that traversed New York harbor’s waters for close to a half century.  For a vessel of her size and type, I always found the Newtown Creek to be particularly attractive.  With relatively fine lines, a sharp bow, and a grey hull with rub rails that made the ship seem longer and sleeker than she was, it was perhaps even more pleasing that her appearance didn’t give away her job, which was carrying sewage sludge from various points around the harbor. Many of us, however, did not call her a sewage tanker or even a sludge tanker, but preferred the more delicate term “honey tanker.”  The name is adapted from the US Army trucks that used to empty latrines. The trucks were called sarcastically, “honey wagons.” So, calling the Newtown Creek a “honey tanker” seemed to fit, both for her cargo and because, at least to some eyes, she was a sweet little ship.

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Help Kitsap Maritime & Fiddler’s Dream — 110% Matching on May 5th

fiddlers-dream-slideLast May we posted about the donation of the schooner 64’5″ Fiddler’s Dream to the Kitsap Maritime Heritage Foundation.  The foundation’s mission is to celebrate the Puget Sound’s maritime heritage through exhibition, education, and helping people of all ages and abilities to have a hands on nautical experience.

For anyone wishing to help, Kitsap Maritime just announced a great opportunity: The next $100,000 in donations to Kitsap Maritime will be matched by an anonymous donor! And in even more awesome news if you donate on May 5th on-line through the Kitsap Great Give your donation will be increased by a 10% match from local sponsors before it is doubled. A $100 donation on May 5th will be $110 from the Great Give, that will then be matched 100% making your donation $220 to Kitsap Maritime.  Click here to learn more. 

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Interview on BBC Radio’s Mark Forrest Show

I was invited onto the Mark Forrest Show on BBC radio to discuss the history and importance of sea shanties. A quick five minute interview.


To hear more of the program, click here.

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Desperate Exodus Continues — 400 Migrants Feared Dead in Latest Capsize


Photo: Reuters

An estimated 400 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean when their boat capsized, 24 hours after leaving Libya.  Approximately 145 people were rescued.  Italian authorities say that around 8,500 migrants had been rescued at sea between Friday and Monday alone.  Nearly 3,500 migrants died attempting to cross the sea in 2014, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

An unprecedented number of refugees are attempting to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded and often decrepit boats, driven by instability and warfare in Libya, Eritrea and Syria. The EU border agency Frontex estimates that more than 500,000 people are now waiting to set out from Libya for Europe, so the body count is only likely to rise.  Thanks to Phil Leon for contributing to this post.

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Update: Gunboat’s New G4 Flying Cruiser!

In December we posted about a new 40′ carbon-fiber racing/cruising catamaran from Gunboat, the G4, that with the optional J foils could fly like an America’s Cup racer. Here now is a video of the G4 being put through the paces by her design and build team during her first week on the water.

GUNBOAT G4 from Gunboat on Vimeo.

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The Shantyman, Ice Islands and Climate Change

iceislandIn my new novel, The Shantyman, the clipper ship Alhambra nearly collides with a massive ice island.  From Chapter Nine:

In the forenoon watch came the cry, “Ice, dead ahead.”

It was my watch below, but I jumped up with the rest and headed forward, expecting to see an iceberg. Instead, I only saw white. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was wasn’t staring at fog but at the white face of an ice cliff, the sheer side of a drifting island of ice, rising close to one hundred feet high. The massive floating island looked as tall as the masts and stretched out to port and starboard, disappearing into the fog on either hand. And we were sailing straight for it

The event in the novel was based on various accounts from clipper ship voyages from the 19th century.  By using Matthew Fontaine Maury‘s Wind and Current Charts  as well as his Sailing Directions, clipper ships of the day had been making faster passages around Cape Horn. Maury’s charts and sailing directions did, however, send the ships farther south, closer to the ice and icebergs. The clipper ship John Gilpin sank after hitting an iceberg in 1858 while just a year later, the clipper Fleetwood met the same fate. Numerous ships were also damaged by ice but made it to port. Every year, ships simply disappeared rounding Cape Horn, so it is unknown whether they hit ice or were overwhelmed by the seas.

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Flying Dutchman Ghost Ship — Sailing on Water & Light

ghostship1What should a ghost ship be made of? Why not water, wind and light? That is precisely what the designers at the Romanian Art collective Visual Skin used to create the Flying Dutchman, a glowing ghost ship anchored in front of ARCAM Amsterdam Centre for Architecture and the Scheepvaartmuseum.  It floated gently on the water of the canal,  with the spectral sails billowing in the wind. The ghost ship was part of the Amsterdam Light Festival which ended last January. Thanks to Cynthia Drew for pointing it out.

The video below shows how Visual Skin made the magic happen.

Ghost Ship Test 23.10.2014

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2011 Tsunami Derelict Drifts to Oregon with Live Yellowtail Jack in Hold

jfishingd1Given the recent discussion about where a derelict might drift in the Atlantic, here is an interesting news item from the Pacific. Four years after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami which hit Japan and washed an estimated 5 million tons of debris into the ocean, a 25-30′ section of a Japanese commercial fishing vessel drifted into Oregon waters. Remarkably, in the hold were about 20 yellowtail jack, a fish usually found in the waters off Japan. The fish could have been caught and loaded aboard the boat before the tsunami, or they could have hatched from larvae that were aboard when the boat was set adrift.

The derelict section of what is believed to originally have been 50′ trawler was intercepted before it reached shore. In 2012 a much larger derelict made it all the way to shore when a 66 feet long, 165 tonne, starfish and barnacle encrusted, steel and concrete floating dock has washed up on Agate beach, south-west of Portland, Oregon.

Boat likely destroyed in 2011 Japanese tsunami turns up in Oregon with live fish still aboard

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Discomfort on the USNS Comfort As it Deploys on Continuing Promise 2015

comfort1The hospital ship USNS Comfort recently deployed on a five month mission to Central and South America and the Caribbean. The ship will call on eleven nations in support of Continuing Promise 2015. The ship sailed with a new captain, the third, (or fourth) captain in the last 19 months. In August 2013, Capt. Kevin J. Knoop was relieved of duty by Rear Admiral Thomas Shannon and replaced by the ship’s Executive Officer, Rachel Haltner. At the end of March, Admiral Shannon relieved Captain Haltner of her duties as commanding officer. The Executive Officer, Capt. Miguel Cubano, briefly assumed command prior to the arrival of Capt. Christine Sears, Fleet Surgeon for the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. Fourth Fleet, who assumed permanent command just before the ship sailed.

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Help Keep Hawaiian Chieftain Afloat

Hawaiian Chieftain

Hawaiian Chieftain

Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority of Washington State, owns and operates two tall ships, Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. In the past five years they have introduced over 42,000 school children to tall ship sailing and program up and down the entire West Coast and have a stated goal or reaching ten times that number in the years to come as well as continuing to train new tall ship sailors. They are now attempting to raise funds through crowd-sourcing to support a major upgrading of the Hawaiian Chieftain

Built of steel in Hawaii in 1988, Hawaiian Chieftain was originally designed for cargo trade among the Hawaiian Islands. Naval architect Raymond H. Richards’ design was influenced by the early colonial passenger and coastal packets that traded among Atlantic coastal cities and towns. Grays Harbor Historical Seaport purchased Hawaiian Chieftain in 2005.  The ship often sails in company with Lady Washington, engaging in their extremely popular “battle cruises” where they fire black power ships’ guns in mock naval combat.

Their goal is to raise $50,000. Click here to donate and/or to learn more.

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Derelicts Adrift — Angel & Fannie E Wolston

fanniewolcottdriftOne of the more interesting questions about Louis Jordan’s ordeal is “why didn’t he drift farther north on the Gulf Stream?” Jordan was dismasted in his Alberg 35 sailboat, named Angel, somewhere off the North Carolina coast in January and drifted for 66 days until he was spotted by a German container ship roughly 200 miles east of the North Carolina shore. Jordan was somewhat north of where he entered the Atlantic but the primary direction that his boat drifted, dismasted and with a damaged rudder, was easterly. How is this possible?

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Russian Submarine Orel Fire on 26th Anniversary of the Komsomolets Fire

orelfireA fire broke out today on the 23 year old Russian Oscar class K-266 Orel nuclear submarine in a drydock in the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk on the White Sea. Reportedly, a welding torch set insulation on fire. The shipyard has stated that the submarine’s reactor was shut down and the ship’s nuclear fuel had been removed prior to the accident. A spokesman for the shipyard said that there were no casualties and that firefighters had contained the blaze.

Coincidentally, the fire today occurred on the 26th anniversary of the a fire on the Mike-class Soviet nuclear submarine K-278 Komsomolets. which claimed the lives of all 42 crew aboard on April 7, 1989. Continue reading

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The Truly Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry

ohpririggingThese days just about anything with a mast or two is called a “tall ship.”  Some are and many are not.  One ship that definitely qualifies is Rhode Island’s Oliver Hazard Perry.   A dedicated team of riggers has just about finished raising the masts, crossing the yards, bending the sails and running the halyards, bunts, clews, braces and all the other lines necessary to control the sails. Congratulations to all who worked so hard through such a long and brutal winter to rig this fine new ship.

The three masted Oliver Hazard Perry is the largest civilian sailing school vessel in the US, as well as the the first ocean-going full-rigged ship to be built in the US in over 100 years. Her rigging requires 7 miles of rope and 160 belaying pins. She will set 14,000 sq ft of canvas over 20 sails. Click here to learn more about the ship and its education programs.

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Louis Jordan — Drifting Sailor Update : Media Misreports Story, Now Reports that Skeptics Doubt Sailor

jordanmontageThis would be funny, if it weren’t sad.  Last week the German container ship, Houston Express, picked up Louis Jordan, who had been drifting off Cape Hatteras for a reported 66 days in his dis-masted Alberg 35 sailboat, Angel.  The media managed to completely garble the story, to the extent that anyone who took the reporting at face value might not believe what they were reading. Some have suggested that Jordan lied about the whole affair.  Last Friday we attempted the untangle the various accounts.  See our post: Louis Jordan, Sixty Six Days Adrift — What Really Happened?

Here is where it gets at least slightly funny. This morning the Washington Post published an article with the headline: Why skeptics think a South Carolina sailor lied about being lost at sea for 66 days. The short answer about why anyone might think such a thing could be that they read nonsense in the Washington Post. (To be fair, many, many other news sources didn’t do any better.)

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Frigate l’Hermione — Sea Trials 2014

In 1780, the French frigate, l’Hermione carried the Marquis de Lafayette to America with the news of French support for the American revolution. In the next month or so, the newly completed replica frigate l’Hermione will recreate that historic voyage. Here is a video of l’Hermione on sea trials last fall.

2014 10 l’Hermione, Essais de navigation en mer

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Four Hour Lunar Eclipse in One Minute

In case you missed the lunar eclipse early this morning, visible from 2AM to 6:30AM Pacific time, here is the four hour eclipse in one minute,courtesy of the Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory. Thanks to Phil Leon for passing it along. By the way, if you grew up watching the American TV series, The Adventures of Superman, produced between 1952-1958, the “Metropolis Observatory” often featured in the program was the Griffith Observatory.

Total Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015

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Louis Jordan, Sixty Six Days Adrift — What Really Happened?

Jordan on his sailboat Angel , from an undated photo.

Jordan on his sailboat Angel , from an undated photo.

Reading about sailing in the media is often like reading a mystery story. The question is not, however, “who done it?” but “what really happened?”  The reports of Louis Jordan who was found adrift in his disabled sailboat off Cape Hatteras after two months is a good example. Many of the press reports make no sense whatsoever. Here is my attempt to piece together what may have happened.

The story, as reported, sounds unbelievable. The Guardian reported: An American missing at sea for 66 days was rescued from his capsized boat 200 miles off the North Carolina coast, telling coastguards he survived on drinking rainwater and catching fish. Louis Jordan, 37, who was reported missing by his family in January, was spotted sitting on the overturned hull of his 35ft boat by the crew of a German tanker.”  The report on Slate was similar and featured the dramatic headline: “Sailor Lost at Sea for 66 Days With Just Rainwater and Raw Fish Is Saved by Passing Tanker.”  NBC Reports that Jordan was “found floating on the overturned hull of his vessel by a German cargo ship, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

When I say the account sounds unbelievable, I mean that literally.   Continue reading

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The Strange Saga of the Fake Pirate Ship, Liana’s Ransom — Rescue and Two Dismastings

uscgrescueLROn Monday, the US Coast Guard rescued nine crew members from the schooner, Liana’s Ransom, off the coast of Maine, after the schooner suffered engine failure and her sails became fouled. There are now reports that the schooner also lost her main mast.  If so, this would be the second time that the schooner has been dismasted in just the last three months. On the previous Friday, the schooner left a shipyard where repairs had been made to damage from the first dismasting.

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