New Year’s Eve Whale In NYC’s East River

A whale was seen swimming in New York’s East River on Saturday.  The whale was spotted at around 10AM along the shore of Manhattan’s upper East Side, close to Gracie Mansion, where the mayor lives.  The initial police report identified the whale as a humpback. Based on the shape of the whale’s spout it appears to be an endangered right whale. 

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Happy New Year! Go Jump in the Sea — Scheveningen New Year’s Dive

Happy New Year! Every year for more than the last fifty years, brave or foolhardy Dutch men, women, and children have been celebrating New Year’s Day by jumping into the sea. Called the ‘Nieuwjaarsduik‘ (New Year’s dive), an estimated 25,000 or so plunge into the icy water each January 1st, at some 60 locations across the Netherlands. The largest dive takes place yearly at the seaside resort of Scheveningen, where typically 10,000 or so hardy souls put on little red knot caps, run screaming into the ocean and then run screaming back. Here is a video of the bone-chilling festivities at Scheveningen last year.

2016 New Year’s Day Swim The Hague Scheveningen

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New SeaChange Exhibit in Mystic Seaport’s New Thompson Exhibition Building

Photo: Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant describes the new Thompson Exhibition Building, on the northern end of the 19-acre Mystic Seaport Museum as sitting “like a piece of 21st-century abstract sculpture in the midst of a 19th-century fishing village.” Chad Floyd, one of the architect involved in the design, says that the Thompson is “not intended to evoke a historical maritime theme like the legendary seaport. Rather, the building calls to mind the sea itself.”  Well, OK then.

I will reserve judgement on the structure until I see it in person. The structure may seem less jarringly out of place when viewed first hand than it appears to be in the photographs. Be that as it may, the Thomson Building’s Collins Gallery is the site of a new museum exhibit, “SeaChange,” which looks very interesting. The museum describes the exhibit as follows:

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Chinese Sail Training Ship Polang Under Construction

Chine sail training shipThere are roughly twenty sail training ships operated by navies around the world, to help prepare their officers for command at sea. Now China is adding to the fleet. China’s first modern sail training ship is an 85 meter long, 1,200 ton displacement, three masted square-rigger, to be named Polang, which has been under construction since May 2016 at Guangzhou Shipyard in southeastern China on the Pearl River.  The ship will set 2,600 square meters of sail and will accommodate 50 cadets. It is expected to be delivered by the end of 2017.

In preparation for the delivery of Polang, a new training ground has been built ashore at the Dalian Naval Academy. The shore-side facility, which opened in December, features a 32 meter steel mast with yards, booms and rigging to allow training in going aloft and setting and furling sails. 

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Japanese Galleon San Juan Bautista of 1614 and Today

I love stumbling across bits of history that are completely new to me. The Japanese galleon San Juan Bautista is a good example.  The San Juan Bautista was one of the first Western-style sailing ships to be built in Japan. The ship, also known as the Date Maru, 伊達丸, sailed across the Pacific in 1614 to Acapulco, Mexico, carrying 180 people in a Japanese diplomatic mission whose goal was to establish trade with Mexico. Hasekura Tsunenaga, the Japanese envoy, and his retinue traveled across Mexico to Vera Cruz where they caught a ship that would take them to Europe and Rome where they attempted to negotiate a treaty with the Pope and the King of Spain.

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Waves from “Fat Leonard” Bribery Scandal Continue to Rock Navy


“Fat Leonard” Glen Francis

In a time of major cyber hacks and theft from data breaches, the Navy continues to be rocked by an old fashioned bribery scandal, the worst in Navy history. The scandal that has also revealed a massive national-security leak, which some describe as being the worst to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War.  

In September of 2013, Navy investigators arrested a 350 pound Malaysian businessman,Leonard Glenn Francis, who was CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), a contractor who provided port services to the US Navy. Known universally as “Fat Leonard,” Francis was charged with paying bribes, providing prostitutes and handing out Lady Gaga tickets to naval officers in exchange for classified information to be used to help direct business to GDMA.

Since then the Navy has charged 12 people. An admiral and nine other Navy personnel have pleaded guilty to federal crimes. Five other defendants still face charges and the investigation is ongoing. Here are the latest convictions:

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Mary E. Coming Home: Maine Maritime Museum to Acquire Historic Schooner

The schooner Mary E is coming home to the Bath, Maine on the Kennebec River where she was built in 1906. She is believed to be believed to be the oldest Bath-built wooden vessel still afloat, as well as the oldest fishing schooner built in the state of Maine still sailing. The Maine Maritime Museum is purchasing the schooner from her current owner Matt Culen of Pelham, N.Y., who has been operating Mary E in partnership with the Connecticut River Museum, in Essex, CT.

As reported by the CAMM News blog: Built in Bath in 1906 by shipbuilder Thomas E. Hagan (in a shipyard located where Bath Iron Works stands today), and restored in Bath in 1965 by William R. Donnell II (on the grounds of what is now Maine Maritime Museum), Mary E is a two-masted clipper schooner with a sparred length of 73 feet. This is the last of 69 vessels built by Hagan and representative of the type of vessel that would have been seen all over the coast of Maine in the 1900s. Continue reading

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Our Soggy Solar System II — Pluto, Ganymede, Enceladus, Europa & Mars,

Recently, we posted about two possible water worlds orbiting around Kepler-62. While just slightly drier than these potential distant water worlds, so far, our planet is the only one we know of with a stable ocean. This is not to say that our solar system is not soggy. It appears that our solar system is veritably awash in water. Here are six planets or moons, other than the Earth, which scientists believe have liquid water or entire oceans.
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All the Surfing Santas You Will Ever Need

It is a brisk Christmas morning on the west bank of the Hudson River and I will admit that I wouldn’t mind being a warmer climate right now. So, in the spirit of the holidays, here is a compilation video from Epic Surf of all the Surfing Santas any of us will ever possibly need.

Santa Surfers

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Cape Sable Island Lobster Pot Christmas Tree — Sadness, Joy & Healing

We have posted about lobster pot Christmas trees before, but this one is rather different. On Canada’s Cape Sable Island the lobster pot tree is decorated with pot buoys with the names of fishermen. Some are still going out to sea, but many of the buoys are in remembrance of fishermen lost at sea, family members who have crossed the bar and will never return to port.

Lobster-trap Christmas tree honours local fishermen in N.S.

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U.S. Navy Reverses Course– Nevermind, You Are Still a Boatswain’s Mate Third Class

In the end of September, the U.S. Navy announced that it would be eliminating the rating system that they had used for the past 241 years in the ranks of enlisted sailors.  The old system, which used 91 ratings, would be abolished.  A Fire Controlman 1st Class and a Machinist’s Mate First Class would both be referred to simply as Petty Officers 1st Class.  While the admirals may have thought that this was a good idea, no one else apparently did. Earlier this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said essentially, “Nevermind. We’ll stick with the old system for now,” or words to that effect. Specifically, the NAVADMIN message, said, in part:

Since we made the initial rating modernization announcement in September, the SECNAV, MCPON and I, along with other Navy leadership, have had the opportunity to speak with thousands of Sailors during our travels throughout the fleet. The feedback from current and former Sailors has been consistent that there is wide support for the flexibility that the plan offers, but the removal of rating titles detracted from accomplishing our major goals.  Furthermore, there has been a solid body of thoughtful input that pointed out that there is a way to have the benefits of the rating modernization program without removing rating titles. Continue reading

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Repost: Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Sailors – “May St. Nicholas Hold the Tiller”

st-nicholas-patron-saint-of-sailorsIn honor of the holiday season, a repost from 2012.

We recently learned that good Saint Nicholas, long associated with Christmas and gift-giving, is also the patron saint of ships and sailors. The St. Nicholas Center notes: “Many ports, most notably in Greece, have icons of Nicholas, surrounded by ex-votos of small ships made of silver or carved of wood. Sailors returning safely from sea, place these in gratitude to St. Nicholas for protection received. In some places sailors, instead of wishing one another luck, say, “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”

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An Icy Lighthouse on the First Day of Winter

Icy images on the first day of winter — the St. Joseph inner and outer lighthouses sit on a pier at the entrance to the St. Joseph River on Lake Michigan. The two lights were built in 1906 and 1907 and were decommissioned in 2005. The outer light is famous for the coating of ice it acquires in winter storms. Here is a drone video of the two lights.  Thanks to Irwin Bryan for passing the video along. 

Icy Lighthouse December 2016 – St Joseph, MI

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The Cluttered Ocean — UFOs and the Vendee Globe

The seas are growing increasingly cluttered.  In addition to all the other hazards of the sea, floating objects are a serious threat to sailors.  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. Another boat, Hugo Boss, sailed by Alex Thomson, lost a foil daggerboard to a UFO, but has managed to keep sailing, and is now still in second place.  Three other Vendee Globe racers have retired for reasons not related to collisions — two due to dis-masting and the other from damage to a foil in heavy weather.

A rundown of the collisions with UFOs:
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Deepwater Wind, First US Offshore Wind Farm Goes Live off Block Island

The great news is that the first US offshore wind farm is now online. Five 6 MW wind turbines installed by Deepwater Wind have begun commercial operation off Block Island, RI. The turbines should generate enough electricity for 17,000 homes. It is an important first step toward developing clean and efficient wind energy off the shores of the United States. Compared to other industrialized regions, however, it is only a baby step. As of the middle of 2016, European offshore wind farms in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the Baltic had 3,334 grid connected wind turbines with a capacity of 11,538 MW. Projects totaling another 21.7 GW have already been approved.

While the US has been very slow to get started in offshore wind energy, the potential is huge. The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development that could support a total of 14.6 gigawatts of capacity. The Department of Energy estimates that if a [potential] 86 GW of offshore wind … were installed by 2050, offshore wind would make up 14% of the projected demand for new electricity generation in the coastal and Great Lakes states. That is roughly enough electricity to power 31 million homes.

So, yes, Deepwater Wind’s 30 MW project is a great start, but we are a long way from where we need to be.

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The Wavy Navy, Stringbags and the Mighty Bismarck


(From left) Eric Margetts, Bobby Lawson, John Moffat, Buster May and Glen Evans

We recently posted about the death of John “Jock” Moffatt, at 97, the Scottish pilot credited with disabling the German battleship Bismarck with a torpedo fired from his Fairey Swordfish biplane in May 1941. In the post, we included a photo of the pilots in the Swordfish squadron that attacked the ship.

Three blog readers, Seymour Hamilton, Captain D. Peter Boucher, and Philip Brankin, commented on one important detail that I missed entirely. In the photo, the pilots of the Swordfish squadron all wore the uniform of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, a corps of civilian volunteers who served alongside Royal Navy and Royal Navy Reserve personnel. The wavy stripes on RNVR officers’ sleeves differentiated them from RN/RNR officers, and gave the group the nickname, the “Wavy Navy.” 

What is so remarkable is that volunteer pilots flying obsolete biplanes succeeded in crippling the mightiest battleship in the German Kriegsmarine, after it had defeated the best that the Royal Navy could put against her.

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A Bit of Perspective: Slocum Glider, a Small Research Drone, not a “Naval Vessel”

As we posted yesterday, a Chinese naval vessel seized one of USNS Bowditch’s drone gliders.  Today there are news reports that the Chinese are giving it back.  Unfortunately, in the interim, several news outlets either misinterpreted what transpired, or, at the very least, led with headlines which could be easily misunderstood. 

The BBC headline reads China ‘seizes US vessel’ in S China Sea directly above a photograph of the Bowditch. If you ignore the quotes in the headline, or even if you don’t, one might assume that the Bowditch was the vessel seized. Based solely on the headline and the photo it appeared to be a replay of the the USS Pueblo capture of 1968.  Reading further into the article, it became clear that it was something quite different. 

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Chinese Navy Seizes a USNS Bowditch Drone Glider

In one of the stranger escalations of tensions between the US and the Chinese, a Chinese naval vessel seized one of USNS Bowditch drone gliders. USNS Bowditch is an oceanographic survey vessel which operates with a mix of civilian and military crew members. The Chinese ship, a Dalang-III class submarine rescue vessel, put a small boat in the water which intercepted the drone and took it back to the Chinese ship, which then left the area. The incident took place about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, in international waters in the South China Sea. The US has issued a formal protest and demanded the return of the glider.

The drone glider is an autonomous underwater vehicle, (AUV), typically around 6 feet long, which uses changes in buoyancy and trim to propel itself through the water.  Press reports have described the drone as either a Slocum glider or a Seaglider, which are variants on the same glider type.  These sorts of drones are widely used by oceanographic institutions and commercial operations. See also our post from 2013, Underwater Gliders Gather Data to Help Predict Hurricanes.

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Record Waves in the North Atlantic

In the last day or two, there have been numerous press reports of a 19 meter (62.3 ft) wave, recorded by an automated buoy in the North Atlantic between Iceland and the UK off the Outer Hebrides. This is a new record for a wave recorded by a buoy.

What does this really mean? Rogue waves are often larger than 19 meters. The first scientifically reported rogue, the Draupner wave, which struck a drilling platform of the same name on New Year’s Day in 1995, was recorded to be 25.6 metres (84 ft) high. So why is a 19 meter wave such a big deal? 

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Royal Navy Pilot Jock Moffat, Torpedo Crippled the Bismarck, Dies at 97


(From left) Eric Margetts, Bobby Lawson, John Moffat, Buster May and Glan Evans

On May 27, 1941, the German battleship Bismarck had just sunk the pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Hood. As she was close to escaping into safe waters, Bismarck was attacked by a swarm of obsolete Fairey Swordfish biplanes launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal.   Lt-Cdr  John “Jock” Moffat, one of the Swordfish pilots, died recently at the age of 97. Lt Cdr Moffat was credited with launching the torpedo that crippled the Bismarck in 1941. 

As reported by the BBC:  Mr Moffat and his crew took off in his Swordfish L9726 from the deck of Ark Royal and headed for the Bismarck, fighting against driving rain, low cloud and a gale.

Naval chiefs said he flew in at 50ft, nearly skimming the surface of the waves, in a hail of bullets and shells, to get the best possible angle of attack on the ship.  At 21:05 he dropped the torpedo which hit its target, jamming the rudder of Hitler’s flagship.  Speaking to BBC Scotland earlier this year, he said: “The Bismarck turned on its side and all these sailors seemed to be in the water – it lived with me for a long time.”  The battleship was forced to steam in circles until the guns of the Royal Navy’s home fleet arrived the next morning. Continue reading

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