The Last of the Caballito de Totora, the Little Reed Horses of Peru

For the last thirty five hundred years, Peruvian fisherman have paddled boats called caballito de totora, the little reed horses, out through the surf to cast their nets offshore.  At the end of the day, they ride the waves back to shore almost like modern surfboards. The fishermen build the boats themselves– growing the reeds, harvesting and drying them, and then bundling the reeds together, in the same way that the boats have been built for the last three millennium.

The little reed horses, however, may be on their way out, as the marshes where the reeds grown are drained by developers and the children of the fishermen look for a better life at universities or by working in construction or in the tourist hotels that now line the beaches in resort town like Huanchaco.

See also: Town’s Floating Symbol Fading Into the Sunset

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Concordia Yawls — An Appreciation

Photo: Concordia Company

Photo: Concordia Company

The recent sinking of the Concordia yawl, Winnie of Bourne, brought to mind just how remarkable this class of boats indeed is.  Winnie of Bourne was raised from the bottom near the entrance of Nantucket harbor just two days after she sank, so we hope that she will be salvaged and restored.

The Concordia yawl is the most successful and beloved class of wooden offshore sailboats ever built. The first was built to replace Llewellyn Howland’s family’s Colin Archer designed pilot cutter, which was destroyed by the Great Hurricane of 1938. The first yawl, named Java, was (and is) 39ft 10in long with a 10ft 3in beam, 5ft 8in draught, an 18,000 pound displacement, a 7/8ths fractional rig and a coveline with the iconic star on her bow and a crescent moon on her stern.

Over the next 28 years, over 100 Concordia yawls would be built.   Continue reading

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The Super Moon on the Schooner Pioneer in a Frenetic New York Harbor

"Supermoon" over the bow of Clipper City.  Click for a larger image.

“Supermoon” over the bow of Clipper City. Click for a larger image.

Last night, my wife and I took to a two hour sail on the schooner Pioneer to watch the “super moon” rise over New York harbor.   The “super moon,” is in scientific terms referred to as a “perigee moon,” a full moon at perigee, when the moon is closest to the earth.  This year we are having a solid streak of “supermoons.”  We had one last month on July 12th, one last night August 10th and will will have another on September 28th.   On nights with a “supermoon” the moon is roughly 14% larger and 30% brighter than other, non-super full moons. So, supermoons are not really all that impressive, but it was a beautiful night for a sail on the harbor.

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Winnie of Bourne, Concordia Yawl, Raised After Sinking Off Nantucket

Photo: Jim Powers for the Inquirer and Mirror

Photo: Jim Powers for the Inquirer and Mirror

On Friday morning, near the entrance to Nantucket harbor at around 10:30 AM, someone made a very bad mistake.  The 40′ Concordia yawl, Winnie of Bourne, and the 46′ Swan, Dragon, collided, sending the Concordia yawl to the bottom. The four aboard the 1952 built yawl were rescued from the water by the Coast Guard.  The collision remains under investigation. Winnie of Bourne was raised by a crane barge on Sunday.  For photographs of the yawl before the collision, click here.

The collision took place just before the start of the nine day Nantucket Race Week, one of the busiest weeks of boat traffic on the island.

Sunk sailboat raised from bottom

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The Sardine Run — Gannetts, Sharks, Dolphins & Divers

A remarkable video of gannetts, sharks, dolphins & divers diving on the sardine run on the Agulhas Bank off South Africa.

Shark Explorers – Sardine Run 2013

From Scuba Diver Life — Gearing Up For South Africa’s Sardine Run

Exactly why and how the sardine run takes place is still a subject of some debate among experts. It is an unpredictable event that depends upon a delicate balance of simultaneous factors; while some years produce shoals of sardines so dense that they can be seen from the air, in other years the sardines do not run at all. Continue reading

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Hawaii’s Twin Hurricane Near Miss, King “TUTT” & El Niño

Hurricanes Iselle and Julio threatening Hawaii Photo: AP

Hurricanes Iselle and Julio threatening Hawaii Photo: AP

Hawaii survived a near miss with two hurricanes. On Friday, Hurricane Iselle, downgraded to a tropical storm, hit the Big Island of Hawaii.  Hurricane Julio is expected to pass roughly 200 miles to the north of the islands on Sunday or Monday.  Tropical Storm Iselle still brought heavy rains, strong winds, downed trees and power outages to the Big Island, Maui and Oahu.

Despite having a near miss by two hurricanes in a matter of days, overall, hurricanes are relatively rare in Hawaii.  Since formal records began to be kept in 1950, the Big Island of Hawaii has not been struck by a hurricane.  Tropical Storm Iselle is only the second tropical storm to make landfall on the Big Island.  The last hurricane to strike the state of Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which made landfall in Kuaui,  killing four and doing $3 billion worth of damage.

Why are hurricanes so rare in Hawaii? Continue reading

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Twenty Eight Feet: Life on a Little Wooden Boat

A very well-made short documentary by Keven A. Fraser about David Welsford’s life on an Herreshoff 28, Lizzy Belle.

Twenty Eight Feet: life on a little wooden boat from kevinAfraser on Vimeo.

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Bjoern Kils & New York Media Boat to the Rescue, Again

newyorkmboatOn Tuesday, the New York Media Boat‘s 2pm Adventure Sightseeing Tour was interrupted just off South Street Seaport, when the boat captain, Bjoern Kils, spotted three people in the water near Pier 15.  They immediatey went to help.  Bjoern describes what happened next in his blog:

When we arrived, two men were in the water trying to keep an unconscious victim afloat. Apparently, he had been handling lines for a large vessel when a line snapped, knocking him into the water.

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Capt. Schettino Lectures on Emergency Procedures? Really?

captschCaptain Francesco Schettino recently gave a two-hour lecture on emergency procedures to criminal science masters candidates at Rome’s Sapienza University. Yes, this is the same Capt. Schettino who ripped open the side of the cruise ship Costa Concordia on a reef, then ignored the ship’s safety management procedures by delaying the order to abandon ship for at least an hour, until the ship was aground on a rocky bottom. The grounding caused the ship to partially capsize. The same Schettino who abandoned the crippled cruise ship early in the evening. The same Capt. Schettino who is now on trial for multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning his ship.  32 passengers and crew died when the ship sank and rolled over.

Who thought that this would be a good idea? The university dean, Luigi Frati, isn’t wild about the idea, and is seeking disciplinary action against the professor who invited the captain to share his wisdom and experience.  The dean is not the only one upset. As reported by ABC News: Italy’s education minister called the news “disconcerting,” while the prosecutor in Tuscany who is arguing for Schettino’s guilt expressed indignation also at reports that Schettino had been awarded a diploma.

Furor After Concordia Captain Gives Seminar

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Two Ships from the River Clyde — Glennlee & Falls of Clyde



In the press, they have been described as “sister ships” which is not literally true. Falls of Clyde, an iron-hulled four masted ship built in 1878 in Port Glasgow, is older and larger than Glennlee, a three masted steel-hulled barque, also built in Port Glasgow in 1896. In a non-technical sense, however, they could be called sisters, as they are both survivors, having each been declared derelict and destined for scrapping or scuttling.  Now, Glennlee has been fully restored in Scotland and supporters are hard at work raising money to do the same to Falls of Clyde in Hawaii.

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Coal Mine Canaries, Lake Erie Algae and Washington Oysters — Will We Ignore the Warnings?

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

Last Saturday, I was helping my son move to a new job in Wisconsin. We spent the night in a motel just outside Toledo and woke to find that we couldn’t take showers, brush our teeth or have a cup of coffee. We were hardly alone. Roughly 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio and surrounding suburbs also woke to hear that they should not drink the water, as it might be toxic. Even washing might cause skin rashes and itching. An algal bloom in Lake Erie, from which Toledo gets is water, created toxins which made the water unsafe for drinking, cooking or even bathing. The water ban lasted for more than two days, and has still not been lifted in some neighborhoods.

The problem is not new. This sort of algal bloom has been going on in Lake Erie for years. Continue reading

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Draken Harald Hårfagre, a Broken Mast and Why They Didn’t Row to Port

Photo:  Ian Leask

Photo: Ian Leask

In early July, the 114-foot long  Draken Harald Hårfagre, the largest Viking replica ever built, was sailing across the North Sea,  from Haugesund in Norway.  Three days out, in high seas, the ship’s mast failed and went over the side.  No one was injured. The ship diverted to Lerwick where it arrived safely.  Given the nature of Viking sailing rigs, which have to be relatively light in order to be raised and lowered, the original Vikings must have had to deal with similar dismastings fairly often.

The modern day re-enactors, however did not row to shore. Michael Grey at Lloyd’s commented on a BBC 4 interview with the ship’s captain: Continue reading

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Vacuuming New York’s Blue Whale

My favorite place in New York’s American Museum of Natural History is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, where a 94 foot long blue whale appears to be swimming through space.  The whale is a 21,000-pound fiberglass model of a female blue whale found in 1925 off the southern tip of South America.  The whale was installed in 1969. Every year the whale is cleaned using a special vacuum cleaner.  This year the cleaning process was streamed live over the internet.  In case you missed it, here is a two minute summary of the two to three day cleaning job.

Whale model gets a cleaning | AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY NY

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Update: The 18th Century World Trade Center Ship May Have Been Built Near Philadelhia

Four years ago, workers excavating at the new World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan uncovered the remains of an 18th century wooden merchant ship. The ship was found 20 feet below street level,  is roughly 30 feet in length and was probably buried intentionally as land fill.  It was found in an area outside that which had been previously excavated for the original World Trade Center complex and appears to have remained undisturbed since it was buried in the late 1700s.

Now a new report has been published in the Tree Ring Society journal Tree Ring Research which dates the ship and gives an indication where it was built. Much of the “news” in the report dates back to 2011, when Scientific American reported that Dr. Neil Pederson and a team from the Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory had determined that “the ship was likely built in 1773 in a small shipyard on the outskirts of a major metropolitan center.” The new report, of which Dr. Pederson is one of the authors, now identifies the “major metropolitan center” as probably Philadelphia. Additionally, the ship appears to have been built from the same kind of white oak trees used to build parts of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed.

Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed

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Vibro Vulnificus — Flesh-Eating Bacteria Far More Dangerous Than Sharks

Vibrio vulnificus (CDC/James Gathany)

Vibrio vulnificus (CDC/James Gathany)

Is it safe to go into the water? Officials with the Florida Department of Health are warning that vibro vulnificus, a flesh eating bacteria, poses a threat to those who eat uncooked seafood or go into the state ocean water with cuts or open wounds. Those with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of infection.  Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium found in all  warm coastal waters of the United States.  This year, 12 cases have been identified by health officials, including 3 fatalities.  In 2013, Florida reported 41 cases and 11 deaths from the bacteria.

To put this into context, there were no fatal shark attacks in Florida in 2013.  The last reported shark fatality in the state was in 2005.  In the more than 130 years between 1882 and 2013, there have been a total of 11 confirmed deaths from shark attacks in the state of Florida, as compared to 11 deaths from vibro vulnificus infection in the year 2013, alone.  Vibro vulnificus is many times more dangerous than sharks.

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Bumbling Boaters Reveal Huge Security Flaws at New York Airports

072714kayakThe Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reportedly spent more than $100 million on a Perimeter Intrusion Detection System, which was intended to protect the local airports from terrorist attack. (Some sources put the cost at $300 million.) How well is it working? Not so well.  Lost kayakers, amorous drunken power boaters and jet skiers out of gas have all managed to blunder through the security system wholly undetected at the two city airports located on the water.

Last weekend, two kayakers went kayaking on Jamaica Bay at night in a double kayak. They capsized, lost a paddle, and got confused at to where they were. They used their one remaining paddle to make their way to the closest land they could see, which happened to be the end of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Runway 4L. The airport’s perimeter detection system didn’t notice their arrival. The two walked until they found maintenance workers and asked for help.

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Schooner Ernestina Will Sail Again — Private Donors Contribute $2.8 Million

ernestina1Great news, for a change.  The historic schooner Ernestina, ex-Effie M. Morrissey  will sail again. Private donors, Bob Hildreth and Gerry Lenfest, have committed to contribute $2.8 million to the restoration of the historic schooner.   The new donations more than match the State of Massachusetts’ $2.5 million contribution to the project.  The Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association has also raised more than $100,000 toward its goal of $1 million to help in the multi-year refurbishment of the schooner.  Boston philanthropist Bob Hildreth, a founder and vice-president of SEMA, has promised to donate $1 million, while media entrepreneur and philanthropist, Gerry Lenfest, who has had an interest in the ship since a childhood acquaintance with Capt. Bob Bartlett, has committed $1.8 million.

The schooner Ernestina, Ex. Effie M.Morrissey, was built in 1894 at the James and Tarr Shipyard for the Gloucester fishing fleet. Under Captain Bob Bartlett she sailed to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and later brought immigrants to the U.S. under the power of sail. Returned to the US in 1982 as a gift from the newly independent Cape Verdean people, she sailed as an educator until 2005.  She is currently designated by the United States Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark as part of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. She is also the State Ship of Massachusetts.

Ernestina Will Sail Again

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From Dazzle Ships to Dazzle Faces — Camouflage Meant to Confuse

Dazzle Ships

Dazzle Ships

Dazzle Faces

Dazzle Faces

We recently posted “The Dazzle Ships, Then and Now,” about the use of wild geometric patterns painted on ships, which do nothing to hide the ship, but are/were meant to confuse enemy weapons targeting.  Recently, the artist, designer, and entrepreneur, Adam Harvey, created computer vision dazzle, or CV dazzle, designed to fool increasingly sophisticated computer facial recognition software.  Developed as a student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Harvey’s CV dazzle uses make-up and hair to disrupt the computer algorithms used to identify faces.  He explains the rationale in the New York Times from last December – Face to Anti-Face.

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The Demise of Ocean Classroom Foundation

10065561_H13332127-250x250Ocean Classroom Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Maine, has run educational programs for students aboard schooners for almost 20 years.  Sadly, it will be closing down at the end of the summer; it’s three schooners will be put up for sale at auction. As reported by The Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald, the organization had too much debt, too little cash flow, and two schooners out of service for maintenance and repair.

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HMS London Shipwreck — Glimpsing a 300 Year Old Disaster

CGI reconstruction of the 'London' wreck © Touch Productions

CGI reconstruction of the ‘London’ wreck
© Touch Productions

In 1665, HMS London, a 64-gun second-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, exploded in the Thames Estuary off Southend.  Recent dives on the wreck have recovered a wide range of artifacts and remains.  As reported by the BBC:  A project spokesman said: “The artefacts we can recover may be similar in scope to those… from the Mary Rose, but 120 years later in date.”  The Mary Rose saw 34 years of service before it sank while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet in 1545. Around 19,000 artefacts were found on board after it was raised from the seabed of the Solent in 1982.

According to Samuel Pepys, 300 of the London’s crew were killed while 24 were blown clear and survived, including one woman.  In 2005, during preparatory work for the London Gateway Port development in Thurrock, Essex, the London was rediscovered.  The wreck was placed on English Heritage’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register in 2005,  due to the ship being exposed by shifting sediment levels on the sea bed.

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