Eight years ago today, US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency water landing in the Hudson River. If the plane’s pilots, Captain Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles had not glided the plane in at just the right angle and airspeed, it is likely that the plane would have broken apart and that all the 155 passengers and crew aboard could have died. The landing is often called the “Miracle on the Hudson.” There was, however, a second miracle on the Hudson that day. Remarkably, New York harbor commuter ferries began arriving at the flooding plane less than four minutes after the crash. Had it not been for the ferries’ rapid rescue of the passengers from the icy waters, the “miracle” might have ended as tragedy.
In December of 1893, Captain Carl Anton Larsen, the master of the Norwegian whaling ship Jason, sailed along a vast Antarctic ice shelf in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Now, just over 120 years later, the ice sheet that bears Larsen’s name is collapsing.
British scientists with Project Midas recently predicted that a widening crack in the ice shelf could cause a 2,000 square mile ice island the size of the State of Delaware to break off this winter. Swansea University’s Adrian Luckman, who heads up Project MIDAS, told the BBC that “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.”
It was announced this week that the Indian Point nuclear power facility will close by 2021. The Indian River plant is about 25 miles north of New York City. It sits on, not one, but two geological fault lines. A core breach caused by an earthquake would be disastrous. Standard procedure is to evacuate everyone within a 50 mile radius of a core breach, which, in this case, is close to 20 million people. Even without an earthquake, the facility has been called a “disaster waiting to happen.” The fifty-four year old facility has been the site of fires, automation failures and radiation leaks. The oldest of the three reactors, which did not meet earthquake standards, was shut down in 1974, while the other two reactors are each over 40 years old.
After a successful first season sailing New England waters, SSV Oliver Hazard Perry has an exciting 2017 ahead. Toward the end of January, the sailing school ship will depart Newport, RI bound for Bermuda, then to Florida where the ship will be based through March. The ship will offer opportunities for explorers of all ages to participate in one of two round-trip voyages to Cuba (March 10-18 and March 18-26); a passage from Ft. Lauderdale to Bermuda (April 2-12); or a passage from Bermuda to Newport, R.I. (April 14-22). The voyages to Cuba are targeted towards high school and college students, with a limited number of berths available for adventurous adults as well. The Bermuda and Newport passages are hosted in partnership with Ocean Navigator magazine for any adults wanting to learn the skill of offshore celestial navigation and marine meteorology.
Next Saturday, January 14th, the Mystic Seaport Museum, in Mystic, CT, is hosting its annual Chantey Blast and Pub Sing from 1-5 PM at Frohsinn Hall, 54 Greenmanville Ave., directly across the street from the museum. Everyone is invited to join in as Mystic Seaport chantey staff and many of the finest chantey singers in the Northeast sing chanties, maritime ballads, and songs of the sea. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. This fundraising event is co-sponsored by the Pinewoods Folk Music Club and is organized as part of the Friends of the Festival program that seeks to generate support for the Museum’s 38th annual Sea Music Festival, which will be held at Mystic Seaport June 8-11, 2017.
Last Friday, Crystal River did not live up to its name. It was murky and the crystal clear waters that I remembered had a visibility of only about six feet. In some respects, however, it added an element of mystery, when, as I lay floating flat on the surface, a manatee would appear from beneath me and rise up until it was looking me straight in the eyes, inches away from my mask. Here is a short video I edited of footage shot by our captain and guide, Phil Eledge of our snorkeling with manatees.
It wasn’t so long ago when the conversation regarding Florida manatees was not whether or not they would become extinct but rather how quickly their extinction would happen. Fortunately, efforts to save the manatee have paid off. In 1991, the Florida manatee population was down to 1,270. Current estimates by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now put the population at around 6,300, an increase of almost 500%. Regulations to limit boat speed in areas frequented by manatees have been largely successful as have efforts to preserve winter habitats.
Because of the rebound in the population, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed reclassifying the manatee from endangered to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Many environmentalists consider the change to be premature. Even with the status change, manatees would still receive the same protection from the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.
Discovering Amistad is a new nonprofit educational organization that will provide full-year programming on its tall ship, the Amistad, in classrooms and at historic sites of partner organizations. It will enable children and adults in Connecticut and the region to discover the story of the Amistad and its impact on Connecticut and the nation. Importantly, the organization will provide learning opportunities for children and adults to discover the relevance of the Amistad to today’s world.
Not many lead singers from an 80’s rock and roll band could write a compelling song about ship scrapping, but then Mark Knopfler is not just any singer/songwriter. Knopfler was born in Glasgow, Scotland on the River Clyde, which was once a major shipbuilding center. In the early 1900s, a fifth of all ships in the world were built on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. There are not many Clyde-built ships left. Most ended up in scrap yards, so far from the Clyde. Mark Knopfler singing “So Far from the Clyde” in a video by Alec Beaton.
Vaquita, a small porpoise found only in the Gulf of California, is the world’s rarest marine mammal, and is in imminent danger of extinction. Now, US Navy dolphins are being trained to locate vaquita in a last-ditch effort to catch and and protect the last few dozen of these critically endangered porpoises.
The vaquita weren’t discovered until 1958 and now are in danger of being wiped out by illegal gill-netting by fishermen in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. The vaquita are being caught and drowned in gill-nets set by fishermen trying to catch totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a prized delicacy in China.
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is big. Like other Nimitz class carriers, it is over 1000′ long on the waterline, wit a beam of 244′ and is powered by nuclear steam plant which develops a quarter of a million horsepower. It has a crew of 3,200 with an additional air wing of 2,480. Recently, although briefly, it added a few additional temporary crew.
The Telegraph in the UK is reporting on two notionally related projects associated with the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to North America. The first is a virtual reality project led by the Human Interface Technologies Team, at the University of Birmingham which is aiming to recreate the Mayflower of 1620, plank by plank and will allow modern visitors to walk around the old ship while wearing a virtual reality headset. It sounds like great fun and could be a great way to learn about the ship and the history directly.
The second project, I am not so sure about. It is described as follows: “a new futuristic version of the Mayflower, which is fully autonomous, is being built and will become the first unmanned vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2020.” From the graphic, it appears to be a sail and solar powered trimaran drone.
Right: NOAA photo of right whale spout, Left: NYPD photo of whale in East River
Yesterday we posted about a whale swimming in New York’s East River. It was originally identified by the police as a humpback, but their photograph of the whale’s spout now makes it highly likely that the whales was in fact an endangered right whale. Given that whales are almost entirely underwater while swimming, it can be hard to identify one species from the next. One way to do so, is by their spouts. Whales, of course, do not actually spout water from their blowholes. What we see as a whale’s spout is the hot moist air being expelled from the whale’s lungs condensing as it hits colder air.
The reason that many think that the whale sighted in the East River is an endangered right whale is because of the spout photographed by the New York Police Department. The photo to the right, above, shows a right whale spouting. The photo the left is of the whale in the East River taken by the NYPD on Saturday. Both have the same distinctive “V” shape. Humpback whale spouts are usually a single vertical column as shown in the graphic below.
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.
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.
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:
There 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.
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.
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.
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: