Saturday, September 16, 2017


16 September 2017: In 1830, the United States Frigate Constitution had, according to the government (Department of the Navy), outlived her usefulness. She was, after all, launched in October of 1797 as one of the "Six Frigates" approved by President Washington in 1794. So it was announced in the papers that she would be scrapped. 
A young Harvard medical school recent graduate, headed to law school, and part time poet named Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) saw the article in the Boston paper and immediately sat down to write a poem, expressing his outrage that such an iconic and historic vessel should be discarded like so much junk. He wrote it on this day, September 16th in 1830.  Here is his poem: 

Frigate Constitution Vs HMS Guerierre August 1812

The poem was published in the paper, picked up by several others, and eventually found a willing and agreeable audience in the government. It still resonates today!

So, clearly his efforts to rally the populace paid off and the ship, now the United States "Ship of State" survived. While she has been used for many tasks over the years, she sits today in Boston - Charlestown Navy Yard, as the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. 


And she just completed a 26 month overhaul to ensure she remains sound. Here she is on the bi-centennial anniversary of her launching in 1997. You might note she is sailing free and unattended by her usual tugboat escort.

Ahh, the power of the pen! 

Until next time,
                                         Fair Winds,
                                               Old Salt

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


6 August 2017: In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey's devastation of the Houston TX area and the pending landfall of what is billed as the biggest baddest storm to form in the Atlantic in a long time (forever?), we thought the following piece on the quick thinking of a US submarine skipper worthy of a reprint in Maritime Maunder...... and a thank you to Tyler Rogoway who wrote the piece in the WARZONE.


"In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo came roaring towards America's southeastern seaboard. People rushed to prepare for the storm's arrival, including the U.S. Navy. At Charleston Naval Base in South Carolina, submarines scrambled out to sea, but a handful which were undergoing or awaiting heavy maintenance had no way of escaping Hugo's onslaught. One of these vessels was the Navy's 100th nuclear submarine, the USS Narwhal (SSN-671).
Hugo made landfall in South Carolina on the 22nd September as a class four hurricane. 20 foot storm surges and ten inches of rain were experienced in some areas along the coast. Narwhal's crew were onboard the submarine, which had its nuclear reactor offline as it was awaiting its turn in dry dock for a complex refueling and overhaul, as the center of the storm approached the base. 
Narwhal's mooring lines were fortified in preparation for the storm's arrival. Two three inch lines and nine double wires were supposed to keep the 314 foot sub in place but as the first half of the storm hit, all but one line had snapped and the submarine began to drift out into the Cooper River.
As the eye of the storm passed over, brave tugboat crews and the Narwhal's crew tried to keep the nuclear fast attack sub from being pulled away, but the winds and currents were too strong. With the second half of the storm fast approaching, the Narwhal's commanding officer had to make a very tough call. He could either let the nuclear submarine drift away with the wind and current or he could do the unthinkable, dive the boat in the middle of the river.

With no diesel fuel onboard and the reactor cold, running only on battery power, the dive alarm was sounded and Narwhal's crew executed their orders, dropped anchor, flooded the sub's ballast tanks and submerging to the river bed. Just the submarine's sail and masts were left sticking up out of the water (pictured at the top of this article). The crew sat in the submarine with everything off but emergency lighting to wait out the storm, watching the hurricane's 150mph winds rage around them through the narrow field of view of submarine's periscope. 
The captain's bold plan worked, it took some time the next morning to break the boat free from the silt it lay in, but Narwhal and her crew came out unscathed. The submarine went on to get its refueling and refit and served another decade as part of her 30 year long career.
The captain's call could have lost him his command or even his entire career, but according to reports, instead his quick thinking resulted in an early promotion.


Without knowing, of course, I suspect this skipper grew up in New England. As a boy who grew up there myself, I can recount many occasions where, in the face of a looming storm, we sank our small boats - sailboats, dinghies, and skiffs, to protect them from the winds. After the storm passed, we had only to bail them out and we were ready to go. I can recall no one losing their boat when they followed this procedure.   

Good luck to any of our readers who have lives or interests in the path of Hurricane Irma. Stay safe.

Until next time,
                                 Fair winds,
                                      Old Salt

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


30 August 2017: Our last post on the remarkable discovery and archeological exploration of the lost Franklin expedition ships was in July and as suspected, there was more to come. And it would appear, the will be more for the foreseeable future. These ships, so well preserved by the frigid waters of the Arctic, are a treasure trove of information and, as long as the weather holds, divers will be exploring their hulks, collecting more artifacts, learning more about the men aboard, and studying the ships themselves. Here are excerpts from a CBC article written by Janet Davison of CBC News.

Extremely complex': How the hunt for clues in the Franklin shipwreck mystery is changing gears
Plans to explore Erebus site this year altered after delay in preparation of research vessel
Janet Davison - CBC News
The hunt for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was tough enough.
Now Parks Canada underwater archeologists are sorting out just how they will try to unlock the clues to the Franklin Expedition mystery that may be hidden in the wrecks of the reinforced British warships that lie in the icy waters of Nunavut.

diver sets up to enter Erebus's hull

"We are ready to get into what we consider is going to be one of the most complex and challenging underwater archeological excavations in Canada," Marc-André Bernier, manager of underwater archeology for Parks Canada, said of what comes next for exploring the Erebus site in Wilmot and Crampton Bay.
For one week at the end of August, a six-person team of underwater archeologists is planning to be at the site, diving from inflatable boats and working from a base camp on a nearby island.
Parks Canada said Friday the work will include preparations for the next phase of exploration of the Erebus, which is expected to continue for several years.
But with Erebus and Terror, it seems, little comes simply. There are ongoing questions over future ownership and security of the site.
And even this year's exploration has had its hiccups. The planned program isn't what Parks Canada initially had in mind, when it first proposed an archeological investigation of up to four weeks, with 14 people on site.

Things changed when the agency realized its hopes to have a newly refitted research vessel on base this summer weren't going to work out.
The RV David Thompson, a 228-tonne former coast guard vessel transferred to the agency, is still in a shipyard in Nanaimo, B.C.
'Preparation is key'
Bernier said there were a number of factors at play, including unforeseen work required on a vessel at midlife, and more stringent requirements than were anticipated for its recommissioning.
"Preparation is key for this vessel so we want to make sure that before we bring it up to the Arctic, everything is in top condition."
A barge that is intended to play a major support role for work exploring the wreck sites also won't be in place in time for this year's season, but Bernier anticipates it will be for next summer.
"We're not going to start until we have all the right pieces together and [the RV David Thompson] unfortunately was delayed but we still have a lot of work to do," said Bernier.
"It has changed our plans but basically … we're starting the next phase. It's going to be extremely complex."
While Parks Canada archeologists are at the Erebus site later this month, they hope to "try to get deeper into the wreck"  with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Bernier said, and boost their knowledge of just what lies inside the timbers of the ship that was one-half of the mid-19th-century expedition led by John Franklin to find the elusive Northwest Passage.

The ROV will have video cameras, and archeologists hope to gain access to the engine room, along with getting a look inside the coal bunkers with point-of-view cameras.
They'll also be laying the groundwork for the underwater excavation they hope to do — and which many hope will reveal key clues to understanding how the expedition came to its sad demise, with its loss of Franklin and 128 crew.
"We're going to change gears," Bernier said. "This involves quite a lot more of logistical support, equipment."
Where should the barge go?
That means figuring out — among other things — how and where to position the barge so it can support equipment to remove sediment, provide a place from which the divers can dress and have a hyperbaric chamber on site in case of any diving accident.
Work will also be done for the "Guardian" program that will see Inuit heavily involved in efforts to protect and monitor the sites.
No further work is planned this summer at the HMS Terror site, about 100 kilometres north in the appropriately named Terror Bay off King William Island, where that wreck was found last year.
Underwater archeologists recorded nearly 10 hours of video of the wreck during an ice dive in April.
As far as Terror is concerned, I think we've reached our objectives for this year already," said Bernier.
Archeologists are assessing what they know about the site to help prepare for further exploration of a wreck that presents a considerably different scenario than Erebus.

With Erebus, "we had to figure out, OK, how are the decks damaged, what is the extent of the preservation [that] we have," said Bernier. In ways, he said, it's a puzzle that has to be put back together.
With Terror, it's a different story.

Terror's helm
'Astonishing state of preservation'
"Terror seems to be almost lying on the bottom as it would have been floating 160 years ago, the masts and the rigging being damaged but the rest is in an astonishing state of preservation," said Bernier.
"HMS Erebus is located in shallower waters and is therefore more susceptible to storm and ice damage. HMS Terror is in deeper water and less susceptible to damage from the freeze-and-thaw pattern, which explains why it appears to be in better shape than HMS Erebus."

Still, the examination of the Terror site has presented some tantalizing hints of what might have happened toward the sad end of the Franklin Expedition.
"There's a lot of conclusions we already have," said Bernier. "We know for certain, for example, that the ship was not at anchor when it went down."
There have also been questions about whether the ship was closed up for abandonment — or winterized — but underwater archeologists have seen some of the hatches are partly open.
"We still need to understand the reason for it but it doesn't have that feeling of being all closed up."
The propeller isn't in place. Nor is the rudder — maybe it's on the sea floor. "Was it removed for winterization — we don't know," says Bernier.
For those who watch the exploration of the Erebus and Terror sites from afar, the anticipation of what the underwater archeologists may discover is immense.
'King Tut's tomb underwater'

"The thing about the Erebus and the Terror is that it's like setting up the Hubble Space Telescope, not really knowing what you're going to find but excited about it every day because the potential of finding something great is there," said author and longtime Franklin sleuth David Woodman.
"This is King Tut's tomb underwater…. So even if they find nothing that illuminates the Franklin story or the tragedy or the mystery, which is what most of the general public want, the archeologists are overjoyed. There's decades of that kind of work to be done."

And so, while we suspect there will be little more diving this season, work will continue to examine what has been recovered, and prepare to next season's exploration. It would appear that the archeologists have discovered "job security" in this quest! Maritime Maunder will try to keep you posted!

Until next time,
                        Fair Winds,
                           Old Salt