Saturday, July 4, 2020


4 July 2020: Happy Independence Day to my American readers -wherever you might be! And while there will be very limited celebrations this year due the the corona virus restrictions on crowds and "social distancing" we still recognize the meaning and importance of this date.
We were planning on a new look at the Mallows Bay (Potomac River in Maryland) repository of abandoned WWI ships, but came across this piece from National Interest and thought it might be fun to offer. We'll address Mallows in a future post.

 Much like the First World War era Lebedenko or “Tsar Tank,” the Novgorod is an excellent reminder of Imperial Russian military “out of the box” thinking that might have been better left in the box. 
While Czar Peter the Great of Russia sought to “westernize” his nation, and this included adopting what were then modern military tactics, weapons and even uniforms, he also founded the Russian Navy. He oversaw the construction of Imperial Russia’s warships and even some sea fortresses. 
However, even the forward-thinking Peter likely couldn't have envisioned something as truly revolutionary and completely Russian in design as the Novgorod, a monitor-style warship that was built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the 1870s. It goes down in the annals of naval history as one of the most unusual warships – and possibly the worst – ever built. 
It was round. 
The concept of a circular battleship actually wasn’t entirely Russian. The concept had first been considered by a Scottish shipbuilder named John Elder, which evolved under the Royal Navy's Edward Reed. It involved a shallow-draft vessel that was capable of traversing low-level waters such as rivers and lakes, where it could provide support to military units on land in a way more powerful warships of the era couldn't. 

River monitors had seen use in the American Civil War, while the British used riverboats in Africa, notably the Sudan, which is why no one seriously took up the concept of a round monitor when the existing vessels did a very good job. 
But there were other factors at play for the Russians. After the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War, Russia was no longer allowed to have a fleet in the Black Sea, while the country’s coffers were so depleted it couldn't have afforded one anyway! The treaty also prohibited Russia from establishing naval or military arsenals on the Black Sea coast. 

Rather than leave Sevastopol undefended, Russian Admiral Andrei Popov proposed to build a circular ship for the coast defense of the port. The circular warship could carry super-large, but also super-heavy guns. In theory the idea was that large warships would roll when delivering a broadside, while a side with the same width and length would not have such a problem. 
The circular design also allowed for more armoring, but it was far from as stable as Popov or its designers expected. In fact, in anything more than calm waters the accuracy of its main armament suffered greatly. 
The Novgorod was laid down and then constructed at the New Admiralty Shipyard of Saint Petersburg from 1871 until 1874. It was envisioned to be the first of a new class of monitors to protect the Black Sea and Dnieper Rivers. As a circular warship it was classified as a floating fortress and not listed as a fleet vessel. 
However, soon after construction began the restrictions were lifted, but Czar Alexander II opted to move forward with the project, and ordered the construction for 10 additional circular ships – the second to be called “Vitse-Admiral Popov.” 

The round warships did indeed carry the most powerful weapons of their time, but the Novgorod was slow. It only finally saw action in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) when she was stationed at Odessa to act as a floating deterrent. The round monitor was so slow that it couldn’t keep up with the inferior Turkish warships, and it was found that it was unable to fight away from the coast. If the battle didn’t come to the round monitor, the round monitor was unlikely to make it in time for a battle!  

However, Czar Alexander II apparently still liked the design enough that when Popov proposed a round Imperial yacht the Emperor agreed! Called the “Livadia,” it was assembled in England and transported to Sevastopol for a sea trial. It eventually was used to transport coal rather than the Imperial family. 
The two completed monitors remained in use following Czar Alexander II’s death, but for coastal defense. Both struck from the Naval Register in July 1903 and sold for scrap. Much like the First World War era Lebedenko or “Tsar Tank,” the Novgorod is an excellent reminder of Imperial Russian military “out of the box” thinking that might have been better left in the box. 

Remember, friends, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction! But at the same time, had it worked, our modern day navies might look a whole lot different!

Until next time, 
                                   Fair winds!
                                    Old Salt

Friday, June 26, 2020


26 June 2020: This is the stuff "wreck divers" dream about. Two Civil War Era cargo schooners that collided and sank in the Great Lakes have finally been identified. I can only imagine how cold the water must have been. 
From AP and FoxNews:

Two Civil War-era schooners that collided and sank into Lake Michigan more than 140 years ago were found thanks to a diver and maritime history buff looking for shipwrecks.

The Peshtigo – a 161-foot long ship carrying coal – and St. Andrews – about 143 feet long and carrying corn – are believed to have sunk in 1878 after they hit each other between Beaver and Fox islands, northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan.

Marine historian Brendon Baillod told the Associated Press that old news reports said the collision was blamed on confusion in signal torches. He said two of the Peshtigo’s crewmen were lost, while survivors were rescued by another passing schooner.

The shipwrecks were lost to history.
That is until diver Bernie Hellstrom, 63, of Boyne City, Michigan, came across to an obstruction on his depth sounder about 200 feet down to the bottom of Lake Michigan near Beaver Island about 10 years ago.

“I’ve made hundreds of trips to Beaver Island and every trip I go out the sounder is on,” he told the AP on Friday. “But if you happen to see something that’s not normal, you go back. A lot are nothing but fish schools. This was 400 feet of boat. There’s nothing out there that big that’s missing.”

This past June, he returned to the area armed with a custom-made camera system and dived into the cold depths of northern Lake Michigan. What he found was the two ships lost to history.

The Peshtigo and St. Andrews were about 10 feet apart with their masts atop one another. The hull of one of the ships has a huge gash.

Hellstrom brought technical divers in to record video of the wrecks and Baillod was recruited to help them identify the ships.

According to historians, an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks sit on the bottoms of the Great Lakes. It had actually believed for many years that the Peshtigo and St. Andrews were two ships that sank farther east in Lake Huron.
Wayne Lusardi, Michigan’s state maritime archeologist, told the AP that finding the actual resting place of the two ships was a “fantastic discovery.”

“You can argue that any new discovery is important because it really gives you a first-time look at something that has been lost and missing for such a long time,” he said.
He added that the two ships “had been mistakenly identified as two vessels up in the Straits (of Mackinac) for decades.”
“Now, it begs the question: What are those wrecks?” Lusardi said.

Anyone need some 150 year old corn? Of how about some slightly soggy coal? 
But nonetheless, an amazing piece of underwater detective work. 

Until next time, 
                             Fair Winds, 
                                   Old Salt

Friday, June 19, 2020


19 June 2020: OK. I have to admit this is beyond strange - right up to the end and then it sorts itself out. But maybe, there is an anomaly out there in the South Atlantic as well. Cue the Twilight Zone music!
From the TechTimes, the following:

Oil tanker Willowy was on its course to its next destination on May 31 when senior officers aboard it were called to the bridge as it turns out, their ship, along with four other vessels in the vicinity, had all started to sail in circles and were about to converge.
In a report by Sky News, the ships were unable to steer and were sailing in the south Atlantic Ocean, west of Cape Town, South Africa.

According to the report, the officers onboard Willowy initially believed that the cause of their strange sailing was due to strong currents that were pushing the vessel around.
However, there were no such currents at the time.

The next probable answer was that it might have been caused by a systemic GPS manipulation, which was created to undermine the tracking systems each commercial vessel must have under international law.
The technology is known as an automated identification system (AIS).
It broadcasts a unique identifier from each ship to another vessel nearby, including their GPS location, their speed, and where they are going.
The signals are also collected via satellites and are used to track down any suspicious behavior at sea.

According to Phil Diacon, the chief executive of marine intelligence company Dryad Global, the circles that happened in China were indeed attributed to GPS interference, and it has been happening outside of Chinese ports--going as far as San Francisco.
However, this was not the case with Willowy.
"GPS interference can have serious consequences, with half of all casualties at sea linked to navigational mistakes," Diacon said.
In addition, GPS interference attacking other vessels besides the AIS tracking system is incredibly rare, especially as they were far from the South China Sea, wherein the most common attacks have happened.
They are also far from the Straits of Hormuz, which would suggest it was not done by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that use GPS interference to dupe vessels into entering their waters.
With no strong currents and unlikely GPS interference, what's causing Willowy and four other vessels to sail in a circle?
Weakening Magnetic Field
Apparently, the European Space Agency (ESA) has the answer.
According to the report, the space agency found out that the magnetic field is getting weak in a large section between Africa and South America, and that this has been going on for 50 years now.
It even has a name and is called the "South Atlantic Anomaly."

The area with a weaker magnetic field has grown bigger and is moving westward, and in the last five years, the second center of minimum intensity has grown southwest of Africa, extremely close to where Willowy and four other vessels started sailing in circles.

Experts believe it is happening as the Earth is headed towards a pole reversal that would occur over a few centuries. [Now that would cause some major upset! ed
Certain vessels like Willowy use a gyrocompass alongside other systems.
A gyrocompass detects true north and allows the officers onboard to determine where they are headed and steer to it--if a gyrocompass were to fail, the vessel would start sailing in circles as the Willowy did.

Fortunately, the senior officers knew what happened, and according to the news outlet, the ship was able to resume its original course after switching to its secondary gyrocompass alongside a magnetic compass.
The company that owns Willowy explained the phenomenon as "an incidental breakdown" and that "repair will be done at the next port where the cause will be identified by shore technicians."

So..... what happened with the other three ships?? Are they still out there boring circular holes in the South Atlantic? South Atlantic Anomaly indeed! And let's hope the North and South poles don't reverse; think of the confusion it would cause, not to mention the animal migrations involved (certain animals - think Polar Bears and seals - don't live at the South Pole, only the North.) 

Until next time,
                                         fair winds, 
                                           old Salt