Sunday, August 31, 2014


31 August 2014: It’s Labor Day weekend here in the United States. The end of summer (for some), back to work, back to school, and the last gasp of the “official” summer holiday season. I have been playing with boats for about 65 years and have learned a thing or two during that time and a cardinal rule I have tried to observe is stay off the water on Independence Day and Labor Day weekends! Why, you ask? Why on earth would you want to stay ashore on those specific holiday weekends? The unofficial start and end of the season! Blistering barnacles, Batman, that just ain’t right!
Well, folks, take it from this old curmudgeon: it IS right, totally sane, and a much safer way to get through those glorious weekends. Let’s look at a typical situation in a waterfront area, especially with relatively confined waters.

Dufus and Elmo have a boat. All spring they have been polishing it, painting the bottom (maybe) putting air in the trailer tires and looking forward to getting their pride and joy out on the lake/river/bay (insert water of your choice). Finally, it’s 4th of July weekend – time to get ‘er in the water. But first, maybe a celebratory beer or six. And let’s get our girlfriends/wives/significant others (again, insert partner of your choice) and let the testosterone flow! These guys, if they actually get the boat in the water without mishap, have usually only two speeds: full out and stop. And they don’t use the latter much at all! Besides, what’s the big deal about driving a boat? I can drive a car and it can’t be that different? Wake? What’s that? Brakes? Who needs ‘em? Other boats? What about ‘em? Disaster in the making? You bet! And if you happen to be in another boat sharing the same body of water with these idiots you are in peril. And they’re like cockroaches: there’s never just one!

They have no conception of the rules of the road, that they’re dragging a 3 or 4 foot wave behind them, what channel marks mean, or my personal favorite, courtesy! If they survive the outing, they may only put the boat in the water again a few times, a quiet fishing excursion (with a few beers, of course) or just a peaceful ride on a calm day. And then all of a sudden, it’s Labor Day Weekend! Oh my goodness! Where did the summer go? We gotta get one more ride on the boat. So off they go!
This time, add to the mix anybody who owns something that might float; they’re out there seeing if it will. And of course, Dufus and Elmo and all their cousins, friends, and fellow “boaters” are with them.

So, with my kids and grandchildren visiting, I succumbed to their request and off we went. We were buzzed by Seadoos jumping our wake, passed close aboard by “3 story gin palaces” pulling  6 foot wakes, and nearly rammed on more than one occasion by more clueless idiots running high speed runabouts as they crossed our bow. The concept of slowing down under a bridge to leave no wake (Sign? what sign?) simply doesn’t compute.

OK, I feel better now. Thanks for letting me vent a bit. And no, I will try not to violate my rule next year!

“Now then, Pooh.” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?”
“I ought to say,” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, “that is isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a boat and sometimes it’s more of an accident. It all depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“On whether I’m on the top of it or underneath it.”  A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh


                                             Fair Winds!    Old Salt (curmudgeon)

Saturday, August 30, 2014


30 AUGUST 2014: Yesterday we brought you information about hurricanes, their formation, courses, and devastation. As a follow on to that posting, today’s topic is shipwrecks. It was serendipitous that today a friend stopped by my boat and said he had something to show me. I went to his vessel and sat down in his saloon and he brought out a book entitled, “Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks” by Kevin Duffus. (Looking Glass Productions Raleigh NC 2007) he had just completed the trip north from Florida and had purchased the book inside Hatteras. It was fascinating!

There are over 600 documented wrecks along the coast of North Carolina, some explored, most not. The area around Cape Hatteras has long been called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for good reason: the shifting sands offshore, the proximity of the Gulf Stream, and the frequent storms (there is a “mini-hurricane or Nor’easter in EVERY month of the year there!), as well as an often heavy fog created by the warm water of the Gulf Steam meeting the cooler air – especially in winter – of the Atlantic and the shoreline. I have had occasion to round Hatteras in February in a blinding snow storm and can attest from personal experience that it is a not-to-be-forgotten experience! The prevailing winds in the summer are southwest and in the winter, northeast. Those summetime “breezes” frequently required the captains of sailing ships to tack off and on the coast waiting for a shift so they might continue south and weather the Cape. In the winter, of course, the ferocity of the storms those nor’easters generated with their huge waves and frigid temperatures often sapped the determination of many a sailor of continue their voyage and, once they turned about, they ofter were at the mercy of the seas. And just to add some “frosting on the cake,” magnetic disturbances caused variations in compass readings of up to eleven degrees!

So to what are the wrecks attributed? Poor decisions by masters who chose to beach their foundering vessel rather than sink in deep water was common. Misjudging the current in an inlet which could put them ashore, or parting an anchor cable while awaiting a more favorable wind was another. Rigging failures, mechanical failures, and the ever-popular “just an unseaworthy vessel” accounted for many more.

Shipwreck sites on the Eastern seaboard

If you click on this map, you will see the amazing number of wrecks that dot the coast line of our country! Clearly, “the GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC

 “Being hove to in a long gale is the most boring way of being terrified I know!” Don Hamilton

 Fair Winds! Old Salt

Friday, August 29, 2014


29 August 2014: It is now the peak of the 2014 hurricane season and on this, the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina devastating arrival in New Orleans, it would seem appropriate to offer a bit of information on these destructive storms, awesome in their power, frightening to witness first hand, and destructive as only Mother Nature can be!

These storms are born over warm water, 80+ degrees usually,and get their strength from the warm water colliding with cooler air. The peak season for these killer storms (though not all are killers) is mid-August to late October and the path that Atlantic storms usually take generally follows the eastern seaboard north or cuts across the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico. The maturation process of the storm is as follows: it begins life as a tropical depression, grows into a tropical storm, and ultimately, a hurricane. Once it attains this status, it will be gauged by the Saffir-Simpson Scale of 1 to 5 in strength, with category 1 for winds of 74 mph. Category 5 is the tag put on hurricanes with winds over 145 mph, not something anyone wants to experience! These storms are called hurricanes in the Atlantic, cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and typhoons in the Pacific, but they are all the same thing. If you get caught at sea in one, it is said the left side, northwest quadrant in the Atlantic, is the “dangerous semi-circle” while the right (eastern) side is called the “safe semi-circle.” These distinctions arise from the rotation of the storm (counterclockwise) so that if a vessel is on the left side, they will be pushed further into the storm while one of the right side will be ultimately spit out.

Some of the more notorious hurricanes in the Atlantic have been:
the 1938 “New England” hurricane which was a phenomenon because of its 60-70 mph forward speed. There was, of course, no warning and when it crossed eastern Long Island and slammed into the coast of New England, it took over 600 lives. It was a category 3 storm. (the naming of storms had yet to be implemented at that time)
1954 Hurricanes Carol and Edna, followed by hurricane Hazel, a vicious “hat trick” of storms!
1960 Hurricane Donna 1992 Hurricane Andrew (which devastated south Florida and the Bahamas)
1998 Hurricane Mitch which killed hundreds in Central America
2004 Hurricane Ivan (Cat 5 over Grand Cayman for 14 hours!) and of course,
2005, Hurricane Katrina which caused so much devastation in New Orleans.

We hope for a light season of “named” storms this year!

 “Don’t worry about the world ending today – it’s already tomorrow in Australia!” - Charles Schultz 

 Fair Winds! Old Salt

Thursday, August 28, 2014


28 August, 2014: We are fast approaching the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore and the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the harbor there. As a historian specializing in  that war, people often send me material purporting to be relevant and accurate history. Some are great (though often not news) and others are fictitious in the extreme. This morning, I received the ultimate revisionist history in a video sent to me by a well-meaning friend in which a speaker with an excellent “radio announcer” voice told the story – or what someone thought was the story – of the writing of our national anthem. It was supported by interesting graphics which were equally fictitious and, while they supported his version of this wonderful story, had little bearing on the event.

As an example of what’s floating around in the ether, waiting to trap the unsuspecting with bad history, this video spoke of Francis Scott Key being rowed out to a British ship which apparently carried in its hold, a host of American prisoners, held in cages, and whom he was charged with gaining their freedom. The British fleet, was distant in the ocean (not even in the Chesapeake!). He also mentioned several times the fact that the United States was still “the colonies” and having trouble with the “mother country” – ignoring completely the American Revolution and the 1783 Treaty of Paris which recognized the U.S. as an independent nation. The final straw, for me, anyway, was his reference to Fort McHenry (now a National Monument and Shrine) as “Fort Henry.” That was when I stopped watching.

So I post this as a warning to those of you who are interested in the real history to be careful and check the facts before you ‘buy into” anyone’s rhetoric! And in about two weeks, I will be writing about the actual event as we near the September 14th bicentennial.

“Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure!”  Bob Bitchin

Fair Winds          Old Salt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


In late May, 1883, a small, uninhabited island in the Sunda Strait (Indonesia) began sending up signs that something was percolating inside. The volcano had been silent for over 200 years and people, ever titillated by the potential for disaster, became excited that something would happen! A German warship passing by noticed that a cloud of ash, some 7 miles high, was hanging over the mountain. The inhabitants of nearby islands kept watch, ever hopeful of witnessing the “real” eruption!

On August 26 and 27th, things went quickly from entertaining to horrific; the mountain began to explode - literally. The first huge blast took off the entire northern side of the mountain and, as it blew, rivers of molten gas, ash, and rock flowed into the Java Sea. Of course, this generated several tsunamis which swept over the nearby coastlines and the good folks who stood in horror watching the spectacle. The next day, 27th August, the rest of the mountain exploded with cataclysmic results. A dust cloud rose 50 miles into the sky and the fine dust from the eruption drifted around the entire planet, cooling temperatures and creating amazing sunsets! The blast could be heard from 3,000 miles away and the 120 foot high wave (tsunami) it generated swept huge numbers of people to their deaths. The mountain threw up five cubic miles of dirt into the sky! 31,000 people died from the tsunami, while another 4,500 perished, burned to death by the lava flows that stretched 40 miles from the volcano. And the island itself was gone!
Krakatoa rises again!

But the volcano was not; it still lurked, rebuilding itself beneath the sea! I had occasion to pass by there some years ago and actually got ashore on the new island rising from the sea. It was hot underfoot – too the point of actually burning through the soles of one’s boots. And at night, the new peak glowed ominously orange. It is only a matter of time before this still-active volcano gives us a repeat performance!

 “Boats, like whiskey, are all good.” R.O. Culler 

 Fair winds, Old Salt

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


This is a continuation of what we offered a couple of days ago – about the British entering Washington City and burning it in retaliation for the American depredations in York (the capital of Upper Canada then). You will (I hope) recall that Admiral Cockburn dined at the President’s Mansion, then, while his troops burned the capitol, treasury, and library of Congress, he torched what would late be called the White House. The British troops remained in Washington, continuing their work throughout the night. Fires burned across the city, lighting the skyline.

The following day, 26 August, a ferocious storm – some accounts reported it as a hurricane – brought huge winds and heavy rains which put out the fires and, in one case, actually knocked down a building, killing a number of British soldiers taking shelter inside. Having accomplished what they set out to do, the British left the city later that day and returned unopposed (there was nobody to oppose them! Remember the Bladensburg Races?) to Benedict where they arrived on 30 August to re-embark on their ships. Of course, Adm. Cockburn and his boss, Admiral Cochrane, sent a fast ship straightaway to England with news of their glorious success in the American capital.

When word reached England of the success enjoyed by Cockburn and Ross, the people rejoiced, celebrating the superiority of the English troops, the embarrassment of the Americans, and the retaliation for the depredations brought by American troops on Canadian soil the year before. General Ross was officially commended for his brilliant Chesapeake Campaign and, in celebration of the as-yet-unfinished campaign (they planned to accomplish the same thing in Baltimore), the guns in the Tower of London were fired at noon on three successive days. It would be premature, as it turned out.

“Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat!”  - John Paul Sartre

Fair Winds!           Old Salt

Monday, August 25, 2014


This is not trick photography or a distorted image. The Giant Rubber Duckie is 26 meters (85+ feet) tall and inflatable.

It was created by internationally known artist Florentijn Hofman and, since 2007, has been on a world tour. It is currently in Los Angeles for the Tall Ship Festival and has caused, as you might imagine, a bit of a sensation! Here are a few more images of the “sculpture” and one that really puts it into scale. Enjoy.

You can really appreciate the scale in this next one! 

The Maritime Maunder is not always serious. We can be whimsical sometimes too!

“You can’t row a boat in two directions at the same time!”  - anonymous

Fair winds!      Old Salt

Sunday, August 24, 2014


24 AUGUST 1814: British Marines and sailors march overland from Benedict MD toward Washington City under the joint command of Gen’l Robert Ross and Admiral Cockburn (pronounced “Co-burn”). American militia and Joshua Barney’s U.S. Marines await them at the bridge at Bladensburg, ordered to stop them before they can get to the capital. After several British charges across the bridge at Bladensburg, they break through, causing the militia to flee, but Barney’s sailors and Marines hold until Barney is wounded and dismisses them to try to get to Washington City and help with its defense. It did nothelp that the teamsters, whose wagons carried the ammunition for the American cannon and muskets, also abandoned the field, leaving the defenders in a bad way. The contemporary press labeled the event the “Bladensburg Races” in recognition of the militia’s running away in the face of the British regulars. Interestingly, when Commodore Barney was ultimately captured by Gen’l Ross, he was told the British were about ready to surrender, having lost so many men in their many attacks against the well defended bridge,  when the militia ran!

The President’s Mansion in flames
The British marched on to Washington City, arriving just before dark, where they found it abandoned by almost all the citizens and all the politicians. Dolley Madison, of course, (wife of Pres. James Madison) is credited with saving many important documents as well as the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington held in the President’s Mansion (As the White House was then called). Adm. Cockburn dined in the empty Mansion at the president’s table with this officers while his troops began setting fire to the public buildings around the city, including the Capitol building, the library of Congress, the Treasury building, and later, the President’s Mansion.

It is worth noting that no private property, with but one exception, was damaged. The exception was the offices of the National Intelligencer, a newspaper which never missed an opportunity to rail against the invaders! And, to avoid it falling into enemy hands, the Americans burned the Washington Navy Yard themselves!

“Not all who wander are lost!” J.R.R. Tolkein

                        Fair Winds!       Old Salt

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What a Week!

23 AUGUST 2014: What a week! Lots of significant historical anniversaries and a new adventure in blogging for this Old Salt!

On the 19th, we noted the anniversary of USS CONSTITUTION’S 1812 signature victory over HMS GUERIERRE in which she won the sobriquet “OLD IRONSIDES” (interestingly, our Ship of State was not the first to carry this nickname – a British ship also was called Ironsides in the 18th Century!). On the 22nd, we observed the first winning – and the genesis, if you will – of the AMERICA’S CUP with the 1851 win by the schooner of the same name over 14 British vessels in the Solent, and, while we didn’t mention it, the 22nd also marked the anniversary of Hurricane Andrew which, in 1992, devastated the Bahamas and then, on the 24th took out much of South Florida. And let’s not forget that Hawaii joined the Union on the 22nd back in 1959.

Taking a little peek ahead, tomorrow (the 24th) marks the 200th anniversary of the “BLADENSBURG RACES” as the Battle of Bladensburg was called at the time and then, the next day, the 25th, a sad day for the United States, when British forces burned our capital (1814). We’ll go into some detail on those on the appropriate days! A busy week with lots more to come! Have a great weekend!

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change, and the realist adjusts his sails!” William A. Ward

 Fair Winds!                 Old Salt

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22 1851

On August 22, 1851, the United States built and sailed schooner “America” beat the best of England in a race ’round the Isle of Wight. Built in New York City by 5 members of the New York Yacht Club and designed by George Steers, the 100′ schooner represented a radical change in conventional design and construction. With Captain William Brown at the helm and a crew of 12, she sailed to Europe, beating everything she encountered en route. They outfitted and repainted the ship in France and then sailed to Cowes, the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron, on the Isle of Wight where the intended to challenge the best that England could offer. No takers! Finally, on 22 August, “America” joined 14 British sailing vessels in a race around the island and thoroughly thumped them all. She finished 22 minutes ahead of the English cutter “Aurora” and an hour before the 3rd place ship, the schooner “Bacchante.” When the American ship appeared, Queen Victoria, watching from the Royal Yacht, is said to have asked, “What is second?” An aide responded, “There is no second, your Majesty!” And so it has been. The prize was the so-called “100 Guinea Cup.” It was renamed the America’s Cup and was donated as a trophy to the New York Yacht Club to be raced for in perpetuity. The NYYC held it until 1983 when “Australia II” eclipsed  the American defender, “Liberty” off Newport RI.

The schooner lived a checkered life thereafter doing service as a Confederate raider, U.S. blockade ship, and training ship. In private ownership, she fell into disrepair and has been broken up.

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink in the wild air!” Ralph Waldo Emerson

                                                            Fair Winds!       Old Salt

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Welcome to Maritime Maunder

Welcome to

Here we will be putting up articles, historical and current, of interest to the maritime world, as well as of general historical significance to anyone. But first, let’s have an English lesson!

From the Oxford English Dictionary: MARITIME: Adj. 1. living or found near the sea. 2. Of a fighting force: intended for service at sea. 3. Connected with the sea in relation to navigation, commerce, etc. 4. Of, pertaining to, arising from, or existing in the sea.

MAUNDER: v. 1. grumble, mutter, growl. 2.Move or act in a dreamy, idle, or inconsequential manner, dawdle. Fritter away (one’s time, life. etc.) 3. Say something in a dreamy and rambling manner.

OK? got the idea? Now you should have some inkling of where this blog is going. Mostly inconsequential but, hopefully, often of interest to those of us who have an fondness for the sea, things nautical, old stuff, and historical happenings. I might also recommend books to read and enjoy. That’s for now. I reserve the right to add, delete, multiply, divide, bend, staple, fold, spindle, or otherwise mutilate anything contained herein!
I hope you will check in from time to time and see what pithy (no, I don’t have a lisp!) remarks I might add – always with a focus on things maritime.

Fair Winds!                Old Salt