Tuesday, September 30, 2014


30 SEPTEMBER 2014: This date, 60 years ago (wow! That long? Holy Cow!) First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christened the world's first nuclear powered submarine, USS NAUTILUS SS(N) 571. The U.S. Navy launched the ship at Groton, CT and she ran for the first time under nucler power on the morning of 17th January, 1955. 

The ship was built under the auspices of Admiral Hyman Rickover, likely one of the most controversial officers in the navy, before or since! His detractors, of which there was no shortage, referred to him as a fanatic, but the Russian-born engineer, who joined the U.S. nuclear program in 1946, pressed on with a focus of single minded purpose. He developed the concept of a nuclear powered submarine when he joined the nuclear propulsion program in 1947 and by 1952, had laid the keel for the ship. Actually, President Harry Truman presided at the keel laying.

 Nautilus was significantly larger than her predecessors, measuring 319 feet and displacing 3,180 tons. With her nuclear powered engine, she could stay submerged almost indefinitely. Her uranium powered reactor produced steam to run her turbines which gave the ship an underwater speed in excess of 20kts. Prior to this time, the best most subs could manage submerged was 5 or 6 kts on electric motors. During the first few years of her service, Nautilus broke all manner of records including speed and submerged endurance. In 1958 the ship sailed under  the geographic North Pole.

 Following a 25 year career during which she put over 500,000 miles on the odometer, Nautilus was decommissioned - 3 March 1980. In '82, she was declared a National Historic Landmark and went on exhibit in 1986. She is still a big attraction in Groton, CT at the Submarine Force Museum there.
"A war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships." Franklin D. Roosevelt

                                   Fair Winds,
                                             Old Salt 

Monday, September 29, 2014


29 SEPTEMBER 2014: For some reason, this morning I was thinking about the Twin Lights of Highlands NJ and thought it might be an interesting subject for today's post. The structure is surely an iconic symbol of the New Jersey coastline even though the lights have been extinguished since 1949 when the light house was decommissioned.
The structure now serves admirably as a museum, but not simply as an old light house. Why? because it's famous and notable in history for being even more than a light house. We'll get to that in a second, but in the header above, I asked "why two of them?" Ok - about 5 miles north of the Highlands there is another light house, Sandy Hook Light which is one of the oldest if not the oldest lighthouse in America (The order to build it was signed by George Washington!). In order to avoid confusion by mariners entering the coastal waters outside New York - and the water off Sandy Hook is fraught with shallows and rocks - the government ordered two lights built 320' apart and established that one of the lights would rotate and the other would remain fixed. The original building was accomplished in 1828, with the current structure standing since 1862. Interestingly, though called the Twin Lights, the two towers are not twins at all!

The NORTH Tower
As you can see from the above pictures one tower is square while the other, the North tower, is 6-sided. I can not offer an explanation for the difference.

In 1854, however, the building was the site of the first telegraph station and was actively used, initially for semaphore telegraphy and later for electronic telegraphy, to communicate with ships entering New York.

OK, you say. Big deal! But this is a maritime site so why are we talking about light houses? Well, aside from the obvious (light houses ARE maritime - there aren't many in Iowa, for example) there is a very good reason and a timely one for this subject today. The AMERICA'S CUP!

In 1899, Mr. Marconi had been messing about with the notion that radio waves could be used to send messages for some years. He drew the interest of the New York Times and a test was set up in September of that year which happened to be a year when the America's Cup was being contested off Sandy Hook New Jersey. On the 30th, Marconi, after setting up a receiver and transmitter at the Twin Lights, went out to sea on a boat to report on the approach of the fleet - both the spectators and racing boats (in those days, the competitors had to get to the race on their own bottoms unlike today!). He found them and sent a message received successfully at Twin Lights. The races went off as scheduled and, on 16th October, Marconi, once again on a boat, transmitted to the Twin Lights and the New York Times, that the American boat, COLUMBIA, had successfully defended the Cup. So there's your maritime connection!

Here's a link for the Twin Lights in case you would like to learn more good stuff about it.           www.twinlightslighthouse.com/

 As a matter of interest, there is an annual bike race of 100 miles which starts and ends at the light house. With the location on top of one of the highest points on the east coast, I can only imagine the struggle entailed in getting up that hill after pedaling for 100 miles! It just occurred this past weekend, and no, I did not participate!

"Sometimes night is the most beautiful part of a sailor's day!"  Mary Jane Hayes in Eye on the Sea

                                  Fair Winds,
                                                  Old Salt


Thursday, September 25, 2014


25 SEPTEMBER 2014:   Today marks the re-release of the final volume in the War of 1812 Trilogy. The books originally came out in 2000 and 2001 and early this spring, went out of print. Now, due to popular demand, they are back, available as 2nd editions in both paper and E-book (Kindle) at Amazon.com. The titles are:


When the merchant bark, Anne, is stopped by a British Royal Navy frigate, Isaac Biggs, captain of the foretop, and several shipmates are forcibly pressed into service on the Orpheus, which is actively engaged in England's long-running war with France. He will be faced with the hard choice of what to do when America declares war against Great Britain in 1812. Written from the aspect of the fo'c'sle rather than an officer's view and through the eyes of an American, it provides new perspectives and an exciting story from an often neglected period in American history.


Isaac Biggs (from a Press of Canvas) ships as 3rd mate on the Salem Privateer General Washington in February 1813. His former shipmates and friends find berths on the US Navy frigate USS Constellation, but through a series of events, all but Isaac wind up on USS Chesapeake in Boston in time for her disastrous meeting with HMS Shannon. When the surviving crew is incarcerated in Melville Is. (Halifax) prison, Isaac and his crew of privateersmen play an important role in gaining their freedom. A combination of historical fiction and non-fiction woven seamlessly together to tell the story of the 2nd year in the War of 1812.


The year is 1814, the final year of the War of 1812. With the Atlantic seaboard closed by the British blockade, Isaac Biggs, Jack Clements, and Jake Tate, fresh from their harrowing adventures in Canada, find berths with Joshua Barney's Gunboat Flotilla on the Chesapeake Bay. These swift, shallow draft little vessels are thorns in the side of the British fleet and the Royal Navy command is determined to destroy them. Chased up the Patuxent River by the British, the flotilla finds and uneasy refuge in Benedict MD, where Isaac falls in love with the daughter of a militia colonel. When the men of Barney's flotilla are called ashore to fight at the Battle of Bladensburg, they scuttle their boats and drag their guns ashore to help the militia. They will witness the burning of Washington and later, the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore in the company of Francis Scott Key.
Continuing the saga begun in A Press of Canvas and continued in A Fine Topsl Breeze, The Evening Gun is written from an American seaman's  perspective and brings to life the final year of this little-known war, and the first time our country was invaded by a foreign power.

Clive Cussler, New York Times best-selling author said of the Trilogy: "Read the trials and tribulations of Isaac Biggs and enjoyed them immensely. Haven't read anything like this since Forester. You write better sea stories than I do!"

The books are now all available at www.AMAZON.COM, (link from www.seafiction.net also) refreshed and corrected (Yes, a few typos slipped through in the originals!) through the excellent work of Gina at Palazzo Graphic Design of Bradley Beach NJ. Her superior layout talents created a new look for the covers and found (I hope) all the little annoying errors from the first edition. Thanks Gina!

"On the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and the higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep." Herman Meleville

                                        Fair Winds,
                                                        Old Salt 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


23 SEPTEMBER 2014: As promised, here is the second piece of the story and a few pics of something I think is truly extraordinary. The sessions on day 2 continued the theme and quality of the opening programs - we had a few museum management seminars, a very well done panel discussion on the Civil War at sea which included a presentation by Dr. Tim Runyan, who incidentally, chaired the whole conference as chairman of the Maritime Heritage Alliance - a huge undertaking! - and another on what to do with historic vessels no longer viable and one on maritime disasters. A short session which included a video tour of the battleship New Jersey and a peek at some of the "adult" art found within her living spaces was particularly well-attended, possibly because it was listed as "adults only!"
My wife and I played hooky in the afternoon and paid a visit to the Hampton Roads Naval History Museum at the Nauticus Center, a small but well done tour of the navy since the American Revolution. Good presentation, great artifacts, and FREE! The best museum visit, by far, was that evening at the Newport News Mariners' Museum.
This museum boasts a collection of over 35,000 maritime objects including figureheads, navigational instruments, ship models and what I thought truly monumental, some of the major pieces of the Union Ironclad, USS Monitor. You will recall from your history class, I am sure, the battle fought to a draw  by the Monitor and the Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia), which ushered in the age of iron ships. Called the Battle of Hampton Roads, it proved the efficacy of the ironclad and the vulnerability of wooden ships when confronted by an ironclad. Some 15 years ago, marine archeologists found the wreck of the Monitor in 240' of water off Cape Hatteras. A multi-year recovery project ensued and today, the Mariners' Museum has, being conserved, the turret, the gun, the steam engine, anchor and propeller. Some of them are properly conserved and available for viewing; others, most notably, the turret, engine, and gun barrel are still in conservation, getting the salt residue out of the metal. It is likely, according to the staff I spoke with, take another 12-15 years before those amazing artifacts are stable. But one can see them in the big tanks where they are undergoing this process. Here's a few pic of the gun (note that it's underwater) and the anchor.

      The wires and pipes running across the tank monitor the salinity of the water, continually adjusting it and the current flowing through it. 

The anchor, of course, is stabilized, but still fragile. It was found some 400 feet from the wreck, as the Monitor, under tow in horrendous weather, had tried to anchor before she sank. 

One of the more amazing exhibits in this section is a life-sized mock up of the turret as it was when they brought it to the surface, It is complete with sea-critters, muck, the disarray left from the sinking (and resting upside down), and 2 skeletons buried in the silt. Here's a of pic, which sadly doesn't really do it justice.
All in all, it was a stirring exhibit - Oh, and they didn't forget about the CSS Virginia (formerly Merrimack). There is also a life-sized mockup of that vessel, shown loading one of her ten guns, which visitors can enter. Here she is:

So there you have it, friends. This is a museum not to be missed if you find yourself anywhere nearby. It does not disappoint!

See you soon!

        "It takes just one wave to capsize a boat, and one more to take it down." Federico Chini

                            Fair winds, 
                                              Old Salt  


Monday, September 22, 2014


22 September 2014: Back from Norfolk (what a change in 46 years when I lived there! Wow!) and the Maritime Heritage Conference organized this year by the National Maritime Alliance. The conference is held every four years (this one was the 10th) in a seaport town/city. We were within a short wallk of the Nauticus complex which houses a brilliant museum, science center, and is home to the Hampton Roads Naval Musuem. It is also home to the retired battleship USS Wisconsin BB 64. The opening reception was held on her foredeck (fo'c'sle) - a truly awe inspiring vessel. Well over 100 people stood, chatted, listened to music, ate, drank, and enjoyed the evening and it was not a bit crowded! Her 16" guns in the forward turret overlooked the festivities - note the musicians sitting below the barrels!
 Those are some guns! They can fire a projectile weighing as much as a Volkswagon over 20 miles, and believe me, the "bullet" makes a really big hole!

The next day was the first day of panel discussions, seminars, and lectures. Obviously, I could not attend all of them, but tried to pick ones that would be of interest and interface with what I do. I also selected ones with interesting speakers. Some of them introduced new faces (for me) in the biz and some new interesting research. Naturally there were many on the War of 1812 - this is the final year of celebration of the bicentennial, after all - and I was pleased to hear some new thoughts and some new research presented. One talk of particular note was on the "forgotten" Battle of Essex (CT) and was the result of some serious "hands on" research and investigation and actually resulted in the government adding Essex to the National Battlefield Protection Act! An unheard of success! The research resulted in a book which I can recommend: The British Raid on Essex by Jerry Roberts. Very well done and interesting. Jerry, by the way, is a great storyteller!

A couple of other sessions the first day were notable - there was one excellent one on the writing of The Star Spangled Banner which was well attended and likely the highlight of the day . . .  Just kidding - that was my lecture and it went well and I think people actually might have learned something from it! Those of you who stayed current on my blog in the weeks running up to the conference got an early look at it since those posts were mostly taken from the text of the talk.

So that's it for today; I will give you some info on the other days and the trip to the Newport News Mariners' Museum (wonderful!) tomorrow.

"A toast: To my country; right or wrong, my country!" Commodore Stephen Decatur

                                    Fair Winds,           
                                                 Old Salt

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


16 SEPTEMBER 2014: The celebration is over; the tall ships and the grey hulls (navy ships) have moved on, and huge congratulations should go to the Star Spangled 200 folks, the city of Baltimore, and the state of Maryland for the amazing show! It was truly spectacular! Thank you for the hard work, and particularly for the awakening you provided for so many about the history of their country! 

Some of you reading this may notice a slightly different appearance, and maybe you even noticed you entered a slightly different address in your browser to find it. Maritimemaunder has moved on, too! We finally could no longer deal with the frustrations of the former site, so the Web Cobbler (my web master) moved the whole shootin' match to this new site. Hopefully, I will learn how to use it before too long and we will move forward with ease!

I will be "off the air" for a few days - the rest of the week, actually, while I participate in the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference in Norfolk VA. This is a convocation of historians - maritime, of course,  who gather to discuss - what else? - maritime history. Since it only happens every four years, we have a lot to discuss! I will be presenting a paper on the creation of the National Anthem (the preceding posts were a sampling of my presentation!) during a segment of the conference titled The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake Bay. The site is next door to the Battleship Wisconsin, an awesome ship indeed, and Norfolk, of course, is still very much a navy town! When I return to my office next week, I will write about things that might be of interest and provide some pix if possible. The program will be covering all manner of topics, ranging from using social media to tell your story (hmmm!) to underwater archeology and preservation of artifacts and ships. With the successful conclusion of the 38th whaling voyage of the Charles W. Morgan, there will be lots of info on that cruise as well as the restoration of the ship herself. And surely an abundance of topics relative to the War of 1812, especially since this is the final year of the bicentennial celebration. I am sure it will be an exciting time!

"To reach port we must set sail - Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift."  Franklin Roosevelt

                                               Fair Winds, 
                                                                     Old Salt  

Sunday, September 14, 2014


14 SEPTEMBER 2014: We’ll carry on bravely in any case with our story of the Star Spangled Banner and how it came to be. When we left yesterday’s post, Francis Key was pacing the deck of HMS Tonnant in pouring rain, agitated over not knowing whether the bombardment was proving too much for Major Armistead’s defenders in Fort McHenry. The weather, you will recall, was horrendous: thunder and lightning, heavy rain, and the accompanying winds. Finally, the storm started to abate as dawn began to break over the Eastern Shore. The clouds pushed back and all that remained was the haze and fog and the heavy pall of smoke from the cannon on both sides. The silence was suddenly pervasive and Key was terrified that the end of the firing meant the fort had succumbed. His glass was glued to to his eye as he focused in the direction of the fort, willing the smoke and fog to clear. The 25 hour bombardment had fired over 1500 shot and mortar shells as well as uncounted Congreve rockets at Fort McHenry, which along with the almost continuous heavenly cannonading, had created a soul penetrating cacophony, now gone. In its place, a now gentle breeze sighing through the rigging of the British flagship and the water of Baltimore Harbor lapping peacefully at the hull. Then, with a sudden gust, the obscuring haze lifted. In Key’s own words:

“Sometime must yet elapse before anything definite might be ascertained. At last it came. A bright streak of gold mingled with crimson shot athwart the eastern sky, followed by another and still another, as the morning sun rose in the fullness of his glory, lifting the mists of the deep, crowning a Heaven-blest land with a new victory and grandeur.”

A descendant of Key, Francis Scott Key-Smith, adds to his forebear’s observation in a letter written a couple of years later:

“As it caught ‘The gleam of the morning’s first beam,’ and, ‘in full glory reflected, shone in the stream’ his (Key’s) proud and patriotic heart knew no bounds; the wounds inflicted ‘by the battle’s confusion’ were healed instantly as if by magic; a new life sprang into every fiber, and his pent-up emotions burst forth with an inspiration in a song of praise, victory, and thanksgiving as he exclaimed:
“Tis the Star-Spangled Banner, Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Key-Smith’s letter continued:
“As the morning’s sun arose, vanquishing the darkness and gloom; lifting the fog and smoke and disclosing his country’s flag, victorious, bathed in the delicate hues of morn, only an inspiration caught from such a sight can conceive or describe, and so only in the words of his song can be found the description.” End quote.

The British troops on North Point, realizing the bombardment had failed, withdrew, retracing their steps back down the peninsula to again board the transports. Cochrane made the decision to abandon his hope of reducing Baltimore as he had done Washington City and, once his men had re-embarked, ordered the fleet out, and south down the Bay. They headed for the Caribbean where they would regroup for the attack on New Orleans.

Key, Skinner, and Doctor Beanes reboarded their truce vessel and sailed into Baltimore proper. The town was going wild; spontaneous parades, speeches, and celebrations were everywhere. Key, his words hastily scribbled on a soggy envelope while still in Tonnant, hastened to his rented rooms in the Indian Queen Hotel where he would touch up his poem. He showed his poem, which he had written to fit the tune of a popular song of the time, To Anacreon in Heaven, to his brother in law, Judge Joseph Nicholson who had endure the British bombardment inside the fort. Nicholson took the work, had it printed on handbills and distributed them liberally around the city. The people fell instantly in love with it and, a few days later, while the taste of victory was still sweet on the tongue, an actress sang it on the stage before a show performance at the Holiday Street Theater, calling it the Star Spangled Banner. A month later, a music store had it published using the same name.
It would grow in popularity, especially with the military, and spread widely across the country as it grew. It would not become the national anthem, however, until 1931 when President Hoover had Congress pass a bill naming it as such.

As a postscript to this posting, I will add the entire lyric to the song for those of you who might not be familiar with all four verses!

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks!” - Warren Buffet
Fair Winds,              
Old Salt
As promised, the words to Key’s poem:

The Defence of M’Henry [sic]
(The Star Spangled Banner)
tune: To Anacreon in Heaven
by: Francis Scott Key, September 14, 1814

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the Rocket’ red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night, that our Flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shire dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected new shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, shall leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our Trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


13 September 2014: At dawn this morning exactly 200 years ago, the British fleet began the bombardment of Fort McHenry which blocked their access to the inner harbor at Baltimore. As long as the fort remained viable, the British ships would be unable to pass through the narrow channel next to it and gain access to the city itself. Ashore on North Point, Admiral Cockburn and Colonel Brooke waited patiently for the navy to take care of business from the water; once the fort was reduced, the army would sweep in from the north while the navy began a further bombardment from the water and Baltimore would fall.

HMS Tonnant, Admiral Cochran’s flagship, was anchored between the transports, which had already discharged their troops at North Point, and the bombardment fleet of bomb ships, frigates, and rocket ships. On board, in addition to the Admiral and the men and officers of the Royal Navy, were Americans, Col. John Skinner, Lawyer Francis Scott Key, and Doctor William Beanes who had been taken prisoner by General Ross following the British departure from Washington City. (Beanes had been helpful to his cousin and former governor of Maryland, Robert Bowie, in rounding up some British stragglers who had been looting farms and homes in Upper Marlboro. Ross, when he found out about it, had the doctor taken prisoner.) As far as the British were concerned, Beanes was no longer a prisoner, but was not allowed to leave the ship until the bombardment was finished.

So Key, and occasionally Skinner and the somewhat infirm Doctor Beanes, watched in horror as the fleet threw iron shot, mortar shells, and Congreve rockets all day and into the night at the fort. He felt that as long as the enormous American flag, the Garrison Flag, flew over the ramparts, all was well. With nightfall, however, Key could no longer see the flag (he was unaware that Major Armistead, in command of the fort, had replaced it with a smaller storm flag in the face of some nasty storms that were pounding the area. It must have been a horrendous night; thunder, lightning flashing around the heavens, heavy rain pouring down, and the detonations of mortar rounds, cannon firing, and the red traces of the Congreve rockets streaking across the water and over the fort. In fact, Key described it thus:

“The explosion was so terrific that it seemed as though Mother Earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone. The heavens aglow were a seething sea of flame and the waters of the harbor were lashed into an angry sea by the vibrations. It is recorded that the houses in the city of Baltimore, some two miles distant, were shaken to their foundations.”

And I am sure he felt (though he did not record it) some measure of pity for the soldiers and women and children sheltering with the walls.

At one point during the early morning hours when the storm was at its worst, the British tried to slip past the fort in boats, their intent being to come at it from the land side (the back) and attack in conjunction with the fleet. The alert men at Lazaretto and Covington Batteries saw them and opened fire. The galling fire drove the invaders away and made them pass through the batteries in the fort on the way back to the ships. It was not pretty – for the British.
And so the night passed, Key pacing up and down the deck of Tonnant, soaked to the skin, but oblivious to the rain, and checking the ramparts through his useless long glass, and becoming increasingly agitated.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how it ended!

“You have to understand the sea, he said, to listen to her, to look out for her moods, to get to know her and respect her and love her.”   Michael Morpurgo, “Alone on a Wide Sea”

Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Friday, September 12, 2014


12th September, 2014: I will do my best to describe what happened at what has been called the Battle of Baltimore or the Battle of North Point. When the British fleet arrived in the Patapsco River on 11th September 1814, the transports anchored off North Point while the smaller ships, frigates and bomb ships, sailed on into harbor where they anchored within range of Fort McHenry. Their time would not come for a couple of days, but the transports came into play the next day, 12th September. At 0300 that day, General Ross‘s army, accompanied by Admiral Cockburn, landed and began the march up the peninsula toward Baltimore. The plan was to march and fight to the north of the city and swoop down on it while the Navy, having reduced Fort McHenry, bombed it from the water. The townspeople would quickly succumb and the victorious Brits would reprise their action in Washington City. As people say in today’s culture, “not so much!”

What Ross and Cockburn did not know was that Samuel Smith, Chairman of the Committee of Safety, as well as a US Senator and major general of the militia, along with Commodore John Rodgers, Captain David Porter, and Commodore Barney’s sailors and Marines, were ready and waiting. Smith had stationed General John Stricker along North Point with  3200 militiamen in defensive positions and, farther up the neck, closer to Baltimore city itself, Army Captain Montgomery and  six 4-pounder artillery pieces – a kind of last line of defense. Additional defenses had been established around the choke points of the harbor, notably alongside the star fort guarding the entrance. More about them tomorrow.

As the British army marched (as only the British army can!) up North Point, their advance parties encountered some resistance, designed to fight and retreat, drawing the invaders farther into the neck where they would find the main body of the American militia. During their advance, General Ross was shot and killed by an American sniper – two in fact, farm boys named Wells and McComas – and Colonel Arthur Brooke took over command. They pressed on, met the militia and after deciding on a strategy, he rallied his troops in a savage  frontal assault. A pitched battle, hand to hand, bayonets, and pistols ensued, but the Brits broke through in about 20 minutes. 163 Americans were killed and about 50 taken prisoner. On up North Point they marched, not halting until they reached Montgomery’s artillery. Night was falling and Cockburn and Brooke knew a naval bombardment would commence the next day, so they camped to wait for the navy to break through the defenses of Fort McHenry for their final assault on Baltimore.

We’ll talk about the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the next issue. And maybe by then, we’ll be able to show you some images!

“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever!” H. Melville

Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Thursday, September 11, 2014


11 SEPTEMBER 2014: A super busy time, historically speaking.

Two days ago, at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, 7,000 Maryland school children formed the largest human flag in history – the Star Spangled Banner if you will, on the grounds of the fort. There are pictures of it on the web, but sadly, while I have several, I can’t post them here. Suffice it to say it was a spectacular event! Of course, it was the kick off for the Maryland and, specifically, Baltimore, celebration of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner.

The next day, 10th September, marked the 201st anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, (1813) after which, Oliver Hazard Perry, who commanded the American fleet on the Lake, reported his famous line, We have met the enemy and they are ours!You may recall that when his flagship, USS LAWRENCE  was reduced to a floating hulk, he shifted his flag in a ship’s boat to USS NIAGARA and continued the fight. It was decisive because it gave control of the Lake to the Americans and also restored the frontier city of Detroit to American control when the British, unable to access the lake, quit the city.

Also on the 10th, a Canadian exploration team uncovered what appears to be the wreck of HMS Terror (it could also be HMS Erebus – but that would not be as much fun to talk about!) Why is this significant, especially now? Terror was one of two missing ships from the “lost Franklin Expedition of 1845″ which came to grief in the ice of Canada. All hands were lost, including the leader, Franklin, and Parks Canada has been looking for the ships for many year – in fact, they have mounted no less than six major expeditions to find them. OK, you say. Why is that a big deal? Well, if the ship they found is in fact HMS Terror, she has a spot in American history as well as British and Canadian: she was one of six rocket firing ships that took part in the siege of Baltimore and helped to inspire Francis Scott Key to write about the rockets’ red glare.” She was converted to fulfill the role of expedition ship for the Franklin trip some 30+ years later! Pretty neat, if the wreck is indeed the Terror!

Finally, today, 11th September, (while a sad day in modern times) also is the anniversary of two events from 200 years back. The arrival of the British fleet in the Patapsco River in preparation for the landing of troops at North Point and the reduction of Ft. McHenry (neither of which worked out they way they expected!). Key, of course, was still aboard HMS Tonnant. The 11th also marks the anniversary of Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s brilliant victory on Lake Champlain which scotched the British plans to divide the country in two from Plattsburgh NY to New York City. This would most likely have changed the outcome of the war and certainly would have given the British negotiators in Ghent a big advantage in drafting a treaty!

So there you have it. I – and now you – are caught up with the history technical gremlins have prohibited me from sharing. I hope you found it worth the wait!

“Sailing unties the knots in my mind!”  Al Noble

Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


9 September 2014: We’re going to be talking about our American flag – OLD GLORY - and I hope everyone knows what it looks like!

Since we’re waiting for Col. John Skinner and Francis Scott Key to finish their negotiations with the British admiralty on HMS Tonnant for the release of Doctor Beanes -(interestingly, Admiral Cockburn – remember him? He dined at the President’s Mansion in Washington City – refused to see them but Adm. Cochran did, but only Skinner. Key was excluded from the meeting!), I thought a look at the creation of THE flag might be interesting. Just a quickie:

The Flag was sewn by Mary Pickersgill in Baltimore at her home (now the ‘Flag House” and a museum). She was assisted by her daughter, 2 nieces, and an indentured black servant.It was commissioned by Major George Armistead, commandant of Fort McHenry in June of 1813 when he assumed command of the fort. She also made  smaller “storm flag” to be used, obviously, during bad weather. The main flag was 30X42 feet (the storm flag was 17X25 ft.) and was made from dyed English wool bunting. Each star is 2 ft in diameter and each stripe is about 2 ft wide! It took six to eight weeks to construct and cost the government $405.90. The Storm flag was a mere $168.54!
It was the larger garrison flag that Key had seen before the bombardment and was looking for during the long night. He was unaware that Armistead had put up the storm flag during the inclement weather that came in over night. He did, however, raise the big flag at sunrise when the weather cleared after the bombardment ended.

The flag currently is on display at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History. Kept in subdued lighting to preserve what’s left of it, the flag is a stirring sight for visitors.

We’ll get back to Key, the bombardment, and his poem in a day or two.

“Nodding the head does not row the boat!”   -  Old Irish Saying
Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Sunday, September 7, 2014


7 September 2014: Today marks the anniversary of the first attack by a submarine – unsuccessful – but it proved the concept was viable.

We are taking a short break from  the War of 1812 here to bring a slightly different slant – from an earlier war – to these pages. I hope you will enjoy the detour!

A man named David Bushnell, a New Englander and undergraduate student at Yale, conceived and designed an underwater vehicle which embodied the 4 basic requirements of such: ability to submerge, ability to maneuver underwater, maintain an adequate air supply for the operator, and able to carry out an offensive attack against an enemy surface ship. TURTLE, a human-powered, barrel-shaped vessel,  was the result, and he planned on using it against the British fleet anchored in Boston Harbor. Unfortunately, the fleet departed for New York before his creation was finished.

It was 7th September 1776 when all the elements finally came together in New York Harbor: a reasonably clear night, calm seas, and the fleet anchored close enough to shore for the operator to get to them. Adm Howe’s flagship was selected and a man named Ezra Lee was chosen to carry out the attack; Bushnell’s constitution was too frail for the strenuous task ahead. Unfortunately, while Lee made it successfully out to the ship, submerged, and prepared to drill into the underwater hull of HMS Eagle, the copper sheathing delayed him sufficiently to run out of air. He surfaced, got fresh air into his craft, and tried again. Still the copper prevented him from drilling into the hull to attach his “time bomb” and he aborted the attempt. En route back to the battery, he jettisoned the bomb which detonated shortly thereafter on the bottom of the Hudson River, doing no damage to anything.

Construction plan of TURTLE
While the submersible was never used again, it did prove the concept was viable. Turtle was being transported to another site in October when the sloop carrying it was attacked and sunk. Though the craft was salvaged, it seems to have disappeared for all time.

“Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites!” -  unknown
Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Friday, September 5, 2014


5 SEPTEMBER, 2014: On this date, 200 years ago in 1814, Francis Scott Key and Colonel John Skinner set out from Baltimore Harbor in a boat hired from a Mr. Ferguson of Fells Point, flying a flag of truce. Their object was to locate the British fleet, en route to Baltimore from the Potomac River, and gain an audience with Admiral Alexander Cochrane. Held as a prisoner on his flagship, HMS Tonnant, was a doctor friend of Key’s and other influential men in Washington City who had pressured the Army to attempt his release. Col. Skinner held the position of “Agent for Prisoners” in the American Army and through this role, was well-known to Admiral Cochrane. The men hoped to negotiate the release of Key’s friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been captured while treating wounded soldiers of both sides at the Battle of Bladensburg some days previous. Beanes was elderly and those who knew him were concerned that continued incarceration would injure his already questionable health. Key, a lawyer of some regard in Washington City, offered his services to Skinner with the hope he might be able to prevail in the event the colonel failed. Beanes was the only prisoner held on Tonnant and his freedom lay solely in the Admiral’s hands.
The men knew roughly where the British fleet was as well as where it was headed; coast watchers along the Chesapeake informed the “powers that be” in Baltimore of the fleet’s location and the British had announced loudly to any who would listen what their intentions were.
It took the”truce boat” a couple of days to get alongside Tonnant; I will continue this saga on the appropriate days in the future. We are rapidly approaching the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle of Baltimore and I will tell that story as appropriate.

“The sea finds out everything you did wrong!”  - Francis Stokes
Fair Winds!

Old Salt

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


3 September 2014: this is the second time I am writing this as for some unknown reason, the first one disappeared right after I “pulled the trigger” to post it! Maybe an editorial comment from the gnomes in “blog-land!” Anyway, I am going to have another go at it and the gnomes be damned!

You might have noticed the top of the opening page has been “souped up” some to make a more visually appealing home page. This is thanks to a great graphic designer, GINA, of Palazzo Graphic Design Studio combining her talents with my great web master (who runs my web page for me – more on that in a moment!) BEN DAY, Web Cobbler. They used the same font as my webpage to tie them together and, while there is no link from here to the webpage, there is one from there to here.The pretty header also offers the definition of maunder, which only appears in the first post, and, since it is not a real commonly used word, might confuse some readers! (I have been asked if it is not a typo and should be “wander” or “meander.” Nope, it’s maunder.)

If you saw the new header on the home page, you might also have seen the little box on the right top giving what you can expect in the blog and an easy link to some previous articles I have posted, listed by month. You can get there through the blog operator, but this is way easier! Now the webpage:

The webpage, if you’re interested, is www.seafiction.net, and deals with my books, speaking engagements, and some of my recent tweets – @1812war. There is a page listing my books and links through which one might actually purchase one or more! By the way, the title shown a couple of lines before is NOT a link – I don’t know how to do that – so you’ll either have to copy and paste it or remember it long enough to type it into your browser!

So that is all the news for today. It’s a lovely day here and I think I will sign off and go play with my boat!

“Consider, O Lord, how You sit atop the sky; like a man in a glass bottom boat.”       
Cecilia Llompart, “The Wingless

Fair Winds,

Old Salt

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


2 September 2014: First of all, let me apologize for being slothful yesterday; I took the day off. Hope nobody was too disappointed by my lack of clever repartee! Nonetheless, here I am with a new and hopefully educational and entertaining commentary!

The header poses the question: are boats and ships properly called a “she?“  There are a host of reasons why this tradition has been extant for hundreds – thousands, even – of years. But before we get into the explanation for this tradition, let me hasten to point out, especially in this age of overbearing and over done “political correctness,” that there in NOTHING misogynistic involved nor is it “sexist” or in any way demeaning to the fairer among us!

English is one of the only languages in which inanimate objects done not carry a gender identifier. All the Romance languages and, I believe, most of the other popular languages of the world do. “La, le, el” and etc. However, linguists who study history have suggested the English used to have these gender identifiers, but they, like so many other things, fell by the wayside over the years. So, since our mother tongue has its roots in the languages that predate it, it would seem logical to accept this premise. And in every language (possibly except Russian and its derivatives) boats and ships are “LA” denoting them as female.

Yesterday, while sitting on my boat (and not writing my blog!) a couple came by wanting to see my pride and joy, a request I was only too happy to fulfill. Here she is (note gender!)

In any case, they came aboard, were suitably impressed, and the lady kind of smirked when I referred to the boat as “she,” suggesting kind of “oh isn’t that cute.” I offered that ALL boats are “SHE” and went on to give an explanation of why (different from above!)

Boats are female because: 1. Like their human counterparts, they carry a cargo safely and protect it until delivery, 2. it takes lots of paint and bunting to keep them happy and looking their best, 3. they never show their bottom in public, 4. (this goes back to the old days – no angry emails, please) it take a strong man to control one, and finally, 5. it’s not always the initial investment that is high, but the upkeep and maintenance is!

My visitor accepted the explanation and agreed it was most likely correct! I later remembered that in the olden days, boats/ships were most often owned by men who, experiencing long absences from their loving wives, named the boat/ship after them to “keep them closer to their hearts” when away.
So that’s it, folks. And while my little boat is not named for a female person, she is most definitely female in her disposition!

“There is nothing -absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as messing about in boats!”
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Fair winds.

Old Salt