Saturday, November 29, 2014


29 November 2014: Ok - this is not what I had planned on for the next posting, but given that yesterday was "Black Friday," today is "Small Business Saturday," and Monday is "Cyber Monday," I could not resist this one. Way too timely! If I heard it once on the television or radio, I must have heard it a hundred times: "beat the rush."

And through a twitter post from the U.S. Coast Guard, I learned where the expression originated, thought it worth sharing because this is, after all, a maritime blog and the origins of "beat the rush" are maritime! Curious yet? OK, then, here you go:

In the mid and late 19th century, the prime export from the state of Alaska was seal furs, especially the fur of baby seals. Apparently when they are born and for several months, the fur is pure white and very soft. Also very desirable. The sealers were limited in their catch and were taxed on the pelts they brought in. They were also fined - heavily - for exceeding the limit or hunting "out of season." These taxes and fines were the primary source of revenue from Alaska and were used to defray the $7 million cost of the territory paid by the federal government. This of course, was before gold and oil were discovered up there.

Rush in Sitka AK 1901

In an effort to enforce the law, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Revenue Service, sent two ice-capable vessels to Alaskan waters exclusively to check the sealers and collect the fines for over hunting or out of season hunting. The two ships were the Bear and the Rush.

 Revenue Cutter Rush
Revenue Cutter Bear   

And now, you're probably ahead of me. But I am sure you got it! The sealers, in an effort to avoid the limits, the fines, and the long arm of the law, would get to the sealing grounds early, collect as many baby seals as they could carry, and beat it out of the area before the cutters arrived. It was called, eventually, "beating the Rush." 

So now you know where that oft-repeated expression originated!

                               "Live is uncertain; eat dessert first!" words to live by

                                                               Fair Winds.
                                                                  Old Salt

Friday, November 28, 2014


28 November 2014: Well, it's done; we all ate ourselves stupid (at least I did!) and it was glorious! The food, family, fun, and football were all great - and while some enjoyed variations, many of us ate the traditional turkey. Mom (or someone) cooked the 10-25 lb bird, fixed platters of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes (often with toasted marshmallows on top - yum!), peas, onions, pies, ice cream and all manner of tasty treats that we have come to associate with over-indulgence and this holiday. A holiday, which, legend would have us believe was created by the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony in 1621. In fact, they only did it the one time and, except for a few other places in the world, the United States is the only place where it's celebrated, courtesy of President Abraham Lincoln who, in 1863, decreed the the 4th Thursday in November would be a national day of thanks in memory of those who died at Gettysburg, allowing the Union to prevail! President FDR and Congress set it in stone in 1941 after the Prez tried to switch it, in 1939, to the 3rd Thursday in November to allow retailers another week of Christmas shopping during the Depression.

I mentioned above that there are only a few other places in the world where Thanksgiving is celebrated; one of them is Norfolk Island (off Australia)! Wow!  You say? Really? Why? Well, the New England whalers brought it with them - even before 1863, the holiday was fairly big in New England and that's where most of the whaleships came from. So when they happened to be in a place far away on that day, sometimes the locals got caught up in the festivities and the tradition continued! 

Cut to modern times and yes, still aboard ship; of course, the United States Navy celebrates Thanksgiving on their ships (and yes, I speak from personal experience) no matter where they might be. Always have, and, I hope, always will. But while the meals are frequently  reminiscent of that which I described above, the quantities are frequently somewhat different. To wit: the USS Carl R. Vinson, a nuclear aircraft carrier (on which I have sailed - wow! what an experience that was!) served the traditional Thanksgiving dinner yesterday to the crew and embarked airwing. There are about 5,000 sailors, officers, Marines, and airmen embarked at any given time. I will leave you today with graphic of their meal:

Courtesy of U.S. Navy
 "The taste of a meal frequently depends on those who share it!" old Chinese proverb

                                                           Fair Winds,
                                                                  Old Salt  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MAYFLOWER - Come on - what else at Thanksgiving?

26 November 2014: Well, it's that time of year again - turkeys, yams, family, football, and Pilgrims. But we're not going to talk about all that stuff today, but rather how that first Thanksgiving - the one we ostensibly celebrate - came to be. Sure, everyone knows about the Mayflower, the Pilgrim's ship that sailed from England to Cape Cod, bringing the religiously persecuted Puritans to start a new life in the new world. But what you may not know - yet - is the story of the ship itself. She's just kind of there, in the background, the transportation that was quickly forgotten once she had done her job. So, let's have a look at Mayflower.
artist's rendition of arrival at Cape Cod

Mayflower was a typical English merchant vessel - designed mostly for coastal trade - of the 17th century. High bowed, with a high stern castle both of which were designed for protection of the crew from the elements. She was square-rigged with a spritsail on her bowsprit. Of particular interest is her size: she was 80-90 feet on deck (her bowsprit added another 10-20 feet to her overall length) and displaced 180 tons. While her actual capacity is unknown, she did carry 135 souls during her most famous voyage. She was built before 1609, most likely at Harwich, in England. She had four decks:

One can only imagine the living conditions aboard - winter, North Atlantic, at sea for over two months  . . .

Of course, the winter winds in the North Atlantic are generally from the west and the design of the ship made her unimaginably difficult to sail in a generally upwind direction. It took her over two months to make the crossing. As a matter of interest, the ship's return voyage to England in April of 1621 took less than one month!

During her trading days, Mayflower would have been fairly heavily armed, a protection against the pirates and privateers of the various European nations where she sailed. Her gun deck, a space of some 50' by 25', housed seven cannons that fired a 3.5 lb ball and three smaller ones for close in defense which fired what became known as grapeshot - a bag of musket balls - which impacted like the discharge of a shotgun, as far as the recipient was concerned. The gun deck also housed the Pilgrims. There was no access to the weather deck for them, save a vertical wooden or rope ladder and no heads - bathroom facilities. They probably used a bucket for that purpose. And of course, there was no heat. It was noteworthy, that Captain Jones off loaded four of his cannon for the Pilgrims to provide some defense for New Plymouth, should it be necessary.

Christopher Jones had been her master for eleven years prior to the Pilgrim voyage, trading across the English Channel to France carrying woolens over and wine back. He owned a quarter share of the ship, which of course, included profits from her trading voyages. For the famous one, there was no trading anticipated and she was chartered for the voyage by Thomas Watson of the Merchant Adventurers investor group.

The voyage had originally consisted of two ships, the Speedwell being the other, and left England in August. Speedwell quickly sprang a leak and the two put into Dartmouth for repairs. A second start was attempted in early September, but again, Speedwell began to leak, only now the two were about 200 miles out. The decision to leave the leaky Speedwell to go back by herself was born by by the time of year, the paucity of funds remaining, and desire of the passengers to get to America. That they were getting low on provisions probably also played a role in the decision. It might be worth noting that some think the leaks in Speedwell might have been "man-made" out of a fear of staving to death in the New World.

As one might reckon, the voyage was miserable. Huge seas, contrary winds, low food stocks, and damage to the structural members of the vessel. In mid-November, they sighted land - Cape Cod - and turned south to head for their intended destination, the Virginia Colony, but after several days of fighting strong and contrary winds and high seas, they turned about to seek shelter in the "hook" of Cape Cod, present day Provincetown. She anchored there on 21 November in freezing conditions.

The rest, of course, is what every school kid learned: they moved across Cape Cod Bay to form Plymouth Colony, help from the Indians, death, disease, and struggle. Captain Jones agrees to stay through the winter (I suspect he was not being terribly magnanimous - it would have been beyond miserable to head back straight away!) 

So, what happened to the ship? She made a couple of trips to France after that, but Jones died in March of 1622 - his health was likely badly compromised by the 1620 voyage - and the ship was laid up in Rotherhithe, England after that. Most probably, her useful life was at an end and she is assumed to have been broken up in 1624. There appears to have been a mill built using some of her timbers. 

A reproduction Mayflower was built and sailed across the Atlantic in 1957. She was/is entirely authentic, a true reproduction. And by today's standards, small! Here's what she looks like: 

 The ship is docked at Plimouth Colony in Massachusetts and is generally open to tourists. She sails infrequently and is, I believe, either in or about to go in the yard for much needed repairs.

               Happy Thanksgiving to all from Maritime Maunder and the Old Salt!

                                             Fair Winds,
                                                    Old Salt

Sunday, November 23, 2014


23 November 2014: What have they done to the America's Cup program? How did we get from this:
The schooner America in 1851 for whom the Cup is named.

to this? 

And the boats are only the visible and obvious departures from the concept. Let me 'splain.

When the "low black schooner" sailed to England on her own bottom and whipped up on the best of England's sailing (they were all sailing then) yachts to win the "Auld Mug" - the so called 100 guinea cup - a tradition was started. The Cup, quickly named the "America's Cup" in honor of the schooner that first won it and not the country, was given via Deed of Gift  to the New York Yacht Club which then laid down the rules for the future races which would apply to challenger and defender alike: the boats had to sail to the race site on their own bottoms, the crew were amateurs and, most important, were all of the nationality of the challenger or defender. The boats were designed and built in their country of origin as were the equipment, sails, etc. 

For 132 years, the Cup resided in America, specifically the New York Yacht Club and then, in 1983, Australia came to Newport R.I. and won, beating Dennis Conner to take the cup to Australia.
The boats had evolved, changing with the times to be less expensive to build and sail, require less crew, and with that change, came the abandonment of getting to the race site on their own bottoms. But the crews and boats were still national icons, representative of their country of origin. And still traditional sailboats.
Somewhere along the way, the defending yacht clubs (not American and without a shred of historical conscience) began to evolve the boats themselves into more modern, evolutionary vessels, finally reaching the zenith last year in the boat shown above and here, below. And since America held the Cup, it was sailed in American waters (the defender gets to chose), specifically San Fransisco Bay

The boat, combined with the constant blustery winds there offered what Larry Ellison, sponsor of the American boat, labeled "NASCAR on the water" with the boats reaching speeds in excess of 50 MPH! Was it exciting? You better believe it! I was there and wow! It was amazing. It was thrilling to watch, even when the U.S. boat lost. But it was NOT the America's Cup. Not a bit. And to top it off, on the American boat, there was exactly ONE AMERICAN. In fact, the crew mostly hailed from New Zealand! All professional, paid, "rock-stars." And the tactician,  Sir Ben Ainsley, who was hired after the U.S. was down 1-8, came from England to save the day! 

The final straw for many of us who used to follow the Cup closely, defenders and challengers, boats, and technology, was leaked a week or so ago: the American held Cup would be sailed in BERMUDA in the next iteration, in 2017. (It will be "announced" on 2 December.) And the boats, still the foil sporting, go-fast catamarans, will be a bit smaller at 62' (vs.72' for the previous) with a smaller crew (8 vs. the 11 of last year), lighter, and under a smaller load. But still capable of startling speeds and spectacle producing sailing. 

Why Bermuda? Hmmm. Who knows? Probably not the wind, tourist viability, or convenience. Maybe a deal was made by Mr. Ellison to help the island which is in huge financial difficulty to refill its coffers? Maybe due to the favorable tax laws there? But clearly, not America . . . for the first time a defender has CHOSEN to sail in a foreign country. (Don't count Switzerland in that: Lake Como was not a viable locale to race so they raced off Barcelona.)

Geeze! What happened? And how can they actually call it the America's Cup anymore? Many of us think that there is surely a place for this high tech, high speed, exciting sailboat race, but it is NOT the America's Cup. That should adhere to least some of the tradition inherent in this long standing and prestigious event. 

Just sayin'!

"Madam, there is no second!" Queen Victoria's consort to the queen when the schooner America finished 20 minutes ahead of the next boat.

                                                       Fair Winds!
                                                                  Old Salt

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


18 November 2014: Today marks the anniversary of the launching of America's first "true" battleship, USS Maine. Yes, that Maine! The one that blew up mysteriously in Havana Harbor in February 1898. The one credited with the start of the Spanish American War. We'll talk more about the demise of the ship - the first one to be named for the state of Maine - in February, as appropriate. But first, a word or two on the great ship, a so-called "2nd class" battleship.
Her launch was a "big deal" - a major capital ship that would show the world American might where ever she sailed. And while she was launched in 1889, she was not commissioned for several years, 1895. Her sponsor ("godmother") was Alice Tracy Wilmerding, granddaughter of the Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Tracy. 

The ship, at her launching, was touted as the cutting edge of modern naval warships, but by the time she was completed and commissioned, she was out of date, not as fast as she was designed to be, and had too narrow a beam to handle bad weather safely. It had been anticipated that she would be commissioned within two years of her launch, but delays in procuring the nickel steel armor plate cost the Brooklyn Navy Yard another two years and the ship was not commissioned until 1895. 

She was armed with sponson mounted gun turrets on each side, the superstructure cut away to allow her to fire both forward and aft, as well as across her deck. She did not have full masts as the reliability of steam engines had greatly increased by then. She was not strongly  enough built to allow her to ram an enemy ship without sustaining serious damage herself. Ramming had been a tactic which began to appear in regular use with the advent of iron-clad warships (Monitor vs. CSS Virgina (Merrimac)). But in spite of these short comings, Maine was still considered a major advance in American warship design.

She was sent to Cuba to ease tensions there and protect American interests  in the struggle between Spain and Cuba (Cuban revolt against Spain) and, while anchored in Havana Harbor, mysteriously exploded in the dark hours of 15 February 1898. As I said, we'll have more on that in February.

 "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" Rallying cry following the demise of the ship.

                                                                               Fair Winds,
                                                                                   Old Salt

Monday, November 17, 2014


17 November 2014: A few weeks ago, 8 October, to be specific, we posted a piece about the reproduction French frigate l'Hermione beginning her sea trials. You might recall (if not you can go back to the original post and check it out!) that the original ship was the one that brought the Marquis de Lafayette to America. His mission was to tell George Washington that France would help the Americans in their quest from freedom from England. The reproduction project has been underway for twenty years and I can only imagine the thrill the backers and workers must feel now that their efforts can come to fruition. Well, the good news is that they are complete now and she passed, apparently with flying colors!

The current plan is that in April 2015, l'Hermione will sail from France and visit 12 ports in the United States and Canada, both on her own and in conjunction with Tall Ships America (formerly, American Sail Training Association). Of course, it is only fitting that her first port of call, 5-7 June, should be Yorktown VA, the scene of the British surrender in 1781 that functionally ended the American Revolution. She will visit Mt. Vernon and Alexandria immediately following and then move on to Annapolis MD, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 
She will be in New York over the Independence Day holiday (7/2-4) and then head to Greenport NY, Newport RI, and Boston. Castine ME and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia will round out the visit. We will post more on this brilliant accomplishment as the time draws near! Stay tuned. For those of you who want more info, here's the website for l'Hermione:

NEW SUBJECT: In a post on 2 October, we told about the wonderful discovery of the wreck of what appeared to be HMS Erebus, one the ships, in fact the flagship, of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to the Arctic find a northwest passage. Two ships, Terror and Erebus carried the expedition led by John Franklin and both disappeared, leaving nothing but rumors from the native population behind. Six previous attempts to find the ships were unsuccessful but, in September of this year, Parks Canada, using side scan sonar and later a remotely operated vehicle, found one of them, determined with some degree of certainty to be Erebus.

 But in the shipwreck business, nothing is certain without proof positive, and it is generally the ship's bell which provides the provenance and identity of a given wreck. Well, they hit the jackpot with this wreck; the bell has been recovered, identified, and has begun the conservation and stabilization process. 
Even his this picture of the bell in situ, one can clearly see the "broad arrow" mark, signifying that an item is the property of the Royal Navy (they marked everything, from cutlasses to cannon to spars, and even trees in the forest designated for harvesting!). They also noted the date cast into the bell, 1845, the year the expedition left England. The Parks Canada divers then went down (can you imagine how cold that water must have been!) and over a period of 7 dives, recovered the bell, took photos and video of everything, and measurements to document the site.

The date, and the broad arrow are clearly visible in these photos.

The bell, now out of the water and undergoing conservation and stabilization in Ottawa, a process that could take as long as 18 months. Once it is free of any salt content, it will be the subject of further study.

So there you have it, friends. A couple of interesting (in my opinion) follow-ons to previous stories we offered.

"In war, it is not the men who make the difference, but the man." Napoleon Bonaparte

                                        Fair Winds,
                                                Old Salt  

Saturday, November 15, 2014


15 November 2014: Most people think the coasts of Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod are pretty dangerous to ships passing by in heavy weather; they are, no doubt. But let's add to that short list the coast of New Jersey, between Sandy Hook and Cape May. Yep, the long, reasonably straight, and boring (if you're passaging it en route to the Delaware Bay, something I have done many times under sail). And the second most dangerous inlet in the U.S. is the Barnegat Inlet, second only to the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Washington state. The problem is that while the coast is indeed long, straight, and fairly flat, it also has some far-reaching sandbars that often, with changes in the weather, change shape and location. Charts only go so far and local knowledge is only as good as the last storm to visit the area. Add to that a strong wind from any eastern quarter (with the resultant seas) and you have the recipe for a disaster. If you doubt what I say, take a look at this chart of the coast line showing the wrecks that we know about:

While the number of wrecks is not at the level of Hatteras, there are a bunch and this chart shows only the ones that have been identified. And most are well within sight of the shore and in shallow (relatively) water. There are a few ships that foundered which are not listed, one glaring example is Moro Castle, which burned off the coast of Asbury Park in 1934. Of course the wreck, so close to the beach, has been cleared away, which is likely the reason it is not shown on the chart.

But, about 80 years before the Moro Castle wrecked and burned, there was an even more disastrous wreck with a loss of 284 lives, mostly German immigrants. The location of the wreck was almost in exactly the same spot, only a bit further offshore. The clipper ship New Era was sailing from Bremen Germany to New York carrying some 427 passengers. The ship was leaky, requiring the pumps to be manned by both passengers and crew almost constantly, and the weather, when she reached the coastline, was thick with a heavy sea running. Soundings (with a lead line) was the only way they had to determine their position.
New Era in better days

Alert lookouts heard the breakers well before they were visible, and by the end of the day, the clipper, unable to claw her way off the lee shore, struck and swung broadside to the mounting waves. That was 13 November, 1854. She was off what was then called Deal Beach, just north of Asbury Park. The southeast wind continued to build, and quickly the waves began to wash over the deck. An ineffective effort to get a line ashore by boat failed and the captain and crew abandoned, leaving the passengers, none of whom could speak English, to fend for themselves.
Telegraphic word went out of the disaster seeking assistance from other ships, and one, the Achilles, was lying off Sandy Hook. She was a steamer under command of a Captain Reynolds. The captain immediately set off to find the foundered ship and render assistance, but when he ultimately arrived at the scene, delayed by heavy fog, at 8PM, he found the ship awash with those still alive clinging to the rigging. The ship was surging to and fro with each wave. Achilles, unable to approach close enough to do any good, had neither life boats or enough life preservers, but she stood by. With none of the stranded passengers able to speak English, they could not even communicate with the stricken ship.

Those who were saved, were rescued by boats from the shore the next morning, the 14th November.
By midday, everyone who could be, had been rescued; just 143 souls, including the crew, were saved of the 427 who had embarked in Bremen. As bodies washed ashore, they were put in cheap wooden coffins (the coroner charged the county $7 each for the boxes) and interred in the Methodist burial ground between Long Branch and Eatontown.
The local press of the time described the disaster using such words as "shameful neglect," "desertion of helpless passengers," "loose conduct," and "inhumanity." It called for stricter regulations, imposition of great responsibility on the crew, and better protection of human life.
 The wreck - what's left of it - is presumed to be under about 15' of sand and has not been excavated. The anchor was uncovered following a storm in the 1890's and brought ashore where it still is seen today.

Another kind of eerie (cue music and Rod Serling) fact: in 1893, a monument some 12' tall to the disaster was erected near the shore at the site. The following year, there was a huge storm and the monument toppled into the sand. It has not been seen since, including last year, when the Asbury Park Historical Society used ground penetrating radar in an effort to locate it! So we have only a sketch of it that appeared in the New York Times:


So there you have it, a shipwreck story both timely and locally significant. One outcome from this disaster was the strengthening and expansion of what became the United States Coast Guard.

"It was a dark and stormy night . . ." Anonymous

                                                                Fair Winds,
                                                                    Old Salt

Thursday, November 13, 2014


13 November: With Veterans' Day 2014 barely in the record books, and while we are still in a somewhat nostalgic frame of mind, I thought that since today, 13 November, is the anniversary of the dedication/opening of "the Wall," it would be appropriate to give you a small bit of history on it, but mostly to offer some images of that very somber and meaningful monument.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, a Yale undergraduate, who won an open competition with her design. When it was first opened, many criticized its stark simplicity, but most have come to feel the significance of the Memorial over the years. It was dedicated and opened to the public on 13 November 1982.
Upon opening, it contained the names of over 57,800 servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and as more were discovered, they were added. What is interesting is that the names are inscribed in the order of their deaths, not by rank or alphabetical order. The names are not carved, but computer engraved in the black, Indian granite. And there are no ranks listed.

 After a bit of outcry from the public, it was determined to add a statue depicting men in a realistic pose, and the The Three Servicemen memorial opened, facing the Wall, two years later. it was designed by the third place winner in the design competition. In the proper light, the reflection of the statue in the Wall is quite stirring.


And, in recognition of the 186,000 women who served in that theater, another statue,
The Women's Memorial, was dedicated in 1993.

 A few other images that pretty well give the flavor of this emotional tribute to the guys and gals who didn't get home.

"We remember their sacrifice." Quote on the Wall
                                               Fair Winds,
                                                    Old Salt 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014


 11 November, 2014: To all my brothers in arms, past and present, I thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and your patriotism. If you are not a veteran, find one and thank him or her. 

This video is one of the best I have seen honoring the sacrifice and service of American Veterans.

One thing many people do not know is why Veterans Day is 11 November. It used to be called Armistice Day and was set by President Woodrow Wilson as 11th November to honor Veterans of WWI because the cease fire agreement that ended the War was executed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

It was in 1921 that the Tomb of the Unknown was dedicated. An unknown soldier from WWI was brought back from a cemetery in France and buried with full military honors at the Tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. What few are aware of is that he was laid to his final rest with 2" of French soil beneath his casket, allowing him to rest for eternity on the ground where he died.

Watch the video and be proud you are American.

                                Fair winds,
                                          Old Salt

Monday, November 10, 2014


10 November 2014: On this date on 1775 the Continental Congress passed a resolution calling for "two battalions of Marines." It was drafted by John Adams and adopted in Philadelphia PA and created the "Continental Marines" who would serve henceforth on land and at sea.
Tun Tavern, where the Marines were created
 The first landing performed by the new Marine Corps occurred on the island of New Providence, held by the British in 1776. Captain Samuel Nicholas, the first commissioned officer in the Marines would become the first commandant of Marines. The landing's mission was to take control of the British magazine on Nassau and return as much of the munition to the needy Colonial Army. Following the successful conclusion of the War for Independence, the Marines were disbanded when the Navy was demobilized.

However, with the burgeoning conflict with Revolutionary France in 1798, The U.S. Congress reestablished the Navy and two months later, President John Adams signed the bill naming the U.S. Marine Corps as a permanent military force, under the jurisdiction of the navy - something that rankles the Marines to this day!

This premier fighting force saw action in the Barbary Wars and every one since. In fact, the official sword carried by Marine Officers is the Mameluke sword fashioned after the North African sword presented to Lt. Presley O'Banion who trekked across miles of desert to help liberate Tripoli with a ragtag hoard of North African fighters. The Marine Corps Hymn celebrates "...the shores of Tripoli" along with the "Halls of Montezuma," a reference to the Mexican War where the Marines 
 distinguished themselves yet again.                                  

The Marines are generally the first ashore in a hostile country and have executed over 300 contested landings. The WWII Pacific theater was almost entirely dominated the Corps - the names of their conquests legendary: Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Okinawa to name only a few. Their presence in Viet Nam was keenly felt by all and of course, the Marines have seen countless months of combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are currently over 200,000 active duty and reserve Marines - truly a "few good men (and women)" stationed all over the world. Bases exist at Camp LeJeune, NC, Camp Pendleton, CA, and Okinawa. Each can launch an expeditionary unit anywhere in the world on two weeks notice. These units are self-sufficient with tanks, aircraft, and artillery.

Happy birthday, Marines!

             "Semper Fidelis!"  Motto of the U.S. Marine Corps

                                                  Fair Winds,
                                                         Old Salt

Friday, November 7, 2014


7 November 2014: As promised, here is the follow on to yesterday's post on liquor in the sea services. We covered the Royal Navy yesterday with a note that today we'll see what the United States Navy was doing - "grog-wise" - and how it ended.

But first, how did it begin? 
When the Navy was created by the Naval Act of 1794, the government established that sailors were to receive "one-half pint of distilled spirits per day." That meant rum, following in the footsteps of British tradition. All went well until 1806 when, realizing the high cost of rum, the Navy began to encourage the sailors to accept American made whiskey in place of the preferred rum. Also, at the same time, an allowance of 3 - 6 cents a day (imagine that!) was ordered paid to those who were either under age or who simply chose to pass on the the daily ration. Further, the ration was reduced to one gill, 4 ounces, in 1842 and, in the Union Navy at least, was totally eliminated in 1862 for the duration of the Civil War. The Confederate Navy continued to provide their sailors with a daily ration of rum. (Their rationale was the drink would help encourage sailors from other nations to join the Confederate side!)

After the War, the ration was reinstated but sailors were encouraged to keep their own stock of beer and UNdistilled spirits at the discretion of  their commanding officer, but in 1899, the Navy department banned the sale of ANY liquor to enlisted men on any ship, station, or within the limits of a navy yard. This included the Marine barracks as well. At that time, the only personnel allowed strong drink were the officers.

1914, a dark day in naval history: Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, issued General Order #99 which would ban liquor of ANY type in the Navy, effective 1 July 1914.
Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy

At the appointed time, much of the fleet was in Veracruz, Mexico, part of the occupation force. Commanding officers rushed to comply with the order by selling the ships' store of alcohol as they could, but were unable to get rid of it all. The decision was made to have one last fling - a banquet, of sorts - and drink or pour into the sea the remaining stocks. Some took on the feeling of a funeral, as sailors and officers watched their precious stock of ardent spirits being poured overboard. But others, with the joyful participation of the crews of visiting ships from British, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish navies who traveled between ships in small boats, managed to consume most of it. It would be the last friendly meeting between those navies for some time, as WWI was bubbling and would erupt by the end of the month!

While occassionally ships DO allow some alcohol (sometimes disguised as "medical"), for the most part the Navy remains dry. But we do get a few English words from those halcyon days of ardent spirits on ships:  

 Groggy: being sleepy or dazed often feels akin to having had too much grog

Three Sheets to the Wind: Sheets, of course, were used to control the sails on ships and if the sheet becomes loose or unattached on several (three) sails, the ship will often become unstable. A sailor can not walk in a straight line down the deck under those circumstances!

Down the Hatch: Tipping your head back and pouring the liquor down your throat sometimes looks like the cask disappearing below deck i.e. down the hatch.

Cup of Joe: Might be named after SecNav Daniels who suggested coffee in lieu of liquor.

So there you have it, folks. More than you wanted to know about the history of booze in the Navy!

"Down the Hatch!" Toast in American Navy when drinking

                                        Fair winds,
                                                  Old Salt

Thursday, November 6, 2014


6 November 2014: Another milestone passed: Maritime Maunder has achieved over 1000 viewers! Splice the mainbrace!

OK, I can hear some of you muttering, what the hell does that have to do with anything? and what is a 'main brace' and why does it need splicing? All good questions and we'll try to sort you out directly.

Today's post came about because I got into a discussion with someone yesterday (British, in the interest of full disclosure) who was advocating Pusser's Rum even after I had told him I only drink Mt. Gay (from Barbadoes)! Pusser's is - or should I say WAS - the preferred spirit of the Royal Navy for generations, right up to what is referred to as "Black Tot Day," 31 July, 1970, when the tradition came to a halt. How sad! However, in the spirit of maintaining a tradition, the Royal Navy still authorizes fleet wide celebrations in honor of a visit from Royalty, New Year's Day, and victories in battle (of which there seem to be a paucity in recent times!). The signal to the fleet, no longer in flags but over the radio, is "splice the mainbrace" and it goes to all ships and even shore units.
                                                              But I am getting ahead of myself! Let's see where it started because we eventually have to get ourselves to splicing the mainbrace! The navies of the world, during the Age of Sail, used ardent spirits to fortify their sailors (even been aloft in a blow? Really scary to do it stone cold sober!) and the allowance was a pint of spirits - usually rum in the Royal Navy - per day. It caused some problems - both financially and with accidents aboard ships - so in 174o, Admiral Vernon cut the ration by adding water to it and not allowing the "boys" (under 15) anything but beer.
Adm. Vernon

Needless to say, the sailors were not happy with "Old Grog" - Vernon's nickname due to his habit of wearing a grogham cloak when the weather was up - but the petty officers didn't mind since they got the full allowance, undiluted and an hour before "spirits up" was piped for the crew. Vernon's diluted concoction became known as "grog": 1/2 pint rum, 1 quart water, lime juice, and sugar. The lime juice was, of course, an anti-scorbotic and necessary. The sugar made the mixture more palatable. The mixture was ordered made in front of the crew in a "scuttlebutt" which was then used to distribute the rations.

In bad weather, or when someone or a group (like a gun crew) did something laudable, they recieved and "extra tot" and if the whole crew was particularly heroic, the rum ration was doubled. Conversely, should someone err in some way, the minor punishment was stopping their rum ration. So it worked both ways.

This tradition was adopted by the Royal Navy quickly and remained in effect for over 200 years! Until Black Tot Day, 31 July 1970.

So what about splicing the mainbrace, you say? Ok - the mainbrace was the line - a VERY heavy line - used to control the angle of the mainyard to the wind. Of course, it required a lot of sailors to heave on it to adjust the yard and, should it part, it had to be fixed RIGHT NOW! It was one of the most difficult jobs  aloft in a sailing ship and only the most seasoned boatswain's mates were capable of doing it. And it usually occurred in foul weather. But once accomplished, it ALWAYS resulted in an extra ration of spirits being given to the sailor(s) who spliced it. Hence, splicing be the mainbrace became the euphemism for a drink! And when the Queen or other royalty visits a ship of the Royal Navy, the signal is "Splice the Mainbrace" referring not to the heavy brace (the ships don't have yards any more) but to having a pop in celebration.

In the interest of full disclosure, I believe the officers' wardroom is still allowed to have an evening cocktail under certain circumstances.

That's the British Navy's tradition. In the next post, we'll offer the American side.

                        "Bottoms up!" Toast used when splicing the mainbrace!

                                        Fair Winds
                                                     Old Salt