Wednesday, February 25, 2015


25 FEBRUARY 2015: Hi folks! The rumors of my demise are totally unfounded! Neither have I abandoned Maritime Maunder. That said, lemme 'splain (thank you, Ricky Ricardo) why I have been remiss in posting. Quite simply, I have been totally focused on my finishing my new book, which is all but done at this point and, I expect, will see daylight in late spring or early summer depending on how long the editing process takes and how long the layout, cover design, and printing takes. But my hope is for June... The title, by the way, is IN HOSTILE WATERS and it's the story of the final cruise of USS Argus in 1813. Should be a fun/interesting/informative read for those of you who enjoy maritime US history. Of note (at least to me!) is that I am bring together both my American officer character (The Greater the Honor, In Pursuit of Glory) and my British officer (When Fortune Frowns, Gun Bay) in the same book. I will update through Maritime Maunder and twitter (@1812war) as the release date looms!
 So for today: the title is "more wrong history" and I must add, there seems to be a real wealth of erroneous/false/misleading history wandering around out there in people's minds. And before I go any further, let me correct an erroneous statement I made in my previous post about the Marine landing at Iwo Jima. After it went up, I received an email from an old pal who corrected and augmented what I had written. I had stated that the iconic image of the flag raising had been staged by Joe Rosenthal because he missed the shot at the initial raising. That was incorrect; after the first flag was raised, the Marine commander, watching from a ship offshore, radioed the flag was too small - he could not see it well from the ship, and he sent in a larger one. When Rosenthal got there (to the top of Suribachi) his timing was perfect; the new flag had also just arrived and he took a "grab shot" of the men struggling with the heavy pole on which they had affixed the flag. Further. I mentioned that the six "flag raisers" had been sent back to the states to sell war bonds. That was incorrect in that three of them died before the fight had ended and only three, Ira Hayes (the Pima Indian), Rene Gangon, and Navy Corpsman John Bradley returned to the United States, where they did tour the country selling war bonds. Thank you, Bill Anderson!

As a further note on "wrong history" I received today an email from a good pal asking for my comment on the history it contained. The email was titled, "The first president of the United States." And in it was stated that the first president was NOT George Washington, but a man named John Hanson. I am sure many of you have seen this one; it's been around the web before. Thanks to Hank Gulick for the forward.

Now, let's look at some facts here, first a bit about ol' John: He was self-educated (as were many in those days) and lived in Charles County MD. He married and produced 9 kids, one of whom joined the Continental Army and lost his life in the Revolutionary War. John's political career began in 1757 as a member of the Maryland Colonial Assembly where he was known as an outspoken advocate of the Patriot Cause. He was named a delegate to the Continental Congress and ultimately, its president (this was a role based on England's Prime Minister) 1781-2. It was during this time that the Articles of Confederation were ratified and at the same time, General Washington pretty much ended the War at Yorktown. At which time, the Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation (Also called the United States in Congress Assembled - quite a mouthful!) and Hanson was elected as President of THAT body, not the United States of America. Technically, that entity (The United States of America) did not exist until 1789 when the United States Constitution was ratified and George Washington was named president of the United States. Your history books were not wrong - at least on THAT score!

Hope that will put paid to at least a little piece of false/misleading history!

See you soon, and until then,
                              Fair Winds.

                                 Old Salt                 

Thursday, February 19, 2015


19 February 2015: In 1945 on this date, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war began. The Battle for Iwo Jima, along with the Chosin Reservoir fight in Korea, is synonymous with the United States Marines.  Following a pounding by naval guns and bombs dropped from 110 U.S. bombers and yet another lengthier round of shore bombardment from the ships offshore, the order was given to "Land the Marines!" For over a year, the Army Air Corps had been bombing the island in an effort to dislodge the 26,000 Japanese soldiers there.
 As an indicator of the importance of this battle, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was an observer on an off-shore command ship.

Unlike other islands in the Pacific Theater, Iwo was volcanic, filled with caves covered by loose volcanic ash. The Japanese soldiers were dug in, ordered and committed to defend to the death, this little 7.5 mile island. The Marines, already well blooded by their earlier conquests, would not secure this island for 36 days! And there were 100,000 U.S. fighting men and 26,000 Japanese on this tiny spot in the Pacific, making it, for those 36 days, the most populated 7.5 miles on earth!

The Marines had to fight for every inch they gained, unable to dig in since the soil was so loose  (and under the ash was hard rock) and facing defenders who had set themselves up on the zillions of caves, machine guns ready to cut down their attackers. In fact, it was said - after it was all over - that the Marines rarely saw a live Japanese soldier! Some of the contemporary historians labeled the fight akin to "throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete." But, while our guys could see few if any, Japs, the entrenched Japanese soldiers could see everything. And even before the Americans landed, the Japanese had targeted every square meter of the island and the approaches from the sea. There was
nowhere that the Marines could get shelter from the horrific machine gun fire, rockets, and anti-tank guns.
If the Marines could get themselves close enough, they found that liquid gasoline, napalm, and hand grenades were most effective. the U.S. mortality rate was staggering - for example, of the 310 men of Easy Company who went ashore, only 50 returned and 1 of the 7 officers survived. As I mentioned, staggering. And on a percentage basis, worse for the enemy.

Of course this battle gave rise to one of the most iconic images to come out of the whole war - the Raising of the U.S. flag atop Mt. Suribachi. Getting to that point took the Marines 4 days of bloody fighting. What many are unaware of, that image was staged after the men had already put up the flag and Joe Rosenthal, an AP photographer documenting the battle, asked them to do it again as he had missed the first time. Here is the image of the first flag raising on Suribachi:  
Of course, the image was used to create the Marine Corps Memorial monument in Washington DC, adding millions to the numbers who saw it. As a matter of interest, it is the largest bronze statue in the world.
Unlike today, with the press making heroes (and no mistake, some truly are) of every war fighter (and the occasional news reporter) who returns from the frontlines, these Marines were humble, reticent to discuss their struggle, and got relatively little of the "hero-worship" offered today. In their collective minds, the "heroes" were the guys who didn't make it back. Those six men did, however, get sent home (the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman, John Bradley, who raised the flag) to sell war bonds across the country.
It is also of note that the mountain was captured and the flag raised a full month before the rest of the island had been secured!
So, think about that and give thanks that these guys - by the way, most were 17, 18, and 19 year olds - did their jobs and continue to today, in spite of the difficulties they face both at home and on the battle front!
                         Fair Winds - and SEMPER FI to my Marine buddies!
                              Old Salt

Sunday, February 15, 2015


15 Februrary 2015: OK - I know we're all whining and complaining about how bloody cold it is - and before you get all spun up, let me quickly add that, yes, it IS cold unless, of course, you happen to be in the 10% of the United States that is not experiencing the current "polar vortex" (when I was a kid, we called that "winter"). This morning in Washington DC it was 7 degrees with a windchill of probably around -400! And the Boston area just got socked with another foot of snow, giving those lucky folks something on the order of 7' in 3 weeks! My sympathies, friends! And for those of you who know about me, let me hasten to add that I am NOT currently at my winter home, but here shivering in the Northeast. So having said all of that, let me highlight a story, current over the past few days, about some REAL cold! And yes, it IS in Antarctica.... but it is summer there, right?
On Tuesday of this week past, the U.S. Coast Guard dispatched its ONLY heavy duty icebreaker into the Antarctic ice to rescue an Australian flagged fishing boat that got caught in the ice and damaged its propeller in the process.
Antarctic Chieftan - 26 people aboard

This ice breaker, the Polar Star has had to break through several hundred miles of 9 foot thick ice, and through blizzard snow with 35 MPH winds. They reached the stricken fishing boat on Friday.
            This would be the view from the bridge of the ice breaker!
When they did reach the boat,they sent an unmanned submersible down to examine the ship's propellers, and after determining they were too damaged to be of use, took the fishing vessel in tow. (Imagine doing that with SCUBA and even a dry suit!)

Captain Matthew Walker, commanding officer of the Polar Star, stated they would tow the vessel clear of the ice, and then turn it over to a New Zealand fishing boat, Janas, to tow her to the nearest safe harbor. Walker also mentioned the conditions were more formidable than expected! I'll bet they were!

Interestingly, the stricken vessel was fishing for Antarctic Toothfish, usually marketed in North America as Chilean Sea Bass. Now you can understand why it might be a bit more expensive than Cod or Mackerel!

So, thanks to the Coast Guard, once again, for being there and living up to their motto: Semper Paratus (always prepared). And stop complaining about how miserable this weather is - at least we know it will end at some point! Down there, not so much!

                               Fair Winds,
                                   Old Salt

Sunday, February 8, 2015


8 February 2015: It was in 1794. A convoy of 58 merchant ships of a variety of rigs, sailing ability, and managerial skill left Port Royal - yes, that den of piratical iniquity of which we were all made aware by Johnny Depp (Cap't Jack Sparrow) - under the escort of a single Royal Navy (British) frigate, HMS Convert. Their destination ultimately was the United Kingdom, but a few, bound for ports in the United States, had planned on leaving the convoy before it started to cross the Atlantic.

To collect all the ships, Convert made a couple of stops while still in Jamaican waters - some had come round the island from the north side - but finally, about the 6th of February, 1794, they were underway, having actually left Port Royal on 28th January.
The weather was not great, the convoy was spread out over literally miles of ocean, and delays were rife. Captain Lawford of Convert was frustrated with his charges but, nonetheless, shepherded them onwards, giving them strict instructions that no one was get ahead of Convert. Yep, you guessed it; several did during the night of 7-8 February and with the help of an underestimated current running to the north, hit the reef off the East End of Grand Cayman Island. A very unforgiving bit of coral.
East End today does not look very different than in 1794
 One after the other, including the escorting frigate, HMS Convert, they fetched up "on the hard" at around 2 AM 8th February. When the sun rose that morning, it lit a truly melancholy sight: 7 ship rigged vessels (3 masts, square sails), 2 brigs (2 masts, mostly square sails) and Convert (ship rigged). None were salvageable. The spot they went on the hard was off one of the only sandy beaches at that end of the island; most of the shoreline is what is called "ironshore" -fosilized coral which is as unforgiving as the reef and really tough on one's feet, shod or otherwise. 

Of course, boats, both from the stricken ships and the island, carried the crews and passengers ashore and the ships, in the worsening weather, pounded themselves to matchwood, ultimately sinking. Part of Convert  washed over the reef where the water is only about 15 ft deep (the outside of the reef drops off to 8,000 ft). Islanders were as helpful as they could be to the folks ashore and helped in salvaging what could be salvaged from the wrecks. Amazingly, only a few people - less than ten - were lost.

The lagoon has been dived by archeologists who picked up some artifacts, now displayed in the Cayman Heritage Museum in George Town locals grabbed what they could, mostly cannon for display. (That was over 100 years ago.) 

 The cannon shown here is marked as a 
1781 because that was when Convert was built. She was French and had been captured by the British only a few months before the convoy left Jamaica for England.

Now I am sure you are all dying to learn more about this hallmark event in the history of the Cayman Islands, and I can tell you: you are in luck! There is a book out, available on Amazon in both physical form and digital form which tells the story of this tragedy in novel form. 

 Yep, that's it, right there to the left. And while I am being commercial, here's the link to Amazon where you can actually buy this fine piece of sea-faring literature:

     GUN BAY

OK, that's enough of the commercial. 

In any case, today, 8th February, is the anniversary - the 221st anniversary - of the Wreck of the Ten Sail, as it is still called today.

                             Fair Winds,
                                 Old Salt

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


4 February 2015: In the waters around my winter home - some of the best SCUBA diving in the world, by the way - we get the occasional critter that doesn't generally visit us. We have seen Manta Rays, normally inhabitants of the Pacific - we have Sting Rays - who somehow found their way to the Caribbean. And once in a while, we get a visit from one or two of the largest fish in the ocean: the Whale Shark. I know, whales, per se, aren't fish; they are mammals, but these gentle giants ARE in fact, fishes.

Among other places in the world with warm waters, they migrate in the far reaches of the Western Caribbean - off Mexico - and there are dive operations that will take snorkelers out to swim with them. They do not allow SCUBA as the bubbles will frequently scare these huge fish away, denying others the chance to swim with them, and disrupting their migratory pattern. They are called sharks, but unlike their cousins, they eat only plankton, sucking in great gouts of it as they swim through the seas. Yep, just like the Hump Back whale - a true whale and a mammal. Their name derives from the fact that while they are indeed fish, they often attain the size of a whale and they operate as a "filter feeder" just like a baleen whale.

They don't dive like whales do to prodigious depths, preferring to remain near the surface (relatively), though in a pinch these guys can get down to over 4,000 feet. Their mouths are huge, nearly 4 feet wide and contain over 300 very small teeth and 10 filter pads. Their overall size is about 32 feet long and they can weigh 10 tons!
While I have not personally swum with these critters, I have friends who actually went to a little town in Mexico just for that purpose and the report was "AMAZING!" "FANTASTIC" and similar that came so fast they were tripping over one another. These fish can apparently live for up to 70 years and the females give birth to live babies (called pups - don't ask why, I have no idea!) at a rate of 300 over a prolonged period. The female will retain eggs and sperm inside, releasing the "pups" in steady steam over a long time!


So, last week, here in Grand Cayman, we had several sightings of whale sharks off the west side of the island (nearest to Central America) which might mean that some of these guys will stick around for a while. I hope so. I have only seen one from the surface. I am given to believe that there are either two or four of them living in an aquarium in Atlanta GA which, given their size, seems a bit odd and certainly confining for these enormous fish, used to having the while ocean as a habitat.
That's it for now, friends. See you soon.
                          Fair Winds,
                              Old Salt