Tuesday, September 29, 2015


29 September 2015: Did you ever wonder where some of the expressions we hear every day originated from? Many were first used in a maritime or nautical context. Yep, on ships by sailors. So even if you hear the expressions something or someone is "A-1" in the flatlands of Kansas USA, it began at sea! Let's face it, friends, most of the settled world got that way from people arriving by ships and from the resultant trade. And the sea breeds special people with their own unique language. So here's a few expressions we've all heard with their original meanings. And yes, we will offer more down the road as there are just too many for one post! So this list is anything but complete, so no nasty notes back complaining we left out one or another; we have left out many!


 "He is a real A-1 fellow! In the late 17th century, Lloyd's of London, the insurance firm, issued A-1 ratings to vessels whose hull and fittings, gear and crew, were of the highest quality. It transferred to the Royal Navy as "first rate" which referred to the largest and most formidable warships.

"There'll be the devil to pay!" The "devil" referred not to the "lord of the underworld," but rather the seam between the board covering the junction of the topmost plank in the ship's side and the outboard plank of the deck. It was really hard to caulk by the crew who used hot pitch poured into the crease to seal it. "Pay" is the old word for caulk. An offshoot of this expression is "between the devil and the deep blue sea." This refers to having to stand on the narrow board, outside the bulwarks which can be somewhat challenging in a sea!

"I turned a Blind eye" to it." Direct from Admiral Lord Nelson, hero of the Royal Navy (today happens to be his birthday, by the way) who was blinded in one eye during a battle.
 He commanded a ship at the Battle of Copenhagen and when a signal went up on the commodore's ship ordering withdrawal, he held his long glass up to his blind eye and commented that he saw no such signal. He then proceeded to continue the attack, carrying the day for the British.

OK - that's it for today..... what? you want one more? OK, here's one I bet you thought was not polite to use in mixed company:

"It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!" In the days of cannon and wooden ships, a read supply of shot (iron) was kept by each cannon in a stack. They was set within a brass frame called a monkey to keep them from rolling around the deck in a big sea. IN extremely cold weather, the brass contracted faster than the iron shot, and the cannon balls no longer fit in the monkey. Hence, it was cold enough ... you get the idea. Now no more smirks when you hear this one!

Ok.... gotta go now. We'll do more of these maybe next time. So until then,

                   Fair Winds,
                          Old Salt


Tuesday, September 22, 2015


22 September 2015: Some time ago, we posted about the Navy's not-so-brilliant Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) (the concept doesn't work OR fit the model for today's naval role) and we may have mentioned that the backbone of the surface navy, the frigate, was being systematically destroyed. And so it goes. The Navy has announced yet another frigate, USS Kauffman FFG 59 has been decommissioned and made available for "foreign military sale." We have one left in the fleet.

So, what the hell is the government thinking? No answer here. It totally escapes my comprehension. Unless of course, it has to do with shrinking our fleet to the lowest level since before WWI along with the rest of the armed forces. The mission carried out by Kauffman most recently was drug interdiction in the U.S. Southern Command - and now, the under-staffed, under funded, and surely under-appreciated Coast Guard will have to take up the slack!

the Image above is Kauffman departing Norfolk VA on her final deployment. And today, she is deemed useless to the U.S. Navy by some pencil-pushers in Washington. The Perry Class frigates have been the work horses in the surface fleet, sailing to Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific. In 1989, Kauffman was part of a squadron that transited the Bosphorus and entered the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. Her she is with the guided missile cruised USS Thomas S. Gates )CG 51).

Obviously, the cruiser is the larger one! And to the left above is the Soviet guided missile cruiser Slava.

So, the end of the Perry Class frigates is in sight. The final member of the class will be decommissioned 29 September, 2015. Of the 15 ships that will have comprised this class, 10 have been made available for foreign purchase while the remainder were/are being dismantled. So, once again, Washington has short-sheeted the bed, leaving our fleet with virtually no reserves.

How sad!

Until next time, friends,

                                               Fair winds,
                                                     Old Salt

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


15 September 2015: So much has happened over the past few days - historically speaking, that is, that we will combine several events in this post using simply a brief synopsis of each. Just to bring you up to date. I was traveling and unable to post on the right days, so we're stuck with an amalgam of history. I am sure you all know the stories in any case!

On 11 September 1814, the British fleet arrived in the outer harbor of Baltimore with the intent of landing troops on North Point to march into the city while the navy bombarded the fort - Fort McHenry - at the entrance to the inner harbor. The commanders, Admirals Cochrane and Cockburn, along with General Ross, figured that it would be an easy undertaking, that the people would simply run away and not fight, just as had happened in Washington City.

Not so much, as it turned out! The American troops and militia stopped the British cold at North Point, killed General Ross who was leading his troops, and Fort McHenry withstood 25 hours of bombardment. The failed effort happened over several days, from 12-14 September.

Cochrane realized this would be a losing proposition and recalled his ships and soldiers. They left within a couple of days, but the battle, in addition to being a great win for the U.S. also provided us with what would be become (in 1931) our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, composed originally as a poem entitled The Defense of M'Henry by Francis Scott Key.

Meanwhile, up north on Lake Champlain, Thomas Macdonough was gaining a monumental victory over the British fleet which included a land win with barely a shot fired. British General Prevost was supposed to attack the town of Plattsburgh (NY) while Commodore Downey took control of the lake. When he saw that Downey was getting the worst of it, he reversed course and headed back into Canada (He was ultimately sent home in disgrace). Had Prevost prevailed, he would have opened the way straight down the Hudson Valley right into New York City, effectively dividing the country in two.
Prevost watches American fleet defeat British

Macdonough's victory at Lake Champlain

These two victories changed the negotiations that were underway in Ghent Belgium between the British and American diplomats for a peace treaty, forcing them to ultimately agree to a Status Quo Ante Bellum treaty. And all because the Americans "got it together" at Baltimore and Plattsburgh!

So now you're updated and we are more or less current with our history lesson!
Until next time, then,
                                 Fair Winds,
                                      Old Salt

Thursday, September 10, 2015


10 September 2015: On this date, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry came to fame when through his skill, determination, and courage he successfully removed the British threat from Lake Erie. Here is a splendid description from Miitary History:

Following the fall of Detroit in August 1812, the British took control of Lake Erie.

In an attempt to regain naval superiority on the lake, the US Navy began construction of two 20-gun brigs at Presque Isle, PA (Erie, PA). Designed by New York shipbuilder Noah Brown, these vessels were intended to be the foundation of the new American fleet. In March 1813, the new commander of American naval forces on Lake Erie, Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry, arrived at Presque Isle. Assessing his command, he found that there was a general shortage of supplies and men.
While diligently overseeing the construction of the two brigs, named USS Lawrence and USS Niagara, Perry traveled to Lake Ontario in May 1813, to secure additional seamen from Commodore Isaac Chauncey. While there, he participated in the Battle of Fort George (May 25-27), and collected several gunboats for use on Lake Erie. Departing from Black Rock, he was nearly intercepted by the new British commander on Lake Erie, Commander Robert H. Barclay. A veteran of Trafalgar, Barclay had arrived at the British base of Amherstburg, Ontario on June 10.

After reconnoitering Presque Isle, Barclay focused his efforts on completing the 19-gun ship HMS Detroit which was under construction at Amherstburg. As with his American counterpart, Barclay was hampered by a perilous supply situation. Convinced that construction of Detroit was on target, he departed with his fleet and began a blockade of Presque Isle. This British presence prevented Perry from moving Niagara and Lawrence over the harbor's sand bar. Finally, on July 29, Barclay was forced to depart due to low supplies. Taking advantage, Perry moved his ships out of the harbor.

Battle of Lake Erie - Perry Sails:

Returning four days later, Barclay found that Perry's fleet had cleared the bar. Out-gunned, he withdrew to await the completion of Detroit. With his two brigs ready for service, Perry took control of the lake. From this position, he was able to prevent supplies from reaching Amherstburg. As a result, Barclay was forced to seek battle in early September. Sailing from his base, he flew his flag from the recently completed Detroit, and was joined by HMS Queen Charlotte (13), HMS Lady Prevost (13), HMS Hunter (10), HMS Little Belt (3), and HMS Chippawa (1).
Perry countered with Lawrence (20), Niagara (20), USS Ariel (4), USS Caledonia (3), USS Scorpion (2), USS Somers (2), USS Porcupine (1), USS Tigress (1), and USS Trippe (1). Commanding from Lawrence, Perry's ships sailed under a blue battle flag emblazoned with Captain James Lawrence's immortal command, "Don't Give Up the Ship." Departing Put-in-Bay (OH) harbor at 7:00 AM on September 10, 1813, Perry placed Ariel and Scorpion at the head of his line, followed by Lawrence, Caledonia, and Niagara. The remaining gunboats trailed to the rear.

Battle of Lake Erie - Perry's Plan:

As the principal armament of his brigs was short-range carronades, Perry intended to close on Detroit with Lawrence while Lieutenant Jesse Elliot, commanding Niagara, attacked Queen Charlotte. As the two fleets sighted each other, the wind favored the British. This soon changed as it began to lightly blow from the southeast benefiting Perry. With the American's slowly closing on his ships, Barclay opened the battle at 11:45 AM with a long-range shot from Detroit. For the next thirty minutes, the two fleets exchanged shots, with the British getting the better of the action.

Battle of Lake Erie - The Fleets Clash:

Finally at 12:15, Perry was in position to open fire with Lawrence's carronades. As his guns began pummeling the British ships, he was surprised to see Niagara slowing rather than moving to engage Queen Charlotte. Elliot's decision not to attack may have been the result of Caledonia shortening sail and blocking his path. Regardless, his delay in bringing Niagara allowed the British to focus their fire on Lawrence. Though Perry's gun crews inflicted heavy damage on the British, they were soon overwhelmed and Lawrence suffered 80% casualties.

With the battle hanging by a thread, Perry ordered a boat lowered and transferred his flag to Niagara. After ordering Elliot to row back and hasten the American gunboats which had fallen behind, Perry sailed the undamaged brig in to the fray. Aboard the British ships, casualties had been heavy with most of the senior officers wounded or killed. Among those hit was Barclay who was wounded in the right arm. As Niagara approached, the British attempted to wear ship (turn their vessels). During this maneuver, Detroit and Queen Charlotte collided and became entangled. Surging through Barclay's line, Perry pounded the helpless ships. Around 3:00, aided by the arriving gunboats, Niagara was able to compel the British ships to surrender.

Battle of Lake Erie - Aftermath:

When the smoke settled, Perry had captured the entire British squadron and secured American control of Lake Erie. Writing to General William Henry Harrison, Perry reported "We have met the enemy and they are ours." American casualties in the battle were 27 dead and 96 wounded. British losses numbered 41 dead, 93 wounded, and 306 captured. Following the victory, Perry ferried Harrison's Army of the Northwest to Detroit where it began its advance into Canada. This campaign culminated in the American victory at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. To this day, no conclusive explanation has been given as to why Elliot delayed in entering the battle. This action led to a life-long dispute between Perry and his subordinate.

So, that was the story of the Battle of Lake Erie - a chapter in the War of 1812 which few know, but important to the outcome, the attitude, and the history of the war.

Until Next time,

                                         Fair Winds,
                                Old Salt

Friday, September 4, 2015


4 September 2015: Every five years there is a massive tall ships festival in Amsterdam.

This year was one of the bigger events and the link below will take you to an amazing video - time lapse and speeded up - of the event. Yes, the ships and boats are moving swiftly into the port, but what I found amazing and not a little startling was the cross traffic moving through the parade. I assume ferries and such, but holy cow! What a spectacle!

With thanks to my friends at gCaptain for sharing this amazing film!
Until next time,
                              Fair Winds,
                                  Old Salt

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


2 September 2015: Wow! I can't believe it's September already! Where has the summer gone! The good news is that here in the Northeast we still  have at least a couple of month months of playing with boats! And speaking of boats (that's what this blog portends to do, at any rate!) today's post is about a Confederate Ironclad which was found during a dredging project in the Savanah River last year and has been being systematically raised by the Navy.

CSS Georgia was anchored in the river as a "floating battery" due to its inability to navigate the tidal waters of Georgia's Savannah River.

CSS Georgia

When she was built, the intent was to add to the South's ironclad fleet - think CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack), but she was built so stoutly that he weight precluded her getting over the sand bars in the river and out to sea. So she was relegated to the status of floating battery, designed to prevent ships (Union) from approaching Savannah from the sea. When William T Sherman got to the city after his "march to the sea" from Atlanta, she was sunk to prevent the Union forces from capturing her.

The hulk was found during a project to deepen the Savannah River and officials determined to remove unexploded ordinance and cannon along with other artifacts. Now they are recovering her armor plating in 10,000 pound chunks measuring some 4 feet X 24 feet (Yeah! That's heavy and answers why she became a floating battery!)

The ship was built by subscription managed by the Ladies Gunboat Society (merchants' wives and other like-minded ladies) who raised the funds necessary o construct the ship. She was completed in 1862 and spent only three years afloat before General Sherman threatened the city.

Salvors have raised 132 unexploded shells, four cannons, the propeller, boiler, and other parts so far. Their goal is to get enough of the vessel up to reconstruct it and determine building methods of the period.

As the project continues, I will report further developments.

So, until next time,
                                     Fair Winds,
                                         Old Salt