Sunday, February 28, 2016


28 February 2016: Sorry for the delay in posting folks; lost track of time for a few days. I won't say it won't happen again, as it likely will, but I will try to be more consistent with news of the maritime world. And for today, a little item about the hazards of cruising in that garden spot of the southern ocean, Antarctica. Never mind that it IS summer there... (the temps can get all the way up to 32 deg. F)

 So, Australia's biggest and best icebreaker, Aurora Australis, broke loose from her moorings during a "summer" squall - 80 kt winds and blinding blizzard snow - and ran ashore at the Mawson Station in Antarctica. That's at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbor.

Here she is afloat - presumably "breaking" ice. And she is capable of cutting through ice as thick as 4 feet! She displaces 3,911 tons and is 95 meters long (that's about 311 feet for those of you not able to deal with metrics) and, at the time of the "problem," she had some 68 souls aboard. Let me say right off, none were hurt in the grounding and the ship remained intact - mostly. She had arrived at Mawson on 20th February.
The ship was designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply vessel for use specifically in Antarctica.
The Aurora Australis grounded near the station in Horseshoe Harbour after breaking free of its mooring lines during a blizzard on Wednesday. All 68 expeditioners and crew were left stranded aboard the ship as they rode out the storm.

That's just bad!

On Friday (26th February), improved weather conditions allowed the transfer of the 37 expeditioners by barge to shore and back to the Mawson station. The Aurora Australis was later refloated using the ship’s ballast system and work boats.
The vessel was expected to head to a sheltered area close by for an initial damage damage assessment and to ensure no fuel is leaking. The crew onboard continues to monitor a breach in the ship’s hull, which occurred into a space that is usually flooded with ballast water. The Antarctic Division said the breach continues to pose no risk to the stability of the vessel or release of fuel. So far monitoring of the ship’s fuel levels and the environment have shown no evidence of any fuel spill so far.
The assessment of the vessel is expected to take about 3 days, the division said.

So much for a pleasant summer cruise!

Until next time,

                                    Fair Winds,
                                      Old Salt

Sunday, February 21, 2016


21 February 2016: This article crossed my desk recently and I thought it really a fine example of what lengths people will go to to save ancient wrecks. And the Dutch are truly water-oriented and mindful of history!  Enjoy!

Thanks to Tai Ghose of LiveScience (who I believe also took the images shown here)

"A nearly intact medieval shipwreck has been hauled from the frigid waters of a Dutch river.

"The wooden, flat-bottomed ship was first discovered in 2012 while a national organization was carrying out investigations to preserve water safety in the Dutch river. (Rijkswaterstaat, the Netherlands)
"The boat was likely deliberately sunk by maritime engineers more than 600 years ago in an effort to alter the flow of the Ijssel River, an offshoot of the mighty Rhine River that flows through six European countries. The trading ship sailed at a time when the Hanseatic League, a group of guilds that fostered trade across Europe, dominated the seas.

"The fact that we were able to raise the Ijssel cog [a type of wooden vessel] in its entirety and in one attempt is a fantastic achievement by the entire team," lead maritime archaeologist Wouter Waldus said in a statement. "The shipwreck can become a symbol of our rich maritime history, and I fully expect many people, both young and old, to be amazed by and start enjoying this ship from the Hanseatic period's fascinating story."

Surprise discovery

The boat was first discovered in 2012 at the river bottom during efforts to widen the flow of the Ijssel River. The massive ship was lying perpendicular to the river flow, along with a medieval barge and a punt, a specialized ship designed for navigating river deltas.

Over the course of the next three years, maritime archaeologists put in place a painstaking, meticulous plan to recover the ancient seafaring vessel. First, the team built a platform and crane on the river, then built a protective frame around the ship to lift it out of the water. After suctioning gunk from the area inside the frame, the archeological team created 3D images of the boat underwater. Only then were the team members ready to carefully lift the boat out of the water, using a basketlike structure made of straps, crossbeams and jacks. Each strap had its own motorized control to allow perfectly precise maneuvering in response to the forces experienced in the ship.

"This was an incredibly involved operation and was almost as impressive as the cog itself. The raising of the 65 feet ship was complex, in the middle of the river, near the navigation channel. Also, as a result of the fact, three different specializations had to work together here: an archaeological research team, divers and storage specialists," said Ben Broens, an official with the Rijkswaterstaat, a water management bureau in the Dutch government, which helped oversee the salvage operation.

Medieval cog

It turned out the 55-ton (50 tonnes) ship was a medieval cog, a type of wooden vessel with a steep, straight ship prow and deck beams that stick out from the boat's skin. Cogs were typically used in the late medieval period on international trade voyages. Many of the structural support elements, such as nails, were made of metal, meaning it was sturdier, and therefore easier to take out of the water without falling apart.

The team believes the ancient seafaring vessel was likely sunk deliberately. It was placed perpendicular in the stream of the river. By looking at medieval maps and historical documents and recreating the historical path of the river, the team found the ship was sunk at a time when silt was building up, creating huge sandbanks along the Ijssel River. Those sandbanks would have prevented ships from docking properly, so the ship, along with the barge and punt, were likely sent to the bottom of the river in a bid to narrow the river flow or divert it in a way that would improve sea traffic.
Though the ship was stripped of much of its original finery, the team did find an intact brick oven, as well as gorgeous glazed tiles, in the galley area of the ship. 

galley area - cooking hearth to the left
Now that the ship is safely out of the water, the team will transport it inside its custom-made frame to a preservation facility in Leylstad, the Netherlands.
There, it will undergo a painstaking process of drying out, which could take another three years. If all goes well, the Ijssel Cog will be placed on display in a museum.
But if the ship can't be dried out safely, it will be studied thoroughly before being destroyed."

So bravo Zulu to the Dutch maritime archeologists!

Until next time,

                                                 Fair winds,
                                                      Old Salt

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


16 February 2016:  Today is an anniversary that few if any are even aware of: the burning, by Americans, of the American frigate USS Philadelphia, in Tripoli Harbor. USS Philadelphia was an American 36-gun frigate built in 1799. In 1803, she deployed to the Mediterranean to assist in dealing with the depredations of the Barbary Corsairs. For those of you not familiar with these nice folks, they were pirates, cut-throat and cruel, likely the ancestors of today's terrorists, from the four countries of the coast of North Africa: Tripoli (now Libya), Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco. The pirates, for all intents and purposes, acted as the navies of the rulers of those countries and if a nation who wished to trade in the Med did not pay them "tribute" (read bribe), their ships were fair game for the pirates. They captured the innocent merchantmen, stole their cargoes, enslaved their crews, and kept the ships. Didn't matter what country they were from, they were all fair game if their governments didn't pony up the tribute. And after the U.S. was out from under the thumb of Great Britain, we were also out from under their protection and our ships were easy targets for the corsairs. President Jefferson finally sent some ships over, but after three commodores were unable to accomplish anything, the fourth, Edward Preble, had a sufficient number of ships to bring an end to the problem. One of them was USS Philadelphia.  

She was commanded by William Bainbridge and on 31 October, 1803, due to a major error on his part, was captured by the corsairs in Tripoli harbor; she had run aground and essentially the Tripolitan gunboats took her without her firing a shot; actually, she couldn't as Bainbridge had ordered her guns heaved overboard to lighten the ship in hopes of refloating her. Not so much! He also ordered her foremast chopped down, obviously thinking that would do the trick. It did not.

Stranded and attacked by gunboats of Tripoli

Needless to say, Preble found nothing amusing about the situation and sent in a volunteer crew in a captured Tripolitan xebec (that's pronounced "zee-bek" in case you wondered). 

Stephen Decatur
On the night of 16 February, 1804, Stephen Decatur sailed the xebec into Tripoli Harbor with 75 men and officers and through a ruse, got themselves alongside the captured, and now afloat (the tide came in), frigate. They boarded, killed the Tripolitan pirates guarding the ship, and set her aflame.
a contemporary image of the event

They made good their escape in the xebec (renamed Intepid,) and put themselves, or rather their commander, Stephen Decatur, permanently into the record books as heroes. In fact, Decatur, a lieutenant at the time of his raid, was jump promoted to captain as a reward.
Marine Artist Paul Garnett's masterful rendition

Should any of you have an interest in learning more about this brilliant event in our Navy's history, check out The Greater the Honor by yours truly. It's on in digital and paper. (that's a "clickable" link) Some have even declared it a good read.

By the way, some of you astute readers out there may have heard that Admiral Nelson referred to the raid by Decatur as the "most daring act of the age." Not so. It was created out of the head of one of Decatur's biographers back in 1844. Of course, Nelson and Decatur were both dead, so it could not be refuted!

Until next time,
                                     Fair Winds, 
                                         Old Salt

Friday, February 12, 2016


12 February 2016: Well, finally there's a bit of noise from "official" circles regarding the illegal seizure of two U.S. Navy Riverine Patrol Craft which [ostensibly] drifted into Iranian waters in January. You may recall that we posted about that incident a couple of posts back. This image should look a bit familiar...

So, what's new? It seems that Iran has been posting pictures of the U.S. sailors kneeling on their boats as prisoners and then later, an image of one of the sailors crying while in custody.... So, while no one in officialdom got too exercised about the capture and fed us a total BS story, now a senior (kind of) officer in the Navy has spoken out about Iran's propagandizing the pictures of the incident.

CDR Kevin Stephens, spokesperson for the Naval Forces Central Command, was quoted in the Navy Times as saying, "We are disgusted by the exploitation of our sailors in Iranian propaganda." He went on to say, "The detention of our personnel was outrageous and unacceptable." WOW! Strong words (not so much!) Where was the outrage when the boats were illegally taken, and the sailors held captive? Is it only that the Iranians, who are clearly NOT our friends in any way shape or form, used the humiliation of the Navy as a poke in the eye to the US that triggers [kind of] strong response from the U.S.? And to date, nothing, zippo, squat from the good folks in Washington. Hmmm. CDR Stephens had better watch his back; senior officers have been fired for saying less in this very strange and hostile (to our forces) climate created by the current administration!

One can not help but wonder if we'll ever learn what actually happened. I would bet the sailors who were involved have already been silenced with threats of serious consequences should they talk!

Until next time,
                                  Fair Winds,
                                     Old Salt

Monday, February 8, 2016


8 February 2016: 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 am pleased to 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 222nd anniversary - of the Wreck of the Ten Sail, as it is still called today.

                             Fair Winds,
                                 Old Salt

Friday, February 5, 2016


5 February 2016: A couple of weeks ago, two American Navy riverine patrol boats were captured by the Iranian "navy" in the Persian Gulf..... the word came out that the two had strayed into Iranian waters because of a navigation error and then one of them broke down and drifted to where the Iranian navy (?) could capture them without firing a shot. As someone who spent 6 years at sea in the United States Navy, I have a HUGE problem with this scenario and I put it right in the category of the bogus video that set off the troubles in Benghazi on 11 September, 2012.

This is the type of boat we're talking about here. Note couple of items clearly visible in the image: antennae for navigation, radio and satnav, and lots of guns. Really do you think a half dozen fiberglass runabouts with a few guys with AK 47's are going to take one if they don't want to be taken. Add to that these guys were most likely in communication with the USS Harry Truman task group, loaded with big ships and airplanes.... The Pentagon released a statement to wit:
"During the voyage leadership on the RCBs made an unplanned course change during the transit in route to a refueling stop with with USCGC Monomoy (WPB-1326) at about the midway point of the trip.
The crews of the boats were determining their position and repairing a mechanical problem with one of the boats when forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) – the units responsible for costal defense in Iran – interdicted the U.S. RCBs and took both the boats and their crews to Farsi Island. Diplomatic efforts from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prompted their release after 16 hours. [my hero, sigh]
"The general route, commonly used by the small riverine boats used by the Navy to patrol close to shore, comes only within a few miles of the 12 nautical mile territorial buffer around Farsi Island – located in middle of the narrow and heavily trafficked Persian Gulf, USNI News understands.
“The planned transit path for the mission was down the middle of the Gulf and not through the territorial waters of any country other than Kuwait and Bahrain,” according to a Jan. 18 timeline of events from U.S. 5th Fleet.
"U.S. Navy 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens would not comment on the navigational error and told USNI News that the incident is currently under an administrative investigation by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command."
Of course. And they need to get the sailors back in CONUS so they can be "debriefed" and silenced.
Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention – of which Iran is a signatory – the IRGCN forces could challenge a ship in their territorial waters operating under the concept of innocent passage but went over the line in drawing weapons, detaining the crew and seizing the boats, James Kraska, professor in the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the Naval War College, said.
The lack of U.S. reaction internationally to the seizure – which occurred mere days before the implantation of the long negotiated nuclear treaty with Iran – creates a troubling precedent for U.S. operations in the future, he said. [italics are mine]
Kraska compared the severity of the Farsi Island incident to when in 1986 Libyan forces of under Muammar Gaddafi fired missiles at U.S. Navy fighters operating in the Gulf of Sidra across the so-called “line of death” 64 nautical miles off the Libyan coast and the 1988 Black Sea bumping incident in which a Soviet Navy surface ship rammed a U.S. warship conducting an innocent passage in Soviet territorial waters.
In both cases, the U.S. raised a hue and cry internationally complaining of the violations [which] Kraska said have not been echoed in the aftermath of the current incident. [surprise, surprise]
“Why wouldn’t there be any reaction to this incident [on the part of the U.S.]?” Kraska said.

“Other countries now understand there’s going to be no reaction to the similar incidents in the future.”

And that's not a good thing.

Until next time,
                                        Fair Winds.
                                           Old Salt


Monday, February 1, 2016


1 February 2016: Wow! It's February already! What happened to January..... or actually, where did 2015 get to?? The year is 1/12th done and I can not believe it! But, nonetheless, we must press on and today's post deals with just that: pressing on!

 About a week ago, a cargo carrier, called Modern Express and registered in Panama, sent out a distress signal saying the ship was listing badly - 40 to 50 degrees (that's really badly!) - likely due to the cargo of "diggers" shifting in the hold.

 She was also carrying 3,600 tons of timber. She had departed Gabon in West Africa and was headed for Le Havre in Normandy (France). She also had some 300 tons of fuel in her tanks. The ship is 164 meters long.
So the crew, fearing a capsize, abandoned the ship - they were airlifted off her - and left her drifting in the Bay of Biscay in horrendous weather.

Raging winds and six-metre (20ft) waves made rescue efforts over the weekend impossible. And the ship continued to drift toward the coast of France.

Officials believe its cargo may have shifted in heavy seas, causing it to list heavily to one side. I believe the crew might have mentioned this in their distress call!

Until today, (Monday) efforts to land men aboard and get the hulk under tow have proved fruitless due to the extreme weather, but finally, helicopters managed to get a team of 4 men aboard to attach a second tow line (the first one parted in the frightful conditions. The ship is now under tow, away from the coast. She is being escorted by a French warship, several tugs, and aircraft.


If the  towing operation fails, the ship will likely crash on the coast of the Bay of Arcachon where it will be cut apart and scrapped.

The men involved in the rescue of the ship were quoted as saying: "The difficulty is a combination of several things: the wind, the swell, and the angle of the deck which is like climbing a mountain, but which is moving."

Smit Salvage, a Dutch company specializing in such scenarios, is running the operation and the tug currently attached to Modern Express is of Spanish registry. When the towline was finally attached, Modern Express was just 27 miles from the French Coast.

The unstinting effort by French, Dutch, and Spanish mariners in successfully averting the potential disaster is a fine example of "pressing on." We can only hope they continue to experience good fortune and make it safely to port.

Until next time,
                           Fair Winds,         
                                  Old Salt