Sunday, December 5, 2021

MAYDAY!

5 December 2021: Where has this year gone!? 26 days til a new year, 20 days until Christmas. Seems like we were just last week sitting on the beach and sailing our boats. Wearing bathing suits (Yes, I realize that some of you may not be in cold weather, but here in the northeast, it's surely not bathing suit weather! (And yes, I know some of you are "frost biters" sailing throughout the winter months,, but for most of us, boating is a warm weather pleasure!) 

On a positive note, I am pleased, amazed, and humbled to report that Maritime Maunder has attained over 130,000 - 130,350 to be exact - readers. Thank you for your attention and I will continue to try and post interesting maritime items of general interest (to the maritime world)!

Today's post is of general interest and of equal import to flyers as well as those who go to sea: the use of the word MAYDAY. Some years ago, I recall reporting a couple of incidents here on the Atlantic Coast of people hoaxing the Coast Guard with a "mayday" call. They were ultimately caught and hopefully now enjoying life a bit poorer and looking through bars.

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In May 2020, the pilot of Pakistan International Airlines Flight PK 8303 reported technical problems and uttered the dreaded "mayday" alert. "We have lost two engines. Mayday, mayday, mayday," were the pilot's last words, according to Business Insider. Ninety-seven people perished.

"Mayday!" is an international distress call used by airplane pilots, boat captains and some emergency response personnel. The U.S. Coast Guard deals with roughly 25,000 distress calls every year, some of which involve the "mayday" code.

The signal arose just after World War I, as air traffic between Britain and mainland Europe increased dramatically. All nearby nations needed an internationally understood signal that would alert authorities to urgent aircraft problems.

Why not just use the standard "SOS" call that navy captains used when they were in trouble? Well, ships communicated through telegraph using Morse code, and this technology made "SOS" (three dots, three dashes, three dots) unmistakable. By contrast, aircraft pilots used radio calls, and "SOS," owing to its consonants, could be misheard as other letters, like "F."

 Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio officer in London, was put in charge of finding an appropriate code word. He reasoned that because so much of the air traffic flew between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, it might make sense to use a derivative of a French word.

He came up with "mayday," the French pronunciation of "m'aider" ("help me"), which itself is a distilled version of "venez m'aider," or "come help me." The U.S. formally adopted "mayday" as a distress signal in 1927.

Due to radio interference and loud ambient noise, pilots and captains are told to repeat the word three times: "Mayday, mayday, mayday." The repetition also serves to distinguish the transmission from others that simply refer to the mayday call.


 Given its importance, most people respect the mayday signal and use it only when absolutely necessary. Sadly, the Coast Guard occasionally deals with hoax calls, owing in large part due to the virtually untraceable VHF radio signals it uses to receive distress signals. As a result, hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours may be wasted trying to rescue people who were never in danger. People who abuse this system can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined $250,000.

"Mayday" is the signal that there's an urgent and life-threatening situation in progress. However, operators can also fall back on, "pan-pan," which means you have an urgent situation that's not immediately putting lives at risk – for instance, your boat ran out of fuel and you need assistance.

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As a  final reminder, please think before you grab that mic and start hollering "mayday" when you've run out of gas or beer. It's for use in dire emergency when lives are on the line.

 Until next time friends. And thanks for the interest in our blog!

                                     Fair Winds, 

                                             Old Salt

 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

SUPERSTITIONS - PART TWO

 28 November 2021: Thanksgiving is now in our wake and Hanukkah and Christmas loom. And soon it will be another new year ... maybe better maybe not. Things seem to be spiraling out of control everywhere so the prospect of more of the same or, God forbid, worse, does not seem too unlikely! Perhaps not, though! We hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving had a good one - there is much to be thankful for in spite of all the divisiveness and crap flying around. 

Last week, we posted ten maritime superstitions with the promise of ten more this week. Never let it be said we don't follow through. From multiple sources, the final ten - and yes, often silly - superstitions about seafaring.

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10. Non-sailing days
It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself). [ed: in an effort to disprove this superstition, a captain in the Royal Navy whose name was Friday, set sail in a ship named HMS Friday, on a Friday. Neither he nor the ship was ever heard from again!]

 

9. Watch your mouth
Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including "drowned", "goodbye” and "good luck". Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church,  pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.

8. No whistling 
Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would "whistle up a storm"

7.  No farewell
It was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.

6. Stirring tea
Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck

5. Turning a loaf of bread upside down
Turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut brings bad luck too.
These two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea!

4. Red-heads
Like flat-footed people, red-heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.


3. Salt
It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.

2. Fishy
In order to encourage fish to be caught, Scottish fishermen would begin their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on 

1. Bananas


No bananas on board. They were believed to be so unlucky they would cause the ship to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.

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So there you have it friends. Don't pass the salt pot to your mate while a redhead is eating a banana on board on Friday! And for Pete's sake, no whistling!

Until next time.

                                      Fair winds,

                                                    Old Salt

Saturday, November 20, 2021

SUPERSTITIONS

 20 November 2021: Sailors - and others who go to sea - are basically a superstitious lot; some of their beliefs are weird and strange to those of us in the 21st Century, but in the days before the internet, airplanes, and instant communications, a sailor had only himself, his ship, and his mates to rely on for getting back to shore safely - and hopefully, in the same vessel he left port on!

Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of New Zealand, we will have a look at ten of the superstitions this week and next week, we'll finish the list of twenty. 

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20. Re-naming a boat
It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.

19.  Tattoos
When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore. [ed: they were also generally in crates which floated!]


 

 

 18.  Blood
It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.[ed: "if there's no blood, you're not sailing!"]

17.  Fishing nets
When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number 

16.  Caul
Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).

15.  Hat overboard
Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.

14.  Egg shells
Egg shells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.

13.  Personal grooming
Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.

12. Feet
Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.

 

11. Women
Women were bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts. 


                                          

                                              ~~~~~~~~~~~~

OK, yes they are a bit weird, certainly not prevalent in today's maritime world, but at one time, men of the sea lived by these and 10 more that we'll look at next time.

Until then, 

                                       Fair Winds,

                                              Old Salt



Sunday, November 14, 2021

NOVEMBER STORMS

 14 November 2021: It was 46 years ago this past week that one of the more notorious shipwrecks - sinkings - in the United States occurred. November 10th 1975 was the date the iron ore carrier, Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior taking with her all 29 men aboard. Because it was so sudden and radio communication so sketchy, that to this day, no one knows for sure why she sank. Granted she faced an horrendous storm - Lake Superior is famous for monster storms that just spring up out of nowhere - but the actual reason has yet to be determined. Singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote a very long song about the disaster which more than likely brought it to the attention of many who might never have been aware of the tragedy. From a local (Michigan) publication:

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LAKE SUPERIOR, MI - “Things look pretty bad. It looks like she may have split apart at the seams.”

In the hours after the 728-foot Edmund Fitzgerald abruptly vanished from the radar during a gale on Lake Superior the night of Nov. 10, 1975, the attitude of rescue crews quickly switched from incredulity that a freighter so large could just disappear, to asking nearby ships to help with the search.


 

Forty-six years ago tonight, the search for the Mighty Fitz was just beginning. Its last radio contact with a nearby ship was at 7:10 p.m. Minutes later, her crew could not be raised on the ship’s radio.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula will be offering a livestream memorial service at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

In these audio recordings, the U.S. Coast Guard at the Sault Ste. Marie station is talking to Capt. Jesse Cooper from the nearby Arthur M. Anderson, a ship that had been trailing the Fitzgerald for much of that day in fierce seas and waves as high as 25 feet.

The Anderson had been the first to raise the alarm when the Fitzgerald vanished. Now the Anderson’s crew was being asked to go back out into the gale and look for the Fitzgerald and her crew of 29 men.

You can hear the Coast Guard saying it’s “very certain that the Fitzgerald went down,” and is asking nearby ships for assistance.

The Coast Guard was hoping ships near Whitefish Point could look for lights in the water, lifeboats, debris - anything signaling there might be survivors.

as she rests today under Lake Superior

 Earlier in the day, the Edmund Fitzgerald had lost both its radars and the Arthur Anderson’s crew had been helping the Fitzgerald’s crew navigate through the storm.

“The last time I talked with him, he said he was ‘holding his own.’ I lost contact after that,” Cooper tells the Coast Guard.

Cooper agrees to go back out to the area where he thinks the Fitzgerald disappeared, but you can tell by his voice that he’s worried about his own crew, too.

“I’m afraid I’m going to take a hell of a beatin’ out there.”

                                       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Perhaps someday, underwater archeologists will figure out what actually happened to the "Big Fitz" but at the present, only theories are offered. Some include poorly secured hatches which allowed water into the holds unnoticed, until it was too late (covered the ore shipment), while others claim the ship hit a sandbar leaving port and damaged her hull. Neither, of course, has been proven.

Until next time,

                                               Fair Winds, 

                                                       Old Salt