Wednesday, March 30, 2022


 30 March 2022: Well, we got delayed again with our post for this week, but this one is quite amazing (in our opinion), given the subject matter. Several years ago and again in the intervening years we posted about the SS Central America, also known as the "ship of gold" based on the cargo she carried. Prospectors and their riches returning from the gold fields of California met their demise off Cape Hatteras during a hurricane in 1857. The wreck - about a mile down - was found and part of the cargo salvaged by treasure hunter Tommy Thompson who invented the undersea salvage vehicle which could lift items as heavy as a ton or as fragile as a tea cup. He became a fugitive when he did not pay off his investors, was caught, and has been held in jail for several years on a contempt of court charge for his refusal to give up the location of either the wreck or the gold he lifted from the bottom. The following is from the BBC.


In 1857, the SS Central America, also known as the "ship of gold", sank off the coast of the US state of South Carolina, along with some new-found riches from the California Gold Rush.

It was a hurricane that sealed the fate for 425 people returning to the US east coast.

They went down with an estimated 21 tonnes of gold coins and nuggets from prospectors who had struck it rich on the west coast, but some passengers were also carrying something of more personal value - photographs.

Salvaged from the ship's wreckage in 2014 were daguerreotypes, the first successful commercial form of photography - a one-off picture held on a metal plate - and ambrotypes, a type of glass plate photography.

The photos are only being published this year.

The shipwreck was first located in 1988, and there were missions to recover its sunken wealth over the subsequent years.

The photos were recovered over a decade ago, but there was a "tortuous legal battle" over the gold found with the vessel on the ocean floor, said Bob Evans, the former chief scientist and historian of the SS Central America Project, which led the search and salvage mission for the wreck.

That caused the delay in the release of the images, which were still intact even after lying on the seabed for more than a century.

Mr Evans has been researching the SS Central America since 1983, calling it "an interesting piece of lost United States history".

"It's an amazing time capsule moment to see that these were the things that were important [to the passengers] - their money and their photographs," he said. "So when it comes down to, 'OK, what are the last things I want to hang on to here? That was it.'"

In the 1850s, photography became hugely popular, and people who had gone in search of gold in California would send photographs to loved ones back home.

"It was perhaps a brand new fad in some ways, 'wow, I can get an image of myself made for one dollar or two at a local studio, rather than hiring an oil painter, and I can show my loved ones back east that I'm in good circumstances, I'm well-dressed. I'm healthy,'" said Mr Evans. 

 "There were a dozen photography studios in San Francisco at the time”

Part of the reason the images are so well preserved is, due to photography methods at the time, they were sealed off from the watery environment in a case. Those were made from a variety of materials, including wood covered in leather. And as with many things, quality matters.

"It all depends on how well the cases were made, and how well the images were made," said Mr Evans.

While it's a harsh salty and high-pressure environment at the bottom of the ocean, another factor that preserved the photos was the cool temperature of the Atlantic waters. 

In the mid-19th century, a journey by sea from California to New York, through Central America, could take as little as 24 days, whereas crossing by land would take up to five months.

The innovation of the steamship - like the 280-foot SS Central America - made ocean travel easier but could also lead to complacency when considering weather at sea, said Mr Evans.

"I think this led to the attitude that 'now that we have engines on the ships, we need not worry about winds and waves and things like that, because we have something that we can use to overcome that,'" said Mr Evans.

"And so the tendency was to believe that they could simply go forward through the storm."

For the passengers of the ill-fated vessel, it's believed that a category 2 hurricane sank the ship as it travelled from Panama towards New York City. Some 150 were rescued, but over 400 people, including the captain, went down with the ship.

Mr Evans said that being the history fan that he is, any old document could excite him - but these photographs add another dimension.

"The idea of being able to see human beings peering up at your cameras in a robot submarine that is down over a mile deep at the bottom of the ocean, and it is representing people from the 1850s - it's absolutely mind-blowing," he said.

"I mean, it brings across the humanity involved in this event, in ways that almost nothing else does."


The clarity and quality of the recovered photos - both daguerreotypes and ambrotypes  is astonishing, even without their having resided at the bottom of the sea for over a hundred years! I have seen carefully preserved images from the same period in worse shape. 

Until next time,

                                    Fair winds, 

                                              Old Salt 

Sunday, March 20, 2022


 20 March 2022: Happy Spring to everyone! Let's hope it turns out better than last Spring! We are back on line after a week of cruising the Mississippi River from New Orleans up to Memphis Tenn. An interesting trip filled with American Civil War history and some really boring scenery (along the banks of the river). Music and music history there also, especially in Memphis and New Orleans. Not alot of maritime stuff to write about though, but maybe in a future post we can cover a little of what there was.

A while back we wrote about the container ship Evergiven which grounded cross-wise in the Suez Canal blocking traffic; well, her sister ship, Ever Forward (hmmm - not moving forward now!) is aground in the CHESAPEAKE BAY! Fortunately that waterway is wide enough as the ship is not blocking traffic like Evergiven did, but it's still a problem.From the online SLATE NEWSLETTER:


Since Sunday night, [13 March] a 1,095-foot-long cargo ship has been stuck in the mud off the Maryland coast of the Chesapeake Bay.

For reasons that remain unknown, the ship—which is fate-temptingly named the Ever Forward—missed a turn while traveling from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia, and veered out of a 50-foot-deep channel that runs down the middle of the bay to accommodate such large cargo ships. Ship tracking data shows that the Ever Forward overshot the edge of the channel into waters much too shallow for it to traverse.


The grounding came almost exactly one year after the Ever Given, a slightly larger cargo ship, got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days, blocking a massive amount of global trade. Both ships are operated by the Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine Corp. (Lots of the company’s boats employ the “Ever” naming convention; they include the Ever Forever, the Ever Dainty, the Ever Uranus, the Ever Salute, the Ever Balmy, the Ever Boomy, the Ever Burly, the Ever Concise, the Ever Fashion, the Ever Unicorn, and the Ever Cozy.)

Since Sunday night, a 1,095-foot-long cargo ship has been stuck in the mud off the Maryland coast of the Chesapeake Bay.

The grounding came almost exactly one year after the Ever Given, a slightly larger cargo ship, got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days, blocking a massive amount of global trade. Both ships are operated by the Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine Corp. (Lots of the company’s boats employ the “Ever” naming convention; they include the Ever Forever, the Ever Dainty, the Ever Uranus, the Ever Salute, the Ever Balmy, the Ever Boomy, the Ever Burly, the Ever Concise, the Ever Fashion, the Ever Unicorn, and the Ever Cozy.)

Compared with the Ever Given debacle—which froze up about $10 billion of trade per day as hundreds of waiting ships amassed at the entrance to the Suez Canal—the Ever Forward’s oopsie is no big whoop.

The ship has completely exited the channel, so Ever Forward is not blocking any path between major ports. Boat traffic in the Chesapeake will not stop. Global trade will continue. There will be no dramatic photos of a gigantic boat stuck crosswise in a narrow space, à la Austin Powers doing a 1,000,000-point-turn, no images of a tiny excavator digging valiantly alongside a hulking hull.

But, from another angle, the Ever Forward’s quagmire is more serious: The process of freeing the Ever Forward will be more complicated than the Suez Canal mission, and it will take a lot longer to complete. On the spectrum of stuck boats, the Ever Forward is just much more stuck.

To compare: The center of the Ever Given always remained afloat in the Suez Canal. Only the tips of the ship were on land—the front had run aground, and the back was wedged against the side of the canal. To get the boat out, dredgers dug out mud and sand from underneath both ends, and tugboats wiggled it free.

That’s not an option with the Ever Forward, which is resting in mud, from front to back, several hundred feet from the deeper waters where it was supposed to stay. Normally, when it floats, the ship’s lowest point is about 42 feet under the surface of the water. The water where the Ever Forward currently sits is between 17 and 24 feet deep.

“She’s literally on land, entirely, so you can’t just pull her backwards out. It’s not going to work that way,” said Sal Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and current professor of maritime history at Campbell University. “You’re going to have to lighten her up, try to get some weight off her.”

Mercogliano, who started a YouTube channel about global shipping during the Ever Given fiasco, said he expects that the salvage company hired by Evergreen Marine Corp. will start by pumping the fuel out of the ship. Then, most likely, floating cranes will transfer some of its cargo to another ship. In normal conditions, when a ship is in port, cranes on solid ground take two minutes to load each container on board.

The Ever Forward has a capacity of around 12,000 shipping containers. With only a floating crane to do the work, it could take weeks to offload enough cargo to get the ship moving.

Since the Ever Forward isn’t holding up a sizable chunk of the global economy—a full 12 percent of the world’s goods move through the Suez Canal—there’s less pressure to rush the process. “Ever Given was moved as quickly as it was because of its location. They needed to move that ship,” Mercogliano said. “I would argue that in that salvage, they took some calculated risks to move that vessel. In the case of Ever Forward, there’s no reason to take a calculated risk.”

Ships of the Ever Forward’s magnitude only began traversing the Chesapeake Bay after 2016, when a new lane opened in the Panama Canal that allowed ships with a capacity of greater than 5,000 containers to pass through. As a result, the Port of Baltimore and several other East Coast ports began slowly expanding to accommodate the bigger boats. Mercogliano said the Chesapeake has seen a greater number of such ships come through in recent months, as COVID-related supply chain disruptions have caused a backup of cargo ships at major West Coast ports, leading companies to send goods through the Panama Canal to East Coast and Gulf Coast ports instead.

If the Coast Guard or the boat’s operator has figured out why the Ever Forward skidded aground, it hasn’t made that information public. When asked for comment, Evergreen Marine Corp. sent a statement. “We can confirm that the accident did not cause damage to the vessel’s hull and there is no leakage of fuel,” it read. “The propeller and rudder of the ship are fully functional.” A representative from the Maryland Department of the Environment said there are “no indications of any pollution” thus far.

A Coast Guard press release said that responders are monitoring the ship and investigating how it veered off track. According to Mercogliano, after the Ever Forward ran aground, the Coast Guard probably immediately boarded the ship, retrieved the voyage data recorder—a device akin to an airplane’s black box—and drug-tested all members of the crew. “According to people familiar with the area, ships typically slow down to less than 10 knots” when approaching the turn that the Ever Forward missed, Mercogliano said. Ship tracking data shows that the Ever Forward had sped up to 13 knots in that spot. It’s not yet clear why, or whether that played into its muddy fate.

Cargo ship groundings aren’t common, but Mercogliano cautioned against drawing any blanket conclusions about the fact that two Evergreen Marine Corp. ships have run aground in less than a year. The vast majority of international container shipping is done by just nine major companies—and Evergreen Marine Corp. is one of the biggest—so it’s not an extraordinary coincidence that the company’s ships have been involved in two of the few groundings in the past year.

The two ships were also run by different crews and registered in different countries. (The Ever Given flew Panama’s flag, the Ever Forward Hong Kong’s.) “So, you know, the fact that it’s two Evergreen ships doesn’t indicate that they can’t drive, for example,” Mercogliano said.

As for the supply chain, we may still see a trickle-down effect. Cargo loads that were supposed to ride the Ever Forward on its scheduled April voyage from China to the U.S. will undoubtedly be diverted or delayed. Plus, the strained global supply chain has left shipping companies with no extra vessels in reserve.

“I mean, if you have a container ship, go put it on the market right now. You’ll make a fortune,” Mercogliano said. “If you’ve got a rowboat and you can put a container on it, they’ll charter it.”


As  sailors who sail regularly on the Chesapeake Bay say, "there are those who have run aground in the Bay, and those who say they have not run aground in the Bay!" But the main ship channel is over 50' deep so the idea is to stay in it!

Until next time, 

                                   Fair winds,

                                      Old Salt

Sunday, March 6, 2022


 6 March 2022: Last week, we posted about a Revolutionary War wreck discovered in the murky Savannah River. Continuing (kind of) in that vein, we noticed this piece in the Detroit Free Press which offers a video that is one of the best we have seen of a relatively pristine wreck - not surprising considering the depth and the water temperature!


 After searching more than 2,500 miles of the bottom of Lake Superior, the Atlanta — a 172-foot schooner-barge that sank during a terrible storm — has been found, preserved in the icy water just as it was when it went down more than 130 years ago.

Even the gold letters of the ship's nameplate are still visible.

  "It is truly ornate and still beautiful," Bruce Lynn, executive director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, said. "It is rare that we find a shipwreck that so clearly announces what it is and the nameboard of the Atlanta really stands out."

The discovery, which the society announced this week, solves another mystery of what happened to hundreds of vessels swallowed by the lake and offers historians a window into the past.

The shipwreck is sitting 650 feet below Lake Superior's surface, about 35 miles away from Deer Park in Luce County in the Upper Peninsula. 

In that depth, which is beyond what a human diver and sunlight can reach, the water is in the low to mid-30s, a temperature that preserves shipwrecks. 

It gives you a sense of what it was like to travel on the Great Lakes during dangerous conditions, before the Coast Guard and modern technology to predict the weather, communicate with others and navigate.  

And society spokesman Corey Adkins said the discovery may also give descendants of the crew that didn't survive some peace.

"Many people out there think the Edmund Fitzgerald is the only shipwreck on the lakes," he said. "While that's an important shipwreck on the lake — 29 men lost their lives on it — five people lost their lives on the Atlanta."

"Their stories," he added, "don't deserve, for lack of a better term, to get washed away."

There are more than 6,000 Great Lakes shipwrecks, which have taken the lives of 30,000 mariners, according to the society. Of those, there are about 550 wrecks — most of which are undiscovered — in Lake Superior. 

The society also has a shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point.

To find the shipwreck, more than 2,500 miles of Lake Superior were mapped by the society last summer with Marine Sonic Technology using side-scan sonar, a sonar system for detecting and imaging objects on the seafloor.

Multiple sonar sensors — called a transducer array — send and receive acoustic pulses that help map the lake floor and detect objects.

In this case, it detected the Atlanta.

Sistership of Atlanta, Nirvana


Records show the ship sank on May 4, 1891.

Its home port was Port Huron, and it was bound [ed: where?] with a load of coal in tow of the steamer Wilhelm when both vessels got caught in a northwest gale. In the storm, the towline winch [ed:more likely the towline itself rather than the winch] snapped. The crew took to the lifeboat.

They pulled at the oars for hours and eventually came within site [ed:"sight?"] of the Crisp Point Life-Saving Station. But, while attempting to land, the boat overturned — twice — and only two men made it safely to the beach.

The survivors said all three masts broke off during the storm, and video from a remote operated vehicle confirmed that account.  

click here for great video: dive video of wreck   [ed: there is sound]

All three masts broke off flush with the deck and the hull is starting to split.


"It was tough out there for them," Adkins said. "If anyone is seeing this, reading this, and you are one of the family members — a great- and great-great grandchild of the crew — contact us." 


That video is amazingly clear and detailed. Icy cold fresh water will frequently provide those conditions. [And apologies for the authors lack of nautical expertise!]

We will not be posting next week as your 'umble scribe will be navigating the mighty Mississippi River and will be kind of out of wifi reach - and won't be lugging a computer in any case. So, we'll sign off with 

see you in two weeks!

                                      Fair Winds,

                                           Old Salt