Monday, March 27, 2023


 27 March 2023: 

End of March, friends, and Spring looms! I am sure all you folks in the "colder parts" are ready for some flowers, easy breezes, and warming water. Here in Florida, USA, we have enjoyed just those things pretty much all winter. Last post we talked about the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI; this week, we go back a bit further, and talk about the very famous "Battle or Hampton Roads" - more popularly known as the fight between the Monitor and the Merrimack (Virginia)  which, while offering history no winner or loser, did forever change the construction of warships around the world.The anniversary of this famous battle was a couple of weeks ago. From "Emerging Civil War:"


 [About the Union ironclad Monitor:]

 The ironclad almost sank on the trip from New York to Hampton Roads a few days before the battle when a severe gale with huge waves dumped tons of water down the short vent and smoke stacks.

Wet drive belts began slipping and blowers stopped. Boilers were deluged in sea water and deprived of air. Steam pressure plummeted; the interior filled with smoke; engines slowed and stopped; pumps were useless, and water began filling the iron enclosure.

Fortunately, the tow ship pulled them into calmer waters where machinery could be restarted. This was in engineering terms a potentially catastrophic “single point of failure.” Taller stacks would be installed later.

In inventor John Ericsson’s design, the 160 tons of turret was suspended by diagonal braces from and rotated on its central spindle, driven by auxiliary steam engines on large gear wheels underneath.

The spindle would be jacked up for combat, floating the turret a few inches clear of the deck. Otherwise, the turret would be lowered to rest the circumference on a brass ring in the deck, where it could not rotate and proved to be not very watertight. 

Ironclad Monitor

A British naval engineer developed a superior design with the turret rotating on large iron or steel ball bearings around the base. This concept would supersede Ericsson’s creation in subsequent warships.



[CSS Virginia nee Merrimack]


The CSS Virginia was constructed on the deep-draft hull and engines of the former steam frigate USS Merrimack, which severely limited her maneuverability in shallow waters like Hampton Roads. Monitor could run rings around her.

After recovering Merrimack from the bottom of the Elizabeth River, Confederates cut her down to the waterline, built a new gundeck, and covered it with an iron casemate. The “knuckle” where casemate joined hull was considered a particularly vulnerable area.

Virginia was heavily armed with six IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbores from Merrimack along with two new 6.4-inch and two 7-inch Brook rifles.

The ongoing revolution in naval armaments produced a confusing mix of ever larger guns with heavier powder charges firing both solid shot and explosive shells through smooth and rifled bores. Containing the increased chamber pressures was a serious problem leading to many a burst gun.

The U.S. Navy’s leading ordnance expert, Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) John A. Dahlgren designed a gun with increased thickness at the breech called the “soda bottle” for its distinctive shape. The IX-inch Dahlgren became the standard naval weapon; Monitor was armed with XI-inchers, and some XV-inch models were carried on later-class monitors.

The Confederacy’s answer to Dahlgren was John M. Brooke, one of the most talented U.S. Naval officers to go South. In addition to leading the conversion of Merrimack to the ironclad Virginia, he designed the highly successful Brooke Rifle with wrought iron bands heat shrinked on a cast iron bore to contain chamber pressure.

 Brooke also designed armor-piercing projectiles called “bolts.” They were solid iron or steel cylinders with a blunt nose to reduce ricochet and deliver maximum smashing power to an enemy ironclad.

Due to severely limited resources, Brook prioritized production of explosive shells for use against wooden warships, and therefore had no bolts on hand that morning of March 9. He always maintained the bolts would have penetrated Monitor‘s armor.


For those of you with an interest to further explore this subject, the turret and gun from Monitor have been recovered from where the ship sank after the battle and are on display at the Newport News Maritime Museum in Virginia, along with life-sized mockups of the two ships. A very impressive display - as is everything in this wonderful museum!

Monitor's gun shortly after recovery

Until next time,

                                                Fair Winds,

                                                    Old Salt


Tuesday, March 21, 2023


 21 March 2023: It might appear to the casual visitor to this blog that all we're interested in is shipwrecks - and that would be only partially true! Some are more important than others and many, if not all, have a some serious historical significance. So, courtesy of the British SUN, are going to take a look at some really significant wrecks, sunk during the first World War off Turkey, in the Battle of Gallipoli, where the British got the surprise of their lives!


 The series of decaying shipwrecks in Canakkale, northwest Turkey, still have a terrifying arsenal of missiles onboard 108 years later.

Among the horde of historical shipwrecks are a number of Brit boats that were destroyed during naval operations in the Dardanelles.

Winston Churchill planned to attack the key strait off the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to knock Germany’s ally, Turkey, out of WWI.He teamed up with France to stage an ambush en route to the Turkish capital with plans to open a supply route across the Black Sea to Russia.

A fleet of Allied warships set sail and launched the battle on February 19, 1915, intending to use their vessels to force a way through.But they were gravely mistaken in thinking Turkey would surrender at the mere sight of the 16 menacing warships.Historians say despite being armed with ample firepower, the mission was held back by civilian crew members who were reluctant to take the risks required.

The Turks had planted several minefields in the Dardanelles Straits and it was only a matter of time before the first ship struck one.While subduing the gunfire, the French battleship Bouvet hit one of the underwater traps - which quickly sank in a few minutes.It took the souls of 674 men down along with it and triggered a catastrophic domino effect forecasting the demise of the campaign. 


Allied ships continued to blunder through the minefield, leading to the demise of a string of iconic warships.The HMS Triumph was tragically claimed by the sea on May 25, 1915, with 73 crew members on board, after being torpedoed by the fearsome German submarine U-21.It now lies at a depth of 70 metres off the Kabatepe shores after being diverted from Asia to join the Dardanelles squadron.

An explosion tore through the 475ft grand vessel that was composed of thick Krupp cemented armour before it sank.Just moments after, the river-class destroyer Chelmer was forced to evacuate most of her crew before she capsized ten minutes later.

She remained afloat upside down for about 30 minutes, then began to sink slowly - prolonging the agony for the 78 trapped on board.

The HMS Majestic sank on May 27, 1915, after similarly being ambushed and torpedoed by a U-boat at Cape Helles.Another 49 men drowned with the powerful vessel, which was equipped with 18 12-pounder guns and torpedo tubes.Her masts hit the mud of the sea bottom, and her upturned hull remained visible for many months until it was finally submerged when her foremast collapsed during a storm.

Britain also lost the HMS Lundy and HMS E14 to the failed attack that was eventually abandoned, leaving them to rot on the seabed for over a century.

The wreckage of France's submarine Saphir, Germany's SMS Breslau and the Ottoman's Mesudiye also make up the below-surface museum.

The incredible relics remain on view at the Gallipoli Historical Underwater Park, with divers plummeting to the depths to take a look for themselves.

"It’s like a time machine that takes you back to 1915 and World War I," diver and documentary maker Savas Karakas said.Some of the wrecks are in relatively shallow water, while others - including HMS Triumph - rest a whopping 230ft deep.

Yusuf Kartal, an official with Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, described the attraction as "a different world."

He adds, “You see the submerged ship[s] as they were 106 years ago and experience the chaos of war secondhand.”

And despite the continued threat posed by unexploded mines and missiles, Turkish authorities decided to open the area to divers.


So, friends, if you plan on diving these wrecks in the Dardanelles, do be careful not to mess with any of the unexploded missiles. Could be disastrous! Iron Bottom Sound in Truk might be a better choice!

Until next time, 

                                   Fair Winds, 

                                              Old Salt

Tuesday, March 14, 2023


 14 March 2023: 

Mid March, friends! Where does the time go! Over the years that Maritime Maunder has been in business, we have posted more than once about Tommy Thompson and his amazing discovery and recovery of the SS Central America, a side wheeler that foundered in a storm off the Carolinas in 1857. He, of course, is still in jail for refusing to pay back his investors as well as divulging the exact location of the wreck. But after a lengthy interval, some of the finds from the SS Central America have gone to auction and here is a bit about some of the artifacts that sold. From Art And while not directly maritime, it does relate!



The ‘Mona Lisa of the Deep’ and Hundreds of Other Treasures From a Gold Rush-Era Shipwreck Just Pulled In $1.1 Million at Auction

The ship sank in 1857 while hauling gold from San Francisco to New York at the height of the California Gold Rush.

Owing to her enigmatic smile, this unidentified woman was dubbed the Mona Lisa of the Deep after her haunting portrait was pulled from the wreckage of the S.S. Central America. Known as the Ship of Gold, the vessel sank in 1857 while carrying 10 tons of gold prospected during the California Gold Rush.

The portrait—a daguerreotype photograph—was one of 421 treasures from the shipwreck that were auctioned off by Holabird Western Americana Collections on March 4 and 5. Some 7,500 bidders from around the world flocked to the two-day live (and online) event for a chance at owning a piece of Gold Rush history, driving up the auction’s total to $1.1 million, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $375,000–$700,000. “This is the most famous of all gold treasures, with no comparable sales,” said Fred Holabird, president of the auction house. 

The S.S. Central America was a large steamer that sank in a hurricane off the Carolina coast in 1857 while carrying a massive haul of gold bullion and gold items from San Francisco to New York City via Panama. Recovery from the shipwreck site took place in several stages between 1988 and 1991, and again in 2014.

The highest selling item was a massive 32.15-ounce gold ingot created in San Francisco by prominent Gold Rush assayers John Glover Kellogg and Augustus Humbert. The gold bar weighing two pounds sold for $138,000 (premium included), far above its current gold content value of nearly $60,000. Of the 577 gold bars recovered from the S.S. Central America shipwreck, 373 were made by the Kellogg & Humbert firm.

Historians have said the ship’s sinking contributed to the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857 as banks in New York were depending on the shipment of gold. Not only did the Central America take about 30,000 pounds of gold down with her—gold ingots, freshly minted gold coins, and raw gold from the mines, as well as other valuables—she also took 425 of her 578 passengers and crew to their watery grave. 

Other items included an 18-karat gold-quartz brooch that San Francisco businessman Sam Brannan—California’s first millionaire—was sending to his son in Geneva, Switzerland, as a gift to his teacher. The back is engraved “A. Roediger / from his little pupil / Sam Brannan Jr. / California.” It went for $49,200.


“This was an incredible time capsule of the California Gold Rush era,” said Holabird. “Many collectors were waiting for these extraordinary items to come on the market since the legendary, submerged ship was located in 1988 and Life magazine proclaimed it America’s greatest treasure ever found.”

Another recovered piece of jewelry was the “REGARD” ring, named for the first letter of each of the five gemstones it contains: a ruby (now missing), emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond. It would have been a gentleman’s pre-engagement token of affection for a lady. It sold for $14,400. 

Still other treasures included a brass porthole from Captain Herndon’s cabin, unusual in that it could open, which went for $18,500. A “saloon” sign from the ship attracted a winning bid of $13,200. Six beer bottles, some still with their original contents, sold for an average of $1,087 each. Thirty-six Cuban cigars—seemingly brought on board when the ship stopped in Havana—were offered in 18 separate lots of two cigars each and sold for as much as $720. Even lumps of coal used to power the steamer on its voyage sold for hundreds to thousands of dollars each. 

This was the second and final auction of artifacts from the S.S. Central America. The first auction of 270 lots in December 2022 included $114,000 for the oldest known pair of miner’s heavy-duty work jeans that may have been made by or for the Levi Strauss Company.

As for the Mona Lisa of the Deep, the restored metal-plate portrait retrieved from the sea floor in 2014 and given her Da Vinci-inspired moniker by the recovery team, her winning bid was $73,200. 


I suspect there might be more coming on this subject and, if so, we'll probably post it. It is interesting as this represents some of the very few ship wreck auctions in recent times. 

Until next time, 

                                     Fair Winds,

                                            Old Salt


Monday, March 6, 2023


 6 March 2023: March already! Where does the time fly to! Weather still strange across much of the United States but here at winter quarters (Florida) it's been quite nice and warming up pleasantly. Only issue we have right now is the red tide which was exacerbated by the hurricane we had in September. Dead fish everywhere! The Great Lakes, being fresh water, probably don't suffer from that malady! And here, from USNEWS is a pretty exciting piece on a recently discovered wreck, with a sad story behind it.  



TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Even for the Thunder Bay area, a perilous swath of northern Lake Huron off the Michigan coast that has devoured many a ship, the Ironton’s fate seems particularly cruel.

The 191-foot (58-meter) cargo vessel collided with a grain hauler on a blustery night in September 1894, sinking both. The Ironton’s captain and six sailors clambered into a lifeboat but it was dragged to the bottom before they could detach it from the ship. Only two crewmen survived.

The gravesite long eluded shipwreck hunters.

Now, the mystery has been solved, officials with Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan, said Wednesday. The Associated Press obtained details of the discovery ahead of the announcement.

A team of historians, underwater archaeologists and technicians located the wreckage in 2019 and deployed remotely controlled cameras to scan and document it, Superintendent Jeff Gray said in an AP interview. The sanctuary plans to reveal the location in coming months and is considering placing a mooring buoy at the site. Officials have kept the find secret to prevent divers from disturbing the site before video and photo documentation is finished.

 Video footage shows the Ironton sitting upright on the lake bottom, hundreds of feet down — “remarkably preserved” by the cold, fresh water like many other Great Lakes shipwrecks, Gray said.

No human remains were seen. But the lifeboat remains tethered to the bigger vessel, a poignant confirmation of witness accounts from 128 years ago.

“Archaeologists study things to learn about the past. But it’s not really things that we’re studying; it’s people,” Gray said. “And that lifeboat ... really connects you to the site and reminds you of how powerful the lakes are and what it must have been like to work on them and lose people on them.”

The search and inspections involved a number of organizations, including Ocean Exploration Trust, founded by Robert Ballard, who located the sunken wreckage of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.

“We hope this discovery helps contribute to an element of closure to the extended families of those lost on the Ironton, and the communities impacted by its loss,” Ballard said. “The Ironton is yet another piece of the puzzle of Alpena’s fascinating place in America’s history of trade,” while the Thunder Bay sanctuary “continues to reveal lost chapters of maritime history.”

Nearly 200 shipwrecks are believed to rest within or nearby the boundaries of the sanctuary, which includes the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena and some 4,300 square miles (11,137 square kilometers) of northwestern Lake Huron.

Several factors made the area a “shipwreck alley” for more than two centuries, until modern navigation and weather forecasting reduced the danger, said Stephanie Gandulla, the sanctuary’s resource protection coordinator.

The late 1800s was a busy period for Great Lakes commerce. Thousands of schooners, or sailing ships, and hundreds of steamers hauled cargo and passengers between bustling port cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.

The sanctuary area was something of a maritime highway cloverleaf. Vessels cruised to and from Lake Huron and Lake Michigan through the nearby Straits of Mackinac. Others ranged northward to Lake Superior, fetching iron ore for steel mills from mines in Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“It’s where the upbound and downbound shipping kind of crossed each other,” Gray said. “Busy intersections are where most accidents happen.”

The weather was notoriously unstable — dense fog, sudden storms. Islands and submerged reefs lurked.

On the fateful night, the Ironton and another schooner barge, the Moonlight, were being towed northward from the Lake Erie town of Ashtabula, Ohio, by a steam-powered ship — a common practice then, much as a train engine pulls freight cars on a railroad. They were bound for Marquette, a port city on Lake Superior.

The steamer broke down in heavy Lake Huron seas around 12:30 a.m. the morning of Sept. 26. The Ironton and the Moonlight disconnected their tow lines and drifted apart, with the Ironton crew setting sails and firing up its engine. It veered off course and ran into the Ohio, a freighter loaded with 1,000 tons of flour, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) off Presque Isle, Michigan.

The Ohio soon foundered, its crew of 16 rescued by the Moonlight. The Ironton stayed afloat more than an hour before going down.

Newspapers quoted William Parry as saying he and two other Ironton sailors bobbed in the heaving lake for about 30 minutes until another steamer, the Charles Hebard, showed up. Parry struggled aboard as the Hebard lowered a lifeboat with several of its crew.

They picked up the other two Ironton men. But a wave overturned the craft, flinging everyone into the water. Hebard crewmen tossed lines and pulled all to safety except Ironton mate Ed Boswick, who couldn’t muster the strength to hold on.

“It’s a powerful, tragic story,” Gandulla said.

So fierce was the gale that it claimed yet another schooner, the William Home, farther west on Lake Michigan. Six of seven crew members died.

Staffers with the sanctuary, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, took a sonar survey in the area of the Ironton-Ohio collision in 2017. They detected two images on the lake bed, one later identified as the Ohio. The other was a more recent shipwreck.

It took two more years to track down the Ironton several miles away. Ballard’s organization provided an autonomous surface vehicle designed for seafloor mapping. After days of searching, it spotted a figure that later was confirmed as the Ironton.

A high-resolution scan in 2021 provided more details. The vessel is largely intact, Gray said. Its masts point skyward, with rigging and ropes tied to spars and lying on deck. The robotic camera also showed the lifeboat tied to the ship’s stern.

The sanctuary awaits federal and state permits to plant the buoy, anchored by weights of up to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms), on the lake floor. Divers could attach their boats to the floating device and head down to explore the long-lost craft.

“Then we get to share it with the rest of the world,” Gray said, “and try to protect it so our grandkids can enjoy these sites the same way that we do today.”


Interestingly. the story does not include the depth of the wreck, but, given they are talking about putting anchors down for divers' boats, it probably is not more than 100' - the safe depth for sport diving. I suspect there will be more on this as the documentation runs its course and the warmer weather makes a Great Lakes dive more appealing! Stay tuned.

 Until next time,

                                              Fair Winds,    

                                                           Old Salt