Maritime Monday for April 18th, 2016: HMS Excellent

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April 17, 2016

MMheader 3 red star cfrom the blog Red Star Line Postcards

The Red Star Line was an ocean passenger line founded in 1871 as a joint venture between the International Navigation Company of Philadelphia, which also ran the American Line, and the Société Anonyme de Navigation Belgo-Américaine of Antwerp, Belgium.

Red Star

Main ports of call were Antwerp, Liverpool and Southampton in the United Kingdom, and New York City and Philadelphia in the United States. The company operated until 1935 when, due to the Depression, it ceased trading and its assets were sold to the Holland-America Line.

About a quarter of the some two million Red Star Line migrants were Jews, largely from Eastern Europe and driven out by the rise of Nazi Germany. Among them were many famous persons, including regular passenger Albert Einstein; who, upon learning of Nazi confiscation of his possessions, chose to not return to Germany and sent his letter of resignation to the Prussian Academy of Sciences on Red Star Line stationery. Another notable emigrant was the five-year-old Irving Berlin.

more cards and history here

Cross-Channel trading under sail has resumed between Plymouth and Brittany

oliveFrench wine and cider were delivered by sail to one of Plymouth’s newest waterfront cafés as part of an eco-friendly initiative launched by the venue. New café and deli-bar The Hidden Olive on Sutton Harbour’s waterfront unloaded an array of organic wines and ciders off the 108ft lugger Grayhound, which travelled from Brittany to deliver the produce.

The ship that delivered the goods is part of the TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT) company, which is a sailing cargo transport business that offers a green alternative to modern forms of shipping.

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Manannán mac Lir sculpture by John Sutton at Gortmore, Magilligan, County Londonderry – photo by Deirdre Gregg/Getty

BBC Travel: The Bizarre Theft of a Celtic Sea God

One of the most bizarre news stories of 2015 was the January theft of a Celtic sea god. A gang mercilessly smashed the tall, steel and fibreglass statue of Manannán mac Lir, one of Ireland’s most captivating mythological figures. It had been erected in 2013 near a mountain in Derry County overlooking Donegal, the most northerly starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km route that hugs Ireland’s dramatic west coast.

Mystery surrounds the theft of the statue, but it was believed to be linked to Christian fundamentalists offended by Celtic idolatry. The perpetrators left behind a wooden cross carved with the words “You shall have no other gods before me.”  keep reading

more about Manannán mac Lir


UK: Sailor Dubbed ‘Captain Calamity’ Finally Sells Yacht After Ninth Rescue in Seven Months

Old Salt – Steve Shapiro’s frequently rescued sailboat Nora, has been sold. In January, we posted about a pair of American sailors who had been rescued nine times in sailing from Norwalk to Cornwall in the UK on a 40 ft gaff rigged sloop named Nora.  The two sailors, Bob Weise and Steve Shapiro, both 71, had been attempting to sail across the Atlantic from Norway to Maine but had suffered a variety of breakdowns and groundings which resulted in calling for help from rescue teams from Norway, Scotland, Ireland and the UK.

Veteran yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said “This is no longer a joke. It costs between £6,000 and £8,000 every time a lifeboat is launched. These guys are costing the RNLI a fortune. They need to frankly pack it in or, I hate to say it, get the hell out of our waters.”  keep reading

more on

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One of three adverts produced in 1911 for the White Star Line promoting trips on the Titanic and sister ship the Olympic. It was found on the back of a painting hidden behind a false wall

Titanic ad from 1911: Poster promoting doomed ship set to fetch £3,000 at auction after couple discovered it during home renovation

Produced in 1911 by the renowned marine artist Montague Birrell Black, it depicts the hulking Titanic looming into view with a number of small sailboats in the foreground and looking tiny in comparison. The posters were withdrawn after Titanic sank in 1912.

Being sold alongside it by a separate vendor is another lithographic travel poster produced by Black showing the Olympic with the Titanic in the background, sailing into a sunset. The 46ins by 36ins work is equally rare but is in a good condition and is worth £12,000.  more


Vintage matchbooks: File Photo Digital Archive; image leftimage right
Scenic trips along the Piscataqua River highlight the region’s ecology and maritime history—along with the beauty of sailing. David Murray, Clear Eye Photo/Courtesy of the Gundalow Company

Gundalows are wide, flat-bottomed, wooden boats that first appeared in the mid 1600s on the Piscataqua River, (second-fastest-flowing navigable waterway in the country after the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest) which separates Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from Maine. Settlers built them to transport harvested crops, furs, dried fish, and lumber to the Atlantic Ocean, following the rhythm of the tides.

The gundalow Captain Edward Adams tied up at the Counting House on the Salmon Falls River, near Berwick, Maine. Photo by John Pittman / Flickr (view full size)

For more than 250 years, until supplanted by the more reliable, year-round capability of trains, these handcrafted, barge-like boats were unique to the region—and instrumental in its growth. The early gundalows (possibly named for the Venetian “gondola,”) were powered by poles and long sweeps (oars). By the 1800s, they were carrying commercial loads of up to 50 tons: raw cotton and spices were brought in, and fresh produce, fish, oysters, salt-marsh hay, coal, and finished goods such as bricks, granite, and cordwood were transferred out to ocean-worthy schooners bound for burgeoning metropolises like Boston.

The last known commercial gundalow was the Fanny M, built and captained by Edward H. Adams, launched in 1886 and finally beached around 1910. The nonprofit organization Gundalow Company now offers educational and recreational river tours from Prescott Park in downtown Portsmouth on the Piscataqua, the gundalow replica it launched in 2012. 


CNN – ‘Whale vomit’ could fetch $70,000

Couple Discovers Ambergris on Beach in NW England Reportedly Worth Up to £50,000

ambergrisA British couple were surprised to find a large rock as they walked along a beach, and even more surprised to hear that it was in fact incredibly valuable. *

“Ambergris is definitely not vomit,” Christopher Kemp, author of “Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris,” told CNN. “It’s more like poop, and it comes from the same place as poop, but it’s only made by a small percentage of sperm whales, as a result of indigestion.”

While walking on Middleton Sands beach, Gary and Angela Williams followed a pungent smell that led them to the mysterious lump. “Ambergris feels a little waxy, and smells very complex: a mixture of dung and the ocean, and old wood, and tobacco, and moist earth, and ozone,” Kemp said.  CNN

Painting by William Wyllie titled ‘V82 German Destroyer in Fountain Lake’ dated to 1920-22 (copyright: National Maritime Museum PAF2085).
Painting by William Wyllie; (copyright: National Maritime Museum PAF2085).

German WW1 destroyers found in Whale Island mud

A tiny drone has scanned the wrecks of two German WW1 warships – forgotten and mostly buried by the sludge and mud at the southern end of Whale Island, a small island in the UK’s Portsmouth Harbour.

Marine archeologists hope to bring the two vessels – one a veteran of Jutland – back to life in 3D computer model form as part of centennial commemorations of the Great War. Both destroyers fell into the RN’s hands at the war’s end and were interred in the Orkneys while Allied leaders debated the fate of the German Fleet – until the ‘grand scuttle’ took the decision out of their hands.

Towed to Portsmouth, they were used as target practice – Whale Island was the home of the RN gunnery school, HMS Excellent – until finally being beached in the mud where they awaited break-up, when they were painted by the leading naval artist of the day, William Wyllie – the man behind the Trafalgar panorama in the historic dockyard.

remains of the two destroyers protruding from Portsmouth Harbour at low tide

Using an off-shelf drone equipped with a high-definition video camera, the trust gathered reams of high-quality images of the remains of both wrecks – enough imagery to lay the foundations for 3D models being created. You can follow progress at

more on Royal Navy News

The Zumwalt cruises past Portland Head Light on its way into Portland Harbor on Thursday after sea trials. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald Staff Photographer SLIDESHOW

Too stealthy: New Off-Radar US Destroyer Poses Maritime Traffic Risks +

Lawrence Pye, a lobsterman, told The Associated Press that on his radar screen the 610-foot ship looked like a 40- to 50-foot fishing boat. He watched as the behemoth came within a half-mile while returning to shipbuilder Bath Iron Works. “It’s pretty mammoth when it’s that close to you,” Pye said.

USS Zumwalt so stealthy it uses special reflectors when it wants to be seen

The reflectors will be standard issue to make the warship more visible to other ships in times of fog or heavy traffic. The Navy destroyer is designed to look like a much smaller vessel on radar, and it lived up to its billing during recent builder trials.

Navy uses tiny drones to find safe route through Antarctic ice for the first time

Survey ship HMS Protector, which has just completed her third stint around the frozen continent this austral summer, has launched both a tiny quadcopter and a 3D-printed aircraft equipped with cameras. It’s the first time the Royal Navy has used unmanned aerial vehicles in this part of the world – a precursor to the large-scale Unmanned Warrior exercise later this year when robot vehicles and systems from around the world will be tested over land, over sea and beneath the waves.

The craft launched from Protector provide the icebreaker with real-time high-quality information courtesy of a detailed picture of the surrounding environment from a perspective that is only available from the air. The brainchild of experts at Southampton University, the Laser-Sintered Aircraft – shortened to SULSA – is made of nylon, 3-D printed in four major parts and assembled without the use of any tools. Controlled from a laptop on board, it cruises at nearly 60mph and is all but noiseless thanks to its tiny engine.

Each one costs no more than £7,000 – cheaper than an hour’s flying time by a Fleet Air Arm helicopter.  more

The gig has been painted in Help for Heroes colours to represent the Royal Air Force, British Army and the Royal Navy

BBC: A traditional Cornish pilot gig, built of Cornish elm and crewed by injured veterans, has rowed from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly

The Help for Heroes gig H4H Valiant was built at the National Maritime Museum’s dedicated workshop, supervised by boat builder Andrew Nancarrow, and was the brainchild of amputee Al Henderson. The former Royal Marine, who was injured on a tour of duty in Afghanistan with 40 Commando in 2010, said the project had been a huge success.

“It’s brilliant working with a great group of like-minded guys and people have got some good stuff out of it,” he told BBC News. “We’ve got people going on boat building courses and wood turning courses, so it’s been a huge success.” 

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HMAS Tobruk

Navy’s decision to sink HMAS Sydney and Tobruk ‘a great loss to Australia’s military history’

The Department of Defence has announced that the decommissioned vessels, Tobruk and Sydney, will be offered to the states and territories for the creation of dive wrecks. Some diving companies say that while there was little doubt the ships would boost economic activity in the industry, the loss to Australia’s history would be greater. The Victorian Maritime Centre has called for the ships to be restored and made available to the general public.  more

HMAS Tobruk was used extensively during regional peacekeeping and humanitarian operations as well as border protection in Northern Australia.
HMAS Sydney was deployed to the Persian Gulf on five occasions in support of operations during the Gulf War, Afghanistan war and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

dive wreck
Perth Diving Academy director Simon Jones acknowledged that shipwrecks are the diving industry’s life blood
dress on display at the Kaap Skil Museum in Holland (Image: Kaap Skil Museum)

Marine archaeologists working off the coast of Holland have recovered a remarkable trove of well-preserved artifacts from a ship that sank nearly 400 years ago. Among the items is a beautiful silken gown that likely belonged to royalty. A leather-bound book was also found in the bundle carrying the coat of arms of the British king Charles I. This suggests that some of the cargo may have belonged to the Stuarts family of England.

keep reading on Gizmodo

Cape Cod Times: Photo Gallery; Marconi Center’s 95th Anniversary Celebration

NORTH CHATHAM, Massachusetts — From his radio operator’s seat at the RCA wireless radio station WCC, Ron Farris took messages in Morse code from commercial ships far out at sea. Farris said a ship’s captain might have needed information about weather or the next port-of-call, or perhaps there was a medical emergency on board, or personal messages that needed to be conveyed from ship crew members to family back home, Farris said.

“We were the strongest station from the United States going to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean,” said Farris, who worked at the station from 1977 to 1992. The nonprofit Chatham Marconi Maritime Center celebrated the 95th anniversary of the opening day of station WCC, on April 18, 1921. WCC opened as a for-profit, ship-to-shore message center in 1921, and grew to be RCA’s busiest station for a big chunk of the 20th century. The station was also used by the U.S. Navy during World War II to listen for German U-boats.  more

Ryan Booth, captain of a DFDS ferry between Dunkirk and Dover

BBC: When learning is all at sea

For any of us who have used ferries, it’s often a rather insulated experience – less boat and more mobile tunnel or maritime service station. You drive on at one end, maybe spend some time in a cafe and shop, and then rush off the other end. What holidaymakers don’t see is that the ship is where dozens of people live. Even though the ferries shuttle back and forth each day, crews stay on board for a fortnight at a time.

During a blustery crossing on a DFDS (Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab; Northern Europe’s largest shipping and logistics company; HQ Copenhagen) ferry on the Dover to Dunkirk run, you can see it’s a way of life as much as a job. A ship’s captain will have studied in maritime college, taken tough exams and gathered years of experience at sea – but when they apply for a job on shore, it isn’t recognised in the same way as a university degree. keep reading

more: See the Women & the Sea Exhibition on The Mariners’ Museum

Women had place on high seas

JoAnn SemonesAuthor JoAnn Simones believes that (even though) women have always been an integral part of maritime history, much of their work has gone unheralded. She has spent countless hours uncovering the facts about their roles and accomplishments. “What people might not think about or realize is that women were all part of the sea,” said Simones. “They were wives, daughters of sea captains, pirates, sailors, navigators, tug boat skippers, ship masters, ship builders and lighthouse keepers.”

One such woman was Mary Reed. “She is described as a sturdy, gray-haired, slate-eyed woman of 50, who was married to Capt. Reed, captain of the New York,” said Simones. “On one particular voyage to Hong Kong, the captain was partially paralyzed by a stroke, and half the crew died of scurvy. Mrs. Reed took the helm, guided the ship safely to port and was given a medal for her service.”

right: Maritime author and historian JoAnn Semones

Guardian Video

Scientists Dive Into a Never-Before-Seen Crab Swarm

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts were studying the Hannibal Bank Seamount when they spotted opaque sediment moving along the sea floor. The source was an insect-like swarm of thousands of red crabs moving along the bottom of the ocean in a way that scientists had never observed before among crabs or similar marine life, The Guardian reports.

Watch a Massive Swarm of Crabs Scuttling Along The Ocean Floor on Smithsonian


 You Can Soon Own This Topographically Accurate Lunar Globe

Using data collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a team of designers created a 1:20,000,000 scale replica of the real deal, with 3D details that are topographically accurate. The lunar globe has a diameter of approximately 6.8 inches, weighs 3.15 pounds, and is made of polyurethane resin, anodized aluminum, powder coated steel, and circuitry.  keep reading


Empress of Ireland MORE

CANADA: Shipwrecks being looted

Sitting just 40 m below the surface of the St. Lawrence, the Empress of Ireland is the last Edwardian-era shipwreck accessible by dive, making it a prime target for recreational treasure hunters seeking their own piece of history. Oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic wreck, visited the Empress site and found that everything from fixtures to human remains have been pilfered.  full story

Irish Times: Two shipwrecks discovered along Connemara coastline
Vessels from 18th- and 19th-centuries found in bays that were renowned for smuggling

Robert Cericola, a commercial crabber, shows some of the 103 discarded crab traps he and others retrieved from Barnegat Bay in and around Waretown, N.J. in just one week. (AP Photos / Wayne Parry)

Land Mines of the Sea

New Jersey: Industry experts and scientists estimate that commercial fishermen lose about 10 percent of their traps per year to bad weather, currents that drag them to far-flung places or boats that sever tie lines intended to keep them in place. Some debris is deliberately thrown overboard; in England, small vessels can run up landfill charges of 500 British pounds, or $702, per year, giving them an incentive to ditch broken gear.

Pascal van Erp, a Dutch diver who was horrified by the amount of abandoned fishing equipment he encountered, founded the Ghost Fishing Foundation to tackle the issue. Tackle, get it? (snort)

wnekright: John Wnek, supervisor of New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, holds a grappling hook he uses to retrieve discarded crab traps from Barnegat Bay in Waretown, N.J. (AP)

“Crabs get trapped in the pots and starve to death,” said John Wnek, supervisor of New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, whose students are involved in a project to collect abandoned fishing gear from New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay. 

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Cleanups are also underway in other countries. A September effort in Orkney, England, retrieved 60 crab pots and 25 whelk pots, along with rope and netting that a local artist later used to create doormats.


65-foot Coast Guard cutter Bridle, left, and the 140-foot Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay turn around last March near the old Richmond-Dresden Bridge on the Kennebec River. — Kennebec Journal file photo

Portland Press Herald: The Bridges of Maine: A Gallery


Adrian Shine and the Munin underwater robot, which has previously been used to search for downed planes. Photograph: Kongsberg Maritime/VisitScotland/Loch Ness project

Nerd-Core Red Alert: Robot Finds Loch Ness Monster

The Guardian – The remains of a monster have been found in Loch Ness – but it is a model of the elusive beast, not the real thing.

The 10-metre (30ft) model, from the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, was discovered 180 metres down on the lochbed by an underwater robot, VisitScotland revealed on Wednesday.

Additionally, Munin found a 8-metre long shipwreck at the bottom of the loch. The team is looking for more information on the origins of the boat. The model and shipwreck join a crashed second world war Wellington bomber, a 100-year-old Zulu-class sailing fishing vessel and parts of John Cobb’s speed record attempt craft Crusader – which crashed at over 200mph in 1952 – among objects found in the loch, but no monster.  more (including video)

goproWatch This GoPro Catapult Off an Aircraft carrier


Memes From Yesteryear:
The Bizarre German Tradition of Posing With a Man in a Polar Bear Costume


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