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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Atrocity in our wonderful country

There is something beautiful about girls in headscarves.

This picture was taken by me in Sulawesi, an island visited by one of "my" whaling wives, Eliza Underwood, a very long time ago.  One day, I will tell you what she had to say about what was called 'Celebes", but this is not the time.

The young woman in the forefront of the picture (without a headscarf) is a teacher of English at the local high school in Manado.  The girl with her (in a headscarf) is one of her pupils.  I was asked to talk to them so that they could practise their English.

It's a lovely memory.  Did it affect my reaction when the news of the massacre of two Moslem congregations at Christchurch mosques stormed into my consciousness?  Perhaps.  All I remember is total shock -- that an obscenity on that scale was not possible in my quiet little country at the bottom of the world.

I watched the news.  Compulsively.

Next morning, Saturday, I walked very early through Parliament grounds.  I had wondered if a police presence would prevent me.  But instead it was as serene as ever . . . except that the flags were at halfmast.

For the rest of my way my eyes were blinded with tears.

Friday, March 15, 2019

ISLAND OF THE LOST: new paperback due in August

Island of the Lost continues to inspire interest, perhaps because the question of bad and good leadership is so critical in these shaky and uncertain times.   It has been described as a classic in the genre, and so many seem to agree with this, that Algonquin is issuing a new edition, due to appear in stores, both internet and brick-and-mortar, in August.

Here is the blurb:

Hundreds of miles from civilization, two ships wreck on opposite ends of the same deserted island in this true story of human nature at its best—and at its worst.

It is 1864, and Captain Thomas Musgrave’s  schooner, Grafton, has just wrecked on Auckland Island, a forbidding piece of land 285 miles south of New Zealand. Battered by year-round freezing rain and constant winds, it is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death.

Incredibly, at the same time on the opposite end of the island, another ship runs aground during a storm. Separated by only twenty miles and the island’s treacherous, impassable cliffs, the crews of the Grafton and the Invercauld face the same fate. And yet where the Invercauld’s crew turns inward on itself, fighting, starving, and even turning to cannibalism, Musgrave’s crew bands together to build a cabin and a forge—and eventually, to find a way to escape.

Using the survivors’ journals and historical records, award-winning maritime historian Joan Druett brings to life this extraordinary untold story about leadership and the fine line between order and chaos.

“[A] study of the extremes of human nature and the effects of good (and bad) leadership . . . If the southern part of Auckland Island is all Robinson Crusoe, the northern part is more Lord of the Flies . . . Druett is an able and thorough guide to the minutiae of castaway life . . . [She] shows that real leadership is rare and powerful.”
New York Times Book Review


Front interior pages

“This story goes reality TV a few steps better . . . A clear morality tale about the pitfalls of rigidity and the benefits of adaptability and cooperation . . . Druett, who has written other works of nautical history and a maritime mystery series, wisely lets the details make the point, resisting the temptation to oversell. Her writing style is clear and detached, her touch just right . . . The power of the crews' divergent stories . . . propels the narrative like a trade wind.”—Los Angeles Times

“An amazing saga . . . Rarely are the two opposing sides of human nature captured in such stark and illuminating relief."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“One of the finest survival stories I've read . . . [Druett's] tale is backed up by a solid knowledge of sailing ships and of the flora, fauna and weather of Auckland Island, an inhospitable terrain that has defied attempts at human settlement and is now a wildlife preserve.”—Seattle Times

“A riveting study of the extremes of human nature and the effects of good (and bad) leadership . . . If the southern part of Auckland Island is all Robinson Crusoe, the northern part is more Lord of the Flies . . . Druett is an able and thorough guide to the minutiae of castaway life . . . [She] shows that real leadership is rare and powerful.”—New York Times Book Review

“Captivating . . . Druett has a talent for storytelling . . . Those yearning for a classic man vs. nature, triumph-over-terrible-odds story, get ready to set sail.”—Paste

“Fascinating . . .a surprisingly gripping tale that will leave readers amazed. Grade: A”—Rocky Mountain News

“The kind of courage and resourcefulness that would do Crusoe proud . . . Druett’s well-researched account earns its place in any good collection of survival literature.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Using diaries, ship logs, and newspaper accounts, Druett re-creates the different experiences of the survivors of two wrecked vessels . . . Viewers of television’s Survivor and readers of survival novels will enjoy Island.”—School Library Journal

“Swashbuckling maritime history reanimated by a noted naval enthusiast . . . Druett excels at recreating the men’s struggles and desperation (tempered by boundless hope) . . . Depicted with consistent brio, stormy seas become epic events.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a fine addition to the genre of survival tales like Endurance or In the Heart of the Sea.”—Publishers Weekly

“The amount of detail the author has amassed is truly impressive, resulting in an invaluable account of survival.”—Booklist

“[Druett] writes with a confidence and clarity that makes this account an exciting read and an important addition to our history.”Northern Advocate

Island of the Lost is one of the greatest yarns I’ve ever read, surpassing even Shackleton and Robinson Crusoe.”— South Coast Register

“Survival stories from earlier ages remain favorite fare, as is underscored by this amazing saga by an award-winning New Zealand maritime historian.—The Berkshire Eagle

“It is felicitous that Joan Druett should have found this story.  She is one of our most readable historians.  Her knowledge of maritime events is encyclopedic.  And she can write: vividly, lucidly, accurately … Each of the plot’s two threads is absorbing in itself.  Combined and contrasted, their motif … makes this book more powerful still.”—Weekend New Zealand Herald

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A blast for the whales

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The "discovery" of Australia

Bridging the Brain

Apparently, playing bridge is good for the brain.  As the illustration illustrates, there is learning involved.  But it is indeed a way of thinking outside the square, and making really interesting good friends.

As the New Zealand Herald meditates ...

A recent major study has revealed that playing bridge keeps people smarter, happier and more social into old age. Taupō and Tūrangi Weekender editor Laurilee McMichael tries her hand at a few hands.
It used to be accepted that as you got older, your brain power faded.
But research in recent years has showed there are a variety of things you can do to stave off that process - learning a new language or playing an instrument, doing the crossword, making new friends are among some of them - and one of the newest discoveries is that the card game bridge can also help.
A recent major study by the University of Stirling, Scotland, has revealed that playing bridge keeps people smarter, happier and more social into old age. The study also indicated that people who play bridge have higher levels of well-being than those who don't. In addition the game and its social environment has the potential to maintain good health, through increased positive cognitive, social and quality of life outcomes.
It's with this in mind that I ventured along to one of Taupo Bridge Club's regular supervised bridge sessions, held every Wednesday afternoon at the bridge club's rooms on Tauhara Rd.
Here, people who are learning bridge or who want to practise or refresh their skills after taking a break can enjoy the game in an informal social environment.
There are some similarities with the card game 500 in that the aim is to win tricks, but in bridge the bidding adds a whole new aspect to the game and as a result it takes a bit of learning - which is where bridge being good for your brain comes in.
In The Netherlands it is actually taught as a school subject because the students learn social skills, problem solving, etiquette and interacting with others.
The first step to playing bridge is learning, and the club's bridge guru and president Rona Driscoll runs learn to play bridge classes for newcomers. From there, they can move on to supervised sessions, where people play at about half the speed of normal bridge and can ask questions if they need to.
Rona herself took up bridge in 2000 after deciding golf wasn't for her.
"I was never any good at sport. I was in Wellington at the time and I saw the ad in the paper and thought I'd give it a go. What I like about bridge is you can see where you went wrong. You can see the cards and say 'if I had played this, then this would have happened'. With golf you have no idea. I never looked back."
Rona says playing bridge is life-long learning and that is why scientists have discovered that it's also good for the brain.
"The thing about bridge is that if you want, you can just keep learning. You can just learn the basics and play at home or play it at much more advanced levels, it's still the same game."
After moving to Taupo, Rona got her husband John into bridge too. Now they play a lot of bridge competitions and tournaments together.
Rona says the thing she loves about bridge is the challenge but also the social aspect.
"Winning is fun but you can also learn a lot and whatever you do, you can achieve something. You either win or you learn or you enjoy yourself, or all three.

Playing bridge at the Taupo Bridge Club. Photos / Laurilee McMichael
Playing bridge at the Taupo Bridge Club. Photos / Laurilee McMichael"
You can play the top players in New Zealand or the world champions and what other sport do you get to do that in?"
Rona says there's no particular skills required for bridge but it does help to make a plan. Partners play as a pair so good communication and teamwork is also key.
Nationally, about 14,000 people play bridge and like many clubs, its membership is ageing, although the Taupo club, which has about 200 members, is in good heart.
Today I've come for a go at the supervised bridge session. I've never tried the game before but I have played 500 so I understand the concept of tricks and trumps, which is a start.
However unlike family games of 500 with my in-laws which normally involve a lot of banter, name-calling, swearing, and a few drinks, bridge is a more serious affair. There is plenty of affable conversation before and after but during play itself, it's pretty quiet.
Despite that it's a very sociable pursuit, player Barbara Cook says. When she was on holiday in Hawaii she and her companion found a pair of people playing bridge and joined the play, having a wonderful time.
She says bridge can act as a door-opener in other towns or when travelling. Looking at the club noticeboard, I see there's even such a thing as bridge tours, where you travel and also play bridge.
A supervised play session like this one is shorter than a normal bridge session. About 24 pre-dealt boards or 'hands' of bridge are usually played.
The key to these sessions is that they are replicate, meaning each group of four players will, if time permits, get to try each board. The boards remain unchanged and so afterwards they can compare results to see how different players bid and played each board.
I am told more than once by players that Taupo is very lucky to have this level of support for new players. Most clubs chuck people in the deep end and expect them to work it out by themselves.
I'm shadowing player Pamela Frank, who does the bidding, which is the trickiest part, and then generously allows me to play out her hands, with the lead switching around as the hands are played.

Players in action.
Players in action."The whole thing is about communicating with your partner what you have in your hand," Pamela explains. "This is one of the complexities of the game."
We lose the first hand. Damn. To be honest, it was a pretty bad hand, but it sets the tone for the rest of the play. Barbara, Pamela and I are unable to even bid because our hands are consistently dogs, although we do manage to take down the other pair a couple of times when they can't win the number of required tricks.
However, I'm told the score you get at the table doesn't actually matter.
Each hand, or board, of bridge is passed around the tables and how you play it is compared against how the other players use the same cards. That means your opponents who are sitting at your table with you can affect your play but are not actually your competition. It's the other player sitting in the same spot as you but at another table who you need to beat.
I never do get to find out how well I did because I have to leave the session just as I was really starting to get into it. Perhaps it's just as well. I've heard bridge can be quite addictive, and as a competitive person by nature, I can see the appeal.
Because in bridge players must make decisions based on incomplete information (they don't know what is in their opponents' hands), Rona says that's what makes bridge fun.
"There's a lot of inference and the better you are at inferring and working things out, the better your bridge will be. You don't have to be good at memory and all that sort of stuff. You can play bridge without being very smart and very smart people can also be terrible at bridge."
You can learn to play in Wellington, too --  just go to the Wellington Bridge Club site and ask for their flyer.  The Victoria Bridge Club, just up the street in Tinakori Road, is also offering lessons.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Fair Wind -- the past and future of sail

Fascinating seminar series

A Fair Wind: The Past and Future of Sail Technology
Essential information

Date and time: 
12 March | 5.15pm, wine reception from 6.30pm


Talks & courses

Join us for a free panel discussion in central London about wind power and sail technology, featuring Professor Ian Buxton (Newcastle University), Frank Scott and Andrea Grech La Rosa (UCL). All are welcome and there is no need to book. 

Concerns about climate change and the environmental impact of shipping have put wind-assisted transport back in the spotlight. This event will address the technological, social and environmental issues surrounding wind-assisted and wind-powered ships, both historic and contemporary.

The 150th birthday of Cutty Sark, one of Britain’s most famous ships, provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on wind power. Built in 1869, its cutting-edge sailing technology was soon challenged by faster but coal-reliant steamships. As sail gave way to steam, it quickly lost its place in the lucrative tea trade.

Join our expert panel of historians and naval architects to discuss the key issues. How can wind-assisted ships help combat climate change? What can the transition from sail to steam teach us? Is there an ongoing role for wind and sail in the future of maritime transport?

Maritime History & Culture Seminars 2018/19:

All seminars start at 5.15pm in Wolfson Room I, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

In the Antarctic on a research ship

NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa is back home after successfully completing research that covered all areas of Ross Sea Marine Protected Area ecosystem - from whales to bacteria.
From the Sunday Star Times, New Zealand

New Zealand's research vessel, Tangaroa (named for the Polynesian god of the sea) traveled more than 11,800 kilometers since leaving Wellington on January 8 -- a voyage that took the ship almost as far south as the Tangaroa has been before. 
Twenty-one scientists made the trip to the icy continent – their focus: gathering baseline information to monitor the year-old Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA).In total, 4,700 samples were preserved while almost 33 hours of video and 8,000 still images were collected to look at animals living on the sea-bed.
The crew of Tangaroa preparing the mesopelagic trawl net, which is used to sample mid-water fish, krill, and other larger zooplankton. There were 41 fish trawls during the voyage. The total trawl catch of 1946 kilograms was made up of 110 species, including 56 types of fish.
The crew of Tangaroa preparing the mesopelagic trawl net, which is used to sample mid-water fish, krill, and other larger zooplankton. There were 41 fish trawls during the voyage. The total trawl catch of 1946 kilograms was made up of 110 species, including 56 types of fish.
It wasn't all work for the scientists as they also got to witness the local wildlife in action such as Adelie penguins and the 36 whale sightings that were logged and included more than 190 individual whales from various species.
Dr. Richard O'Driscoll says favorable conditions and a lack of sea ice meant work was uninterrupted. And this work will, in turn, benefit the New Zealand science communities, he adds.
Adelie penguins take a swim during Tangaroa's latest Antarctic voyage.
Adelie penguins take a swim during Tangaroa's latest Antarctic voyage.
The Tangaroa had 227 gear deployments during the trip, and this included 78 plankton tows where a bongo net was towed in water at depths down to 1000 meters.
A mesopelagic trawl net was also deployed to sample mid-water fish and krill. O'Driscoll's team made 41 fish trawls and collected a combined catch of 1,946 kilograms that was made up of 110 different species.This was the second of three voyages planned for the crew of the Tangaroa.
O'Driscoll says New Zealand plays a leading role in monitoring the MPA, adding that the latest voyage was a "key contribution".
Myctophid fish and a large jellyfish caught in the mesopelagic trawl net. Almost 33 hours of video and 8000 still images were collected to look at animals living on the sea-bed.
"By increasing our understanding of Antarctic and Southern Ocean responses to past climate conditions, it will allow improved modelling of future changes," he says.
He says New Zealand scientists are working alongside other nations within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to establish a long-term monitoring program inside the MPA.
A bongo net, which is used to sample plankton in the water column at depths down to 1000 metres. There were 227 gear deployments, including 78 plankton tows.
Bongo net, used to sample plankton
"It's the largest MPA in the world ... and represents a major contribution to global marine protection."
NIWA scientist Dr David Bowden says sea ice is one of a number of traditional challenges faced while working near the icy continent. However, temperatures were warm and sea ice scarce during this year's voyage.
Temperatures were unusually warm and sea-ice scarce during the expedition 

Saturday, February 23, 2019


It is always fun to find a new word (though it can be infuriating with cryptic crosswords) and this one is not only intriguing, but also has a great story, communicated on the London Review of Books blog by Oliver Miles.

Last year, a walker in the hills west of Guadalajara, Mexico came across a large hole that looked like the entrance to a railway tunnel. (The Mexican Guadalajara is named after the city in central Spain; the word is Arabic, meaning ‘valley of stones’‎.) He walked inside it a long way, noticing that every eleven metres there was a hole in the ceiling admitting sunlight. He had found a qanat.
Qanat (or qanah, probably derived from the Latin canalis) is the Arabic name for an irrigation system traditionally believed to have been invented in Persia, at least three thousand years ago. The Persian word is kariz and it has many other names: in Arabia falaj, in North Africa foggara.
To feed an oasis by underground water from a source that may be miles away, a well is dug to the source, and a tunnel is dug to channel the water to the oasis. Since the tunnel gradient is as little as 2° below the horizontal, the water reaches the oasis much higher up than the natural supply, as well as more abundantly, so the water is available to irrigate a larger area or to be used in other ways. Vertical shafts are dug along the line of the tunnel for ventilation, access and maintenance.
String plays a vital part in the construction. Obviously the vertical shafts have to be vertical, and this can be checked with a plumb line. The tunnel works best if it is straight, which can also be checked with a string. Less obviously, the exact gradient is critically important. For this a taut wet string is used; if the drips collect exactly halfway along, the two ends are at exactly the same level.
From Persia the system seems to have been imported into Arabia in pre-Islamic times; adopted and developed by the Romans; then probably taken by Arab conquerors into North Africa; from there to Spain; and by the Spaniards to Mexico, Peru and Chile. But it is also possible that the system was independently invented elsewhere, for example in south-eastern Arabia or pre-Columbian Peru.
A tribunal to settle irrigation disputes between farmers used to sit at the door of the main mosque in Valencia; it now sits at the door of the cathedral. Qanat systems exist in many other places: Italy, Sicily, Luxembourg (probably the largest north of the Alps), Central Asia, India. In Xinjiang, northwestern China, nearly a thousand qanats, with a combined length of about 5000 km, are currently in use in the Turpan oasis. Turpan, on the Northern Silk Road, is a Nationally Protected Area because of its water system – at least it was until quite recently, but since it is the home of the Uighurs, Turkic Muslims up to a million of whom are said to be detained and undergoing ‘re-education’, maintaining qanats may not be a top priority just now. There are some irrigation systems in Japan which may have come from China and therefore originally from Persia.
Some qanats have been listed as Unesco World Heritage sites. Many still function and some have been rehabilitated by various UN and other bodies. A typical qanat may be a few kilometres long, but one in Gonabad, southern Iran, is 45 km long and more than 360 m deep. There are said to be 37,000 qanats currently in use in Iran alone. Qanats can be used in conjunction with a wind tower to provide a natural form of air-conditioning, which can lower the air temperature in a house by as much as 15°C.
I was shown a qanat (falaj) in 1961 in one of the villages in al-Ain in Abu Dhabi by Shaikh Zayid bin Sultan, then the governor of al-Ain, later the ruler of Abu Dhabi and founding father of the United Arab Emirates. The channel was about as wide and deep as a household bath, and it was pleasant to bathe in it, tickled by the small fish. The temperature was much the same all the year round, refreshingly cool in summer and pleasantly warm in winter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Old Salt Press featured in Micronesia

"A COUPLE years back" -- he begins -- "I told you about one of my favorite authors, Joan Druett.  The New Zealander writes fiction and non-fiction about the Pacific during the Age of Sail.  Let me introduce you to her closest friends, the independent authors of Old Salt Press."
Founded by Rick Spilman, author of Hell Around the Horn, The Shantyman (rated as a Best Indie Book by Kirkus), Evening Gray, Morning Red, and a terrific novella, Bloody Rain, Old Salt Press was inspired by Rick's wonderful daily round-up of news and stories about the sea, "Old Salt Blog."  I signed up about 2013, when I published my first OSP book, The Elephant Voyage. Since then, I have been privileged to get to know a growing "stable" of authors, including the always-exciting Linda Collison, who leads a life as unusual as her innovative maritime novels.  To stretch your mind in a new and fascinating marine direction, I particularly recommend her Water Ghosts.  If you have a teenaged daughter, then introduce her to Linda's heroine, Patricia MacPherson.

And here is what Dr. Cook has to say about Rick's signal achievement --
Independent authors are a growing segment of the writing world, which for some time has been dominated by the Big Five: Harper-Collins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Random House, and Macmillan.  These companies account for up to 80 percent of book sales in the United States alone.  But like Big Media, when only a few giant companies control the industry, it is difficult to be heard unless you drink their corporate Kool-Aid. 
Many authors are now fighting back by publishing on their own or by forming small groups of authors united by subject, ideology or just opposition to The Man.  The growth of the internet has made this possible by enabling global access as well as the option to offer e-books.  Old Salt Press is one such small publisher.  All the Old Salts share a love of the sea.
Alaric Bond writes the Fighting Sail series, set during the American and French Revolutions.  Fans of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series and Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander will easily become addicted to his work.
Antoine Vanner authors the Dawlish Chronicles, a series of seven books (so far) that take the reader to the 1870s-80s, as steel and steam replaced wood and sail, and the British empire reached its global peak.  Mr. Vanner traveled the world while working in the oil industry and has visited the places he describes, lending his stories detail and gritty realism.
V.E. Ulett is a California IT girl by day, Old Salt author of the Blackwell Adventures series by night.  One reviewer described her work as “Master and Commander as written by Jane Austen.”  Think romance and relationships in the Age of Fighting Sail.
And of course there is Joan Druett, the queen mother of Old Salt authors, whose works include Island of the Lost, She Captains, Rough Medicine, and Hen Frigates.  I have highlighted a few of the Old Salt authors, which number over twenty at last count.  They live all over the world and are as diverse as their backgrounds. 
Buy some of their books, visit their website and “go down to the sea” with the authors of Old Salt Press.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.