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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Important maritime books

The illustrious maritime discussion list, MARHST-L, which has been active on the internet for what seems for ever, has been exploring a fascinating thread.

It started off with the simple challenge to each lister to name four important books from his or her bookshelf.  The moderator who posed this set the ball rolling by naming his four choices, each of which was very different from the rest:

A Camera on the Banks: Frederick William Wallace and the Fishermen of Nova Scotia (2006), by M. Brook Taylor. "Frederick William Wallace will be known to some as the author of Wooden Ships and Iron Men (1973)," ran the helpful comment. "He spent time on the Banks in schooners and square sail but finally decided to make his living ashore as a journalist. That might have been a bit of a disappointment to him but it was a gift to us who read with profit his many books and articles. Some regard Wallace as among the first to reveal a rich history of the Canadian east coast fishery."

Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theater on H. M. Armed Vessel Bounty. (1992), by Greg Dening.

The Sea: A Cultural History (2011) by John Mack.
"I bought this many years ago while visiting Wales in search of the author and shantyman Stan Hugill," the poster reminisced, and added the publisher's puff: "This is a valuable history of the ships, builders and ship owners of Aberdovey, Borth and the Dovey estuary, many good pictures of not otherwise well-known vessels. Mainly schooners but also brigs and brigantines. The author gives a detailed account of the geography and economy of the Dovey including accounts of local life, voyages, building costs of several ships and a list of all vessels built locally between 1840 and 1880. The account closes with the arrival of the railway, when all trade by sea ceased”.

 Listers responded (and still respond) with enthusiasm, and -- probably encouraged by the variety of the four samples -- sent the thread off in several directions, as members ruminated about the books that (a) inspired a lifelong interest in ships and the sea, or (b) were the most enjoyable, or (c) taught the reader the most.  Surprisingly, there are few novels, maritime enthusiasts preferring books that are readily looked up when instant information is needed. 

Many remembered the books that inspired them in their youth.

"My interest was inspired at a very young age by a book called A Boy's Book of Warships," wrote one lister. "It listed each type of warship in the RN in WWII  and gave an example - the destroyer was ESKIMO, the corvette ANCHUSA, the cruiser DEVONSHIRE and so forth."

"For nostalgia as well as literary merit," a seafaring member recommended, "a couple of books that I read as a youngster (with a flash light, after bedtime, under covers): Ransome's Peter Duck and the rest of the Swallows and Amazons; and a little later, Peter Heaton's "Sailing" which came out the same year as my grandfather made me a boat owner (a rather leaky 13 foot "cutter" -- yes, a bowsprit and two fores'ls) and was the final encouragement, if any was needed, for me to go to sea."

Some loved the stories of life at sea under sail.

Burgess Cogill, When God was an Atheist Sailor: Memories of a Childhood at Sea (New York, 1990)

"This is a delightful tale of a young girl who was born on the 5-masted schooner SNOW & BURGESS, and brought up onboard for the first eight years of her life," commented the poster, then added:

Captain James S. Learmont, Master in Sail (London, 1954), saying, "This is an outstanding memoir by a man who held command under sail, and made good passages. Full of useful information, and his account of saving his ship by cutting away the masts after a cargo shift is outstanding. Highly unusual for giving full credit to ‘Frank’, a black sailor, for both keeping control of the crew, and his exceptional exertions."

Other replies were very technical.  Special interest needed here!

"I read Costello and Hughes' Jutland 1916 in my senior year of high school," remembered one. "That book started an interest in late 19th and early 20th century naval technology that continues to this day, 37 years later. Pride of place in my library I think goes to a 1917 edition of Naval Ordnance that used to reside in the library of the pre-dreadnought battleship USS MINNESOTA."

Intrigued by submarines?  A lister recommended SUBMARINE DIARY: The Silent Stalking of Japan by Admiral Corwin Guy Mendenhall Jr. USN (ret)  "An excellent day to day record of the submarine operations the USN," said the poster.  "Very frank from a young man who went to war as an ensign in a submarine and grew with experience. As a former RN submariner I found the detail fascinating."

Another added a short review of a book that was waiting under his Christmas tree:  Horatio Clare's Down to the Sea in Ships. "This book describes life aboard two container ships, MAERSK GERD and MAERSK PEMBROKE," he wrote; "the former a top-of-the-line far-ranging monster, the latter, a smaller, older North Atlantic commuter."  Remarkably, as well as being a page-turner, he found, "This is very much a tribute to the underpaid, overworked, and all but invisible Filipino seafarer who does not have the luxury of escaping from what is in many ways a life of shipboard imprisonment."

Recommendations from the readers of World of the Written World most welcome!

MARHST-L is an INTERNATIONAL electronic discussion group sponsored and administered by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston with the assistance of Queen's University at Kingston.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bottlenecks at Amazon

From Publishers Weekly

 With publishers in the throes of the holiday season, where purchases can make or break the bottom line, some are experiencing critical issues with their biggest retail partner: Amazon. Supply chain hiccups have left the biggest titles from some publishers out-of-stock and unavailable for purchase at the all-important retailer.

Several publishers, wholesalers, and distributors spoke to PW, on the condition of anonymity, about how the situation is impacting their holiday season. Many said the problem is stemming from the fact that Amazon placed unusually large orders in October and November that it is now struggling to process. 

“The whole industry is set up so that everything moves through the pipeline: if someone plugs it up, everything goes kablooie,” said one editor at a regional press. This editor's house has a frontlist title which he feels is being adversely affected by the situation; although Amazon ordered a significant percentage of the book's total print run, the retailer has yet to make the title available online. The book, which was released last month and has received significant media attention, is currently listed as “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon.

Another publisher said the issues at Amazon are forcing it to reprint books more aggressively than it would, in order to keep stock flowing through other channels. Some sources told PW that the problems at Amazon are leaving their books sitting on distributors' loading docks for up to four weeks.

When asked about the situation, Amazon downplayed the suggestion that there are any issues. "We are excited about strong customer demand for books this season and our holiday forecasting has prepared us for increased volumes. As always, we are working hard with publishers to keep books in stock for customers," an Amazon spokesperson said.

Currently the situation seems to be limited in scope; many publishers contacted by PW, including several of the Big Five houses, reported no problems with Amazon. But for those affected, concerns are mounting about when the problem will be fixed and, come February, how the issue will impact returns. "It's been so frustrating," one publisher told PW. "For small presses, this is our moment."

And that applies to Indie publishers, too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sunken Treasure

Who wants to be a galleonaire?

Almost everyone

Britain’s gift to future treasure-hunters

“GREAT news!” tweeted Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos on December 4th. “We have found the San José galleon.” Colombian authorities discovered the vessel, sunk by the British navy in 1708, in Caribbean waters off Cartagena. It had been carrying treasure from the Spanish colonies to Spain, which was fighting alongside France in the war of the Spanish succession, a struggle for mastery in Europe which put Philip V on the Spanish throne. The ship’s cargo of gold, jewels and silver coin may be worth from $1 billion to $17 billion.

As far as Mr Santos is concerned, it belongs to Colombia, which plans to build a museum to display some of it. But other claimants are lining up, and the law governing the rights to such finds is as murky as the depths where they lie. Maritime treasure-hunters base their businesses on the “law of finds”, a long-established common-law doctrine that gives ownership to the finder. But in recent years governments have passed laws that contradict such conventions, and threaten to strip the profit out of prospecting for sunken gold.

Sea Search Armada (SSA), a company based in the United States, says that it divulged the site of the wreck to the Colombian government in 1982. Colombian law at the time already contradicted the finders-keepers principle by reserving half of such finds for the state. But a new law in 1984 gave the state all the rights to the treasure, leaving SSA with a finder’s fee of 5%.

After tussles in Colombian and American courts the company has now filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, saying that its property rights have been violated.

According to its boss, Jack Harbeston, its plan to get access to the wreck in Colombian waters has been met with the threat of military action. It has spent $12m on the search. Colombia insists that the ship is nowhere near where SSA said it was.

A claimant with a better chance of getting the treasure may be Philip V’s descendant, Philip VI, or rather the country over which he reigns. Upon hearing that the trove had been found, a Spanish official reminded Colombia of his country’s “clear position” on its “sunken wealth”. He was alluding to the case of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate sunk in 1804 off the coast of Portugal (again by the British) and found by another American treasure-hunter in 2007. A United States court ruled that wrecked warships belong to the state whose flag they flew and ordered the finder to deliver its cargo of a half-million coins to Spain. Spain also points to a UNESCO convention on underwater cultural heritage, which gives the country that made the artefacts a voice in what is done with them. Colombia, however, has not signed it. Spain hopes to resolve the issue “in a friendly way”.

 With so much at stake, that may not be possible. Up to 1,000 ships could be submerged off Colombia’s coast. If governments want the loot, they will have to give treasure-hunters an incentive to look for them

Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra nominated for a Grammy Award

The NZSO received the best possible early Christmas present this week – our first ever Grammy Award nomination!

The Orchestra has been nominated for Best Orchestral Performance for Symphony ‘Humen 1839’, a recording of works by Pulitzer Prize-winning Chinese composer Zhou Long, with the title work written in collaboration with compatriot Chen Yi. Singaporean Darrell Ang conducts the recording, which was released on the Naxos label in May.

Other nominees vying for the top prize are the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Oregon Symphony.

“The works on the album are exciting and colourful and provide many opportunities for the orchestra to display its affinity with contemporary music from the Asia-Pacific region,” says Christopher Blake, NZSO Chief Executive.
This is one of many international collaborations and projects the NZSO has been involved in over the past few years. I’m proud that our players have been acknowledged for their artistic excellence on the world stage and we look forward to the announcement of the winner next year.
Both Zhou Long and Chen Yi are part of a generation of Chinese composers who were educated musically under the Cultural Revolution, then went on to adapt Western compositional techniques when it ended. Symphony ‘Humen 1839’ was written to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the Humen Opium Burning, in which Chinese hero Lin Zexu along with other citizens of Humen set fire to more than 1000 tonnes of the illegal British opium trade, sparking the First Opium War between the British and Chinese Empires.

Also on the CD is Zhou’s The Rhyme of Taigu, which explores the history of Japanese taiko drumming, and The Enlightened, an expression of contemporary world struggles that reflects the composer’s belief that through music we can reflect upon our relationships with all people, the planet and the universe.
“This was a complex recording to make.  It features a wide variety of drums and percussion as well as technically demanding contemporary music,” says Blake. “It is testament to the musicians’ immense skill and that of the conductor that they are able to produce a world-class and potentially award-winning recording.”
The Grammy Awards ceremony will be held in Los Angeles on 15 February (US time). 

Enjoy a sample from the album.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Middle Earth Museum for Wellington

From the Dominion Post

A tremendous reason for scheduling a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, has just been unveiled.

Peter Jackson to devote millions to a film museum and convention center that is to be built just across the street from Te Papa.

The Movie Museum Limited, a company formed Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor, will run the museum which will feature many props from the two Wellington film stalwarts own considerable collection.
Positively Wellington Venues will manage the convention centre.

The Movie Museum founders Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor with miniatures being prepared for King Kong,  which will be among thousands of  Hollywood memorabilia housed in their new Wellington museum.

The Movie Museum founders Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor with miniatures being prepared for King Kong, which will be among thousands of Hollywood memorabilia housed in their new Wellington museum.

Museum project Director George Hickton said it would draw from one of the most valuable collections of Hollywood memorabilia in the world, with thousands of the priceless designs, props, models and set pieces.

The museum will have permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, a retail shop, cafe and permanent offices.

The convention centre and movie museum development on Cable St and Wakefield St will start next year and be completed in 2018.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Our embarrassing Prime Minister

He has the highest elected position in the country.

He shrugged off the incident where he repeatedly harassed a waitress by pulling her ponytail.

And now this?

From the New Zealand Herald, editorial

How does John Key get away with these things? To expose himself on radio to personal questions to which he can answer only yes or no is bound to endanger the dignity of his office. Thanks to an appearance on Hauraki's breakfast programme, we now know our Prime Minister has, among other things, stolen something and peed in a shower.

Though that is more than we want to know, it is less than we might learn.

If he is going to admit to criminal and social offences, it begs a number of questions.
What did he steal? Whose shower? Why? Let's not ask.

He did not seem at all embarrassed this week when the radio segment was screened on American television's popular satirical programme Last Week Tonight.

English host John Oliver - who already finds New Zealand a resource for ridicule - ought to come down here, the Prime Minister said, and witness one of his weekly post-Cabinet press conferences.

Like the one in which he mentioned he has had a vasectomy, perhaps?

That was years ago. It cost him no votes; nor will his latest revelations. Those who like him and vote for him will like him all the more for the enjoyment he clearly derives from the lighter side of his job.
Those with no time for him will be disgusted at what he has admitted and think it no part of his job to be answering questions such as these.

He is candid to a fault. He holds our highest elected office and he should treat it with more respect.


Friday, December 4, 2015

A New Initiative from the Authors Guild

From Publishers Weekly

Behind the Authors Guild's New Proactive Approach

A membership survey and contract initiative are part of a more proactive approach by the organization

Since Mary Rasenberger took over as executive director of the Authors Guild last November, the writers’ group has undertaken two significant projects: its Fair Contract Initiative and the first survey of guild membership in six years. Both efforts, Rasenberger said, are designed to help the organization better represent the interests of its 9,000 members, not just with publishers, but with government officials and other groups that can affect the livelihood of all authors.

The membership study, released last week, found that the median income for Authors Guild members dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 in 2014, a decline of 24%. The decline came for both full-time and part-time authors, with full-time authors reporting a 30% drop in income, to $17,500, and part-time authors seeing a 38% decrease, to $4,500. The report, Rasenberger said, is a clear indication that “authors are struggling to make a living."

So why are authors not earning what they used to expect?

The survey revealed that much of the loss in income was due to digital sales.  While costs to the publisher are minimal, it is usual for the author to get only 20% or 25% of the monies received.  When digital books are priced below $10, this means only about $2 to the author from each sale. While the royalty for a hardback priced at about $25 might only be 10%, it adds up to a lot more money.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that a third of the authors who responded are "hybrid," meaning that they are publishing some of their books themselves, either because the traditional publishers have turned them down, or because they know that they will get a much bigger share of sales -- up to 70% in the case of Amazon.  At the same time they are protecting their image by traditionally publishing, too.  And, unsurprisingly, the Authors Guild has relaxed its previously rigid dislike of self-publishing, so that indie authors who make at least $5000 a year from sales are now eligible for membership.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Rising in the ranks

Island of the Lost

Meantime, the price has gone back to its original $9.99, the deal being over, and so the ratings will soon return to normal -- but it was fun while it lasted!
Being #2 in the Kindle eBooks history rank is quite astounding -- the top slot being occupied by one of my top favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell.  How did it happen?  And how long can it last?  That, indeed, is the question.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Best seller in SHIPS


A nifty new cover and a daily deal have sent Island of the Lost zooming up the charts again.

Currently #80 on Amazon .... 

“A riveting study of the extremes of human nature and the effects of good (and bad) leadership.”—FLORENCE WILLIAMS, New York Times

“Depicted with consistent brio, stormy seas become epic events.”—Publishers Weekly

The finest survival stories combine struggle and endurance with an intellectual puzzle.  Cast onto a wild island, what would one do? … This is one of the finest survival stories I’ve read.—BRUCE RAMSEY, Seattle Times

“Druett’s well-researched account earns its place in any good collection of survival literature.”
  —WOOK KIM, Entertainment Weekly

“Engrossing and breathtaking historical work.”
  —MAE WOODS BELL, Rocky Mount Telegram, North Carolina

“Druett concludes this gripping tale with the future lives of the castaways … It’s a story to chill every sailor’s blood.  Highly recommended.”—ANN STINSON, Star Democrat, Maryland

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

Joan Druett has done a superb job of weaving together excellent research into a highly readable and fascinating account of survival and the sea … It is a fun read of an absorbing tale which, though a work of nonfiction, moves along at the pace of a good novel.—VICTOR SCHREFFLER, Good Old Boat

When does the deal end?  I have not a notion, but plenty of people are taking advantage of it, or so it seems.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Culture can be a weapon

What a novel idea!

From Time Magazine
Italy’s Renzi vows to fight terrorism threat with culture

James Politi in Rome

Matteo Renzi has come up with what may seem a uniquely Italian solution to
the security threat gripping Europe: to fight terrorism with culture.

The 40-year old Italian prime minister on Tuesday laid out plans for €2bn in
new spending in response to the November 13 attacks in Paris, amid growing
concerns that Italy could be a terrorist target. While €1bn would be used
for security and defence purposes, another €1bn would pay for cultural

This includes more money for disenfranchised neighbourhoods on the outskirts
of big cities, where there are often clashes between Italians and
immigrants, but also a €500 bonus for every 18-year old to spend at
theatres, concerts and museums. The idea, according to Mr Renzi, is to
reinforce their sense of being guardians of Italy’s vast cultural heritage.

“What happened in Paris signalled a step-up in the cultural battle that we
are living,” Mr Renzi said at a speech at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
“They imagine terror, we answer with culture. They destroy statues, we love
art. They destroy books, we are the country of libraries.”

Mr Renzi is due to meet François Hollande, French president, in Paris on
Thursday, and Joe Biden, US vice-president, on Friday, to discuss the
response to the terror attacks. “An international coalition requires respect
for international law and a strategic vision for the future of the affected
territories,” he said.

A poll released by Piepoli this week showed that 60 per cent of Italians are
against joining France and Russia in pursuing military action against Isis
in Syria.

Yes, I know that the famous ruin (pictured) is not a library!  But I thought it might be a comment ....

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Downunder

The United States is getting a lot of bad press about the world, so it feels good to publish this uplifting story.

The United States ambassador to New Zealand put on a Thanksgiving lunch for Wellington's homeless.

It's a day that many of Wellington's most vulnerable are unlikely to forget.

About 200 homeless people, social housing tenants, and beneficiaries packed into Wesley Church Hall, in Taranaki St, for the 10th annual Thanksgiving lunch, put on by the United States embassy and supported by Wellington homelessness charity DCM.

They were served roast turkey with all the trimmings, pumpkin pie and icecream, and were treated to a performance by DCM's ukulele band, who played the US national anthem for the first time.

United States ambassador Mark Gilbert and wife Nancy with Pieter Nolle at the embassy's Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday.

United States ambassador Mark Gilbert and wife Nancy with Pieter Nolle at the embassy's Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday.

But it was the opportunity to gather with friends and family for which most of them were thankful.
"They cherish the memory of just being under the same roof and having a meal together, and that memory will last for a week at least," Bill Te Awa said, who attended the meal last year as well.

"I'm hoping to get seconds, that would be the best part."

Jon Schrader and first-time attender Christine Fisher.
Jon Schrader and first-time attender Christine Fisher.

Christine Fisher, a newcomer to Wellington, said the meal was an example of the great things organisations did in the city to help people feel safe and welcome.

The lunch recipients were served by DCM workers and US embassy staff, including ambassador Mark Gilbert, wife Nancy and daughters Dani and Liz.

"It's a special time for us. It's the one time of the year that we always try and get together as a family," the ambassador said.

Dressed for the occasion, from left Marina Groen, Bernadette I and Terry Joseph.
Dressed for the occasion, from left Marina Groen, Bernadette I and Terry Joseph.

"Today's been a wonderful experience. We are fortunate that we have been very blessed and, for those who have maybe not been that fortunate, to be able to spend the day, to serve them and make sure they're well fed is a huge honour and privilege."

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Christmas Island is in the news, right now, and for the worst of reasons.

It is being used by the Australian government as a detention center for non-Australians who have served time for various crimes during their years in the country, but are now considered not worthy of residency.  They are held pending deportation.

Yet no one is told that it is one of the world's natural treasures, an island with a history as colorful as its wildlife.  They don't even know where it is -- that it is much closer to Java than Australia, for instance.

So, I decided to tell you about one of the most interesting places I have ever visited.


Let's start with the story of its discovery ....

And then it was forgotten, until .... 

The creation of a national park

First, Christmas Island was devastated.

Then it was saved, to preserve its unique character, and become a naturalist's paradise.

It is a story of greed and heroism.


The colorful land life of Christmas Island