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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ocean Liners, Speed and Style

Olympia in drydock

Oh, if only I was in London, right now.  The Victoria & Albert Museum is staging a wonderful exhibit commemorating ocean liners, old and new.

The warm review by Rosemary Hill in London Review of Books includes some really interesting and thought-provoking tidbits.

Before the First World War, she says, ocean liners were deliberately designed to fool the passengers into believing that they were not at sea.  The open decks were working spaces, inhabited only by seamen.  Everything, including the swimming pool, was indoors -- and the indoor spaces were all grand country mansion.  Stuccoed ceilings, complete with classical decorations, stained glass in the skylights and windows (to hide the tempestuous sea outside), palm courts, grand pianos ...  There was so much heavy, ornate furniture that it's a wonder they all didn't sink like the Titanic but without the need for an iceberg.

But, after 1918, everything changed.  Modernism and art deco took over.  The swimming pools moved out into the open air, passengers and crew mingled, and the decor was much more reminiscent of the sea outside, with nautical paintings and nautical themes.  The marvelous Queen Mary was perhaps the epitome of them all.   But, like others, she was reduced to being a troop ship, and after 1945 ocean liners were never the same.  Aircraft were intruding on the scene, and by the mid 1960's, air travel had taken over.  The liner, as Hill says, became "an indulgence without a destination."  The cruise ship had arrived.

And, guess what, the huge behemoths like Disney and Royal Caribbean, designed to carry a complete town of nearly seven thousand passengers off on vacation, are also designed to fool those passengers into believing that they are actually not at sea at all.  

"Plus ça changeplus c'est la même chose," as they say.

It reminds me of one cruise I sailed as a guest lecturer where (a) one of the two engines failed (b) the other engine worked only intermittently, and (c) we were hit by the tail end of a hurricane.  We were very glad to finally arrive in port, though it was to find that most of the terminal had blown away.  Despite all this, the passengers for the next cruise were lined up ready to board.  Obviously, the ship wasn't going anywhere, not until it was fixed.  But the staff weren't worried in the slightest -- "We'll stay at the mooring, and have a three-day party on board instead."

I heard afterwards that no one was unhappy.  There were no complaints.  In fact, it was one of the most successful "cruises" of the year.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Robot submarine finds Manila Galleon wreck

From the CBS

A 310-year-old Spanish shipwreck carrying treasure that might be worth up to $17 billion was discovered with the help of an underwater robot. It's called the Remus 6000 and it can dive nearly four miles and is loaded with sensors and cameras. 
Bronze cannons confirmed "the holy grail of shipwrecks" had been found at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. They are engraved with dolphins – a telltale sign they belong to the Spanish galleon San Jose, lost more than 300 years ago.
"I just sat there for about 10 minutes and smiled," said Jeff Kaeli, a research engineer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 
Kaeli was alone in his bunk on the search vessel when he spotted the cannons.
"I'm not a marine archaeologist, but...I know what a cannon looks like. So in that moment, I guess I was the only person in the world who knew we'd found the shipwreck," he said. 
The exact location of the wreckage is still a secret, but it was discovered in November 2015 off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. Its cargo of gold, silver, and emeralds could be worth as much as $17 billion.
The Remus 6000, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, found the ship almost 2,000 feet below the surface. The underwater robot scanned the sea floor using long-range sonar then went back and took pictures of any objects that seemed out of the ordinary.
"You can take bigger risks with your technology and go to places where it wouldn't be safe or feasible to put a human being," Kaeli said. 
The Remus used the same methods to find Air France Flight 447, which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009.

British warships sunk the San Jose and its crew of 600 in 1701. For now, all of its treasure remains underwater.  Working with the Colombian government, the Woods Hole team also found artifacts like teacups and ceramic jugs.

"Everyone is focused on the treasure aspect….The whole thing is a cultural treasure. It's a piece of history that's sitting on the sea floor that tells a story," Kaeli said.  
The wreck has been shrouded in secrecy because of lingering questions about who owns it.
Colombia and Spain both say it belongs to them. The researchers at Woods Hole say they are explorers, not treasure hunters, and are not involved in the ownership disputes.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Lifeboatmen drowning in a sea of political correctness

They did the same at Dunkirk...

But Britain has apparently forgotten.

From the Daily Mail

When Andy Hibbs isn’t hauling lobster pots aboard his fishing boat Matauri Bay, he devotes himself to helping those who, as the hymn goes, find themselves in peril on the sea.

The son of a lifeboatman, he joined the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) at the age of 21 and has spent his adult life serving at its station in his hometown St Helier, the capital of Jersey.

For doing this skilled, time-consuming, and often dangerous job, the 45-year-old father of one hasn’t earned a penny (like almost all RNLI crew members, he’s an unpaid volunteer). But it offers other 
The entire crew of an RNLI station in Jersey has quit after coxswain Andy Hibbs, 50, left. Friends claim he was 'bullied into resignation' after he allegedly launched a lifeboat without permission from the RNLI
The entire crew of an RNLI station in Jersey has quit after coxswain Andy Hibbs, 50, left. Friends claim he was 'bullied into resignation' after he allegedly launched a lifeboat without permission from the RNLI

His crew have saved countless lives, becoming pillars of their seafaring community.

One morning in 1995, to cite perhaps their greatest triumph, Hibbs was part of a team which helped a catamaran carrying 300 passengers that had hit rocks off the coast of Jersey, and was sinking.

With disregard for their safety, they got alongside the vessel, which was listing dangerously, and plucked off men, women and children.

‘It was a real eye-opener,’ he recalls. ‘It brought home how serious the job was, and the responsibility in our hands.’

More recently, Hibbs was coxswain (the effective captain of a lifeboat) when his 25-strong crew featured in an ITV News item about the ‘brilliant’ and ‘capable’ RNLI teams in the Channel Islands.

Yet this summer, one aspect of their job will be different.

When they motor out of St Helier harbour to save lives, they won’t fly the RNLI flag. They are no longer associated with the famous charity.

It follows an extraordinarily bitter row, initially centring on an alleged breach of a health and safety procedure, which has placed the island’s lifeboatmen in conflict with the wealthy maritime charity’s headquarters in Poole.

The dispute — which led to allegations of bullying, intimidation and mendacity on both sides — rumbled on for more than a year. It has seen public demonstrations and rumours of corruption and cover-ups.

Matters culminated before Christmas with the entire St Helier lifeboat crew resigning.
Hibbs and his team have relaunched as an independent operation, the Jersey Lifeboat Association, and will soon take delivery of their first vessel.

‘I’m sad that it has come to this, but the RNLI caused this mess,’ Hibbs says. ‘They have been unpleasant and confrontational, and treated us volunteers with contempt.’

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Two old shipwrecks, no plane

From the Smithsonian

Two nineteenth century shipwrecks have been discovered off the western coast of Australia, during the search for MH370.  Which means that the searchers do not scoop the bounty that would have come their way if they had discovered the missing plane, but the shipwrecks are interesting, nonetheless.

According to the Western Australia Maritime Museum, they were both nineteenth century coal carriers.  At a guess, one, which is wooden, may have been the W. Gordonwhich was lost at sea after the brig departed Cape Town, South Africa in June 1876, during a voyage from Clyde, Glasgow to Adelaide, Australia. Another possible candidate is the barque Magdala, which disappeared in 1882 while traveling from Penarth, Wales to Ternate, Indonesia. 

Whatever the identity of the vessel, it appears to have come to a violent end. The ship’s cargo was found scattered across the seabed, suggesting that it went down “as a result of a catastrophic event such as explosion, which was common in the transport of coal cargoes."

It certainly was common, coal being so combustible. As I recorded in Hen Frigates, my story of wives at sea under sail, Lady Brassey, an Englishwoman who sailed about the world on her husband's luxury yacht in 1876, wrote after an encounter with a bark on fire that of every three ships that carried coal or coke, one caught fire on the way around Cape Horn.  Still today, coal is classified as a dangerous cargo.

The second wreck, which is made of iron, is in better condition than the first. It lies upright on the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and experts were able to determine that it once had at least two decks. Analysis of a coal sample retrieved from the site suggests that the ship was British in origin. Ross Anderson, the museum curator, believes the vessel is most likely the West Ridge, which disappeared on a voyage from Liverpool, England to Bombay, India in 1883.

Both sunken ships would have held crews of between 15 and 30 men, according to Anderson, and it is possible that additional passengers were on board. Sea captains, for instance, sometimes took their wives and children with them on international voyages.

It certainly was common for captains' wives and children to sail, back in the days of rope and canvas -- and many wives and children suffered shipwreck after the cargo caught fire, too.  A famous example is Mary Ellen Clarke, who sailed on the square-rigger Frank N. Thayer in 1885. There, the cargo was hemp and tar.  

The disaster started when some Malays who had been taken on as crew seized the ship.  The two mates were killed and the captain, Robert K. Clarke, was gravely wounded.  Mary Ellen, who was made of particularly stern stuff, held off the insurgents by firing at them through the cabin windows, allowing the regular seamen to retake the ship.  But, unfortunately, the Thayer was doomed.  Before diving overboard,  choosing death rather than capture, the maddened mutineers had set fire to the cargo.

All efforts to put out the fire were doomed, and so the largest ship's boat was launched.  Mary Ellen, her husband, and her little girl piled into it, along with the surviving regular crew, and they pulled off a safe distance, where they sat and watched the ship flare up, groan, and disappear beneath the waves.  And then they made a mast by lashing three oars together, turned a blanket into a sail, and set off for St. Helena.

Clarke survived the ordeal, but only because of the care of his wife.  The gash in his chest was so deep that his left lung was sticking out.  Mary Ellen pushed it back inside, and sewed a tight bandage around his ribs to keep it in place.  There were several seamen whose injuries had to be tended, too.  And then there was the little girl, Carrie.  She had remained silent and still throughout the struggle to save the ship, and didn't make any fuss at all on the hundred-mile trip to the island.  But then, as Mary Ellen remarked to the newspapermen, she always had been a well-behaved child.

Are stories like this connected to the two wrecks off Australia?  It is very likely indeed, but unfortunately they are lost to history.  Like the still unsolved fate of flight MH370.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The new Joan Druett look

Well, this is fun.  My new profile picture arrived from Slovakia yesterday, courtesy of Jan Jakubec, book printer, book seller, book binder, and translator of Lady Castaways.

I assume that he is the clever creator of this whimsical portrait.  Thank you, Jano J, for this most original original artwork!

This latest translation means that my books are now in Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, French, and yes, Slovakian.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Massive wave south of New Zealand

It's all happening here .

A monster wave has been recorded in the Southern Ocean that is probably not the biggest in the series, as the storm that spawned it had been raging for a while.

As I found out when researching the background to Island of the Lost, which is an account of two shipwrecks on Auckland Island in the sub-Antarctic in 1865, and the bleakly contrasting fates of the two sets of castaways, the Southern Ocean is notorious for its tempestuous seas.  The western cliffs of Auckland Island, which snared many a hapless ship breasting the stormy 'fifties latitude about the southern Pacific, were known to sailors as "the Jaws of Hell."

What is different about this week's storm is that the movement of the water matched the movement of the gale, allowing the waves to build up to incredible heights.

This week's measured wave (probably not the largest) was 28.3 meters.  The largest previously recorded was 22.03 meters, measured in 2012.

The buoy that recorded it was solar powered, and to conserve its battery, it made a 20-minute sample every three hours.

The lord alone knows what happened between samplings.

MetOcean, which makes the survey, is an operation wholly owned by MetService, the weather forecasting and recording institution in New Zealand.

Seeing the bottom of the world in New Zealand

Massive sinkhole opens up in New Zealand, revealing ancient strata

It reminds me of a time many years ago, when a fence was being erected about our house in Rotorua.  The hole for the corner post suddenly opened up to reveal a chasm.  From memory, it took a few truckloads of gravel to fill it up, so the fence could be completed.

From the Smithsonian ....

A New Zealand farm worker was rounding up cows in the early morning last week when he stumbled upon a huge sinkhole that seems to have torn through the property overnight. According to Yasemin Saplakoglu of Live Sciencethe crater measures around 655 feet long and 65 feet deep; local experts are saying it is the biggest sinkhole they have ever seen.
The farm, located in the Rotorua district of New Zealand’s North Island, sits atop the crater of a long-dormant volcano. Brad Scott, a volcanologist with the research organization GNS Science, tells TVNZ that he was able to see “the original 60,000-year-old volcanic deposit[s]” at the bottom of the newly formed crater. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Scott notes that he has never before encountered such a large sinkhole in New Zealand—and he believes the gaping chasm will continue to get bigger.
“This will erode back, the sides will continue collapsing and the hole will open over the next decade or so,” Scott explains.
According to New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission, “collapse holes” are quite common in the Rotorua region, which is filled with soft, pumice-based soils. Water seeping into the ground erodes the soil beneath the surface, creating cavities or tunnels. When a sub-surface cavity gets so big that it cannot support the land above it, the ground collapses into a sinkhole.
Scary, I suppose.  But Rotorua is still worth a visit .... to see geological wonders, as well as some interesting history.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Books by women priced 45% lower, study finds

From the Guardian

A study of more than 2m books has revealed that titles by female authors are on average sold at just over half the price of those written by men.
The research, by sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner of Queens College-CUNY, looked at titles published in North America between 2002 and 2012. The authors analysed the gender of each author by matching names to lists of male and female names, and cross-referenced with information about price, genre and publication.
Books by women released by mainstream publishers, they found, were priced on average 45% lower than books by men. In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, the academics point out that there are more female authors writing in genres such as romance, which are generally priced lower than male-dominated genres such as science. But even after accounting for these differences, they found that prices for authors with identifiably female names were 9% lower than for male authors.
Weinberg said the study was inspired by the VIDA counts of book reviews, which have shown the skew towards reviews of books by male authors, written by male reviewers. “Our study looked at all three types of discrimination – the gender segregation by book genre, the different value placed on these genres, and then finally the difference within the genres,” she said. “VIDA has been very good about calling attention to the first issue, namely the lack of representation of female authors in certain genres, and others have emphasised how books written predominantly by women and for women such as romance and women’s fiction do not receive the recognition they deserve.”
It was little surprise to see evidence of segregation by genre and the differing values placed on each genre, Weinberg added, but the researchers were very surprised at how clear this discrimination was.
“We expected that taking account of the first two discrimination patterns would knock out any remaining differences in prices within genre,” she said, “but we were wrong about that. The within-genre price difference (9% for traditionally published titles) was extremely robust across various analyses. In retrospect, perhaps we should not have been surprised about this difference, since this pattern also mirrors the wage inequality within jobs that we see in the larger economy.”
The study also looked at self-published, or independently published, titles over the same period, finding that when authors priced books themselves, there was far greater equality between the genders – although there was still a price gap of 7%. Inequality was also seen within genres for self-publishers, at 4% compared with the 9% for traditionally published books.
“Without the publishers, we see slightly less discrimination, but it’s still apparent, and it follows the same patterns,” said Weinberg. “The easy answer [for the disparity] would be that publishing companies are sexist, but the indie findings challenge that simple explanation. The findings point to the strength of shared social contexts. Likely, publishers and authors share many of the same unconscious biases about what genre specialties are appropriate for male or female authors and about the value of those genres, and indie authors may also be mimicking what they see in the traditional publishing world. In addition, both traditional publishers and indie authors are creating and reacting to markets for their work, or to their perceptions of those markets, and placing and pricing their titles accordingly.”
Costa-winning novelist Francesca Segal said the study made her furious. “I had no idea, but how exhausting, enervating and entirely predictable. It is the old news framed in a new way – women paid less for the same work,” she said.
Novelist Joanne Harris said she had not previously noticed the discrepancy in pricing, “but in an industry where women’s work is generally seen as of less value and relevance, for it to be literally priced lower seems to make a twisted kind of sense”.
“It needs to be looked at in detail, as every case of this kind of thing adds subliminally to the general perception that books by women are disposable, forgettable and less worthy of attention,” she said.
I'd like to see comments on this, as I had no idea that there was any discrimination on the basis of price.  I am sure, for instance, that books published by Harlequin or Mills and Boon that were written by men cost the same as those written by their female co-authors (though perhaps the fact that the men write under a female pseudonym could be a factor).  Though I know a number of female writers who choose to use initials rather than their first names, they all say that they do it because male writers sell better than female writers, particularly in the maritime genre.  Price has never been mentioned as a factor.
With thanks to Don Gilling for the link to this interesting article by Alison Flood.