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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Famous in Micronesia

Quite by accident, I found this review in the Marianas Variety  -- and, having researched Micronesian whaling, piracy, and castaway history many times over the years, it was fun as well as pleasing.

The writer of this piece, 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.
IF you love stories of sailing, adventure, the vast Pacific, navigation, or other such things I want to introduce you to one of my favorite authors, Joan Druett. She is a New Zealander who has written a couple dozen books over the last twenty years. I have yet to be disappointed.
My introduction to Druett came when I read “Rough Medicine,” the story of ship’s surgeons and the state of the medical field two hundred years ago. It was a fascinating read and Druett is a great story teller. In fact, one of the compliments often repeated is that she writes with such drama and flair that her non-fiction books read more like a novels.
I wanted more so I devoured “In the Wake of Madness,” a blow-by-blow account of the mutiny aboard the whale ship Sharon, one of the most famous and bloody such events to stain the pages of Pacific history. All the usual clichés apply: it is a page-turner, a genuine thriller, a fascinating glimpse into the grim world of nineteenth century whaling at its worst. It is as much a detective story as a chronicle of mutiny, and worth every minute you spend reading it.
I knew that Druett’s reputation as a writer and historian rested largely on her expertise on the subject of women at sea, something very few historians have written about. So I gobbled up “She Captains,” her book about women at sea in the Age of Sail. It was a worthy read, reminiscent of “Hen Frigates,” although I liked “She Captains” more.
By then I was a legitimate member of the Joan Druett fan club (not really, it’s just a figure of speech). I had done my own research on the two shipwrecks on Auckland Island in 1864, in my opinion one of the greatest survival stories of all time and it is criminal that a movie has not been made about it yet. So I was excited to read Druett’s “Island of the Lost.” It made me feel good that I had not written the story myself, although I contemplated it, because I could not have done as fine a job as she did. If you read one book this year make it “Island of the Lost.”
Her latest book is “The Notorious Captain Hayes,” about the infamous Bully Hayes. There is no way to briefly tell the tale of this wretched man, who stole and plundered, swindled and gambled, lied and cajoled his way from one corner of the Pacific to the other. He was a true scoundrel whose legend grew larger than the man, as the press and public couldn’t get enough of his exploits. I can’t wait to read it.
I must admit that I have only read her non-fiction books but she has written many fiction novels. Her detective series, the Wiki Coffin mysteries, are big sellers and it is only a matter of time before I start in on them.
Although she has released books through several companies I want to mention a publishing house that Druett has had a nice relationship with, Old Salt Press. From their website, it is “an independent press catering to those who love books about ships and the sea. We are an association of writers working together to produce the very best of nautical and maritime fiction and non-fiction. We invite you to join us as we go down to the sea in books.”
Give Joan Druett a read, then see what you think of the other authors at Old Salt Press.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Gorgeous Faberge tiara

It's for sale...

Rare Historic Fabergé Tiara Of Imperial Russian Provenance Unseen For Century To Sell At Christie's

And I do wonder what it will fetch....

There's also a story.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia was forced, at age 18, into an arranged marriage to Friedrich Franz, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northern Germany, an unhealthy man who was a decade her senior. Her life was embroiled in scandal, resulting from her compulsive gambling, frequent relocation, and a love affair with her male secretary that led to a pregnancy which she covered up with lies about her own health, ranging from a tumor to chicken pox.
Despite her own unfortunate circumstances, she encouraged her son, Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, to marry young, and to commission his wedding gift for Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland, Germany, at her beloved atelier Fabergé in St. Petersburg. A world-renowned discerning Fabergé collector, the Russian grand duchess led a parallel, meticulous and thoughtful life when it came to helping her son select a precious and meaningful heirloom, an elegant, majestic Fabergé tiara composed of nine graduated pear-shaped aquamarines and rose-cut diamonds.
Designed to celebrate a royal marriage, the tiara was created in 1904 with intricate forget-me-not flowers fastened with ribbon bows, to represent true and eternal love, pierced by arrows depicting cupid, the classical mythological god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection.

The tiara isn’t simply a royal jewel, it’s a tremendously important piece of rare historic art from an empire that embodies grandeur and terror with equal zeal.
This work of art of unrivaled provenance will be offered at auction for the first time ever in the Magnificent Jewels sale on May 15 at Christie’s Geneva, the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues. The collection will be on view at Christie’s London from April 9-11, and in Geneva from May 10-15. The exquisite tiara is expected to fetch between $230,000 and $340,000. The sale comes more than a century since the tiara was first revealed.
“Tiaras are particularly evocative and romantic jewels and this splendid example having been commissioned by Grand Duke Frederick Francis IV to present his future wife Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland embodies the perfect wedding present," saidAngela Berden, Christie’s Senior Specialist, J ewelry. "This extraordinary provenance is made even more exceptional in the light of records which show the close collaboration between the Grand Duke and Eugène Fabergé (the eldest son of Peter Carl Fabergé) during the tiara’s inception.”

Friday, May 10, 2019

Pigeons on Planes

In the picture above, believe it or not, the two pilots of a seaplane are releasing a pigeon.


Because it was the early days, before radio, and so the only way of communicating with the mother craft was by pigeon!

Read more from the Naval Institute blog:

Admiral Alfred Melville Pride‘s early interest in aviation was followed by his enlistment in Naval Reserve for World War I in 1917, aviation training, and brief overseas duty in France. In 1922, Pride joined the commissioning crew of the United State’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley(CV-1), as one of her aviators.
Pride recalled many years later one of the little-known facts about the earlier carrier—that when the Langley was built equipped with a carrier pigeon loft. Admiral Pride explains why in an edited excerpt below.
Up to the time the Langley was commissioned, every naval air station had carrier pigeons we used to take with us on flights. Before we took off, we went over to the pigeon loft and got a little box with four pigeons in it. Then, if we had a forced landing, of which we had quite a number, we wrote out a message and stuck it in the capsule that was fastened to the pigeon’s leg and let it go. The pigeon flew back to the air station, and they knew where we were, presumably. This had been going on for a long while in the early days of aviation.
Carrier pigeons in pigeon box being handed up to pilot in plane before leaving, U.S. Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C. February 12, 1919.
Carrier pigeons in pigeon box being handed up to pilot in plane before leaving, U.S. Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C. February 12, 1919. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
The pigeons were kept on the fantail of the Langley in a large room, the pigeon loft. During shakedowns, the pigeon quartermaster—there was such a fellow—would let his pigeons out, one or two at a time, for exercise. They’d leave the ship and fly around, and usually stayed in sight. Pretty soon, they’d come back and land on a little platform connected to a little alarm bell outside the coop. The bell would ring, and the pigeon quartermaster opened the door, and in they’d go.
 Inside view of an up to date Pigeon Loft, Navy's Main Loft at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C
Inside view of a Navy Pigeon Loft (Naval History and Heritage Command)
One beautiful morning, while in the Chesapeake Bay, anchored off Tangier Island, Commander “Squash” Griffin said to the pigeon quartermaster, “Let them all go.” The pigeon quartermaster demurred a little, but Squash said, “Go ahead, let them all go.” The pigeon quartermaster opened the coop and let all the pigeons out at once. They took off, heading for Norfolk, since they had been trained while the ship was in the Norfolk Navy Yard. All at once, we had no pigeons on the Langley. Pretty soon we got a dispatch from the Navy Yard. I don’t know how Norfolk knew they were ours, but they said, “Your pigeons are all back here. We haven’t got any appropriation for pigeon feed.”
Group of overseas pigeons feeding (French birds). U.S. Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C. February 5, 1919.
A group of carrier pigeons in training ca. 1919. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
We put the pigeon quartermaster in a plane and flew him down to Norfolk. He found them all roosting in the crane where we’d been fitting out. After dark, the quartermaster climbed up in the crane and picked them up—it can be done after dark—and took them over to the Naval Air Station. That’s the last we ever saw of pigeons on the Langley. They made the pigeon coop into the executive officer’s cabin, a very nice one, incidentally.
DT-2 landing on the USS Langley (CV-1), 16 January 1925
The USS Langley (CV-1) was the United States’ first aircraft carrier. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)
The Lexington and Saratoga, meanwhile, had been laid down as battle cruisers, each with a nice, big compartment up on the main deck (which was the deck below the flight deck) set aside as the pigeon loft. The Navy deleted the pigeon loft from the plans of the Lexington and Saratoga and made them into berthing compartments. The pigeons were expendable since, by then, our aircraft were carrying wireless. The flying boats had wireless all through World War I, and the ones we used for flying off the battleships had radio in them the first year to transmit our locations. We didn’t get voice on the planes until after World War I.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sea Trials

Well, here I am  with more on the Alaric Bond "Fighting Sail" series, as promised.  Having read Sealed Orders for the fourth leisurely time, I raced onto my proof copy of Sea Trials, and finished it within two days, having found it almost impossible to put down.

Not only is Sea Trials a page-turner, but it storms on at a cracking pace.  In fact -- as you will be astonished to learn -- it reminded me a great deal of episode three of the eighth season of nothing less than GAME OF THRONES!

This is because episode two of the eighth season of GoT -- currently streaming round the world, to a rapt and fixated billions-fold host of fans -- was relatively quiet.  There was a lot of chat, and character development.  This was very much like Sealed Orders,  the prequel to Sea Trials, perhaps because of the evolution of the dramatis personae.  A major player in this exploration of the characters crewing Mistral was a shady cove by the name of Russell, who was pressed into the navy after being uncloaked as a crook, but who carried on to become a promisingly likeable person.  I do so love Bond's depiction of the ordinary jacks of the lower deck, giving them a voice that no other writer in the genre has managed.  And his development of this gutter rat into a decent seaman was truly exceptional.

But back to Game of Thrones, and why I was reminded of the current series as I raced through the pages of Sea Trials.  Episode three of the eighth season of GoT is mostly a cracking battle, perhaps the best battle of all the series.  Sea Trials has more than one battle (and there are no dragons), but the actions follow so closely upon each other that the story reads like one vast conflict, with Captain King, in command of the Mistral, seemingly taking on the might of the Napoleonic Navy all by himself.

And with the help, by the way, of  very lowly crew member Russell, whom we left at the end of Sealed Orders minus a leg.  At the time the budding able seaman's only ray of hope was the assurance of the job of cook.  It was traditional in the British Navy, you see, for chaps who lost a hand or leg -- and therefore could not mount the rigging -- to turn to the galley stove instead.  And this is where Russell ended up -- but with unexpected results.  Not only did every jack on board loathe his cooking, but he proved to be a capable hand at ....

But I leave it to you to find out.  Buy the book to solve the mystery, and you certainly won't be sorry.  

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Monster waves getting bigger

Monstrous waves in the Southern Ocean, wild winds at the Equator

The natural world sure is changing.

Waves in the Southern Ocean have already been recorded over 20 metres in height, but new research shows they're getting higher. 
A small but significant increase of 1.5 metres per second - 8 per cent - was noted by researchers who analysed approximately 4 billion observations from 31 satellites and 80 ocean buoys worldwide. 
"Although increases of 5 and 8 per cent might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts," said Professor Ian Young from the University of Melbourne.
The study - published in Science - analysed data from 33 years and detected an increase in winds in the Antarctic Ocean, which increased by 30 centimetres or 5 per cent. 
It also found extreme winds are increasing in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans near the equator, and the North Atlantic Ocean by around 0.6 metres per second. 
Such changes bring a number of threats. 
"These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructure at risk."
Young noted that any changes in the Southern Ocean can have a far reaching effect, as it is the "origin for swell that dominates the wave climate of the South Pacific, South Atlantic and Indian Oceans and determines the stability of beaches for much of the Southern Hemisphere".
Researchers are now looking towards the next 100 years, trying to create a predictive global climate model to help foresee any potential wind and wave changes. 
"We need a better understanding of how much of this change is due to long-term climate change, and how much is due to multi-decadal fluctuations, or cycles."