Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Dreaded Cruise Ship Disease Redux

Nervous About Noro asks about my post last May, The Dreaded Cruise Ship Disease : "What other diseases should I watch out for on my upcoming cruise, and what really are my chances of getting sick on a cruise?"

Dealing with the second part of Nervous's question first, the answer is "not very high." The Centers for Disease Control, whose Vessel Sanitation Program tracks these things, reported 1,737 cases of gastrointestinal illness among cruise ship passengers (on vessels calling at US ports) in 2008. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider more than 9 million passengers travelled on ships within the CDC's jurisdiction during the same period, you get about a 1 in 5200 chance of being one of the sick ones.

The cases mentioned above were all contained within 15 separate outbreaks, and all but two of those were norovirus. Those other two were so-called "Traveler's Diarrhea," caused by the E coli bacterium. The other disease most commonly associated with cruise ships is Legionella, or Legionnaire's Disease. It is not nearly as prevalent as norovirus; yearly cases reported tend to be in the single digits, which make your odds of catching it literally one in a million.

Concern over the H1N1 "Swine Flu" virus has led to increased vigilance by both the CDC and the cruise lines, several of which cancelled stops in Mexico -- where the disease first appeared -- this year. As the Caribbean cruising season gets into full swing, it's worth noting there has been no major outbreak in the region, only a few dozen cases spread among the major islands. That and the slowdown of cases in the US has officials in the Caribbean hopeful that cruise ship outbreaks like those seen in Europe last summer can be avoided.

If you're traveling on a cruise ship, the CDC has some advice:
  1. Wash your hands!
    • Before and after
      • eating,
      • smoking,
    • After
      • touching your face,
      • going to the bathroom
    • When your hands are dirty.
  2. Leave the area if you see someone get sick (vomiting or diarrhea).

    Report to cruise staff, if not already notified.
    You could become sick if you ingest contaminated particles that travel through the air.
  3. Take care of yourself.

    Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water. Resting helps rebuild your immune system. Drinking water helps prevents dehydration.
  4. Be considerate of other people’s health.
  5. If you’re ill before taking a cruise, call the cruise line to determine if there are alternative cruising options.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Misunderstood Mariners: Hugh Malzac

Ever since 15-year-old powder boy James Forten fought aboard the privateer Royal Louis in the American Revolution, African Americans have served in the country's merchant marine. But it was not until 150 years later that an African American -- Hugh Malzac --rose to the rank of Master.

Malzac was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1886 and went to sea immediately after high school, eventually earning his mate's license. He immigrated to the United States in 1916, and within two years had passed the exams for his master's license, the first African American ever to do so. Having his license was one thing, finding a shipowner that would hire him as captain was another. Malzac spent the next two decades working mainly in the steward's department. He was also active in the labor movement in the 1930s, an activity that would come to haunt him in the two decades later.

With the outbreak of World War Two, Malzac lobbied hard on behalf of Negro mariners, and was eventually rewarded with command of the Liberty ship Booker T. Washington in 1942. It was something Malzac had worked for for two decades, but he almost turned it down because the crew was to be all black. Eventually, the ship's operators gave in and agreed to integrate the crew. Malzac took command, recalling later:
Everything I ever was, stood for, fought for, dreamed of, came into focus that day... The concrete evidence of the achievement gives one's strivings legitimacy, proves that the ambitions were valid, the struggle worthwhile. Being prevented for those twenty-four years from doing the work for which I was trained had robbed life of its most essential meaning. Now at last I could use my training and capabilities fully. It was like being born anew.
For the next five years he delivered troops and supplies to both theaters of the war and the occupation. In 22 trips, the Booker T. Washington transported 18,000 troops.

After the war, the ship's operators had their revenge and Malzac again couldn't get command of a ship. Things got worse in the next few years, as he lost both his seaman's papers due to the Red Scare of the 1950s and a run for public office. Eventually, a judge restored his papers, but Malzac never commanded a ship again, instead settling for night mate work until the end of his career. He died in 1971.

Time magazine's October 1942 account of Malzac taking command of the Booker T. Washington can be found on it's website here.

Malzac wrote a book about his experiences, A Star To Steer By, published in 1963.

For more on African Americans in the World War II-era Merchant Marine, click here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Locks and Canals

One of the reasons you didn't see more posts from me back in September was I was trapped. The vessel I was commanding was caught upstream of The Dalles Lock on the Columbia River when the lock had a mechanical problem. The lock was shut down for a week and a half, leaving me, my passengers (and those on a few other passenger vessels), and many tugs and barges with wheat, fuel, and garbage trapped on the wrong side of the dam. Navigation locks of many sizes are key components in the infrastructure that smoooths international trade.

Leonardo Da Vinci is given credit for imagining the first modern navigational lock, although the concept dates to ancient times. Simply put, a lock is a chamber that can be filled or emptied with water to allow vessels in it to sail between water lying at different altitudes. They are often built to help vessels get around or through some obstruction, whether its a hydroelectic dam (like The Dalles) or the Isthmus of Panama (like the Panama canal locks).

Some locks have rises or falls of only a few feet; many in Europe are operated by hand by boat skippers as needed. The locks at China's Three Gorges Dam will, when completed, move vessels up or down 350 feet. The John Day lock, not far from The Dalles lock, is the largest in the United States, with a vertical lift of 110 feet. It and The Dalles are part of the eight-lock Columbia and Snake River system, which allows vessels to transit from the mouth of the Columbia at sea level, to Lewiston, Idaho, 465 river miles from the sea and 745 feet above sea level.

Other famous locks and canals:

Erie Canal. The 524-mile canal, now called the New York State Canal System, connects Lake Erie with the Hudson River. Originally opened in 1824, this canal and its 34 locks now serve mainly recreational traffic.

Kiel Canal. The 61-mile long canal, opened in 1895, connects the Baltic Sea to the North Sea, allowing vessels to cut through the Jutland Peninsula. There are locks at each end. The Kiel Canal claims to be the busiest artificial waterway in Europe.

Oldest operating locks. Six locks on the Great Britain's river Avon between Bath and Bristol may be the oldest operating navigational locks, dating to 1728.

Panama Canal. The 48-mile long canal has three sets of locks and connects the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. When it was completed in 1914, it cut travel time from New York to San Francisco by more than half. The Canal's Gatun Locks are pictured above.

Suez Canal. The 119-mile waterway between the Red and Mediterranean Seas is entirely at sea level and contains no locks. It opened in 1869. Transiting the Suez Canal used to save shipowners significant time and money over a trip around Africa, but faster ships and recent piracy in the area have led some shipping companies to re-route some ships all the way around Africa.

Upper Mississippi. Twenty-six locks regulate the channel of the Mississippi from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the mouth of the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. The Ohio itself has twenty-one locks below Pittsburgh.

Welland Canal. Seven locks over 27 miles allow vessels to bypass Niagara Falls between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has an informative short animated demonstration of how the Soo Locks between Lakes Superior and Huron work here.

See an interesting time-lapse video of the Queen Elizabeth II's final transit of the Panama Canal and all its locks on YouTube here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Union Label

It was 1803 and some sailors in New York were upset. They had been living off $10 a month for some time. Ship owners and captains refused any request for more money, and any protests were met with stern measures, sometimes even violence. The fed-up sailors got together, staged a strike and, with the strength of numbers, eventually got their raise -- to $17 a month.

It was an amazing thing, considering the times. This was the Age of Sail, the time of Bligh and Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower. There was no organized labor movement of any kind -- the Industrial Revolution was just getting started -- let alone among mariners who most times just counted themselves lucky to be alive. Mariners could be forced to work in any conditions, and if they left the ship early could be dragged back in chains and flogged. If not caught, they forfeited all wages and personal property left on board. And these were not Navy seamen, but commercial seamen on privately-owned vessels.

It was more than half a century before any kind of labor movement among mariners was heard from again. In 1866, a group of mariners formed the short-lived Seaman's Friendly Union & Protective Society in San Francisco. It was another twenty years before a truly viable union was formed, again in San Francisco. In 1885 mariners on the US west coast organized to protest wages that continued to be rock bottom: only $25 a month more than 80 years after the New York strike. The union they formed would go on the be called the Sailor's Union of the Pacific (SUP), a union that continues to be active today.

Reforms were hard-won. The unions eventually won passage of the Seaman's Act of 1915, which regulated working hours, food, berthing, and safety requirements on US-flagged merchant vessels. As union leader Andrew Furuseth said when fighting for passage of the Act
You can put me in jail, but you cannot give me narrower quarters than as a seaman I have always had. You cannot make me lonelier than I have always been.
Like much of American organized labor, the maritime unions have seen a decline in membership in recent decades, but several are still active. Many of the maritime unions continue to hire out of hiring halls, where union members gather once or twice a day for job calls, and the person with the most seniority or who has been out of work longest gets first chance at each job.

The largest US maritime union is the Seafarer's International Union (SIU) which, like the SUP, represents unlicensed crew members on union-staffed vessels. Licensed officers are represented by the American Maritime Officers union or the International Brotherhood of Masters, Mates & Pilots. Some engineers are represented by the Marine Fireman's Union. Some smaller maritime unions are branches of large shoreside unions (like the International Longshore & Warehouse Union), while some government-employed mariners are represented by government employees' unions. About 16 percent of America's 84,000 mariners are members of unions.

For a vivid account of mariner life before the unions (and a sure cure for any romantic notions you might have about the Age of Sail), read Richard Henry Dana's classic Two Years Before The Mast. A free download is available here from Project Gutenberg.

An interesting history of the maritime labor movement can be found on the SIU's website here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Revenge Of The Battleships

On December 8, 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was a flurry of activity. The previous day’s attack by the Japanese had left more than 2400 dead, and nearly 1300 wounded. Eight battleships had been damaged in the attack, four of them resting on Pearl Harbor’s shallow bottom. Seven smaller warships were sunk or damaged and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed. But still up and running was the naval base’s shipyard, power station, and maintenance sheds. These last had not even been on the attacking plane’s target lists, a mistake the Japanese would have cause to regret later. Despite the (even today) oft-repeated claim that the attack crippled the US fleet, all but two of the battleships would get a chance to shoot back later in the war.

The battleship USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock during the attack, but suffered relatively minor damage. After repairs, she helped re-take the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu from the Japanese, and then moved to the South Pacific campaign. Hit by a Japanese bomb on August 12, 1945, she was the last major US warship damaged in World War II. She was decommissioned in 1948 following her role in the Bikini Atoll atomic test in 1946.

The USS Maryland was also quickly repaired and fought in the South Pacific. She was damaged at Okinawa in April 1945, and was being repaired when the war ended. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The more heavily damaged USS Tennessee followed the Pennsylvania to Alaska, then the South Pacific, and was part of the US occupation forces in Japan following the war. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The USS Nevada was heavily damaged in the attack and intentionally beached. Following extensive repairs, she supported the 1944 Normandy invasion, and then returned to the Pacific, where she finished the war. She was decommissioned following the Bikini test.

The heavily damaged USS California required extensive repairs, but was back in action for the last year of the South Pacific campaign, then the occupation. She was decommissioned in 1947.

Also heavily damaged, USS West Virginia was repaired and sent back into action. She took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the last gun battle between battleships in world history, and Operation Magic Carpet, transporting wounded and discharged servicemen home to the US. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The USS Oklahoma took one of the worst beatings at Pearl Harbor; nearly 400 of her crew died and others were rescued only because shipyard personnel cut escape holes on her upturned bottom. She was subsequently righted (see photo above), but was judged too badly damaged to return to service. She was decommissioned in 1944.

Two battleships never left Pearl Harbor: the USS Utah and the USS Arizona. Both remain there to this day, both with memorial facilities nearby. Although it is commonly believed that one or both are still US Navy-commissioned vessels, both were decommissioned during the war.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shackleton And South Georgia

On this date in 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton left South Georgia Island on his ship, the Endurance. It was Shackleton's third trip to Antarctica, and the goal of this "Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition" was an ambitious one: to cross the continent from coast to coast while passing through the South Pole. The expedition would not succeed, but what happened instead is considered by many to be even more remarkable.

Endurance sailed from South Georgia -- which lies about a third of the way from the tip of South America toward Africa -- toward the point from which the expedition would proceed over land. Heavy ice in the Weddell Sea caught the ship, and after being stuck for a few weeks Shackleton ordered the ship abandoned and a temporary station set up. The men remained trapped on the ice until April. The Endurance long since lost, they were forced into three remaining lifeboats when the ice they were floating on began to break up. After a rough crossing, they ended up on Elephant Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Two weeks later Shackleton and a few other men took one of the lifeboats on a 16-day journey back to South Georgia, then another day and a half trek over the island to a whaling station there.

It took Shackleton nearly three months to get the rest of the crew off Elephant Island. Although the other ship in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had suffered three casualties, all the men from Endurance survived.

After serving in World War I, Shackleton began preparations for yet another Antarctic expedition. It was not to be, though: Shackleton died en route, on South Georgia Island, where he was eventually buried, on January 5, 1922. He was 47 years old.

The original New York Times account of the expedition can he found here.

Shackleton's own first-hand account of the expedition is South: The Endurance Expedition, which includes images by expedition photographer Frank Hurley.

Shackleton's reputation was overshadowed for years by that of the commander of his first Antarctic expedition, Robert F. Scott. With changing times, the Victorian Scott fell from favor and the more modern Shackleton's reputation grew, culminating in the 1959 publication of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. A more recent work, which includes many of Hurley's photos, is Caroline Alexander's The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh have both starred in movies dramatizing the expedition, and there have been several documentaries.

The current issue of National Geographic has an article about South Georgia Island by Kenneth Brower, with photos by Paul Nicklen. Find it here.

At least two books have taken Shackleton's leadership style as a model for modern managers: Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lesson From The Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morell and others, and Leading From The Edge: Leadership Lessons From The Extraordinary Saga Of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N.T. Perkins and others.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holidays At Sea

When you consider how many traditions and superstitions mariners have about almost everything, it's surprising how few Christmas traditions there are at sea. At least one in seven people on earth are Christians, and twice that many will celebrate Christmas in one form or other. Add to that those who recognize the Jewish Hanukkah, the African Kwanzaa, and the Pagan Yule, and you have a good share of the world's people, yet holiday traditions at sea are mainly just those brought from land.

Many seafaring traditions are based in the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday, so it is bad luck to begin a sea voyage on Friday, and good luck to begin one on Sunday. It's also bad luck to begin a voyage on the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah), or December 31 (the day Judas Iscariot hanged himself). Such superstitions predate the Christians by centuries, of course; Roman seafarers believed it bad luck to cut your nails or hair on board ship (it offended Neptune), and that it was good luck to offer the gods wine by pouring onto the deck of a ship.

Three chapters of From The Bridge: Authentic Modern Sea Stories, by mariner and writer Kelly Sweeney, are devoted to the topic of the holidays at sea. In addition to recounting some of his holiday experiences on board various vessels, Sweeney looks at various gifts for the mariner. The biggest, if you are another mariner, is holiday relief:
It is no easy task locating reliefs during the holidays, because no one wants to miss the time with the family. Sailors scheduled to go back to work may avoid answering the phone, or perhaps they'll travel somewhere they can't be reached until after the New Year. Those currently onboard, who are supposed to have the holidays off, call and harass the office to find a relief so they can make it back in time for the festivities.
If you're not a mariner, but just love one, Sweeney suggests a good set of rain gear, a pocket knife, a set of channel locks for those working on tankers, a flashlight, or a laminated family photo.

Some other nautical holiday traditions:

New York's Seaman's Church Institute has run a Christmas At Sea volunteer knitting program for more than a century. Knitting groups around the country makes scarves and other items, which are distributed free of charge to seamen. For more information click here.

The Charleston Port and Seafarers Society delivers care packages at ships calling in Charleston during the holidays. More information here.

The Seafarers & International Home in New York has a similar program. See more here.

The Patrick O'Brian website re-creates some Christmas dishes from the Age of Sail here.

The schooner Rouse Simmons, the legendary "Christmas Tree Ship," was lost with all aboard while delivering Christmas trees to Chicago in 1912. For more see The Maritime History Of The Great Lakes website.

If you work at sea, check out Kelly Sweeney's New Years resolutions for mariners in the latest issue of Professional Mariner. I'll post a link as soon as it becomes available online.

Many seaside communities have Christmas ship or boat parades, or boat lightings, like those pictured above. For info about this year's festivities, check out the following links to a port near you