Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Legend Of The Wren (Re-post)

This post was originally published on January 1, 2011
The wren, the wren the king of all birds
St. Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze
Up with the kettle down with the pan
Give us a penny to bury the wren.
If a mariner wears the feather of a wren killed on New Year’s Day, he will not drown at sea, claims an old superstition. According to the legend, a mermaid who enjoyed luring sailors to their death transformed herself into a wren when pursued. Eventually, the gods took notice of the mermaid’s misbehavior, and condemned her to appear every New Year’s Day as a wren, hunted by the sailors once lured to shipwreck and death by her songs.

In pagan times, the wren was considered a sacred bird. The Irish noun for wren, Dreoilín, is derived from drui-éan, meaning “Druid bird.” The Celtic goddess of love, Clíona, frequently took the form of a wren, and the birds themselves were considered messengers of the gods. The Oak King, who is sacrificed to the sun god Bel on the summer solstice, also takes the form a wren.

Christians consider the wren a bad omen, perhaps because it was held sacred by the pagans. A wren is supposed to have led the Romans to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane; another is said to have betrayed the martyr St. Stephen to the mob that stoned him to death. More recently, a wren was supposedly beat a drum betraying the location of an Irish army subsequently massacred by Oliver Cromwell’s troops. A French folk belief holds that touching a wren’s nest will cause pimples.

These latter beliefs led to the hunting of wrens, the main day for which was December 26, or St. Stephen’s feast day. Boys who caught and killed wrens would take them from house to house and receive money from the families living there. If a household refused to pay up, the boys would bury the wren in front of the house, causing the family disgrace.

Wrens are not the only birds to figure in sailors’ superstitions. Perhaps best known is the albatross, which are supposed to carry the souls of dead sailors. Killing an albatross is considered bad luck for the entire ship, thus the phrase “an albatross around his neck.” Other common mariners’ superstitions involving birds:
  • Sighting a cormorant or a curlew at sea is considered bad luck
  • Sighting a swallow, robin, or dove is considered good luck
  • If a robin flies over a woman on St. Valentine’s Day, she will marry a sailor.
  • Three seagulls flying together, directly overhead, signify impending doom.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Note: A different version of this post originally ran on July 14, 2009.

Ice has been a challenge to mariners from ancient times right up until today. Two of the most infamous maritime disasters of all time, the Titanic sinking and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, were caused by either a collision with an ice berg or an attempt to avoid one.

Calving glaciers. The photos at left show the South Sawyer glacier in Tracy Arm, a fjord in Southeast Alaska. The picture on top was taken in May of 1995, the bottom picture in June 2009. South Sawyer was always good for a show, but about five years ago it started calving at a much increased rate and went into what scientists call "catastrophic retreat." The pictures weren't taken at the exact same distance (lots of seal pups were hauled out on the ice in the more recent picture, so the Spirit of Yorktown kept her distance to avoid disturbing them) but it's obvious how much the glacier has retreated in the intervening years.

Ice words. It's a myth that Eskimos have more than a dozen words for "snow," but mariners have developed a huge vocabulary to describe ice of various sizes, age, and composition. Large chunks of floating ice are called either bergy bits or growlers. Bergy bits are the size of a small building, reaching up to five meters above the water and an area of up to 300 square meters. Growlers -- named for the sound they sometimes make as they bounce in the waves -- reach less than a meter above the water and take up about 20 square meters. Sea ice -- ice formed by saltwater -- can be described as frazil, grease, nilas, rind, pancake, young, old, etc.

Great Lakes Ice. During a particularly cold winter, Lake Superior can be completely frozen over for some periods, with ice as thick as 100 centimeters. During a mild winter, Lake Ontario can be basically ice-free, possibly with some forming around the entrance to the St. Lawrence River in early January. Despite this variability, recent years have seen a decline in the amount of overall Great Lakes ice formed and the time it stays frozen. While this may seem like a boon for shipping at first, the increased time the water of the Lakes stays in liquid form increases the evaporation rate in a given year, ultimately lowering the lake level.

Ice breakers. Coast Guard and research vessels (or cruise ships that are converted research vessels) rated as ice breakers have especially heavy and reinforced hulls. These vessels don't break ice by plowing through it, they break ice by running their bows up on the ice and using the weight of the vessel to break up the ice from above. Ice breakers are mainly used in areas where sea ice has formed, or in large frozen areas of fresh water like the Great Lakes. In places like Tracy Arm, ship captains go slow, contact ice chunks at an angle, and take into account the material and thickness of their hull. The above video shows the Canadian Coast Guard cutter Samuel Risley in action in Thunder Bay.

Michael Scott of The Cleveland Plain Dealer filed an excellent article on the consequences of the reduction of Great Lakes ice in March 2009. Find it here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Misunderstood Mariners: Robert Louis Stevenson and Christmas At Sea (Re-post)

Note: This post originally appeared December 22, 2009.
British writer Robert Louis Stevenson not only invented the popular characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (in the novel bearing their names), and Long John Silver (in the novel Treasure Island), he was also an accomplished mariner. After a lifetime of ill health, he set out from San Francisco in 1888 on his yacht Casco, and spent the last six years of his life sailing and writing about the South Pacific, especially the Hawaiian Island and Samoa. Among his non-fiction works are In The South Seas (available here from Google Books). He also wrote this poem:

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Saw Three Ships On Christmas Day (Re-post)

This post ran originally on December 19, 2009.

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning...

O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

The Christmas carol "I Saw Three Ships" dates from at least the 17th century, and may be another version of "Greensleeves," on which the carol "What Child Is This?" is based. Like most Christmas carols, the song strives for a specific religious message, rather than historical accuracy. If someone actually saw three ships sailing into Bethlehem, they were most likely camels, the so-called "ships of the desert." Bethlehem then, as now, is landlocked.

Ships and boats, however, do figure in the story of Jesus; they are mentioned more than 50 times in the New Testament alone. The so-called "Jesus Boat," (a full-scale replica is pictured above) discovered near Kibbutz Ginosar (on the Sea of Galilee) in 1986, has been dated to the traditional time of Christ in the first century AD. The 25-ft long craft shows signs of being repaired multiple times over decades, leading some scholars to guess it may have seen continuous use over nearly a century. Carrying a crew of up to five, it is typical of the kind of boat used on the lake at that time for fishing and even passenger transportation.

The eastern Mediterranean has enjoyed a bustling maritime trade almost since the beginning of recorded history. The Phoenicians sailed ships into and out of this area from 1500 BC to about 300 BC. The Philistines of the bible traded in this area until about 1100 BC. Greeks, Egyptians, and others also sailed these shores. The Romans, who ruled this area at the time of Jesus, learned much about how to build and run a ship from their defeated enemy Carthage, a colony of the Phoenicians.

Things hadn't changed much by the first century AD. Wide, round-bottomed ships plied the shores of the Med, powered mainly by sails, but also by long, parallel banks of oars. Navigation was primitive: ships rarely left sight of the nearest shore and would pull right up on the beach in the event of threatening weather, or at night.

There wasn't as much fishing activity in the Mediterranean waters off the Holy Land as in the Sea of Galilee, but there was heavy trade to Greece and beyond in ceramics, stone work, and most of all in purple dye. Bulk products, like grain, were exclusively shipped by sea. Then, as now, it was much more economical to carry such products by ship than overland.

The vessel carrying Saint Paul to Rome in the middle of the first century AD would have been a vessel much like this. A typical vessel of the time might have been as big or bigger than the ships Columbus sailed to the new world fourteen centuries later.

The photo above is used with the kind permission of More on the Jesus Boat at Sacred

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mercy Ships, Mariners, and Religion (Re-post)

A version of this post originally ran on January 30, 2010. I'm also reprinting Dr. Ben La Brot's Comment below.

A reader noted that in a previous post about maritime-based relief efforts in Haiti, I pointed out that two of the charities were Christian. Having worked for a large charity in the past, I know it's important for many donors to know where their money is going. Some would not want their money going to a Christian charity, some would not want their money going anywhere but a Christian charity, some couldn't care less. I only pointed out the charities' religious affiliation since I was encouraging people to donate money, goods, and expertise, but I thought they should do so with their eyes open.

One of the charities, Mercy Ships, was for many years associated with the Christian missionary organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Mercy Ships itself was founded by two YWAM members, but has for years been operationally separate from the youth missionary organization. YWAM has been the subject of several controversies over the years. Mercy Ships has been criticized recently for high salaries paid to its top officers. According to the Charity Navigator website, the charity's president earned more than $124,000 in 2007. Mercy Ships also note that more than 82 percent of donations go to programs, as opposed to salaries, administration, and other expenses.

For Charity Navigator's complete report on Mercy Ships, click here.

South African Murray Tristan Crawford is currently serving as an Assistant Purser with Mercy Ships and blogs about it here.

Modern mariners sometimes have an uneasy relationship with religion. One captain I worked under forbade crew members from holding non-denominational "gatherings" in public areas on board the vessel. Another told the crew to honor the Sabbath as best as possible by only performing necessary watchkeeping, safety, and sanitary duties on Sundays. On the evening of September 11, 2001, I was asked by some passengers to lead a prayer before dinner. It was a natural reaction on their part, but I had to refuse: with sixty passengers on board, you can be sure someone would be offended. Then there's the HR issues that come up when "asking" crew members to pray with you.

Religion used to be a much more important part of mariners' lives. Englishman John Newton, a seaman working on a slave trader, did not consider himself a spiritual man until his vessel was in a storm one night and he called out to God for help. His conversion would eventually lead to him giving up the sea and the slave trade, becoming a clergyman, and writing and publishing the song "Amazing Grace" in 1779. Religion is a major theme in Herman Melville's Moby Dick which, while it is fiction, is based on real events and informed by Melville's career at sea.

Churches and other faith-based organizations have often rallied to the cause of the seaman, traditionally lonely, poor, and possibly a slave to the bottle. Sometimes, religious orders provide material needs, like the monks that Time magazine reported on in its January 11, 1960 edition:
The little coastal freighter barely made it to the lee of Caldy Island, in the Bristol Channel, one mile off the Welsh coast. Bound out from the Scottish port of Irvine on a 30-hour run to the Welsh port of Milford Haven, the 700-ton St. Angus had run into one of the winter's wildest storms, which raked and pounded Britain from the Hebrides to the Scilly Isles. Off tiny Caldy (pop. 59) the seven-man crew faced a grim Christmas. Their food was running low and there was little hope of getting more. The men of St. Angus radioed the situation to the mainland, and resigned themselves to riding out the storm on empty stomachs. Suddenly they saw a sight to make Lord Nelson rub his eye. Out from the island, against 8-ft. waves and a 60-mile-an-hour wind, bucked an old World War II amphibious craft manned by four cowled monks and a coast guardsman. When St. Angus finally got a line to them, the crew hauled up a tea chest of staples. It was no ham or roast goose Christmas dinner, for the monks who brought it were austere Trappists, who eat only bread, butter, cheese and fruit, but there were some cans of beer (kept for monastery guests), for St. Angus men.
Today several religious organizations exist to serve seamen. All listed here are Christian. If you know of any serving mariners of other faiths, please add a Comment below or email me at

New York's Seaman's Church Institute, which I mentioned in my "Holidays At Sea" post, can be contacted here. Also mentioned in the at post were the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society (more information here) and the Seafarers & International Home in New York here.

Seamen from around the world call on the Stella Maris Center nearest them. More here.

UK seamen may look to the Seamen's Friendly Society of St. Paul here.

The Mission To Seafarer's is also based in the UK but ministers to mariners of all nations. More info here.

Comment by Dr. Ben La Brot

I actually happened across your blog while looking up mercy ships; my name is Dr. Ben La Brot of the Floating Doctors. We are another 501c3 all-volunteer non-profit (no salaries here) medical relief team working from our 76' 77-ton ship Southern Wind. We worked in Petit-Goave, Haiti for 2.5 months this spring [of 2010 - RE], then transited to Roatan, Honduras where we have been working in health centers opening a clinic, and doing mobile clinics with Southern Wind. We are getting set to head back to Haiti in late January to deliver IV fluids, medical supplies, water treatment systems and medical personnel to a string of clinics along the north coast, west of Cap Haitian.

Any info, suggestions, comments, or helping us put the word out would be a great help. Please visit our website for blogs, pics, and more about us. 

We are not affiliated with any specific religion, but we welcome help from all quarters. If anyone would like to support our mission to Haiti, or can help connect us with more support in country (we are working with Partners in Health, Direct Relief International, and the Cap Haitian Health Network on our upcoming trip), please contact us directly at
Fair Winds, y Prospero Ano Nuevo de la costa de Honduras...
Dr. Ben La Brot
President of Floating Doctors

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hurricane Season 2011

People are still cleaning up from Hurricane Irene and the other storms of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, but we already know that this year is one of the most active on record.

For more on how hurricanes form, see my August 31, 2011 post here.

Hurricane seasons begin on June 1st of a given year and end on November 30th. This does not mean there are no storms before or after those dates, but they typically are concentrated within that half of the year. Thus, mariners, meteorologists, and insurance companies have considered that period “hurricane season” since the 1930s.

This year was tied with 1887, 1995, and 2010 in being the third most-active hurricane season on record (the most active was 2005, with 28 storms and which actually extended into early 2006).  Although it was considered “above normal” in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes, it was atypical in some ways. The first storm, Tropical Storm Arlene, did not develop until late June, when it slammed into Veracruz, Mexico, killing 30 people. The first full hurricane of the season, Irene, did not occur until late August. Irene made up for lost time, however, killing 55 people in the Caribbean and North America and causing more than $10billion in damage.

Irene was followed a week later by Katia which, after it was finished with the North American coast, sent remnants into Europe, killing a person in the British Isles and causing power outages as far east as St. Petersburg, Russia. Meanwhile, the US and Canadian coasts were still getting hammered by Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Maria. More storms followed, a total of twenty for the season, seven of which developed into full-blown hurricanes.

Above: NOAA video of the entire 2011 Atlantic hurricane season in 4.5 minutes

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidays At Sea (Re-post)

A version of this post was first published on December 1, 2009.

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 clickhere.

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 December 2009 issue of Professional Mariner here.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best Pearl Harbor Films

The Japanese attack in Tora! Tora! Tora!

In honor of today’s 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I look at some of the best films made about or inspired by the attack.

1) Pearl Harbor: The Real Story (Terra Studios, 2001). A great mix of interviews with survivors and rare footage, much of it never seen before. Gives a real ground-eye-view of the attack.

2) Pearl Harbor: Two Hours That Changed The World (ABC News, 1994/2007). The late David Brinkley narrates this look back, featuring interviews (including two with two Japanese pilots who were part of the attack), rare footage and still photos. The 1994 version is 100 minutes and was edited heavily for the 2007 DVD release.

3) Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, 1970). The whole story of the attack, based on Gordon Prange’s book At Dawn We Slept. Fleischer looks at the attack from the points of view of both American and Japanese characters. The attack scene was the mot visually stunning and accurate until the CGI-assisted version in Pearl Harbor more than 30 years later.

4) Pearl Harbor: Legacy of the Attack (National Geographic, 2001). Tom Brokaw narrates this look at not only the attack, but its legacy today, including the “ecological time bomb” that is the USS Arizona. Also features Robert Ballard, the explorer who found the wreck of the Titanic.

5) From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953) This adaptation of James Jones’s novel is probably best known for the scene where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr roll around kissing on the sand while the waves crash over them. This films recreates just how unready America was for the attack.

6) In Harm’s Way (Otto Preminger, 1965) A detailed re-creation of the attack opens this epic starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, which follows its characters through the first two years of the Pacific war. Not just flag-waving patriotism, Preminger touches on mistakes leading up to and following the attack and the burdens those mistakes became for many in the US military.

7) The Final Countdown (Don Taylor, 1980) Kirk Douglas again and Martin Sheen star in the Pearl Harbor “what if?” The aircraft carrier Nimitz encounters a freak time warp while at sea and the crew finds itself thrown back in time to the day before the attack. The US Navy cooperated with the making of this film, so there’s lots of vintage aircraft and ships to be seen.

8) The History Channel Presents Pearl Harbor (History Channel, 2001). Covers the political, economic, and military wrangling between the US and Japan that preceded the attack. Then it looks at the planning and execution of the attack from the vantage point of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Harvard-educated America-phile who led the Japanese forces.

9) Sacrifice At Pearl Harbor (BBC, 2001). The most serious look at the thesis that Franklin Roosevelt and others knew the attack was coming, but did nothing in order to have an excuse to put the US into World War II. Has been compared to the 9/11 “Truther” film Loose Change.

10) December 7th: The Pearl Harbor Story (John Ford, 1943). Ford’s full docudrama was not available until recently; it was cut severely before its original release because of its criticism of the Navy and its lack of preparedness before the attack. On the other hand, it recreated the attack so well that other feature films borrowed footage from it for years.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Pearl Harbor Conspiracy

From the firing on Fort Sumter to the Kennedy assassination to the 9/11 attacks, many pivotal and traumatic events in American history leave many wondering: what don’t we know? Is there more to the story, conspiracies not accounted for in official histories? Today, seventy years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some say we still don’t know the whole story. The key to this particular conspiracy is this: did President Franklin Roosevelt or other high ranking members of the US or British government have advanced knowledge of the attack and do nothing, in order to draw the US into World War II on the side of the allies? Despite seven decades of digging, no irrefutable evidence exists that Roosevelt, Churchill, or anyone else knew the attacks of December 7, 1941 were imminent.

Proponents of the view that Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen generally cite five main reasons for their belief:
  • The US had already broken many Japanese codes and thus would have known about such a large naval operation
  • Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted just prior to the attack that should have given warning
  • Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and other government officials are on the record indicating they knew an attack was imminent and did nothing about it
  • No US Aircraft carriers were in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, leaving the Navy with its most powerful ships intact despite the great losses
  • A desire by Roosevelt to get the US into the war, and desperation on the part of Winston Churchill and what was left of the other democratic governments in Europe to get America involved.

Several official US investigations were conducted during and after the war. The early investigations tended to cite incompetence, inter-service rivalry (and thus lack of communication), and slowness in decoding and analyzing collected intelligence. Field commanders bore the brunt of the blame: no one in Washington was found to be at fault. A 1995 Congressional hearing produced a somewhat different interpretation:
Various conspiracy theories have been advanced, but no evidence has
been offered to support those theories. Rather, the evidence of the
handling of these messages in Washington reveals some ineptitude, some
unwarranted assumptions and misestimates, limited coordination,
ambiguous language, and lack of clarification and follow-up at higher
Various non-governmental investigations over the decades have led to more sinister conclusions. Journalist Robert Stinnett, in his 1999 book Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, cites evidence that the President knew an attack was coming, but that he withheld the information his field commanders. Stinnett cites, among other evidence, a 1940 memo by a Naval Intelligence lieutenant outlining ways Japan might be manipulated into attack the United States.

The definitive popular history of the Pearl Harbor attack is Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. The googlebooks page has reviews and links here. This book was the source for the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!

Parts of Stinnett's book Days of Deceit: The Truth About FDR And Pearl Harbor are available at googlebooks here.

The so-called McCollum Memorandum, which Stinnett cites in his book, is available at Wikisource here.

The text of the "Dorn Report," the result of the 1995 Thurmond-Spence hearing, can be found here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Guest Post: "For Whom The Bell Tolls"
In light of my recent series about the presidential candidates and maritime issues, I found this Op-Ed by Tony Munoz, editor-in-chief of Maritime Executive magazine timely. It is reprinted here without his permission. Find the original article here.

The Administration’s ZERO Bucks Plan for Maritime

An exuberant President Obama last week unveiled a $447 billion infrastructure plan to quickly inject money into the economy and create jobs. The plan included $50 billion to jumpstart surface transportation projects, but the strategy once again emphasized rail, air and highways. That’s right: “ZERO” bucks for maritime again.

President Obama’s Infrastructure speech rang the warning bells as he said, “Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?” He continued: “Ask yourselves—where would we be right now if the people before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports?”

During 2010, China spent about 9% of its GDP on infrastructure and Europe invested 5%. The U.S currently ranks twenty-third in overall infrastructure quality, somewhere between Spain and Chile and spends only 2.4% of GDP on infrastructure. While it’s indisputable that the nation’s aging highways and bridges are in desperate need of repair, the fact is China’s 1.3 billion people are in need of a modern infrastructure and its government has lots of America’s money to invest in it.

The Summer of Our Discontent

The federal government currently spends about $50 billion annually on all forms of transportation. But the U.S. maritime sector gets “ZERO” bucks annually and is currently not part of the economic recovery plan to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs. When the President reminisced about past generations building the U.S. into an economic superpower, he forgot to mention that most of the economic wealth of those past generations was delivered on a fleet of U.S. ships.

Mr. President, America’s maritime heritage is the backbone of the nation’s economic greatness. U.S. commercial fleets were the workhorses of the Industrial Revolution and they delivered the harvests and manufactured products and bulk resources around the world. They supported the U.S. military in every armed conflict this nation has ever been in. And they delivered America’s generosity when natural disasters or famines inflicted harm and suffering to other people around the planet.

Jobs are what Americans want and need. And lots of new jobs are what it will take to push this economy out of the Great Recession. The disparity between rich and poor has never been greater. While the nation’s wealth disparity is calculated as the top 20 percent of Americans owning 84 percent of the nation’s wealth, it is the income disparity, which is now the greatest since 1928, that is causing massive unemployment and increased spending of 18 percent on food stamps. Today, of all nations in the world, the U.S. now has the largest income disparity of its people except for Luxembourg.

And while Americans need jobs, U.S. shipyards and waterways are empty. The only ships congesting U.S. ports are owned by foreigners and manned by foreign mariners. Today, the greatest trading nation with a $14.7 trillion economy doesn’t own a deepwater fleet or its own intermodal system. Why? Because there has not been a national maritime policy since the Reagan Administration.

If a nation is judged by its policies and budgets, then the Obama Administration’s 2012 budget for the Maritime Administration shows an absolute disregard for the U.S. maritime sector. While nations with coastlines or waterways consider shipyards and flagged fleets as national assets, the U.S. maritime sector will get a pittance of $357.8 million. Furthermore, the Administration sought to rescind more than $50 million from the Title XI loan guarantee program as well, but Congress refused to accede to the request.

The President’s transport infrastructure support includes an increase of 12 percent in DOT’s 2012 budget ($129 billion). Moreover, that is an increase of 66 percent since FY 2010. Highways will get $70.5 billion, transit $22.4 billion, railroad $8.3 billion and aviation $18.7 billion, and maritime will get $357.8 million to assist the military. Furthermore, the President’s $50 billion transport rejuvenation plan will go to rehabilitate 150,000 miles of existing roadways, to construct 4,000 miles of new railways and renovate 150 miles of airport runways. When it gets broken up again, the U.S. taxpayer will get to fix it again.

The U.S. has the 9th largest coastline (86,000 miles) in the world and 25,000 miles of inland navigable waterways. The U.S. has 360 commercial ports employing 13.3 million Americans, which contribute $3.15 trillion to the economy and provides $212.5 billion in federal taxes. U.S. inland waterways handle 63 million tons of cargo and contribute $74 billion to the economy. Yet the federal government has “NO” maritime policy.

The Administration needs to realize the nation cannot pave its way or railroad its way to inevitable growth. The U.S. maritime sector can alleviate highway congestion and urban pollution and save billions of dollars in fuel costs by transporting goods on water. The maritime infrastructure of coastline, waterways, shipyards, and ports is already in place. Mr. President, you don’t have to spend $50 billion to build the marine highway system. And if jobs are the #1 issue for Americans and for the Administration, the people can be put back to work very quickly by training them to work in the shipyards, on vessels, and in the ports. Imagine a budget surplus for the arts, education, mass transportation, and health care for the poor. Imagine….

If you believe in jobs and support rebuilding America, then join the Maritime Executive and a distinguished panel of U.S. maritime executives at CCMIT in Linthicum Heights, Maryland on October 12th and 13th, 2011 for “Rebuilding America and Creating Jobs - A Maritime Forum.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Lyrics For "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

The haunting tune is familiar to anyone who’s listened to popular music in the last four decades: Gordon Lightfoot’s "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Lightfoot’s ballad about the fate of the Great Lakes freighter is one of his most-played songs, but recent investigations have lead to the singer/songwriter changing the lyrics in light of new findings.

Background. At 13, 600 tons, Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest “iron boats” working the Great Lakes. After being launched in 1958, she carried ore throughout the Lakes and came to be know for her size, speed records, and “DJ Captain” Peter Pulcer, who played music through the ship’s PA system when she transited the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. Ernest McSorley was captain when Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin on November 9, 1975 bound for Detroit. By the next day the ship was caught in a storm with 35-foot waves and hurricane-force winds. Over the course of several hours, McSorley reported that the Edmund Fitgerald was taking on water and had a bad list. At shortly after 7pm, he told the captain of another vessel that “We are holding our own.” The ship was never heard from again.

Several theories attempt to account for Edmund Fitzgerald’s fate. Unusually high winds and waves, a “rogue wave,” and shallow water have all been blamed. The ship itself and the actions of the crew have also been suspected, including the failure of the crew to properly secure the large cargo hatch on the ship’s deck.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The following year, Lightfoot recorded the song for his album Summertime Dream. Although Lightfoot’s account sticks mainly to the facts known at the time, his lyrics speculate about events on the ship shortly before the sinking:
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya.
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya
Although Lightfoot admitted that this verse was purely speculative –“It's the only verse in the whole song where I give myself complete poetic license,” he said in a 2010 interview -- a US Coast Guard report on the incident at the time blamed the failure of the hatch due to improper use of the clamps used to hold the hatch to the deck. Almost from the beginning, though, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the families and labor unions of the lost 29 crew members, challenged the Coast Guard’s findings. Lightfoot’s song was a painful reminder to the families, though, that the official cause of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s sinking was human error.

The Dive Detectives. The wreck itself was found in 1976. In the following decades various attempts – including one by Jean-Michel Cousteau. were made to discover what had caused the wreck. The History Channel program Dive Detectives set out to investigate in 2010, and came down firmly on the side of the “rougue wave” theory. According to the program’s website, their investigation
calls the official U.S. Coast Guard theory into question, and reveals another potential cause of the disaster.  They determine that a maritime phenomena known as a “rogue wave”— a giant wall of water that can reach heights as tall as a ten-story building— may have triggered the sinking.  Once dismissed as a sailor’s myth, rogue waves not only exist, they may occur far more frequently than once believed.
The producers of Dive Detectives contacted Lightfoot to ask about using his song in their program. After learning of their findings, he started changing the lyrics to his song in his live performances. The section now goes
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya.
At 7 p.m., it grew dark, it was then he said,
'Fellas it's been good to know ya.’
For the Dive Detectives trailer of the rogue wave theory of the sinking, click here.

For a Toronto Sun article on Lightfoot changing his lyrics, click here.