Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Morning Mariner: Shameless Self Promotion

My commercial writing business, Ship Canal Communications, is back up and running again after some re-tooling. We specialize in written communication for businesses of all sizes, and any size job from one word to 100,000. We offer special expertise in the maritime, travel, and commercial space travel industries. Check out the web site here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore composed this poem, one of the first literary references to the legend of the Flying Dutchman.

Written on passing Dead-man's Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Late in the Evening, September, 1804

See you, beneath yon cloud so dark,
Fast gliding along a gloomy bark?
Her sails are full,--though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill!

 Say, what doth that vessel of darkness bear?
The silent calm of the grave is there,
Save now and again a death-knell rung,
And the flap of the sails with night-fog hung.

There lieth a wreck on the dismal shore
Of cold and pitiless Labrador;
Where, under the moon, upon mounts of frost,
Full many a mariner's bones are tost.

 Yon shadowy bark hath been to that wreck,
And the dim blue fire, that lights her deck,
Doth play on as pale and livid a crew,
As ever yet drank the churchyard dew.

 To Deadman's Isle, in the eye of the blast,
To Deadman's Isle, she speeds her fast;
By skeleton shapes her sails are furled,
And the hand that steers is not of this world!

 Oh! hurry thee on-oh! hurry thee on,
Thou terrible bark, ere the night be gone,
Nor let morning look on so foul a sight
As would blanch for ever her rosy light!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


It was during an “internal audit,” when someone from the office comes out to the ship to make sure we’re running our safety program correctly:
Latin American Crewmember: "You know what would be good? If we put all these policies together into some kind of..."
Office guy (American southerner): "Handbook?"
Crewmember: "Yes, a handbook!"
Office guy: "We have a handbook. Didn't you get one?"
Crewmember: "No."
Other crewmember (East Coast American): "Me, either."
Third crewmember (West Coast American): "[Owner's name redacted] is too smart to put anything in writing."
Office guy: "I'll get you an handbook!"
The discussion continued...
Office guy: "Do you want it in English or Spanish?"
Crewmember: "Both."
Office guy: "Well we only have it in English."
Crewmember: "That's fine."
For historic and economic reasons, English is the closest thing we have to a “universal language” in the world today just as, in their times, French, Latin, and Greek all filled that role. It is also the “official language” of mariners worldwide. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires that bridge officers speak English for bridge-to-bridge, bridge-to-shore, and bridge team-to-pilot communications. 

On ships where all the crew speak the same language, it’s possible for communications among them to be conducted in their native language, but with so many of today’s vessels having crew from several different countries, sometimes English is the only common language. This can be especially important in emergency response.

On the night of April 7, 1990, a fire on the ferry Scandinavian Star, sailing between Oslo, Norway and Frederikshavn, Denmark, killed 158 people. The fire fighting response was hampered, in part, by the inability of the crew to communicate with each other; the officers were Norwegian, the crew largely Portuguese. The incident led the IMO to adopt stronger standards for SeaSpeak, a group of standardized English phrases for navigational and emergency communications.

Although many SeaSpeak phrases would make your high school English teacher grimace (“Please proceed to my assistance.”), the idea is to provide a means of expressing certain ideas common to marine communications situations using only a few simple words and phrases, called the Standard Maritime Communications Phrases (SMCP). A few examples, from the Australian Maritime College’s Marine Radio Operator’s Handbook:
 “Question” Indicates the following message is of interrogative character.
“Answer” Indicates that the following message is the reply to a previous question.
“Request” Indicates that the content of the following message is asking for action with respect to the ship.
“Information” Indicates that the following message is restricted to observed facts.
“Intention” Indicates that the following message informs others about immediate navigational actions intended to be taken.
“Warning” Indicates that the following message informs other traffic participants about dangers.
“Advice” Indicates that the following message implies the intention of the sender to influence the recipient(s) by a recommendation.
Where the answer to a question is in the affirmative, say: “Yes” followed by the appropriate phrase in full.
Where the answer to a question is in the negative, say: “No” followed by the appropriate phrase in full.
Where the information is not immediately available, but soon will be, say: “Stand by”.
Where the information cannot be obtained, say: “No information”.
Where a message is not properly heard, say: “Say again”.
One problem that comes up with SeaSpeak is that native English speakers don’t use it when communicating with ships crewed by non-English speakers. SeaSpeak is not the same as regular English, or even English as a Second Language (ESL). Even native English speakers sometimes find each other hard to understand if they come from different countries or regions.

For the AMC’s Marine Radio Operator’s Manual Appendix 6, “Standard Marine Communications Phrases,”, click here.

A challenge for American readers: check out Mr. Tongue Twister's video and see if you can make heads of tails of it (then maybe you'll give that Chinese container ship captain a break next time!):

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The United States

In the early 1950s, war planners in the US Navy realized something: the Second World War had been won, in part, by ocean liners. Hundreds of thousands of American troops had been transported to the European Theater on ocean liners converted to troop transports, including the famous Queen Mary. In partnership with a private company, United States Lines, the Navy built the largest ocean liner ever, one that could be easily converted to a troop transport should the need arise. That vessel, the SS United States, was the largest, fastest, and safest ocean liner ever built.

Over the two years  (1950-1952) she was being built in Newport News, Virginia, the United States’s construction incorporated many safety features learned from the previous half-century of ship losses, both in the passenger industry and during wartime.  The ship is heavily compartmentalized – a precaution that includes separate engine rooms for each steam turbine main engine – and incorporates almost no wood, the grand saloon piano and galley butchers block being notable exceptions. The entire superstructure, as well and many furnishings and fittings, are aluminum; the United States was, at the time, the largest aluminum construction project ever. The 990-ft hull itself was steel.

The project was not without its critics. Many, in government and out, balked at the $78 million price tag, two-thirds of which was paid for by the navy. President Harry Truman ordered an investigation, but the construction went on.

The finished 53,000-ton United States could carry 15,000 troops, nearly 2,000 passengers, or function as a hospital ship. She was also fast.  A deliberate disinformation campaign put the ship’s speed at 45 knots, although the fastest official speed she ever recorded was 38 knots. She broke a transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage: just over 85 hours from New York Harbor to Cornwall, UK. She would soon break the westbound speed record as well. Nearly sixty years later, United States still holds the records for westbound and passenger service voyages.

With more travelers using air travel, demand for ocean liners decreased. In 1969, the United States was retired from passenger service. In the following four decades, many plans for her have come and gone, including a plan by the Navy to convert her to a full-time naval vessel. A 2007 study by Norwegian Cruise Lines – into whose hands the ship had passed by then – found the vessel still sound, but various plans by NCL to put her back in service have not panned out. NCL started collecting bids to scrap the vessel, but eventually sold it for $3 million – less than the scrap value – to a group called the SS United States Conservancy, which has been trying to find a new home for her, possibly as a museum on the New York waterfront (she currently sits in Philadelphia).

For more see the SS United States Conservancy site here.

For a Pittsburg Press editorial on the funding controversy, click Google news here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Piracy Update

The captain on the fast ferry I was working on recently was an avid sailor and sailboat owner himself, so we were admiring different boats out for a sail on one particular late summer day. "That's something I don't do much anymore," he said, pointing to a boat flying a skull-and-crossbones flag from it's rigging.

"The pirate flag?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "With all that's happened the last couple of years it's just not as 'cool' as it used to be."

In 2009, there were 111 attempted seizures of vessel off the coast of Somalia, 42 of them successful including the famous Maersk Alabama seizure. In 2010, there were 217 attacks, 49 successful. So far this year, there have been 24 successful hijackings in 194 incidents. There are currently 15 vessels and 277 hostages in the hands of Somali pirates.

A close look at those numbers show that the pirates are less successful than they were just two years ago. Only 12-percent of attacks this year so far have been successful, compared with 49-percent in 2009. 

"Piracy...has become an industry one could say, spawning commercial businesses," British maritime lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla recently told the Indian news site Mid-Day. "There are now law firms specialising in piracy issues, insurance firms and even security firms, with war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, all with commercial avenues arising because of piracy." With piracy costing shippers, and thus their customers, between $7 and &12 billion a year, there is plenty of incentive for these new ventures in piracy prevention.

New anti-piracy measure range from very low tech to very high tech. One company offers a razor-wire system that can be put up and taken down by the ship's crew in less than a day, and that costs $30,000 or less. High tech solutions include on-board "safe rooms" with direct links to shore-based response centers, all independent of the vessel's power supply.

The Asian Shippers Council recently called for the pirates to be classified as terrorists, which would allow for more aggressive anti-piracy efforts by some countries. The Russian Navy has been particularly aggressive, as in the video above when they seize a pirate vessel, rescue the Russian mariners taken prisoner, then blow up the offending vessel (they did not handcuff the pirates to the vessel first, as initial reports suggested). The Netherlands this summer began a comprehensive anti-piracy effort including armed guards on ships, increased money laundering enforcement, and even building more prisons for Somalia. The United States just last week tried two pirates accused of killing four yacht crew members in February, both pirates were sentenced to life in prison. Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization is working to facilitate the arming of the merchant ship crews themselves

The UK's Channel 4 reported on a rescue of a seized vessel by special forces; the statistics about the rate of piracy off Somalia can be found in the report here.

The complete Mid-Day article about Sarosh Zaiwalla can be found here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sex Discrimination At Sea

Note: Today's post contains frank sexual language.

"Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash" -- attributed, probably inaccurately, to Winston Churchill

The end of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" (DADT) policy last month marks another milestone in the uneasy relationship between mariners and sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual. More than 3,100 servicemen and -women in the Navy, more than 150 in the Coast Guard, and nearly 900 in the Marines were forced out of due to their sexual orientation under DADT,  but "sodomy" has been grounds for discharge since the Revolutionary War. The Urban Institute estimates that about 2.5-percent of active-duty servicemen and -women are gay, or nearly 40,000 currently serving.

DADT is only the most recent form of sex-based discrimination on board ships. Women in general were long considered bad luck aboard a ship; male mariners were afraid the sea gods would be angered by the presence of a woman. There were cases of female passengers being tossed overboard to appease the spirits plaguing a vessel. There were exceptions to this, though. A naked woman was considered good luck, since her uncovered state "shamed" the sea, keeping the weather calm. As it was impractical to have a naked woman running around most ships, the tradition of having a bare-breasted masthead mounted at the front of the ship came about as a substitute.

"In The Navy..." With few or no women around, male sailors were left to each other to express themselves sexually. Unfortunately for them, this was often harshly discouraged. King Henry VIII declared "buggery" on British navy ships a hanging offense in 1553 and it would remain so for more than 300 years. It was still punishable by a life sentence as late as 1967. But it went on just the same. As one British navy officer told University of Denver researcher Arthur Gilbert in the mid 1970s

[H]omosexuality was rife, and one could see with his own eyes how it was going on between officers. I have been told that in some services (the Austrian and French, for instance), nobody ever remarks about it, taking such a thing as a natural proceeding: that may be so or not; but in any case, nobody was ‘shocked’ on board...There were half a dozen ties that we knew about … To my knowledge, sodomy is a regular thing on ships that go on long cruises.
Similar reports come from the US Navy. The Americans were often not as harsh as the British in punishing homosexual behavior, but were prompt putting gays ashore and out of the the navy. This was often accompanied by a less-than-honorable discharge, such as the "blue" discharges used in the demobilization following World War II. A sailor so discharged would find it haunting him in civilian life, either as a stain on employment applications or through denial of G.I. Bill benefits.

As harsh attitudes towards gays have softened in the decades since World War II, so have attitudes about women. Women were first allowed to serve on US Navy surface ships in the 1970s and then this year on submarines. The Royal Navy first permitted women on surface ships in 1990, and on submarines in 2010.

Clara Gordon Mains (on left)
The Civilian World. Civilian merchant marines, especially in the English-speaking world, have been ahead of their military brethren in their acceptance of women and gays. Clara Gordon Mains, a steward on the SS President Harrison, was one of the first Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II. Half a dozen other merchant mariner women saw combat or were taken prisoner during the early days of the war, before all women were removed from US vessels for the duration. Today somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of American merchant mariners are women.

It's harder to say how many gay civilian merchant mariners there are. Personally, I have worked with gay captains of both genders and at least two gay male engineers. There's only one work boat and one small private yacht that I've  worked on that didn't have at least one openly gay crew member. In the passenger industry, it's very common; on one 200-ft pocket cruise ship, I was the only straight deckhand on one four-week hitch.

The US Navy's DADT repeal site can be found here. Find the Coast Guard site here.

The Urban Institute's page on "Gay and Lesbian Demographics," including numbers in military service, can be found here.

More on women as bad luck on ships at the Timeless Myths blog here.

A.N. Gilbert's "Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861," published in the Journal of Social History, can be purchased for $12 here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Misunderstood Mariners: Amerigo Vespucci (Re-post)

With the usual annual controversy surrounding Columbus Day, it seemed appropriate to wrap up a couple of weeks of re-posts with this article, which originally ran on June 28, 2009.

You learned it in high school history class: although Christopher Columbus discovered America, the continents were named for his contemporary and rival Amerigo Vespucci. Well, Columbus and Vespucci were contemporaries but pretty much everything else about that statement is wrong.

Vespucci, a Florentine by birth (although not residence), was already middle aged when he first sailed to the Americas for the King of Spain in 1499. Over the next few years he sailed on three (some sources say four) expeditions to the New World for either Spain or Portugal. He found little that hadn't been already charted and frequently had trouble finding work. Columbus was hardly threatened by Vespucci: he found him an honorable man and seems to have felt a little sorry for him. After his voyages, though, he came into his, own, being made chief of navigation for Spain. He died there in 1522.

Vespucci was not without his contributions. He charted many navigational stars that had been forgotten since the time of the Greeks. He developed a method of finding longitude that was more accurate than any other until the invention of the chronometer more than two centuries later. He is also credited with being the first to demonstrate that the Americas were not part of Asia, but an entirely different continent.

The Waldseemuller Map
The idea that the Americas were named for Vespucci derives from the use of the word America on a world map drawn by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller in 1507. Not everyone agrees that Vespucci was the source of the word, however. Pointing out that new lands were either named for religious figures or the sponsors of the expedition doing the discovering, many point to Welshman Richard Amerike, sponsor of John Cabot's second (and only successful) voyage to America as a more likely source. This latter claim is weakened by the lack of any documents directly supporting it; on the other hand Vespucci has been accused of embellishing and even outright fictionalizing many of his exploits.

For an entertaining biography of Vespucci, see historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America. Fernandez-Armesto portrays Vespucci as a self-promoter of the highest ambition and debunks many of the myths perpetuated by Vespucci himself. See an excerpt at google books here.

Geologist Jules Marcou first advanced the theory that America was named for the Amerrique region of Nicaragua, a gold-bearing area known to both Columbus and Vespucci. George C. Hurlbut, longtime librarian of the American Geographical Society of New York, published the definitive article on this perspective in that society's Journal in 1888. Find the complete article (for $12 fee) at here.

As for who "discovered" America, it is a pointless question since humans have been living in the western hemisphere for at least 12,000 years. Despite inconoclastic claims for Egyptians, Chinese, Polynesians, and others, the first modern people to colonize the Americas were the Inuits, who arrived about 1000 AD. Archaeological evidence shows Viking settlements in Newfoundland about the same time, but the Vikings pulled out relatively soon thereafter. Modern European settlement of the Americas really began with Columbus, just like you learned in high school. For a humorous and informative look at that early exploration and settlement, see Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange: On The Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America. See an excerpt at google books here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Shining A Light On "The Lighthouse Story" (Re-post)

I’m taking a few weeks off to get married and go on a honeymoon, so I’m re-posting a few favorite articles. New posts start again Wednesday, October 12. This post was originally published May 26, 2009.

The story goes back to at least the 1930s, although the advent of the Internet has given it viral growth: a large ship (often a battleship or an aircraft carrier) is steaming along at night when it spots a light ahead. The commander (often a medal-bedecked admiral) hails the other vessel, instructing them to change course. The other vessel refuses, and the admiral gets increasingly puffed up and indignant, finally trying to assert his lofty rank and the size of his huge vessel in an effort to intimidate the other vessel into changing course. Then comes the punch line: the other person is a lowly seaman and the other “vessel” is actually a lighthouse!

This urban legend is passed around as a true story and an object lesson in arrogance and what students of logic call the Fallacy of the Argument from Authority. It is, of course, total bilge water. Lighthouses are rarely manned these days (and never by Navy personnel), are lit very differently than ships, and of course are clearly marked on nautical charts. It’s also unlikely that two vessels, or a vessel and a shore station, would communicate that long without both of them indentifying themselves very early in the exchange. And, just like there are rules of the road governing how two automobiles must interact (the rules governing a four-way stop, for instance), there are nautical rules of the road as well, and the larger vessel, military or not, does not necessarily have the right of way.

People love this story for the way the swollen-headed admiral is cut down to size. And despite its nearly complete technical inaccuracy, it serves to remind mariners of the importance proper communications, situational awareness, and Rules of the Road (and no, the “tonnage rule” is not an actual Rule of the Road).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pilots (Re-post)

I’m taking a few weeks off to get married and go on a honeymoon, so I’m re-posting a few favorite articles. This post was originally published September 27, 2009. Legal action in the Cosco Busan oil spill case came to an end last month with a US $44 million settlement. The San Francisco Chronicle article on the settlement may be found here. Pilot John Cota had previously been found criminally negligent and sentenced to 10 months in jail

Having recently conned a vessel over the Columbia River Bar, I am frequently asked if I took on a pilot to assist in the transit. The questioner is often surprised to that I “acted as” pilot, but there is nothing particularly mysterious about being a pilot. “Pilotage” is simply navigation using local knowledge. A person who does this is a “pilot.” On the other hand, when we refer to a pilot in the modern maritime industry, we are probably talking about a professional mariner who specializes in guiding ships through a particular area. It is the difficulty some of these areas present — like the Columbia River Bar or, in a different way, the Panama Canal — that lend a mystique to the job.

The only real qualification you need to be a pilot is local knowledge that a captain from outside the area — called a “stranger” — doesn’t possess. And that knowledge can be very localized indeed. For a time early in the decade, the port at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico required ships to take on a harbor pilot. He came out in a water taxi, shook hands with the captain, and sipped a cup of coffee while he yelled at charter fishermen to get out of the way. The whole trip was a straight line less than half a mile long from the “pilot station” to the dock. Between the short trip and the yelling, he didn’t even have time to finish his cup of coffee. Compare that to the Chesapeake Bay pilots, who have to learn 200 miles of some of the most traveled waterway in the Americas. Pilots who have to deal with large areas may work in teams, with one on the bridge while the other one sleeps.

In the United States, most areas require a pilot to have a Coast Guard license and hold a First Class Pilot certification for the area in which he — or in many instances she — will be sailing. This usually means logging a certain number of trips through the area and then taking a written test, which includes hand drawing relevant landmarks, aids to navigation, danger areas, and so on a blank chart.

Pilots frequently have several decades of experience at sea — the average age of a Puget Sound pilot is 55 years old. While this experience is valuable, it can also be challenging for middle-aged and older pilots to meet the physical demands of the job, like climbing up a long pilot ladder after jumping onto it from the deck of a pilot boat (like one picture above, stationed in Astoria, Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia River) heaving in the surf. Pilots also face the same medical issues we all do as we get older, including ever more crowded medicine cabinets. In fact, use of medications by the pilot on the Cosco Busan was taking were cited as a root cause of resulting oil spill.

For Professional Mariner's report on Chesapeake pilot Lynn Diebert's 2007 death in the line of duty, click here. For the journal's report report on the 2006 death of Columbia River Bar pilot Kevin Murray, click here

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tsunami (Re-post)

As I take a few weeks off to get married and go on a honeymoon, I'm re-posting some favorite articles. This one originally appeared on July 10, 2010.

On February 27, 2010 I was serving as master on the small cruise ship Spirit of Endeavour en route from La Paz, Mexico to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Early that morning, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Chile, killing 521 people. The resulting tsunami spread throughout the Pacific and did damage as far away as Japan. Someone at company headquarters asked me to write up my impressions of the event; this is the report I filed.

Preparations for dealing with the tsunami began as soon as we got the word. The Second Mate called me about midnight to tell me about the earthquake off the coast of Chile and that the Pacific Tsunami Center had issued an advisory: it was not yet known whether an actual tsunami had occurred. I got up and did a quick check online: information was sparse, even about the earthquake itself. But information started to roll in, and as soon as the existence of a tsunami was confirmed, there would be a constant clatter from the Inmarsat printer, as bulletin after bulletin came over the satellite. That printer, the beeping of the GMDSS alarms, the constant worried chatter in Spanish over the VHF would be the soundtrack of the day for me.

By 0500 it was confirmed that the tsunami was headed toward Mexico, with an expected arrival time of 1050. Sport fishing boats were starting to come out of Cabo San Lucas harbor and there were no long lines of cars on the highway visible from the water, so I took that as a good sign, that the local authorities weren't too alarmed. Either that or they hadn't got the word yet. We relaxed a little and even took the time to check out a couple of humpback whales before breakfast call and our arrival in Cabo San Lucas.

I chatted with our agent and someone from the Captain of the Port's office before disembarkation. They were aware of the situation and were taking a wait and see attitude. The sport fishermen and sightseeing boats were being told to stay close to the harbor just in case. Another quick check on the Internet revealed this was the attitude almost everywhere except Hawaii and in the earthquake zone itself.

During disembarkation someone from Reservations called. She told me a passenger has just gotten on a plane and was concerned about the tsunami and was asking questions. I told her what I could, then noted to the Assistant Engineer that if anywhere was safe, it was on a plane.

Then things began to tense up. The Captain of the Port closed the port, and the sport fishers and sightseers started to stream back into the harbor, as they cursed each other, the COTP, and tsunami on the radio. They were not worried about the tsunami, they were worried about losing a day's business on a peak-season Saturday. The COTP finally lost it and told everyone that he wasn't answering anyone who didn't identify himself, and the chatter died down. A bit. Other officials were warning locals and tourists to stay off the beaches. A quick check on the ever-growing pile of paper streaming off the Inmarsat printer showed that the tsunami had passed Acapulco, about 700 miles to the southeast, with a surge of only 1.2 feet. Not bad, but predictions for harbors in southern California were higher, more like three feet, so who knew what we would actually experience? I held a quick crew meeting, trying to get everyone prepared without scaring the heck out of them, then we jumped to stations. The deck crew slacked the mooring lines a bit, and we set the gangway on the dock. The Guest Programs staff got busy fending off guests -- the first of them would probably start to arrive right about the same time as the tsunami -- and the rest of the crew tried to carry on as normal, or as normal as it gets on a Turnaround Day.

It was the ship's doctor who first noticed that the tide seemed to be going the wrong direction. I went up to the bridge, which faced right out the entrance to the harbor and into the open Pacific. Whatever was about to happen, I would have box seats for it. It was quite a sight. Water was rushing out of the harbor. You could look at the excursion boat moored across the dock from us and see it sinking against the background of the Finnesterra Hotel perched on the nearby hills. I looked at my watch and noted that the time the Pacific Tsunami Center had predicted was pretty much dead on. It was 1050.

On the first surge, the water dropped about two feet, then turned around without stopping and started flooding back into the harbor. We saw it before we felt it: two boats Med moored to the pier across the channel suddenly swung back to the west and pointed the other direction. And in came the water. Our own lines strained in the other direction, and the deck crew adjusted them and the fenders we had broken out for whatever might come up. The water at the harbor entrance turned brown as the bottom was churned up. Soon it was back where it had started and I checked my watch again. Twelves minutes had elapsed.

Soon the surge was heading out again, then in, then out, then in, each time dropping us about three feet and bringing us back up again. The boatswain marvelled at how those rocks next to the south breakwater nav light tower were exposed in a matter of seconds, then covered again just as quickly.Then it seemed to stop. We thought maybe that was it and everyone headed down for crew lunch. The lull didn't last, though, and when we saw the dock rising past the dining room window like the wall of Snake River navigational lock, we all rushed back to our stations. One of the Med moored boats had come loose, the skipper freeing the lines thinking the worst was over, but then unable to get the anchor up before the surge returned. He struggled to control his boat for the next fifteen minutes before two crewmen from a sport fisher came to his rescue.

This next series was the most extreme, at one point surging out enough to drop the Spirit of Endeavour four feet or more, and strand pangas tied to the opposite breakwater in the sand for a few minutes. The vessel surged a lot more. At one point I saw a whirpool at the entrance to the harbor, brown and blue water swirling in a shallow circle 75 yards wide. The frigate birds, gulls, and pelicans were having a surprise feast, diving down to grab at poor, confused fish. Watching the pelicans drift by on the ebbing water, and the water itself splash against and wrap around the docks and piling, I figured the current at more than three knots at it's swiftest.

It went on like this for another hour and a half. By 1400 the worst was over, but there were still small, quick changes in the water level, complicating our efforts to deal with the tide already lower than normal due to the full moon. A few boats still went in and out, defying the Captain of the Port's order, but for the most part it was quiet, very strangely so for Cabo San Lucas.I checked the still-chatering Inmarsat: it said Cabo San Lucas had experienced a 1.2 foot range. Maybe on the beach, but it was a lot more extreme in the harbor. We were already getting reports off the tsunami making landfall in California, and Alaska was expecting it only to hours later. But for us, it was time to get the gangway down, get the luggage aboard, and get the guests checked in. The tsunami had passed.