Archive for the ‘Sailing’ Category
A story of a ship is just the tip of the iceberg!
This is the ship:
Just a ship out of many thousands that ply the trade routes across our oceans. She was built in 2011 and is classified as a bulk carrier. Her gross tonnage is 40,142 tons. She is 738 feet long and 105 feet wide.
So what, you may ask?
To answer that question, let me turn to a recent post over on TomDispatch generously offered for republication on Learning from Dogs. (Thanks Tom.)
Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, The Age of Inhuman Scale
It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die. I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America. Now, it’s reality. The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.”
When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no? Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare. Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible. There simply was no passage. No longer. Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination. The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.
None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren. After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet. And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse. That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).
If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism. Tom
Bigger Than That
(The Difficulty of) Looking at Climate Change
By Rebecca Solnit
Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world. The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.
Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.
The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.
The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.
Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size. If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.
Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another. And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.
As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier. They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).
A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.
Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.
It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together. But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather. It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries. It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.
To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.
Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.
Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).
Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July. Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.
(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change. It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)
Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.
Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas – urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”
Column Inches, Glacial Miles
We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way. We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.
Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.
We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.
It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.
Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.
It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.
The Great Wall, Brick by Brick
The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.
As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”
There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.
My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.
I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.
I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.
Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.
The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale. Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.
Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.
To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.
That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.
Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.
If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.
Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.
Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit
So back to me! And the blindness of present-day society.
Or try cause and effect.
A discovery of some writing from the past triggers memories.
Way back on the 15th November, 2009, I wrote a post about single-handed sailing and how it caused me much disquiet. Rather than just leave you with a link to that reflection, I’m going to include the post again, below. The reason is that a few days ago, in looking through some of my earlier writings in conjunction with a writing group that Jean and I belong to, I came across a piece that I wrote following a solo voyage from Larnaca in Cyprus, west along the Mediterranean Sea and then out over the Atlantic from Gibraltar to Horta on the island of Faial in the Azores. That last leg was a little over 1,100 nautical miles (1,300 land miles) and took me eight days.
So first here’s that earlier post from 2009.
A personal reflection on this rather strange way of travelling!
The recent Post about young Jessica Watson sailing alone around the world raised a few comments but also reminded me of my own experiences of solo sailing.
Some years ago, having successfully sold my own IT company, I warmed to the idea of being a full-time yachtie! A second-hand Tradewind 33 was discovered on the Island of Corfu. (Now here’s a surprise! I was just browsing the web looking for a picture of a Tradewind and came across my old yacht currently up for sale. Her name is Songbird of Kent! Picture below.)
Anyway, the deal was done and having sold my house in England I flew out to Corfu to collect Songbird of Kent. Inevitably it was a number of months before the boat was ready to head out into the Mediterranean but in early Spring 1988 it was time to explore the long coastlines of Greece and Turkey.
After a fantastic summer cruising from one idyllic anchorage to another mostly with friends or family on board, it was time to find a winter haven. Many recommended Larnaca Marina in Cyprus. Thus it was late in the summer of 1988 that I said goodbye to friends and set out on my own to cross from Antalya in Turkey to Cyprus and along the South coast of Cyprus to Larnaca, on the SE side of the island.
That sea crossing, a little over 200 nautical miles, was to become a regular solo experience at the start and end of each summer season. Impossible to do in a single day thus it always included a night at sea and rarely, if things didn’t go well with the weather, a couple of nights. I hated it! Maybe it was the sudden transition from coastal sailing to a deep water crossing, often going from having friends on board to being alone, but whatever it was I never enjoyed my time on my own and knew that long-distance solo sailing was never going to be my scene.
Anyway, I ended up spending several very happy winters in Larnaca.
One time, there was news of a Frenchman who had come into Larnaca on his way home to France having nearly completed a circumnavigation of the world. He was on his own!
I was astounded to hear how someone could do this and made a point of calling round to his berth. The boat was a beautiful, solid steel yacht, the very epitome of a craft that could challenge the oceans. The owner’s name was Pierre (it would be!). Pierre invited me aboard and we went down to his saloon to drink a hot coffee – real French coffee!
Inevitably the conversation turned to the challenges of sailing alone. Pierre said that the big cargo ships at sea moved quickly relative to the speed of a yacht so at night he set an alarm for every 15 minutes. That was the time that a ship could go from being hull down over the horizon to being close enough to be a hazard. Thus while at sea Pierre got up briefly every 15 minutes during the night to avoid being run down! It sounded totally exhausting.
Then Pierre asked me about the sailing I had done and whether I had sailed on my own. I declared my trivial journeys back and forth from Cyprus to Turkey and revealed that being on my own made me very, very unhappy. Pierre was surprised to hear that as he admitted that being at sea alone was one of the most tranquil and peaceful experiences ever. Pierre asked how long these solo journeys took. I replied, two or three days.
“Ah!”, he said, “That is the problem.” “I, too, hate the three days. It is always a period where you adjust and it is terrible.“
“My friend, you must find a way to be alone for more than three days. You will see that it is very different.“
It was some years before that opportunity came about but, in the end, I did undertake a solo journey of 8 days. Pierre was right. The first three days were hell, the rest were heaven!
Thank you, Songbird of Kent, you gave me some fabulous memories!
By Paul Handover
Now on to my writings about being out at sea alone on a small yacht.
Being at Sea
Going to sea in a small vessel is a profound experience.
In harbour we build up a reliance on things external. We have no need to worry if there is insufficient food on board, we can plug into the dockside power supply, sleep through the night undisturbed and we can wander off and enjoy the company of others if the boat feels a little claustrophobic.
Then slowly, imperceptibly, but with huge force, arrives the need to move on. The realisation that our cosy life connected to the busy, bustling and self-obsessed world of shoreside is not fulfilling our search for adventure and for the truths that lay over the horizon. It is time to leave.
The act of casting off is always exciting as it heralds a new adventure. But it also carries feelings of loss and apprehension as one lets go of the bonds of a previous certainty. The first few hours are filled with the workload of getting one’s craft shipshape and battened down for the unknown seas. Then gradually comes the realisation that the land is now less the dominating visual feature than the vastness of the seascape that is ahead. But with the land in sight, albeit a distant horizon behind one, you can still sense the life you are leaving.
Now all that surrounds you is the sea. You are now truly disconnected from the land. It is often at this point that despondency and uncertainty play with your mind; after all this new life is still very unfamiliar compared to the warmth of that island home that still resonates in your heart. Time to remind yourself of why you wanted to take this voyage.
A small boat is very fragile. Just a centimetre of hull separating you from the unimaginable depths of the ocean beneath your keel. Not until the end of your voyage, when you draw your boat up, metaphorically on to that beach, will you ever stop feeling how close fate is, how it rides on your shoulder night and day. That, of course, is why we go to sea. It is the place where we taste life, where we savour each moment of the present because the future seems too bound up in the mystery, the uncertainty of the ocean. You are in charge of your tiny craft. Your survival depends on how you manage your small ship, how you navigate these seas, how you read the weather ahead and avoid the storms.
Soon your life on the ocean becomes everything to you. You have time to reflect on so much that is left behind. The distance seems to dissolve all the nuisances, bring into focus all the things that are important to you. There is no certainty with the ocean apart from the knowledge that you are very small and very, very vulnerable and yet, in a sense, also so strong.
In the end, we have to break away from our insecurities and our emotional dependencies on external people and situations because, without that, we are never able to command our own life and the destiny that flows from that captaincy. There is a real strength in knowing ourselves as we would know our own boat. If we really know every spar, sail, rope and fitting, if we have real understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our small vessel then we are able to know when to breast the waves or when to turn and run before the storm. We are secure that our small craft will protect us day and night.
Thus self-knowledge gives us the same freedom to manage our lives, to know when to fight and when to turn away. And just as after every long voyage the boat will need hours of careful maintenance so our own souls need regular love and caring from our spiritual keeper.
Copyright © 2008 Paul Handover
A very famous, albeit sad, anniversary of a great ship.
From launch to maiden voyage, 100 years ago today.
And just four, short days after RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage; on April 14th, at 11.40 pm ….
“The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912,” EyeWitness to History www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000).
On April 10, 1912, the Titanic, largest ship afloat, left Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City. The White Star Line had spared no expense in assuring her luxury. A legend even before she sailed, her passengers were a mixture of the world’s wealthiest basking in the elegance of first class accommodations and immigrants packed into steerage.
She was touted as the safest ship ever built, so safe that she carried only 20 lifeboats – enough to provide accommodation for only half her 2,200 passengers and crew. This discrepancy rested on the belief that since the ship’s construction made her “unsinkable,” her lifeboats were necessary only to rescue survivors of other sinking ships. Additionally, lifeboats took up valuable deck space.
Four days into her journey, at 11:40 P.M. on the night of April 14, she struck an iceberg. Her fireman compared the sound of the impact to “the tearing of calico, nothing more.” However, the collision was fatal and the icy water soon poured through the ship.
It became obvious that many would not find safety in a lifeboat. Each passenger was issued a life jacket but life expectancy would be short when exposed to water four degrees below freezing. As the forward portion of the ship sank deeper, passengers scrambled to the stern. John Thayer witnessed the sinking from a lifeboat. “We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle.” The great ship slowly slid beneath the waters two hours and forty minutes after the collision
The next morning, the liner Carpathia rescued 705 survivors. One thousand five hundred twenty-two passengers and crew were lost. Subsequent inquiries attributed the high loss of life to an insufficient number of lifeboats and inadequate training in their use.
Read more of this fascinating account, especially the story of Elizabeth Shutes who, aged 40, was governess to nineteen-year-old Margaret Graham who was traveling with her parents. As Shutes and her charge sit in their First Class cabin they feel a shudder travel through the ship. At first comforted by her belief in the safety of the ship, Elizabeth’s composure is soon shattered by the realization of the imminent tragedy.
Also grateful to my cousin, Rose F., who sent me a link to a story in the British newspaper The Telegraph that came out in September, 2010. I don’t have permission to reproduce that story but hope that it being 18 months since it was published by the Telegraph makes my act forgiveable!
Titanic sunk by steering blunder, new book claims
It was always thought the Titanic sank because its crew were sailing too fast and failed to see the iceberg before it was too late.
10:55PM BST 21 Sep 2010
But now it has been revealed they spotted it well in advance but still steamed straight into it because of a basic steering blunder.
According to a new book, the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman panicked and turned the wrong way.
By the time the catastrophic error was corrected it was too late and the side of the ship was fatally holed by the iceberg.
Even then the passengers and crew could have been saved if it had stayed put instead of steaming off again and causing water to pour into the broken hull.
The revelation, which comes out almost 100 years after the disaster, was kept secret until now by the family of the most senior officer to survive the disaster.
Second Officer Charles Lightoller covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the liner’s owners and put his colleagues out of job.
Since his death – by then a war hero from the Dunkirk evacuation – it has remained hidden for fear it would ruin his reputation.
But now his granddaughter the writer Lady (Louise) Patten has revealed it in her new novel. ”It just makes it seem all the more tragic,” she said. ”They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn’t for the blunder.“
The error on the ship’s maiden voyage between Southampton and New York in 1912 happened because at the time seagoing was undergoing enormous upheaval because of the conversion from sail to steam ships.
The change meant there were two different steering systems and different commands attached to them.
Some of the crew on the Titanic were used to the archaic Tiller Orders associated with sailing ships and some to the more modern Rudder Orders.
Crucially, the two steering systems were the complete opposite of one another.
So a command to turn “hard a starboard” meant turn the wheel right under the Tiller system and left under the Rudder.
When First Officer William Murdoch spotted the iceberg two miles away, his “hard a-starboard” order was misinterpreted by the Quartermaster Robert Hitchins.
He turned the ship right instead of left and, even though he was almost immediately told to correct it, it was too late and the side of the starboard bow was ripped out by the iceberg.
“The steersman panicked and the real reason why Titanic hit the iceberg, which has never come to light before, is because he turned the wheel the wrong way,” said Lady Patten who is the wife of former Tory Education minister, Lord (John) Patten.
Whilst her grandfather Lightoller was not on watch at the time of the collision, her book Good as Gold reveals that a dramatic final meeting of the four senior officers took place in the First Officer’s cabin shortly before Titanic went down.
There, Lightoller heard not only about the fatal mistake, but also what happened next, up on the bridge.
While Hitchins had made a straightforward error, what followed was a deliberate decision.
Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, persuaded the Captain to continue sailing. For ten minutes, Titanic went “Slow Ahead” through the sea.
This added enormously to the pressure of water flooding through the damaged hull, forcing it up and over the watertight bulkheads, sinking Titanic many hours earlier than she otherwise would have done.
“Ismay insisted on keeping going, no doubt fearful of losing his investment and damaging his company’s reputation,” said Lady Patten. ”The nearest ship was four hours away. Had she remained at ‘Stop’, it’s probable that Titanic would have floated until help arrived.“
The truth of what happened on that historic night was deliberately buried.
Lightoller, the only survivor who knew precisely what had happened, and who would later go on to be a twice-decorated war hero, decided to hide what he knew from the world, including two official inquiries into the sinking.
By his code of honour, he felt it was his duty to protect his employer – White Star Line – and its employees.
Lady Patten said: “The inquiry had to be a whitewash. The only person he told the full story to was his beloved wife Sylvia, my grandmother. As a teenager, I was enthralled by the Titanic. Granny revealed to me exactly what had happened on that night and we would discuss it endlessly.
She died when I was sixteen and, though she never told me to keep the knowledge to myself, I didn’t tell anyone. My mother insisted that everything remained strictly inside the family: a hero’s reputation was at stake.
Nearly forty years later, with Granny and my mother long dead, I was plotting my second novel and it struck me that I was the last person alive to know what really happened on the night Titanic sank.
My grandfather’s extraordinary experiences felt like perfect material for Good As Gold.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2010
Anyone who reads this and is as fascinated as I was should read the comments as there is much discussion about the nature of the steering error.
History repeating itself in terms of the commercial sailing ship.
Most Brits have heard of the tea clipper Cutty Sark. As the Cutty Sark website explains,
Cutty Sark has travelled across the world, sailing under both the Red Ensign and the Portuguese flag, visiting every major port in the world through the course of her working life. In admiration of her beauty and in recognition of her fame, she was preserved for the nation by Captain Wilfred Dowman in 1922.
Since then, the old clipper has been berthed in Falmouth and Greenhithe, finally arriving at her current resting place in Greenwich in 1954.
And elsewhere on that website,
Cutty Sark matters because:
- She is the epitome of the great age of sail.
- She is the only surviving extreme clipper, and the only tea clipper still in existence.
- Most of her hull fabric survives from her original construction and she is the best example of a merchant composite construction vessel.
- She has captured the imagination of millions of people, 15 million of whom have come on board to learn the stories she has to tell.
- She was preserved in Greenwich partly as a memorial to the men of the merchant navy, particularly those who lost their lives in both world wars.
- She is one of the great sights of London.
I mention the Cutty Sark because it seems a historic connection with something very relevant to today’s world that was the subject of a recent item on Rob Hopkin’s Transition Culture blogsite. In it Rob presents his first podcast, the topic being the sailing ship Tres Hombres, that is being used for commercial sea transport. The link to the Transition Culture story is here, and the podcast follows, (just click on the link to listen to the fascinating 14 minutes audio story about the ship Tres Hombres.)
The first Transition podcast! A visit to the Tres Hombres, tasting a revolution in shipping
Last week I did a course with the Media Trust on how to make podcasts (highly recommended). So, here, with some fanfare, is the first ‘Transition podcast’, I hope you like it. If so, do embed it in other places. It means I spent the time I would spend writing editing pieces of audio. Let me know what you think. So, the podcast is about a fascinating morning I spent visiting the sailing ship Tres Hombres which visited Brixham earlier this week. It explores the potential of sail-powered shipping as the price of oil rises and the economy tightens. It’s an exciting story.
Finally, let me close with a very well-known poem about sailing the big ships.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)
All at sea, Sir!
(This week is a tough one for me with no internet access until the 18th. So I’m quickly offering items from elsewhere that have caught my eye.)
Lifeboat crews have made an unusual rescue off the coast of Anglesey – an 81-year-old man and a wheelie bin.
The man had gone out in a small inflatable dinghy to recover his neighbour’s bin which had swept out to sea in strong winds, in a high tide.
He was blown about a mile off Red Wharf Bay until Moelfre inshore lifeboat was launched to rescue him.
He was picked up suffering from mild hypothermia and taken to hospital in Bangor by ambulance. The crew said the man was not wearing a life jacket or waterproof clothing. His dinghy was also half full of water because of the sea conditions.
The Moelfre crew then went back out to tow in the dingy and wheelie bin, which was still half full of rubbish.
Moelfre lifeboat station spokesman Dave Massey said: “Everyone at the Moelfre lifeboat station wishes the gentleman a speedy recovery.
“The volunteer lifeboat crews at Moelfre have dealt with a wide variety of emergency calls over the years but I am sure that this is the first time we have been involved in towing in a wheelie bin.”
The Welsh coastline was hit by some of the highest tides of the year on [last] Friday.
By Paul Handover
A Pacific master navigator sails into the sunset
The Economist, for me, is one of the great newspapers of our time. I have often referred to it on Learning from Dogs.
Last Saturday’s edition (July 24th – 30th 2010) carried a most beautiful obituary about Mau Piailug who in 1976 demonstrated that ancient seafarers could indeed have voyaged from Hawaii to Tahiti, a distance of some 2,500 miles, before the age of compasses, sextants or charts. Here is an extract from that obituary (you may need to register to view it):
As a Micronesian he did not know the waters or the winds round Tahiti, far south-east. But he had an image of Tahiti in his head. He knew that if he aimed for that image, he would not get lost. And he never did. More than 2,000 miles out, a flock of small white terns skimmed past the Hokule’a heading for the still invisible Mataiva Atoll, next to Tahiti. Mau knew then that the voyage was almost over.
On that month-long trip he carried no compass, sextant or charts. He was not against modern instruments on principle. A compass could occasionally be useful in daylight; and, at least in old age, he wore a chunky watch. But Mau did not operate on latitude, longitude, angles, or mathematical calculations of any kind. He walked, and sailed, under an arching web of stars moving slowly east to west from their rising to their setting points, and knew them so well—more than 100 of them by name, and their associated stars by colour, light and habit—that he seemed to hold a whole cosmos in his head, with himself, determined, stocky and unassuming, at the nub of the celestial action.
Here’s an extract from the website Suite101.com:
Mau Piailug was born in 1932 on Satawal, a tiny Pacific island no wider than a mile in Micronesia. When he was still a little baby, his grandfather put him in a tide pool as though he were putting him in a cradle. There the sea gently rocked him back and forth with the rhythm of the tides.When Mau was six, his grandfather began to teach him about navigation. He started by telling him about the stars; the grandfather made a star compass out of a circle of coral rocks, and in the center he put a little canoe he had made of palm fronds. Then he explained how the stars rose in the sky and traveled from east to west.
As he grew older, Mau spent his evenings in the canoe house. There he asked the elders to teach him about navigation. In this way, and with his grandfather’s help, he learned the paths of more than a hundred stars. He also learned that when clouds covered the sky, he could use the direction of the ocean waves to guide the canoe. He could also follow the birds toward land when they headed home in the evening, and he studied the creatures of the sea, for in times of trouble they, too, could help him find land.
A film was made about Mau called The Last Navigator. Do click on the link and read more about what Steve ‘learnt’ from Mau – here’s a closing taste:
It has been nearly fifteen years since I first met Piailug. In that time I have been blessed with relative fame and prosperity – an eventuality, by the way, that Piailug foretold to me. As I look back, I am impressed now by the twin qualities in the man that impressed me then: his generosity and his courage. Piailug took me into his family, assumed responsibility for my material and political well-being, and taught me his navigation without reserve. The knowledge he gave me about navigation is considered priceless in his culture. The knowledge he gave me about myself, I have come to see, is priceless as well. I often think of Piailug, and the fierceness and determination with which he defends a way of life he knows will die as the wise elders died. He has the courage to live and teach and voyage in spite of the certain knowledge that his struggle can never stem the tide of Westernization, which will change the character of his archipelago and may well eliminate the very role of the navigator as steward of his island’s sustenance and keeper of the flame of cultural knowledge.
A remarkable man.
By Paul Handover
Young Australian, Jessica Watson, is home safe and sound.
(Circumstances required that I had to prepare this Post well ahead of the confirmation that Jessica is back and as it happens, the chances are that when Jessica made it past the Sydney Heads finish line I was onboard a flight from Los Angeles to London.)
The youngest person to sail around the world solo, non-stop and unassisted, 16 year old Australian Jessica Watson, is expected to complete her historic voyage, arriving back in Sydney to a hero’s welcome on Saturday 15 May.
Jessica left Sydney on 18 October 2009 and has so far overcome every challenge that Mother Nature has thrown at her to achieve her goal.
Jessica needs to cross the finish line at Sydney Heads to officially complete her voyage. She will then cruise down Sydney Harbour before disembarking at Sydney Opera House.
It is anticipated that Jessica will cross the finish line at approximately 11:30am and arrive at the Sydney Opera House around 12.30pm, the first time she will have set foot on land in almost seven months.
Readers of Learning from Dogs will know that we recognised Jessica’s brave and courageous voyage in a Post published on November 12th, 2009.
Soon memories such as this:
will be a thing of the past!
Our Post of last November is re-published below.
Can this form of holidaying still remain popular?
The Celebrity Eclipse has recently left her construction dockyard at Papenburg, Germany bound for her home base. This enormous new ship attracted some news simply because the exercise of getting her from the dockyard to the open sea required some ‘shoe-horning’! This YouTube video shows why (amateur filming but a great soundtrack!):
All would wish any ship that sets out to sea safe travel. But one wonders whether this huge ship, that must require such huge sums of money just to stay afloat, and that must have been conceived and ordered when times were much rosier, will ever be a commercial success?
By Paul Handover
Don’t know what time it is? Hardly surprising in Spring and Autumn.
Today is exactly one month before the United Kingdom ‘moves’ its clocks forward and enters British Summer Time; 1am (UTC) on Sunday 28th March 2010. Is that date the same across the world? One would think so because it makes life, especially international air transport, so much easier.
But no! In fact the way that time zones are applied and changed for Daylight Saving is a complete hotch-potch.
In the United States of America, daylight saving starts at 2am on March 14th, 2010. And just three years ago that start time would have been the first Sunday in April. Changes were made in the US Energy Policy Act of 2005.
From this geographic site comes the following:
Other parts of the world observe Daylight Saving Time as well. While European nations have been taking advantage of the time change for decades, in 1996 the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide “summertime period.” The EU version of Daylight Saving Time runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October. During the summer, Russia’s clocks are two hours ahead of standard time. During the winter, all 11 of the Russian time zones are an hour ahead of standard time. During the summer months, Russian clocks are advanced another hour ahead. With their high latitude, the two hours of Daylight Saving Time really helps to save daylight. In the southern hemisphere where summer comes in December, Daylight Saving Time is observed from October to March. Equatorial and tropical countries (lower latitudes) don’t observe Daylight Saving Time since the daylight hours are similar during every season, so there’s no advantage to moving clocks forward during the summer.
Of course, someone had to create a web-site to track all these various time zones and changes. Here it is.
Last year, the BBC News website published an interesting article about the Greenwich Meridian aka The Prime Meridian. The setting of the Prime Meridian was done just over 125 years ago, in October 1884. When one thinks of the importance in having a standard meridian, both for time keeping and navigation, I would have guessed that it went back much further in time.
The other aspect that was news to me was that the conference had been convened at the request of the American President Chester Arthur.
From that BBC article:
Until the 19th Century, many countries and even individual towns kept their own local time based on the sun’s passage across the sky and there were no international rules governing when the day would start or finish.
Maps with multiple meridians were confusing
However, with the rapid expansion of the railways and communications networks during the 1850s and 1860s, setting a standard global time soon became essential.
“The world was in a very big mix-up,” explains Dr Avraham Ariel, author of Plotting the Globe. “People had lots of prime meridians. Earlier in Europe there were 20 prime meridians. The Russians had two or three, the Spanish had their own and so on.”
Thus that famous line in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London is not as old as many might have thought.
By Paul Handover
A reminder of the United Nations (UNICEF) Convention and a second view from yours truly.
On November 12th I was the author of a Post called Our next generation featuring the young Jessica Watson from Australia who is on course to try and win the record for the youngest person to sail, solo, unassisted, non-stop around the World. Here’s a part of what was said:
Jessica Watson is a teenager. She is hoping to break the record for the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the World. Whatever modern materials and technology can do to make sailing easier, sailing solo for weeks on end is grindingly tough at any age. She’s a wonderful example of the next generation!
Jessica left Sydney Harbour on October 18, 2009 sailing her sloop Ella’s Pink Lady. Her course is an estimated 23,000 nautical miles requiring her to be roughly 230 days at sea.
You can see that the tone of the Post was supportive.
However the comments that the Post attracted were critical of the pressures and influences that may have been brought to bear on this child. For at 16 ‘child’ is what Jessica is. One of our regular contributors pointed out that under the terms of the UNICEF Convention:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not.