Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Arrogance or innocence?

As I said yesterday, I've been reading more and more about the naval campaigns on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. Next week I plan on a series of short articles about various actions or events that took place there during that period, and how they relate to what we're doing in NHS.

I started on this whole tack after some discussion around the Dockyard about comparing our efforts to history. Leaders on the Great Lakes in that period were given an opportunity unlike anything else in our naval history - the powers that be essentially told them to build their ships, then go fight. They seem to have had an astonishing amount of leeway selecting designs, arming existing ships and boats, and all within the realm of 'what do we have and what can we do with it?' - rather than it being strictly budget dependent. After all, if it were a mere matter of money, ther would have probably been much more of a buildup in that region. As it was, the growth was astounding.

And this had me thinking - we're sort of in a similar situation with our little organization. I'm not sure if its arrogance or innocence making such a comparisson, but even casual spectators would have to admit the parallels are there. Excepting that we're not building large scale craft to take into actual combat, we are limited in supplies, materials, manpower, skilled trades - all the things naval leaders faced on the Great Lakes in the early 19th century. Most of the time, making do with what we have is more important than what we can buy, or adhering to rigid practices and methods dictated by regulation. And while we aren't going to be facing actual combat, certain events, such as our crossing of the Chesapeake in the Monomoy Pulling Boat, do cause us to stake our physical (and mental, in many cases) well-being on our work.

So like Isaac Chauncey and Oliver Hazard Perry we're building and outfitting our own craft, only on a much smaller scale. No doubt we - or at least I - will draw strength and take example from their trials and tribulations. And then the issue becomes, just as they faced in those times, how to best use the products of our labors. I'm sure it will require the same fortitude, dilligence and flexibility as it did then.

More to follow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Do you remember Roger Mudd?

If you've ever been up in the wee hours watching the history channel, or you can remember seeing old documentaries in school, you've probably seen Roger Mudd narrating or as a reporter. He had that old stoic 'stand by for nap time' sort of voice that always reminds me of my high school days when the rest of the class would sleep through the videos our history teacher would show. Half the time I would do the same, having seen the video already - or a better one on the same subject. Anyway. Tangents are getting longer - think I need to see a doctor.

So, I was surfing the internet this morning for some resources on the War of 1812 on Lake Ontario. After spending some time sailing aboard the Brig Niagara in Erie, PA and reading countless articles about Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Put-in-Bay (Battle of Lake Erie) - the actions on Lake Ontario seem rather overshadowed in modern memory. Being from Rochester NY originally I studied Isaac Chaauncey and Melancthon Woolsey as a kid, and followed the little brown historical road signs with interest wherever my family went. And though there is no doubting the significance of the American naval buildup and actions on Lake Ontario, whenever I find something on it I can't help but be suprised - as in "oh, you remember" like someone remembering my birthday.

Well today, in preparation for a series of blogs on naval "build ship, then go fight" projects, I've decided to revive old Roger Mudd, and a news story from February 17, 1983. Of course, for those who like their naval news stories more current - or more British - you can check out the HMS Ontario.

Enjoy, folks. And for those whose little lightbulb just clicked ON, no - I will be reviewing no new plans until December so don't even try.


Monday, March 29, 2010

What AM I angrily shaking my fist at?

One of my navy mentors once remarked something to the effect of "young people should be tired." Work hard, play hard sort of thing. Well, even after sleeping for 9 hours last night I am still tired from the weekend, and moving around like I've got some sort of spinal/muscular disease. Need to shake out that reef - I'd go for a run but it's pouring rain now. And I don't think I'd make it. But I digest.

This weekend we had a mass convergence on the Dockyard, with the goal of stripping and refinishing the Monomoy's oars, thwarts, platforms, stretchers and bilge boards. Those of you who've been out to working weekends know that as the weekend progresses, and various complications arise and are overcome, I get more and more crotchety. This seems to coordinate with teams near completion of their projects and start goofing around a bit, their mood lightening - which means that the more I growl and shake my fists at people, the more apt they are to laugh it off. Looking back on it, it's always kind of funny.

Saturday was the largest showing, with members from as far north as Washington DC and west as Danville VA came out to help. In and amongst the important statistics I should report - the Dockyard crew polished off 14 pots of coffee and 16 two-liter bottles of Coca Cola. Definately worth reporting. Maybe we should get some sort of hook-up from Coke or Juan Valdez, hmm.

Anyway, back on topic. I'm tired and only on my fourth cup of coffee. Focus.


One thing about yesterday that was interesting was the oar refinishing. I got a last minute tip from John Collamore of the Colonial Seaport Foundation to coat the oars in epoxy before varnishing. We had some extra West System goo that the Spar Team didn't need, so that's what we did. Turned out great, so thanks for the tip, John. But I have to say that having people walking back and forth across the yard from the back forty where they were stripped to the framing bay where they were expoxied, then on to the lofting bay where they were set up for varnishing was like watching an accident waiting to happen - I kept waiting for someone to come running around a corner and get clotheslined by an oar. Fighting the constant battle of where to sand and where to varnish (leeward and windward respectively) was my biggest challenge.

But it was good to see so much activity. And thanks to all those who came out to support operations. Sorry, no photos yet, but we had to rush and cover everything at the last minute due to the onset of darkness and rain yesterday. End result, the woodwork is varnished, oars are just about ready for leathering, and we actually hoisted sail for the first time on Saturday. We just have rigging and the racing stripe left - then we get to see our work pay off a bit - or at least put it to the ultimate test... sea trials.

Two weeks until the 'gruelling test sail'. I need to think of something else to shake fists about, 'cause I'm pretty damned satisfied with the work done so far. Thanks, everyone!



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Costumes and Uniforms

Yesterday we managed to get all major projects in the Dockyard to a stopping point, so we could clean up and prepare for the varnish party this weekend. Tonight the weapon of choice is the broom and the mighty mighty shop vacs. Anyone who is planning on coming out, bring sanders - palm, random-orbital, belt, etc. Anything you can conveniently bring. We have four in the 'yard, but we will need more.


So last night I was brought into a discussion between the PR Director, Commissioner of Supply and four Trustees. If you're not sure who these people are, read back a few days, I explained it (told you I was getting lazy, online at least). The conversation had to do with the new events coming up this year - where 2 out of 3 currently set up have been determined as "no costume" events. The hope is to work our programming outside the exclusive realm of reenacting, to a place where reenactors, recreational boaters and the active duty communities meet. To that end, there were some terse words exchanged relating to historical dress, relating to a decision last month in the BoD that historical replica clothing in organizational property were to be referred to as "costumes".

Most people who are not part of the reenacting hobby would describe it as one in which "people get together, put on historical costumes, and hold events" (quoting my friend Jeff, a non-reenactor). That's pretty accurate. Reenactors see it differently, using the words "uniform", and "muster". Some take it pretty seriously - in fact, I know a guy who was buried in his "uniform" and put his reenactor unit and rank on his tombstone. Ummmm.

Look, I know I am going to piss people off with this, but reenacting is a hobby. We do this because we like to; it's how we choose to spend our spare time. When you start taking it too seriously, you can cross boundaries - like mixing up who you ARE and who you are PRETENDING to be. A number of people are confused why NHS is planning on crossing Chesapeake Bay, without commemorating some event or another. The answer is because we can. In shorts and t-shirts we're going to be ourselves and use some antiquated technology to get across a rather broad (16 nm) stretch of water. In the process, hopefully we can help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia State Parks with their respective goals. At the very least, it'll be an experience- one that we don't have to credit to anyone else.

So as far as I am concerned, they are costumes. Thank you, gentlemen of the board - good call.

Dismount - SOAP BOX!



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ranks and rates - or, how to compare yourself with your friends

If you don't keep score, how do you compare yourself with other golfers?

By height.

Oh come on - like I'm the only person who's seen that movie!

A few weeks ago, I was at the reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro NC when one of the NHS marines asked me a very poignant question - "How do you become an officer in reenacting." I proceeded to explain that there are a million and one answers to that. Most, if not all, are elected in some way or another. Some are because they have been since time immemorial. But I think the question had to do with the fact that there were so many of them floating around, apparently without any responsibilities whatever. It was a valid question, and I think I should take some time to elaborate on the thought process of where NHS commissioned and non-commissioned officers come from.

Before that - if you want to debate the issue on the grand scale get on a message board somewhere. The last thing I am going to discuss here is what is appropriate for non-NHS types. To each their own - however you arrange your people, I am glad to see you out there. Whatever you're doing, keep on truckin!

NHS commissioned officers are appointed by the Board of Directors to be their direct executives in the field (where Board authority to correct emergent issues ceases), and are appointed in numbers directly proportional to the number of enlisted men under them (right now the maximum ratio is 1 to 8). Their chief responsibility as I have observed it is to mingle with the officers of other units to the end of figuring out how NHS personnel fit into existing plans. They also make command decisions, dictate how things are carried out that aren't otherwise specified in regulations, and otherwise make sure the goals of the event - given in the event orders (from the Board) - are met within the parameters of the regulations.

NHS non-commissioned officers go through a rigorous qualification process that can take years. A good example are the qualification standards for marine sergeant. NCOs exist to ensure the regular operation runs smoothly, and according to regs. They also provide routine training, and act as the interface between the "enlisted" participants and the commissioned officer.


So, where do sailors fit in? There are a lot of considerations when assigning sailors ranks. First, what is appropriate to our context? We are a small organization, and even if we were to fill two large boats with sailors and marines we'd fall pitifully short of a ship's compliment - of almost any era. So we're then relegated to deciding who would be present in a group of boats. Who is present in a group of boats from a ship today? Probably some junior sailors to man and operate them, a petty officer, maybe two, of some importance in charge, forming some sort of chain of command, and maybe a junior officer leading the whole. Sounds about reasonable for historical contexts too. Of course that's dependent on individual historical events, but I'm speaking in general everyday terms.

Right now, everyone is kind of a loose gaggle, a few impromptu leaders here and there. There aren't any official ranks as of yet - or at least nobody has been awarded/assigned them yet. But the overarching idea is to organize along those lines- ranks would have no insignia to distinguish them and exist to clarify assignments and organizing work, rather than "I command you" direct chain of command sort of authority. To that end, sailors will eventually be organized as follows (from a proposal submitted last week, currently being discussed):

Unrated Seamen:

Able Seaman
A sailor who can handle lines, reef, steer and cast a lead, also recognize signal flags 1 through 6, all safety related signals, as well as a working knowledge of semaphore and flashing light techniques. The most reliable sailors.

Ordinary Seaman
Can understand and execute oar commands and simple line handling. Rudimentary understanding of signaling. Reliable to execute simple commands without supervision.

Any person not advanced to Ordinary Seaman or Able Seaman. Generally speaking, inexperienced recruits.

Classification of Landsman who by virtue of junior age is exempted from strenuous physical labors including line and sail handling.

These are fairly self explanatory. None of these classify as non-commissioned officers, equivalent to a marine sergeant. Right now, I believe the plan is that the Commanding Officer (ooh do we get one for the navy?!) will advance sailors in rank based on the merits and abilities of each. The NCO element comes in when Able Seamen, those "most reliable sailors" become experts in various disciplines. They can then be rated Petty Officers - something I think of as akin to a marine sergeant - your "get 'er done" guys (from the same proposition):

Petty Officers

Expert in sailing and steerage of vessels. Responsible for stowage to balance the craft. Also experts in the theory of sails and rigging. Leading signalman.

Boatswain’s Mate
Senior management level NCO. Organizes all unrated seamen and coordinates work about the vessel. Expert in line handling, ground tackle, setting up and repair of rigging, repair of sails, painting, varnishing and cleaning.

Of course there are specialized positions for Landsmen and Ordinary Seamen, which don't require the same level of general overall proficiency as the above ratings. There were in fact full Petty Officers related to these disciplines, but the question came up: do they belong in groups where our numbers are so small? I don't really think so. Junior Petty Officers (from the same proposition):

Quarter Gunner
Responsible for guns, their implements, accessories and ammunition. Usually serves to lead gun crews and supervise operation.

Carpenter’s Crew
Responsible for repair of vessels as well as damage control in combat. Repairs and modifies all wooden appliances and fittings.

Responsible for repair of all metal parts – more of a blacksmith than a weapons guru. Manages maintenance of all small arms including cutlasses, boarding pikes, pistols and muskets.

Purser’s Assistant (‘Jack of the Dust’)
Equivalent to the Marine Quartermaster. Responsible to inventory, issue, track and collect all organizational property in use by the sailors. Also responsible for the stowage of provisions and potable water.

Assistant Cook
Receives provisions from the Jack in the Dust and supervises the preparation of meals, also the immediate cleanup.

Altogether I think this covers the spectrum of divisions to accomplish what we need to. There have been other propositions, but as I said, considering they aren't being executed, the decision is yet to come. What I like best is that it permits a clear chain of command and division of work, while to some extent retaining the "gaggle" appearance status quo. In summary:

COXSWAIN (responsible for safe and efficient navigation)

Boatswain's Mate

Able Seamen
Ordinary Seamen

Supply - Jack of the Dust
Food Service - Assistant Cook
Ordnance - Quarter Gunner
Repair - Carpenter's Crew
Small Arms - Armorer


As for officers - let's get a kid, maybe 10 or 12 years old, to command as a Midshipman, just so he can yell in a squeaky little voice "come lads, we must board her!" Hahahahahaha. Love that movie, too!

Oh come on!



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Communicate THIS

Modern navies have massive amounts of communications gear, designed to do everything from talk to a ship over the horizon via live text chat, to call your wife at home, to have a video teleconference with the president. Of course, in the techno age that created such devices there are ways to jam, disrupt and monitor those as well - and communications security, or COMSEC, is as critical as ever.

One thing that has been overlooked (in my opinion) in recent years is line-of-sight communications. Not that we operate in formations much anymore, or steam in carrier battle groups. But occasionally, when we do, we seem to be at a loss for the simple techniques left floundering on the shoulder of the technological superhighway. Methods such as flashing light, signal flags and semaphore used to be employed to send signals over line of sight distances, with very little risk of interception (unless your adversary is watching you) let alone deciphering. Allied Tactical Protocol (ATP) signals aren't THAT complicated - dust off your code books used to prop up wardroom table legs and have a look.

The real sting prevented here is the massive amount of emissions sent between ships and satellites that can be detected and hacked from an outbuilding in the Mu Shu Province. The kind of traffic that gives away where ships are, and that something is brewing. That knowledge alone is enough to figure out what we're up to most of the time.

The one great piece of anecdotal evidence I can give is a recollection of my last deployment to the Fifth Fleet AOR. While onboard the carrier, we were steaming along in our box, running back and forth launching and recovering aircraft. Our trusty shotgun, a Ticonderoga class cruiser by our side. When suddenly down in the Combat Direction Center a phone call comes in from the CO:


Umm. "Sir, that's [our cruiser]."


"Copy sir, let me get back to you. CLICK. Lookouts, what ship do you have on the quarter?"

"sir, that's some old ass warship, ain't ours."

Oh boy.

Long story short: it was an Indian Navy destroyer. Actually, there were four ships, all within 20 miles. They went radio silent, no emitters, and snuck up on a deployed -and escorted -US Carrier launching aircraft in open ocean. And we didn't have any clue they were there until one of them jumped into plane guard before our escort did. Smart ass, but very clever. I have a very healthy respect for those gentlemen as mariners, now. Way to go, guys.


In order to do our part to revitalize interest in this fading art form, we've had our own signal code in the works for more or less a year. The code itself isn't that complex, but finding funding to produce several sets of flags, buy Aldis lamps (or reasonable substitutes) and other equipment has not been the swiftest evolution. Every time the idea comes up for action, it always gets back burner-ed.

Well the debate has come up again, and I hope that by the end of the week I'll see an order going out to my counterpart the Commissioner of Supply to produce or procure the required equipment. Also means the code book and instruction manual might actually see the light of day. Stay tuned for some fun there.

Even if we only have a shore station and a single boat to communicate with, we might get some good use out of it. When we get the second boat in the water next year, the fun will really crank up. And who knows, we might be able to convince our brethren in other groups to adopt the same system, so we can all communicate at events. Hmmm. Anyone game?


Once again - THIS WEEKEND - ALL HANDS - strip and varnish party at the Dockyard. Get hot!


Monday, March 22, 2010

In the spirit of the weekend, a word about government

HA! You thought I was going to get political here, didn't you!? No, I like being Dockyard Superintendant too much to stir up a bees nest like that. But I know some people have been asking exactly how the Naval Heritage Society works - after all there are no dues, fees that are impossibly small and only for the events you attend, and no voting amongst the membership. Rather than have to answer this fifty more times over, I'd rather just point to the blog. So hello, folks, you've arrived at my laziness.

NHS was founded on the premise that most of the people we wanted to recruit - active duty sailors and marines, retired sailors and marines, students, young people, etc - didn't want to have to throw thousands of dollars into a hobby to participate. But they'd show up and pull an oar or march with the best of 'em - and with more energy, too. Membership established, growing, constantly changing - check. So if they don't pay who does?

Being the astute business people that we are (or aspire to be) we then hunted down ways to raise money. This meant bringing onboard people who were willing to make sizeable donations to NHS to buy uniforms (historical costumes), clothing, supplies, materials etc. Most of this is achieved through donation of unwanted items such as old reenacting gear, crap around the house, junk automobiles, etc. Our staff sells the donated items we don't want on eBay and cha-ching there's money in our account, credited to the donor.

Now, crediting the donor is important. If they donate $500 or more in cash or gear (which is measured in what we're actually able to get for the unwanted stuff, and comparable prices for the stuff we keep) they become a Trustee of NHS. Those people vote to elect the governing body of the organization - the Board of Directors. Every subsequent $500 they dontate gets them another vote. Why does this matter? Well, it matters because each Trustee has an opinion on what they would like to see done with their money, and if we ever hope to keep raising money, we have to listen. Electing their representatives means they can nominate who they want (including themselves) to make the actual managerial decisions.

Managerial decisions. That sounds so cool! But no. The Board of Directors is comprised of up to seven people, each elected by the Trustees. Right now, three of the positions are filled by Trustees. Four positions are filled by people who haven't made a donation. The positions are as follows: Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Financial Director, Logistics Director, Historical Director, Public Relations Director and Secretary. I'm sure you can figure out - generally - the function of each of those people.

At any rate, they send a constant flurry of emails back and forth, discussing how to govern NHS more effectively. There is a standard letter sent out by the Secretary to all prospective directors that states "be prepared to answer 5 to 6 emails a day, and receive two to three phone calls". So there's a lot of discussion going on there constantly. What does it mean to govern NHS 'more effectively'? It means to work out ways to realize the goals and intentions of the Trustees while ensuring members are having fun and keep coming back. And there you have the membership vote - they vote with their feet. Without participants, nothing gets done. Without donors, we fall apart. It is a delicate balance, and a lot of responsibility.

And then there's me - the Dockyard Superintendant. I am responsible to ensure all of our boats and related equipment are ready for events, and that our new construction projects stay on budget and on schedule. I am appointed by the Logistics Director and report directly to the board of Directors, as does my counterpart - the Commissioner of Supply. He is responsible for all clothing, provisions, supplies etc. We are referred to in NHS bylaws as 'functionaries' - that is, it is our job to make sure the policies of the Board of Directors get carried out in the day-to-day operation of the organization, and we're ready to rock when an event rolls around.

So I hope that answers the majority of questions out there on how that all works.


ALL HANDS this coming weekend is the last major working weekend before re-launching and Sea Trials for the Monomoy Pulling Boat. Come on out to the Dockyard and lend a hand.



Sunday, March 21, 2010

A boat that's shiny and clean, a dockyard crew that's tired and worn

As I sit down to write this rare Sunday post, I turn on the TV and the show on right now is called "I'm Pregnant... and in Jail". Now I remember why I don't watch TV often. But I digress - I'm tired.

The NHS Dockyard crew just finished painting out the Monomoy interior - gunwale to bilge. She's shiny and clean looking for the first time in years - and the sight is highly motivating. Surface preparation alone took more than three weeks - stripping off the old paint, power washing the remnants then wiping down with some pretty noxious chemicals. Thanks to the crew, who virtually lived in respirators. Of course we finally got to see the product of all that preparation - in the fact that the interior of the boat is now completely and indelibly encased in a solid shell of epoxy-based paint. Awesome.

The only problem is that the paint above the thwarts ended up being a lighter khaki color rather than the "spar" color it was supposed to be. Minor details - we're not touching it for a long time, so I'll learn to love it.

Now, new business.

Next weekend, I'm calling in ALL HANDS to assist with the stripping and varnishing of all the wood in the boat. Her thwarts, bow and stern platforms, risers, oars, bilge boards, stretchers, mast... everything. Bring your sanders and plenty of sanding pads - and let's knock out the last major event in her restoration. Free food, drinks and lodging at the Dockyard, on me. Call or email for details.

Give me some time, though - I need a shower, a beer and a nice relaxing King of the Hill moment staring at that gorgeous paint.


Friday, March 19, 2010

I like the cut of your jib, sir!

We have great weather forecast this weekend at the Dockyard - and so we are finally ready to paint the interior of the Monomoy Pulling Boat! Today and tommorrow we'll be prepping all interior surfaces, first blasting them with the new pressure washer (Tim Allen 'ho ho ho') then sanding every surface before a final chemical wipe-down. Sunday, we'll start applying paint - provided we can come up with a plan for covering and heating the boat should it rain on Monday as predicted and keep it all above 50 degrees. Hmm. Well, more time for that as we prep. But special thanks to the volunteers from the spar team, gunner's crew and carpenter's crew who are assisting with this project.


Now, on for another edition of the twice forgotten (appologies) FULLBORE FRIDAY. PS - I stole that term from CDR Salamander, a navy blogger whose opinions I greatly appreciate. Sorry, sir, but imitation is, in fact, the sincerest form of flattery.

This week's anecdote comes from a long-forgotten engagement off Samar made famous in recent years by James D. Hornfischer's book Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. If you haven't read this book yet, get hot, especially if you're in the navy.

The action was a minor note in the annals of history, but as the book's subtitle describes, it is trully "the untold story of the US Navy's finest hour." Japanese Admiral Kurita, with a force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers, aimed to attack the US landings in the Phillipines as another force of Japanese aircraft carriers distracted ADM Halsey's much larger battleship and aircraft carrier force. To most, it would seem a hopeless fight-

The very powerful force of Japanese battleships, cruisers, and destroyers commanded by Admiral Kurita engaged a US task unit of six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. The Americans were taken entirely by surprise because the Seventh Fleet had firmly believed that its northern flank was being protected by Admiral Halsey's immensely powerful 3rd Fleet, which consisted of eight fleet carriers and six fast battleships.

The brunt of the Japanese attack fell on the northernmost of the escort carrier units, Rear Admiral
Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 (usually referred to by its radio call-sign "Taffy 3"). Ill-equipped to fight large-gunned warships, Taffy 3's escort carriers attempted to escape from the Japanese force, while its destroyers, destroyer escorts, and aircraft made sustained attacks on Kurita's ships. The destroyers and destroyer escorts only had torpedoes and up to 5 in (127 mm) guns, nonetheless they had radar-assisted gun directors; the Japanese had heavy caliber weapons up to 18.1 in (460 mm) but relied upon less accurate optical rangefinders. The US also had large numbers of aircraft available which the Japanese lacked. The ordnance for the escort carriers' aircraft consisted mostly of high-explosive bombs used in ground support missions, and depth charges used in anti-submarine work, rather than the armor-piercing bombs and torpedoes which would been more effective against heavily armored warships. Nevertheless, even when they were out of ammunition, the American aircraft continued to harass the enemy ships, making repeated mock attacks, which distracted them and disrupted their formations.

In all, two US destroyers, a destroyer escort, and an escort carrier were sunk by Japanese gunfire, and another US escort carrier was hit and sunk by a kamikaze
aircraft during the battle. Kurita's battleships were driven away from the engagement by torpedo attacks from American destroyers; they were unable to regroup in the chaos, while three cruisers were lost after attacks from US destroyers and aircraft, with several other cruisers damaged. Due to the ferocity of the defense, Kurita was convinced that he was facing a far superior force and withdrew from the battle, ending the threat to the troop transports and supply ships.

The book analyzes the battle from the perspectives of several participants, many of whom went on to have ships named after them. One such person is Gunner's Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr:

Japanese shells from several ships finally found their mark, knocking out all power, compressed air, and communications on the destroyer escort. During the battle, Paul Carr kept his gun mount operating continuously, firing over 300 rounds until power and air were lost. Carr then began firing rounds by hand, accepting the risk that without air the gun would not cool down between firings. With seven rounds left in the magazine, the tremendous heat in the gun breech "cooked off" a round, exploding the projectile loaded in the gun and killing most of the gun crew. When a rescue team member made his way into the shattered mount, he found Paul Carr, literally torn open from neck to thigh, attempting vainly to load a shell into the demolished gun breech. The rescue team member took the round from Carr and laid him aside as he began to remove the bodies of the gun crew. When he returned to the mount, he again found Paul Carr, projectile in hand, trying to load his gun. Carr begged the sailor to help him get off one last round. The sailor pulled him from the mount and laid him on the deck. Paul Carr died a few moments later, beneath the gun he served so well. The crew of the SAMUEL B. ROBERTS finally had to abandon ship, but they did see the Japanese force turn away, believing by the ferocity of the attack that they faced a large and potent foe.

Paul Henry Carr was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He is survived by eight sisters, who keep an active interest in their brother's ship, USS CARR (FFG 52).

Complete as this description is, it doesn't do Hornfischer's narrative justice. Read the book - you'll feel like a better American for the appreciation of the navy you'll have. And present day sailors - you'll want to throw on your dress uniform and go have a drink to honor these guys - it will make you that proud of our heritage.

See some of you in the Dockyard tonight! Be ready to get dirty!



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Getting a laugh from history - priceless.

Yesterday being an intergalactic holiday, the Dockyard was closed for business. So not much to write about there. Today we start to prep for interior paint, which has been ordered, and will hopefully get on this weekend.
Today, I want to highlight a bit of a laugh from history, and something we could definately use today - the "What the Hell!?" pennant. The following is quoted from the page about the history of the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO):

The American SACO commander during WWII, Milton Miles, created the pennant in 1934 when he was a junior officer on the destroyer U.S.S. Wickes in the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally during tight maneuvers, one of the ships in the fleet would do something unexpected and, during such instances, Miles wanted to send a pennant up the mast saying "What the Hell?" Miles asked his wife "Billy" (Wilma) to create such a pennant without using obscenities. Billy suggested using characters like exclamation points, saying that when newspaper writers wanted to use an obscenity, they did the same. Soon afterwards, Billy created a pennant that included question marks and exclamation points.

Miles enjoyed using the pennant for the next several years in light-hearted situations. However, in 1939, two years before the U.S. entered World War II, the pennant proved to be useful in a potentially serious situation with the Japanese Navy. Miles was skipper of the destroyer John D. Edwards that August and was ordered to Hainan Island, off the coast of China, where the Japanese Navy was threatening a coastal village, including American missionaries. When Miles arrived at Hainan, he saw several large Japanese naval ships bombarding the village. The Japanese flagship hoisted a flag warning the American destroyer to leave, which put Miles in a quandary, since his orders were to protect the American missionaries in the village. After considering the situation, Miles decided to ignore the Japanese threats and hoisted a pennant of his own -- his "What-the-Hell?" pennant.

Upon seeing the American destroyer hoisting a pennant, the Japanese halted their bombardment, giving Miles time to nestle his destroyer between the Japanese Navy and the village. The Japanese commander was puzzled about the pennant, though, since it wasn't in any of the Japanese code books, but he decided to err on the side of caution and backed the Japanese fleet away from the village. Milton Miles went ashore that afternoon, gathered up the missionaries, and departed the following morning. The Japanese Navy, meanwhile, sat offshore, still wondering about the meaning of the curious pennant.

Throughout World War II, Milton Miles' "What-the-Hell?" pennant was the unofficial emblem of SACO and was often found flying at SACO camps throughout China.

Imagine if we tried that today. I smell...[sniff] SITREP. Just another little known but awesome anecdote from the annals of naval history. And yes, I've already asked our textiles people to start working on one.

More tommorrow on the progress made later today


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I hope you weren't expecting updates...

Happy St. Patty's Day! Anyone caught in the Dockyard today gets beaten with a sheleighly. And don't put pine tar in your drinks it'll kill ya.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

60 percent of the time, they work - every time.

In honor of the Marines' recent discovery not only of my blog but that NHS has a dockyard and sailors, I'd like to take a minute to highlight the work of our ever diligent Armorer, Joey Guns. After a four year enlistment in the REAL Marine Corps (hoo rah), Joey turned to the dark side of finance banking. Now, when he's not wearing the suit and tie of a "Senior Vice President" he's wearing the waiter-like apron getup of the NHS Armorer, cleaning and repairing firelocks when they're not in use at events.

Now, anyone who was in Greensboro this last weekend will recall the embarrassing CLICK that was happening WAY too often. That was probably my fault. After the Marines' last outing in Chesapeake, the muskets were stored in the Dockyard where I took it upon myself to do the basic maintenance. And now Joey Guns has to bench strip each piece and clean up for not one but two events of improper maintenance. Sorry guys. But hey, just think of it like Sex Panther Cologne - 60 percent of the time, it works - every time. Yeah.... no.

Hey - when you want a sail made, you call me. When you need a hole in a boat repaired, you call me. When you need to rig a fidded topmast, you call me. No more muskets in THIS Dockyard.... not for a while, or until I have someone to yell at for not having them done and working perfectly.

Good luck, Guns - I look forward to enjoying the product of your labors this July!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome Marines!

So good afternoon, all you Marines who suddenly discovered this weekend that I'm keeping a blog. Welcome, and I hope your necks and backs aren't too sore from your adventures this weekend. For those who missed it, there was a great deal going on this weekend. The NHS marines, dressed as Revolutionary War British Marines, participated in the 229th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro NC. Wait. They did not just participate - they KICKED ASS! Pardon my Anglo Saxon. To all who attended, thanks for your work - you looked great, drilled even better, and made the NHS leadership exceptionally proud. Around the dockyard, we always wonder why we package all the mess gear up to send to North Carolina once a year, and every year the question is answered with aplomb. Well done, gents.

That's well. Now, on to business.

The Monomoy Pulling Boat has been moved up to right outside the lofting bay for final work before we put her back in the water. This week, all interior surfaces will be carefully prepped to recieve paint or varnish, and pending any major complications, we'll see that rolled on next weekend. The following weekend, March 27 & 28, we'll be re-varnishing all the interior wood. That, of course, is an all-hands evolution, so come on out. Our gruelling test sail of the new rig will take place on April 11, after which we'll polish her up and she's ready to go.

Training for Conquer the Chesapeake starts April 24 at Naval Station Norfolk. Remember, if you're planning on making the crossing you must attend either the April 24 OR the May 1 training session. Email me soonest to let me know which you'll be attending so I can reserve your place.

So, another busy week at the shop. Keep calm and carry on, gents, and again - congrats on a really great event!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

These are what we call 'collateral' duties...

Here at the dockyard, we have four or five huge crates filled with seemingly random pots and pans, iron pieces, hooks, chains, whips - no those are on my bench - and assorted other hillbilly cooking apparatus. I've tried to explain to volunteers that those are for field messes - to feed the sailors and marines (who up to this point are largely fictional to most volunteers) at events. At the Dockyard, we are not only responsible for the boats and new construction projects but also tents, cooking gear, and any other equipment that doesnt fall into uniforms or weapons - though we also manage guns (shipboard cannon) as well. So for those of you who've been asking why we have tent stakes, timber axes, grappelling hooks, canteens, haversacks, bolts of "non-sail" canvas and racks of colored tent poles, that's why.

Yesterday I began breaking out stores enough to supply the marines at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse coming up this weekend. And as the crates of mess gear started coming open more than a few people asked "how do you expect those guys to eat out of those things?" Good question.

When the pots, most of which are made of tin, were stored last, their coating of tallow was not sufficiently applied. When properly cleaned, coated and crated, they will last for months without maintenance. However, these had not been coated, and had been badly cleaned. I've never had to scrub scale out of pots - until last night. Be assured I will be checking all returned inventory before it comes in - I'm not doing this again.

This is also most people's first exposure to the field issue system of organizational property management, aka the supply system. Everything that NHS owns is carefully documented and tracked. I am proud to say that we can track any item we own, find out where it is and whose responsibility it is to keep it. If it gets lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed it gets documented. Its a remarkably efficient but time consumingly meticulous system. And now you volunteers know the importance of the Superintendant's Ledger on my bench - where we record what comes and goes from the Dockyard.

Registration for marines is currently closed for the Battle of Guilford Courthouse 2010 - the ranks are full and we have no more gear to issue. Sailors, your time will come - besides, there isn't a boat for miles where we're going. But I encourage as many as want to make the trek to come out and see us. It should be a great time.

And all the while, work goes on in the Dockyard. More on that tommorrow.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Something else to get excited about

I've been quite verbose about our preparations to cross the Chesapeake in the Monomoy Pulling Boat, but I haven't said much about the other projects underway at the dock yard. Soon after the Monomoy is finished and re-launched, our first gun is set to roll out of the shop.
Our first piece is a 3-pdr Naval Gun, the sort used throughout the 18th century but most notably in the Revolutionary War. It was just about the smallest gun mounted on its own wheeled carriage, but don't let that fool you. The barrel weighs 250 lbs and is capable of lobbing a three pound ball (hence the nomenclature) more than half a mile! It is made of iron cast around a seamless steel tube (for safety) and is manufactured by Lion's Den Arms of Ontario, Canada. Her naval carriage weighs approximately 100 lbs and is being made from white oak. For more information check out the Naval Gunnery Links on the resources for sailors page of the NHS website.
When completed, the gun can be situated on skids in the bow of a boat, or used ashore for saluting and drills. We plan to make her a regular sight at our live fire events, and when the marines bring out their small arms, the sailors will bring out the gun. I'd be amazed if there was much of the target left when the sailors were done with it. And I'm sure sailors will really enjoy showing off their "big gun" to all the ladies on the waterfront wherever we go.
In other news, the sail for the Monomoy is wrapping up - grommets and cringles are now being installed, and she should be finished and flying within the next two weeks. There is a rough spar blank in the framing bay that I assume is going to become the yard for her before very long.
The carpenters are mulling over an assortment of oars recently received, working out a process to standardize them for use in several different boats, as required. They're also stripping down the Monomoy oars in preparation for painting and re-leathering. Note for you guys - the new leather is here, check out the round package on my bench.
So if you've only been following via blog, you're missing out on lots of other activity at the dockyard. With the constant work progressing on a daily basis (literally!) its difficult to keep track of it all here. So get in touch and come on out - see for yourself the gems our members are working on. And of course keep checking here for the latest and most significant developments as they progress.

Monday, March 8, 2010

One milestone met, three to go.

Yesterday the product of the great mast-a-thon successfully passed testing - with flying colors - and was stepped in the Monomoy. The step needed a little shimming - it was 3/32" too far aft - but that was easily remedied. A busy but productive week is over, and a critical milestone met. Congratulations to the spar team - you guys rocked out this week and you've already seen some of the fruits of that labor.

But don't rest now, folks, we still have three more to go. A summary of the work, and the schedule to do it on, is as follows:

Power cleaning of the non-skid deck (in prep for painting) is scheduled for March 20.

MILESTONE #2: Re-finishing. All 11 oars (including the steering oar) and the thwarts need to be totally stripped, varnished, the oars re-leathered and the woodwork and hull attachments caulked. The bulk of this work will occur weekday evenings at the dockyard and next weekend. Completion date March 26.

MILESTONE #3: Interior Painting. The entire interior of the Monomoy needs to be prepped and painted spar and blue-gray. This work will occur the weekend of March 27-28. Completion date (allowing for touch-ups) March 31.

First launch of the season, April 2. Sailing rig not required. April 3, at Nauticus for the conclusion of the Real Pirates exhibit. SIDE NOTE: I realize this is Easter weekend - actually we just realized that this past weekend. Consequently, we will wrap up operations on Saturday no later than 1600.

MILESTONE #4: Rigging. Cutting, set up and fine-tuning of the Monomoy rigging, including all redundant equipment (mast fish and wouldings, emergency rigging, etc).

Painting of the "racing stripes" (navy blue and yellow-gold gunwale stripes) will take place on April 10.

Shakedown sail and training for crossing the Chesapeake will take place on April 24.

Busy times ahead - keep the noses to the grindstone and before you know it, we'll be on the beach in Kiptopeke.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Respite, at long last.

After our recent trials and hair on fire emergencies, we have a few things to be excited about.

Last night I received a phone call from our friendly neighborhood MSC representative. The Military Sealift Command actually owns the 26-foot Monomoy Pulling Boat, and we have to screen all of our programming through them for approval. Their rep was very happy to report that our Chesapeake Bay crossing, known as "Conquer the Chesapeake 2010" has been formally approved. Because of the hazards involved, this particular event required higher level authorization. After all, the prospect is pretty daunting. So approval was the last major hurdle to get over before going, and we are now there. Thanks, MSC! We won't let you down.

The last lamination of the replacement mast was completed last night - tonight we start shaping, one full day ahead of schedule. Impressive, really, to think that on such a short timeline and budget we're still able to pull ahead. By Sunday we should see the mast stepped for the first time, and begin our afloat stability tests.

This weekend I expect a full round of visits as we work the remaining issues to conclusion. Reps from MSC and the Navy will be stopping by to see what we've done so far. Remember, first launching is April 2 at Harbor Park, and our first full scale event is April 3-4 at Nauticus as part of the conclusion of the Real Pirates exhibit.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Numbers are your friends.

Everyone around the dockyard knows that I am a huge fan of proving the various merits of things mathematically, also known as running the numbers before starting a project. For instance, if you're going to build a boat, you want to have your sail plan and stability tables and everything else worked out before you start cutting up lumber, right? Right. With the rapid production of the new mast for the Monomoy to meet our deadline this Sunday - also known as the 'great mast-a-thon' - everyone seems to be in the number crunching vein! It's great!

Side note - those of you with filthy minds need not contemplate alternative meanings of 'mast-a-thon'. Enough said.

Back on topic - it was great last night to recieve sets of calculations from not one but TWO members of the spar team who were working out the strength to weight ratios of the new mast to the old, and comparing them to solid spars. One even went so far as to include a re-evaluation of my calculation of the forces upon the mast step and collar. Well done, gents.

I have to say, though, that I think some may be getting a little carried away here. This morning, I found this picutre pinned to my cork board. Ahh, children. I think I'll keep it there a while...

MAST making! its about MAST making! Christ people get your minds out of the gutter!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You can't spell SLAUGHTER without LAUGHTER

Yesterday, day 1 of 6 in the incredible mast-a-thon, we managed to settle on a design and purchase new material. Picking through two huge stacks of 2x4s we were able to locate the requisite four clear, straight grained ones and strap them haphazzardly to the roof of my x-terra. The drive back to the dockyard at 25 mph was like sifting through the debris of a major natrual disaster that had just happened. Three guys- dirty, tired, sore, one with a huge bruise on the side of his face. Expoxy stained and worn.

Every second of free time to that point was spent arguing over how to proceed, what design to use, where to purchase material. All punctuated by someone randomly yelling "there just isn't time!" periodically. This great wailing and gnashing of teeth continued all the way to the store to buy what we needed, and I'm sure Home Depot did NOT appreciate three guys picking half the pile of 2x4x16 stock out and laying it across the floor of the lumber aisle - all to loud shouts and plenty of cursing.

Side note: gents we really need to mind the language around the kiddies. Otherwise, I'll buy you those electronic dog correction collars to wear when we go out in public. Mother F- AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH damn it!

So when everyone was perfectly quiet on the ride back - waiting for the 16-foot long lumber to break loose and slide off my roof at any moment - cars honking because I was driving so slow - the faint sound of the red warning flag fluttering on the back - it really was like 'the aftermath'. Thankfully we're well set up to crank this thing out by next Sunday.

The schedule is as follows: today, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday laminate one of the four sides each day. Drink heavily while the epoxy sets up. Saturday, shaping, fairing and varnishing. Add hardware and test - moment of truth - Sunday morning.
Looking forward to continuing another exciting week at the dockyard...

Monday, March 1, 2010

If at first you don't succeed, break out the boarding axes

This morning I've been in a zone I've not found myself in for quite some time. After five weeks of steady work to produce the mast for the Monomoy, it failed the stress test - with horrific results. The 16' mast was rigged and sent through its paces - first compression testing proved satisfactory. Then it was rigged for an analysis of bending stress. At just over 200 lbs applied to the center, a sickening crack resounded in the lofting bay. A laminated joint had failed, causing it to separate and the forward three staves to spring. The finished mast needed to withstand 220 lbs of force at the center - not that much strain, considering that it equates to me sitting on the center of the mast supported at each end. Thirty seconds after the failure, boarding axes were swinging and the test rig had been cut away. The spar team then forged ahead with full axes, reducing the abominable failure to splinters in about three minutes flat. Axes stowed, and one or two beers later, the spar team was brainstorming ways to produce a new mast - that will pass structural testing - in less than a week.

I am officially joining the spar team for the remainder of the week to get this thing knocked out. We have one fifth the time to accomplish this task, and less than half the budget. We may admit defeat, but we must never give up. After all, we can lose the battle, but still win the war.