Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Since my first stint on board the Brig Niaraga last fall, I've been following her with great enthusiasm. Despite the best efforts of her remarkable crew and office staff, she is little known in the navy. And little known is an understatement. The fact that Oliver Hazzard Perry's flagship at the Battle of Lake Erie is afloat and sailing today is amazing in and of itself (more on that in a minute) but the fact that nobody in the navy really knows about it or cares to do anything once they find out is even more astonishing.
For those of you who are not familiar, the original Niagara was built in 1813 at Presque Isle - today Erie, Pennsylvania. After the famous battle where Perry reported "We have met the enemy and they are ours" she was laid up and sunk (yes, sunk!) to preserve her timbers in the cold muddy waters of a place called Misery Bay in case she should be needed again. Raised in 1913 to celebrate the centennial of the War of 1812, she was kept in Erie as a display piece and poorly cared for. Several restorations ensued, but the final restoration in 1988 was the only real long-term preservation effort. There, she was completely rebuilt by a crew led by Melbourne Smith in historically correct methods. Now - on that score - the ORIGINAL ship was hauled out, dissassembled, and the ship rebuilt. To me, that means that she is the original ship, restored. Others, including the National Parks Service claim that because the only original timbers remaining after the restoration were used in non-structural areas, she is a replica. Sorry, but I have to raise the BS flag on that one. She is as much the original as is USS CONSTITUTION, the Navy's very own "grandfather's hatchet". We replaced the head three times and the handle twice but it's still grandfather's hatchet. But I digress.
Today, Niagara sails out of the port where she was built almost 200 years ago. People can pay to sail in day classes or for extended periods aboard her and get the most hands-on experience of life in the Age of Sail that exists. Learn to handle lines, climb the rig - for crying out loud you even cook on a wood-burning stove and sleep in hammocks! It is utterly and completly AWESOME and I urge every single person who has an interest or has ever had an interest in fighting sail to GET YOUR KIESTER OFF YOUR CHAIR AND DOWN TO HER BERTH, ASAP! You will not regret a journey of any length nor anything you have to put off to see her - guaranteed.
Even the museum that was built around and for her in Erie is amazing. Inside, one of the best displays is a reconstructed side of the ship, which they took out to a firing range and actually shot at with the ship's guns. Battle damage and all, the recreated side is on display with a full summary and explanation of each shot hole and shattered timber - along with a video of the destruction. It is incredible, and something you won't find anywhere else. Because that's how they roll.
Today, Niagara is underway on her annual shakedown, ready for another season. To her crew: rock on, guys, I hope to return and join you soon! To NHS members and the navy at large: read, learn, support - get hot!
And in the words of Perry's Battle Flag - "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP!"
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
* Don't use a locking death grip on the oar handle. Curl your fingers around your oar gently, and use the pads of your hands to pull an easy, even stroke.
* The blade of the oar should be the only part of the oar immersed. If your loom (straight, round part) is in the water, you're "burying your blade" and getting more resistance than you should. Your goal is to 'paddle' a little bit of water, not move the ocean with your stroke.
* During your stroke, lean back and put pressure on your feet. I equate this to a sort of "half-stand" without moving your butt from the thwart.
Second, line handling.
* Learn two knots: the rolling hitch and the sheet bend. The former is used to make the halyard fast to the yard (the wooden pole at the head of the sail) and the latter is used to make the sheet fast to the clew of the sail.
* Lines are almost always coiled on deck (not in your hand, like a cowboy) and go CLOCKWISE.
* "Ease" a line means to pay it out slowly. "Heave better" means take up a little more.
If you can master these basic skills, you'll be much more efficient. Remember, contrary to the skills of soldiers, the sailor is expected to be a skilled, thinking being - most of what you have to do, you do on your own initiative. The do not have such structured commands where we can specify "right hand grasp the small of the stock" etc.
I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but after a few times in the boat, it will become second nature, and we can move on to more complicated evolutions.
More on that when we're ready.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The base point of the question, our funding, can be answered fairly easily. The Monomoy Pulling Boat is owned by the Military Sealift Command, and as such, there is an expectation that they will ensure she has all the required safety gear. They've come through in fine form - providing all the gear in those huge OD green bags. From anchors and rodes to PFDs, flares and emergency radios, we've got it all thanks to our friends, the professionals at MSC. Funding for upkeep of our other gear and for produciton of replacements where required is being drawn from a fund established by the NHS Board of Directors, which is allocated from the Annual Operating Budget. In case you are wondering, it's tiny compared to what we turn out - if my memory serves, this year it was under $1,000.
Tonight we have the scheduled SART test (Search and Rescue Transponder) which should be fun. Disregard USCG helos hovering over the Dockyard...
Four more days until the first launching of the season...
Monday, April 5, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
But first, a word to our volunteers: keep calm and carry on. Many are starting to get excited, anxious and moving too quickly. This goes especially for the folks working on rigging yesterday - I know its exciting but you need to calm down. I've never seen anyone go ass over teakettle out of the boat head first, before yesterday. We are on schedule, we are under budget (barely) and the point is don't get excited and screw up at the last minute. Enough said.
The Monomoy Pulling Boat is in the final stages of overhaul. Structural repairs patching hull gouges, mounting new lifting rings, chain plates and irons, reinforcement of the keel cross sections amidships and neutralizing the gunwale rot that had started. The inside of the hull recieved a chemical strip and power washing, and now boasts a new coat of epoxy-based paint. Each thwart, riser, bilge board and the bow and stern platforms were stripped and polyurethaned. The mast step and partners were made up based on the pieces of the original, measurement of fasteners and consultation of the original drawings. Based on original spars, a new set was made and tested, the single dipping lug sail was reproduced entirely by hand, and new rigging is going on now. The oars are in the final stages of finishing, being entirely stripped, then coated with epoxy and then polyuerthane.
So in my spare time this weekend, I intend to work toward completing the preservation of the oars and proceed to start leathering, and polyurethane the mast and yard.
First launch of the season and "gruelling test sail" sea trials are coming up April 11. The select crew for that has been notified, but all interested should feel free to stop by the Greenway Park Boat Ramps in Norfolk around 10 am and see the relaunching. Best views to watch the test sail can probably be had from the Lafayette River vistas off Hampton Blvd.
In case I don't get around to writing tomorrow, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter, or at least a good weekend!