Monday, December 27, 2010

Severe Weather Response Plan, After Action Report

It only took about 5 years, but the Yankee winter finally followed me to Virginia! All is fine here - but for those of you who've been wondering, here's my official report to the NHS leadership:

Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and NHS Leaders, On December 26 I implemented the Severe Weather Response Plan at the Dockyard to deal with heavy snow fall and high winds. Approximately 13" of snow and 35 knot winds were observed. This morning, conditions allow me to stand down the Severe Weather Response. Follow-up actions will continue as noted.
All boats and facilities are currently in good order and no damage was sustained. The following conditions were addressed during the response:
The cover of Monomoy No. 1 collects snow and begins to sag, putting a severe strain on the fittings and cover itself. This was addressed by removing the snow from the cover every other hour while the snow was falling.

The tarp tents covering Monomoy Nos. 2 and 3 did not collect much snow, thanks to the steep angle of the sides. The snow collecting near the bottom of the sides, however, posed a threat as the weight of the snow buildup acting on the sides caused the tarps to be placed under tension. This was addressed by sweeping the snow away from the edges every other hour while the snow was falling, an effort that continues at eight hour intervals due to blowing snow drifting at the bases.

The plastic covering on the lean-to attached to the rear of the framing bay held up well under the weight of the snow with no signs of the cover weakening or giving way. Snow buildup was removed as a preventative measure every six hours.

Due to the impassable or dangerous conditions on local roadways, I acted alone in executing these actions. However, a plan needs to be implemented in the future to provide constant attention to the boats and facilities in the event of my absence during future implementations of this plan. Additionally, lead time in implementing the response was about 6 hours, however no communication was sent out to local members seeking assistance nor announcing that the Severe Weather Plan was in effect, as the conditions of the roads did not permit safe travel to my assistance, nor was assistance absolutely required.

Respectfully submitted,

I'm going back out to play with the dog in the snow and clear off my front sidewalk!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An early Christmas gift - for ME!

I know I know, total update failure. I apologize to all three of my regular readers who noticed I had failed to post yesterday or Monday. Nevertheless, I was hard at work and got plenty accomplished to talk about here today. So. There it is.

There are very few people who could probably get that movie quote. 5 points.


I spent my time this weekend out in the wintry weather taking lines of Monomoys No. 2 and 3 - which, by the way, are doing great in the cold - and also studying up and preparing for this week, where I've been travelling a bit, mostly where my job has been taking me. On Monday I had a great chance to go rummage through the collections at the National Archives Main Branch in Washington DC, an opportunity for which I'd been waiting some time now, and gleaned a great deal of information from many documents, many of which are 200+ years old (!). Those of you who follow NHS on Facebook have seen some of the pictures - and for those who haven't you might want to scoot over and check them out - but I'm sure there are questions about the subject of my study.

For about the last two years now I've been studying the American Sloops of War - ship-rigged vessels smaller than a frigate but still rather formidable. Nearly all were low, flush-decked ships mounting 16-22 guns, and only very late in the sailing Navy was a spar deck added to some. These vessels were truly a mainstay of the early American Navy, but are often overshadowed by the exploits of their bigger and longer-lived partners, the famous frigates. There is a great deal of information available on sloops, and studying the evolution of designs, their unique abilities including shoal-water action, and the range of their service has been of particular interest to me every time I pick up material on the American Sailing Navy.

There is one sloop that stands out for me above the others - Hornet. Built in Baltimore in 1805, this little ship, first built as a brig (two masts, square rigged) and later re-rigged as a ship (three masts square rigged), had an uncommonly long service life and a tremendous range of employments. From 1805 to 1810 she was employed chasing French privateers away from shipping on the US eastern seaboard, and in 1811 she sailed for Europe and brought back dispatches that caused Congress to declare war on Great Britain, starting the War of 1812. In 1812 she cruised in a squadron under Commodore Rodgers in company with the frigates PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES, CONGRESS and the brig ARGUS. She sailed with CONSTITUTION in a cruise to the South Atlantic and was a supposed favorite escort of that ship, specifically requested by several of her noted and famous captains. She captured several ships, including two men of war in famous actions prompting Congress to vote medals struck to commemorate the occasion. Her efficient gunnery was particularly noted among the entire fledgling Navy as having "no equal" by Commodore Isaac Hull.

After the War of 1812, she was dispatched to Tripoli for the second Tripolitan War. Later, she was one of the first ships to patrol the West coast of Africa against slavers when importation of slaves from there became illegal - our first joint activity (partnership) with the British. She voyaged to the Baltic on diplomatic missions, and into the Mediterranean repeatedly. She spent the later part of her career eradicating piracy from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Her 24 year career (in an era when most sloops had a 6 to 10 year life span) ended in 1829 when she is presumed to have foundered off the coast of Mexico in a hurricane with all hands. At the time, she was participating in humanitarian efforts, pulling Americans out of Mexico during an insurrection. The last sighting of her was by a merchant captain, who from the wreck of his own capsized ship saw her scud by under bare poles "like a phantom ship", the crew working in the hurricane to get her upper spars down "in a flurry, but in good order". The account reads like a scene from a suspense movie.

The goal of our research was to identify where the ship was and when, so as to build a more complete record of her activities during her service life. We also gleaned valuable information such as handling characteristics in foul weather, notes after action, and the names of several prizes unrecorded elsewhere.

There is a certain moment of Zen when you handle these 180-200 year old logs and read "Cape Henry Lighthouse" or "Old Point Comfort" - places I see every day. There is even a deeper moment reading sightings of "Mount Pico" in the Azores and "Gibraltar" - far away places few people except mariners ever get to see - and many times over at that. Reading the navigational bearings off the volcanic mountains of the Azores reminded me of the first time I ever saw them aboard the Training Ship Empire State, and immediately connected with those long-dead observers 200 years ago. Goosebumps. and a smile.

So, good times in DC, but now its back to work.


Due to the holidays, work travel and other distractions, I'm taking a bit of a hiatus from the regular entries here. Check back for regular 'quips' and whatnot but I don't anticipate writing much until the new year.

So until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year to you all, and I'll catch you on the flip side.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Nautical things to do in the cold

As I sat in last night enjoying my hot buttered rum and White Christmas (it isn't Christmas unless Bing Crosby is dancing with Danny *frickin* Kaye) leafing through volumes of Chapelle and huge sheets of drawings spread over my coffee table, when I suddenly thought - this CAN'T be it - there must be something a little more nautical and hands-on that I could do to get out and away from the books if I wanted to. Not that I'm uncomfortable, but there is a certain part of me that definitely doesn't like sheltering inside.

So after using time thinking about this prospect to help me procrastinate on my other work (as usual) I came up with several options for those of you who want to get out to the water this winter.

Obviously, you have the polar bear clubs. I've done this several times, but the only one I regret was the time I went a$$ over teakettle into New York Harbor in March. It wasn't about the cold - it was about the East River Whitefish and the dead bodies. *shudder*. Shifting back to the original subject, some of these are a good time and are set up to support some very good causes.

Of course for those who live in colder climes where large waterways freeze over, you have the option for some additional fun. Where I'm from in Upstate NY you have several options for winter playtime on the ice. First, you have the classic sport of ice fishing. Never underestimate the recreational value of walking out onto the ice - way out in some cases - cutting a hole through the ice, then sitting around it barbecuing while you drop your line. Some days you'd be amazed what can emerge from that tiny bore.

Another great ice-top past time is ice boating. These racehorses are a long way off from the days when mariners strapped blades to the hulls of their summer boats - it's now a fully-developed sport on its own. And for those who love going fast under sail, I don't think you can beat this for speed. In fact, check out this short video from the Netherlands - some of those cool little gaff riggers appear in Chapman's Navalis Mercatoria (see "what I'm reading" on the right) - 18th century! Now THAT'S what we need! We could use it for about one day a year on the one tiny ice flow that might pop up in Hampton Roads, but the coolness factor is so high that it all balances out.

At any rate, I hope everyone gets a chance to go play outside and enjoy whatever aspect of the winter climate in their area that you're able!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dusty books are calling - answer in their language

Around this time of year, when we prepare to put our shoulders to the work of winter maintenance and construction projects, when the holiday preparations beckon more readily than the Dockyard, that I usually take several weeks off for myself. Of course, this just means that I'm going off on my own to play in different parts of the forest, still doing things relevant to NHS - I've come to grips with the idea that I am, in fact, fresh obsessed with the subject matter. And so this week, in the time I spend waiting on other people at work, I am preparing for some research at the National Archives in Washington DC.

I will not go into detail about the object of my research, except to say that it involves a scheme more hair-brained than any other I've concocted thus far, and not to worry, Monomoys 2 and 3 are my first priority when it comes to execution. But in terms of planning, I'll be focusing on the "master plan" for the next several weeks and accumulating vast quantities of knowledge in order to prepare to prepare to plan to begin my biggest shot in the dark yet. Be afraid.


Yesterday I was out in the Framing Bay, surveying our foul weather preparations and repairing a little minor tarp damage from the winds thus far encountered this year. I am increasingly impressed and terrified at the durability and prospects for destruction, respectively, of the tarp tents we erected over Monomoys 2 and 3. They've held off 40 knot wind gusts, snow, ice, rain and the Dockyard dog Zaphod, whose temerity in getting where you least want him can only be experienced first hand. However as they continue to impress me with what they can withstand, I fully realize that with each passing day my luck grows thinner and thinner, and I live in full expectation of their crashing down at any time. If my luck holds out a little longer, maybe my anxiety will keep them upright and in good order.


I've noticed that after reading page after page of manuscripts and small smudged print for hours on end that my writing takes on a tone particularly characteristic of those works, and that my best efforts notwithstanding, I've begun my regular process of assimilating into the world of my work little by little until I'm completely engulfed in a lifestyle where I remain duty bound to fight a duel with anyone who insults my honor. Realizing you're slipping into the abyss is the first step in being able to appreciate the last remnants of normalcy, I think. For now, I beg leave to report my judicious use of time in the interests of my current employment hereto and the requirements of my service to the government, and renew and reaffirm my commitment to preventing burnout where and whenever it should present itself or be perceived to lay in the offing...

Crap. Anyway


I leave for DC on Sunday night, notes, laptop, digital camera and portable scanner in tote. Sunday and Monday night at Sturiale's Ordinary, between which my schedule is governed by the opening and closing of 700 Pennsylvania Avenue. Between now and then I am sorting the notes I already have and formulating the master plan for the research this visit. Belay your petitions to stop the insanity - this train is already rolling. Hobos welcome.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The search for inspiration

Last night the wind really began kicking up, and ever since I've been on something of a hot-standby for damage control. I stayed in, put on a movie, and kept a weather eye toward the Dockyard.

There are two problem areas - the first being that Monomoys No. 2 and 3 are under tarp tents. With the howling wind I've been waiting to hear the tremendous rip and crash of structural failure (I know exactly what it sounds like- we've been here before). The tents are well-staked to the ground and I don't fear they'll blow away, rather that the cheap plastic will suddenly burst into tatters. Second, the 'temporary structure' that's tacked onto the rear of the Framing Bay, which is a wood frame structure covered in heavy duty plastic that needs to be fed staples on a weekly basis. It's done well so far but with winds gusting over 40 mph I get nervous.

Luckily for me, everything held up great last night.

Of course, my hot-standby wasn't all it was cracked up to be - there were a few times where I thought I heard something outside and I dashed up, threw on my Carhart and made for the door. Of course, crossing the threshold I promptly lost all enthusiasm for making the round and dashed out and back as quickly as possible, teeth chattering. I am such a wimp for the cold these days - and to think I grew up in upstate NY and used to laugh at people who behaved like I do now. My blood is thinning. I'm getting old. You kids don't know what cold is! Sit down and shut up!
Whoa. Anyway...

I find myself needing to dig deep these days - to keep motivated and committed to the plan. At least until the volunteers come back in January, that is. At times like these, I psych myself up with some motivational speech - to myself.

You are now reading this in Morgan Freeman's voice (and yes, I know its a Bill Pullman line, but its more inspirational this way).

Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

Woo hoo yeah, um, okay.

It's going to be a long winter.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Foul weather means rainy day play time

In light of all the recent bad weather, and my slow progress improving conditions with heaters etc - PLUS the fact that we all have better things to do than slave away in the Dockyard (well, maybe I don't) I'm putting off all working parties until the new year. It'll give me time to keep forging ahead with the organization of the Framing Bay and to think about the possibility of moving the No. 2 Monomoy in there. Lots of pondering, as usual - walking around the Dockyard staring at things. You all know the drill.

That said, this is prime time for development. Obviously I have my work cut out for me with the two restoration boats. But with the stand down and lots of time for reading and reflection, I fully expect the ideas to be flying. And now that the marines have paintball to work on, there should be development in both wings of the house. Let's cover what we have in development so far -

Monomoy Pulling Boats 2 & 3 - assuming that we'll have one or both of these boats ready for service for some portion of programming next year, what are our goals? I've been thinking of extending the Conquer the Chesapeake program next year to include not only the Cape Henry/Cape Charles transit but also several other legs to reach Washington DC - possibly a trip from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to the Washington Navy Yard. One way and trailer the boats back, sort of thing. Oh yeah, and since we've decided that the chase boat is for sissies, we won't have one, in preference to several boats making the trip together. Another trip around the Capes from say First Landing to Ocracoke Inlet might also be in order, later in the year - provided we can dodge the early season storms.

Marine Paintball - our folks have started looking into this and have made some great progress in the last week alone. Hopefully when the operational season picks back up in March the marines will have yet another cool toy to play with. The program here is still up for development, but I'd havev to guess it would involve tactical-type activities in a controlled environment not open to the public. We have several potential venues to hold events with earthworks, forts, blockhouses etc and I hope we can develop a solid program along that end. Hell, you'll probably even see me back out there shouldering a firelock for the occassion!

3-pdr Naval Gun - the gun rocked our late-season programming this year, and next I hope we can open up more dimensions in the realm of live fire, and possibly even participation in some aspect of marine paintball! But as with anything involving projectile weapons originally designed to kill, maime and dismember, experimentation and development must invariably take place in a carefully controlled manner. If we can manage it, she would be a fun addition to our live-fire events, where we could actually study things like distribution patterns in canister and grapeshot as well as the effects of chain shot, bar shot and plain old soda cans full of concrete. Hmmm.

There are other projects hiding up our sleeves as well, including a few crazy ideas about what we might end up doing in 2012. "Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?" sorts of things. And no, I am not advocating suicide missions - just to preempt those emails. But pushing the envelope is what we're all about!

We'll be discussing all of this at a Board meeting in January - which will be conducted in an open forum setting - meaning any person can speak on recognition of the chairman. Hopefully this will allow interested members a chance to add their voice to our proceedings and lend a hand to shape our 2011 programming and goals.

Stand by for dates and location of that meeting, I'll post it as soon as it's set in stone.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Its Friday but I'm busy...

So here's your video for the week - a little bit of awesome courtesy eBay:


This weekend at the Dockyard, I'm still clearing up from Great Bridge and getting Monomoy No. 1 stowed for the winter. Some severe weather might keep me locked inside for a while, so standby for possible weekend updates!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bad in all the right ways

Yesterday we began pitching around new ideas for the marines in order to find them some other occupation than traditional reenacting. The primary problem with what we consider as traditional reenacting is that the tactics employed, casualties taken etc are not generally in keeping with historical precedent. This issue has been addressed before by other groups, but namely in the interest of improving existing events. My concern was that the marines find a new venue distinctly separate from reenacting that allowed them to open their operation in another hobby or area of interest - in the same way that our sailors have made a reasonable foothold in the sailing and wooden boatbuilding communities.

I've had the idea rolling around in my head for some time that paintball would be the way to go. But even loading and firing one round at a time from conventional paintball guns is nowhere near the procedure for loading and firing a flintlock or caplock musket. But what if our flintlock and caplock muskets could fire paintballs? - and in the same manner they would fire a conventional ball? The conditions could be ideal for an entirely new merge of paintball and reenacting - one in which the capabilities of troops had a direct impact on operations in the field - putting the manuals to the test in a more realistic setting and tactical context.

As the President likes to say "let me be clear." I'm not advocating putting paintballs down the muzzle of your black powder firelocks - but what I am saying is that I am more than willing to encourage our marine leaders to experiment and construct a viable solution to this. The result would be a new genre of experimental archaeology, very much akin to what our sailors are doing with our boat programs and distance cruising in open boats. Very interesting. Keep up the good work guys!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter layup begins...

In lieu of my activities for this week and next at the Dockyard - a nice little tidbit from 1945:

The soapbox is getting too high to get off of

Recently there has been some discussion about replacing Navy crews with civilian mariners in the engineering plants of the amphibious ships in our Navy. This has been implemented already in our fleet auxiliaries and replenishment ships, seemingly with great success. The shift would only seem natural, then, that we might continue this trend into additional areas of the Navy. But I believe it represents a distinct nose-dive in the operational readiness and training of our active duty Sailors - and it is applicable to NHS because one of our primary purposes is to preserve our Naval heritage of excellence at sea, even if it is only in the use of small boats used to train youth groups and volunteers.

We're taking a detour here from my normal realm of discussion and diving into my professional pool as a career Naval Officer, but much of my philosophy in that regard carries over into NHS, so I believe it worthy of discussion here.

Being a licensed Merchant Marine officer as well as a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO), I feel qualified to make the following observations about the differences between the Navy and Merchant Mariners:

Merchant Mariners have higher professional training and licensing standards than the Navy. Hands down. My lowly third mate's license and 1-2 years of concentrated study at sea gave me a significant leg up, not only in ship handling and management but also in seagoing culture, that my USNA and NROTC colleagues didn't have. I subsequently qualified OOD and SWO much MUCH faster than people I truly believe to be my intellectual equals or betters. The Navy's belief in on-the-job training can only go so far.

The Merchant Marine doesn't seem to overburden its people with collateral duties that significantly detract from the time they spend doing their actual jobs in the shipboard environment. That's not to say damage control (DC) and force protection (FP), but mess cranking and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) are two severe detractors.

And perhaps most importantly, Merchant Marine officers generally have no shortage of highly experienced professional mentors ready at hand. I have served under some great officers in the Navy, but very few that I didn't feel were somehow scrambling to get by. There was a certain cool professionalism in many of my Merchant Marine mentors, as if their years of experience had really given them great preparation to do their jobs well. I've seen that a few times in the Navy, but I don't feel that it is by any means prevalent.

A well regulated and governed Navy - any professional military organization for that matter -should embody three things:
  1. well prepared, flexible combat units that are equally capable of performance in routine and irregular conditions,
  2. efficient and self-sufficient sustainability and survivability in regular and combat operation, and
  3. a disciplined corps of professional personnel dedicated to preservation and exemplification of the previous two principles.

It seems to me that the Navy is giving up on all three principles when it considers proposals like this one. There was a time when our officers were well rounded seagoing professionals - at sea because they chose to be and not because it was the only career progression open to them in a bad economy. There was a time when our crews were composed of proud Sailors, each a technical expert in some realm of the operation of their command, and king of some small patch of deckplate because it had their name beside "POIC" (Petty Officer In Charge) on the bulkhead. We had great schools, bred fantastically efficient personnel who cared - deeply - about what they did. What happened?


I can't propose a solution to this that anyone might take seriously. But what I can say is that it is my sincere hope to take the best of what the Navy is and has been - including the legacy of pride in efficiency and readiness - and put it into NHS. Someday, we will build a world-class organization, even if it is very small. Our boats can and will be a hallmark of these traits, and show off in some small measure the pride we have in being Sailors.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ruminating on Pearl Harbor, or, The infamy of creating bad stereotypes

I've been thinking this morning, that as I sit writing this, 69 years ago, a Japanese force of four carriers and accompanying strike group equivalents were preparing to launch thier surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I've been to Pearl several times, in fact I joined my first Navy ship there. Now that I think about it she looked at the time like she might have just survived the battle. But I digest. I remember the strange feeling seeing a ship of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force - for all intents and purposes the Japanese Navy - tied up pierside with full honors. At colors, honors were exchanged with great ceremony and respect. I won't pretend I wasn't a little chapped at this - in fact, when I later learned that several US Sailors walking down the pier had treated Japanese Sailors badly, I - shamefully - quietly agreed with them. Yes, even I was a dumbass Ensign.

There is a concept that both flourishes and eludes us today - the idea of degrading your enemy in your eyes to be something less than human to justify your hatred and killing of them - and the fact that once created the image doesn't just go away. In this case, the killing might have ended long ago but that seed of hatred is planted deep, especially in those who have never had any other experience with the Japanese than reading about and studying Pearl Harbor and WWII. It might not be readily apparent, but how many times today will you hear about "the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor". That's like saying "The War of Northern Aggression" or "War Against the Huns". And not that I mind too much, but just think about it.

The simple fact of the matter is this - we have been at peace with the Japanese since September 2, 1945. In that time, we've seen the rise of Japan as a mutually beneficial trading partner and economic powerhouse, as well as a most trusted and valuable ally.

When our adversaries are dead, wounded, captured, capitulated or otherwise neutralized, they cease to be our enemy. This is a fundamental concept in the Law of Armed Conflict. Fight me no more and we will live on together, in peace.

And so, as part of my recompense for previously ignorant thoughts on the subject, I can say honestly that I am extraordinarily proud of my nation's partnership with the Japanese, without which we would undoubtedly find our mission much more difficult. The peace was hard-won, but I can think of no better outcome from the struggles and tribulations of our proud veterans than the peace they helped forge in the crucible of WWII.

Hats off.


And on a lighter note, have you seen the Jap. Navy, well- JMSDF, lately? They are complete badasses! Try an UNREP with them sometime and you'll see how locked up a ship can be, and how smart execution can look.


Where do you think they got AEGIS from? You didn't think that their ships and ours look so similar by coincidence, did you? Rock on, Japan. Good to have you on our team. I look back in the annals of history with great disappointment that we were ever such horrible enemies.


Monday, December 6, 2010

F is for frostbite.

As we roll into the winter maintenance season, we're experiencing a great test of the "oh yeah, they're fine outdoors" principle of work to continue on all three Monomoy Pulling Boats. No. 1 is currently at home on her trailer, and there is no reason to expect she'll be shifted. The trailer itself is too wide to be shifted into the Framing Bay (aka my detached garage) and so she has few options other than living in the weather. As it is, she weathered last winter rather well, so I don't expect her to need a warmer home. Monomoys No. 2 and 3 spent the last year in an unheated hold of the Training Ship (T/S) Empire State VI, and so the cold there isn't much of a factor to their stability, but humidity and moisture is. There, I'm not entirely sure they'll be as fine as I hope resting outside under ventilated tarp tents. We have the option of moving one of them into the Framing Bay, but doing so severely restricts our available indoor shop space - as we saw with the Launch. And it still leaves the sister out in the weather.

And of course, just as important than the structural stability of our boats is the health, safety and comfort of the volunteers working on them. I received complaints about working in the cold weeks ago - long before the seriously biting cold - and I won't pretend I'm not concerned about driving them away with crappy working conditions.

So, what to do?

I've been thinking about heaters and the like - something that can temporarily heat the working areas to make them comfortable while work progresses. Kerosene outdoor heaters are available, and can be had at reasonable prices in used condition. Depending on how 'used' they are, we could make that a serviceable option. I am slightly concerned about having temperatures too warm, lest the wood in the boats dry too rapidly - or the cheap tarp covers begin to melt. We'll have to tread carefully on that one, and mitigate the effects as we go.

I've also been considering making detached work of various projects. If we can take pieces to heated facilities such as the Navy carpentry shop, isn't that better? It is a distinct possibility, but I know that the majority of work must take place in or near the boats. Frames, for instance, are bent most efficiently in the boats. But projects such as our stem and sternpost replacements can most certainly be shipped off somewhere else. In fact, we planned on making use of the better tools in the carpentry shop anyway.

All in all, I think we will have some bitter cold days where copious cursing and numb extremities prevail. But I hope that with some careful planning we can mitigate those frustrations as we go.
Or, as a last stopgap measure, we could just sacrifice the marines. They're used to freezing their tookasses off.

Great Bridge, the summary

Much has been asked about the past weekend's outing to Great Bridge in Chesapeake VA. It was certainly our best iteration of that event yet, with plenty of fantastic moments for all concerned. I don't have the official numbers (I didn't fumble with the paperwork so much as a humble Boatswain's Mate) though from recollection we topped out Saturday afternoon with 11 sailors and around 10 marines (including our beloved Captain Sturiale). Of course, all of these, plus our multimedia expert Alex Lutz were packed into Monomoy No. 1 at one point, bringing to life our dream of a fully laden boat, entirely manned by sailors, carrying the marines to their objective.

The logistical wheels had been winding up for some time, and Friday afternoon the whole plan sprang into action, with the marines' gear trailer on site around 11 am followed by Monomoy No. 1 on her trailer around 2 pm. The boat was launched without incident and made ready for the 3:30 arrival of the Sea Cadets, belonging to the Tophatters Squadron, who were mustered and given their orientation by 4 pm. A round of maneuvering drills concluded at 5 pm with the arrival of the event coxswain, and we stood around Locks Point at dusk, ready to enter the Great Bridge Locks and proceed southbound on the Intercoastal Waterway to the event site near Battlefield Blvd. Approaching the locks, yours trully took the opportunity to surprise the lockmasters watching TV and alert them to our presence - this being accomplished by climbing the fendering on the bulwark. Great work there by the coxswain and boat crew, by the way, in nosing gingerly up to the wall then backing away smartly. By 5:30 we were in the lock, being lowered to canal level and amusing the operators with descriptions of crossing Chesapeake Bay back in May and a little show and tell with our 3-pdr mounted on the bow. They, in return, passed us the weather report and assisted in making calls to the operators at the Battlefield Blvd Draw Bridge, so we didn't scare them with our subsequent gun fire.

At 5:42 we exited the lock and gave a spirited salute with the gun as we approached the event site, reportedly shaking parked vehicles in the vicinity and making an entrance in grand style as we are known to do. We immediately assisted with setting up camp and making ready for the cold. Most went home for the evening while those who remained, including nearly all of the marines, yours trully and our stalwart film crew. Temperatures reportedly dropped to 28 degrees that night, but everyone made it through with little actual hardship (and a lot of grumbing, as usual).

On Saturday, reveille was called at 6 am and our camp well astir soon after. The morning gun was fired at 7 am and final setup completed. Marines took their turn at the supply vehicles, donning their colorful uniforms, while sailors cleared the boat for action and broke out necessary stores of ammunition and other equipment. The marines spent much of the morning drilling ashore while the sailors plied the canal in maneuvering drills. Around 11 am, the marines were embarked and landed at a pre-selected location on the rocky shoreline without incident.

The first scheduled event reenacting the Battle of Kemps Landing (15 November 1775) began at 1 pm, when the marines were quietly landed at the "half moon cove" and the boat backed off to provide fire support. About 15 minutes later, the event concluded and the boat returned to the dock near camp. Soon after it was decided to embark the marines and stand upriver for the site of the Great Bridge Monument, just on the other side of the drawbridge. There, the marines and sailors went ashore to see the monument, and continue drilling. However, the marines failed to notice that while they returned to drilling, the sailors quickly and quietly made a dash for the boat, making off with it to the shore directly opposite from where the marines - still oblivious - continued thier strutting and stomping. Around 2:50, ten minutes before what was to be the start of the reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge, Captain Sturiale approached the shore on the North side of the canal to order the boat to return. In response, he recieved the taunts of the sailors, and a challenge to cross the sidewalk of the drawbridge, alongside Battlefield Blvd. Scoffing at the idea of parading on a high-traffic thoroughfare, the captain took several minutes of taunting before threatening to have every sailor flogged and delivering a volley - that the sailors promptly answered with the 3 pdr. Around 3 pm the good captain, fed up and late for action, marched his marines across the bridge, where, serenaded by the honking of passing automobiles, he soon rejoined the boat on the Southern shore.

The boat, fully laden with sailors and marines, arrived back at the "battlefield" at about 3:10 pm, and the "engagment" began. As soon as the marines scurried off to join the other crown forces in the "fort", the sailors set to work in the boat. With a flurry of activity and a lot of grunting, the sailors unbolted the 3 pdr from her mount, and lifted her ashore where the battle was already in progress. Several trips from boat to shore brought the carriage, implements and ammunition, and after another flurry of work, the 3-pdr spoke on shore for the first time. When the marines advanced, the gun was pushed forward onto their right flank where the confused captain gave a double - take at the grinning sailors who were loading and firing their little gun in marvelous fashion. At the end, the gun was run back to the boat to evade "capture" - even though it was directly contrary to the historical scenario. After all, our little "rosie" can't be touched by treasonous hands.

The day ended around the campfire, where again the stalwart marines and valiant sailors gathered to share sea stories, and suddenly we found ourselves wreathed in lightly falling snow. I think our gallant Quartermaster said it best:

I remember a 19th century poem "Into my heart's treasury, I slipped a coin, that time cannot take nor a thief purloin. Oh, better than the minting of a gold crowned king, is the safe kept memory of a lovely thing!" For those who were fortunate enough to be at the camp fire sat evening, in the falling snow, you
can well understand! Good company, a falling snow and while outrageous lies and war stories were told some efforts at humor, feeble tho' they were, did bring laughs. All in all, an evening to be treasured. Apologies to all who missed this jewel of an evening!

It will certainly enter my memory as one of the great moments.

Remarkably, everyone seemed to enjoy a peaceful rest Saturday night, and on Sunday morning were rolling again! Revielle at 6 am, breakfast at 7 and outfitted by 8. We did lose more than half our numbers due to participants having other commitments, and marines totalled about six while sailors a "paltry" four. I put paltry in quotes because just for fun, around 10 am three of us decided to get the boat underway, step the mast and row into the freshening breeze toward the locks. There, with the wind running straight down the canal and past the event site, we made sail and covered the distance from locks to drawbridge in about 2.5 minutes. Luckily our cameras caught the whole mess on film, including our FOOT HIGH BOW FEATHER as we three struggled to keep the sail from jybing the breeze and the boat on course but close to shore.

After a jaunt of ferocious pulling back into the wind, we returned to the camp site and discussed the plan for the day. With only four sailors and such brisk winds down the length of the canal, we couldn't hope to control the boat efficiently, especially with the added weight of embarked marines. We therefore made a drug-deal of sorts with the marines to lend us three of their compliment and made our way through the locks and back to the launch site around Locks Point. I should note that the ONLY Tophatter (Sea Cadet) to remain both days was Kendra - and if you don't know who that is, know that she is one cadet who can pull with the best of us! She motivated me on that hard trip into the wind to get the boat home - pulling hard with two of our best sailors and never skipping a beat.

I also want to give a shout out to our other Tophatters - you guys were a pleasure to have with us and you are welcome back ANY TIME! Specifically John Warren D-, you may have a bit of a dangerously magnetic complex about explosives but you're a cool kid!

But I digress.

After recovering the boat, we parked her on her trailer nearer the event site, and after thinking of ways to occupy ourselves (the sailors) we decided to un-ship the gun and carriage and bring them back to the field. Somehow we managed to man-handle the gun to the field without being noticed, so we decided to capitalize on that and cover the gun barrel - now laying flat on the ground - with a pile of straw. Later, to confuse observers further, we decided to plant decoy piles. I'm sure they all thought we were nuts. But sure enough, the battle kicked off, sailors armed with boarding pikes looking useless as ever, and with one command, BANG off the sailors go to retrieve the carriage and plant it next to this seemingly harmless pile of straw. Then, just as quickly, pull the gun out of the straw, clear it for action, and begin firing rounds in rapid sucession downrange. As we later were forced to retreat (in keeping with the scenario) we bowed graciously to the patriots as we ran back into the "fort".

Immediately on conclusion of active operations, we packed up smartly and headed to our respective destinations. Monomoy No. 1 rolled back into the Dockyard around 4:45 pm, the last daylight on its way out. Our other logistical vehicles all safely delivered their loads, and now the long process of cleaning, organizing and re-packing begins.

More about what's to follow tomorrow.


Out with one season and in with another

Well, the final event of the year is over and done. A great time was had by all, and we got lots of great footage to assemble our short montage video. Of particular note I should commend the Sea Cadets of the Tophatters Squadron - you motivate me! The enthusiasm was fantastic, and even in the cold weather the high energy level warmed the smiles of everyone you worked with. BZ!
One of my favorite moments from the event was late Saturday night, sitting around the campfire enjoying the gently falling snow. Haven't been camping in the snow in quite some time, and that was fun!

More about this past weekend's event as the official after action reports come in.


I didn't realize until last night how little I'd had to eat or drink at the event. Part of it had to do with being so busy and supervising all that was going on around me, but I put so little focus on myself that I had little more than a small bowl of soup and some sea biscuit to eat during the day, and no more than a pint of water. Unsat. Note to self - take better care of yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. OR, I could just say that I was doing my patriotic duty and chock it up as one more thing that makes me awesome. Nope, still unsat.

We now roll into our annual MAINTENANCE SEASON! Monomoy No. 1 is being cleaned out in preparation for layup and 'depot' level maintenance, while the restoration of Monomoys No. 2 and 3 will swing into high gear. The 3-pdr gun will undoubtedly get a new coat of blackening and the carriage a new coat of paint before she's sealed up for the season and stowed out of the way.

Needless to say, I give myself a few weeks to clear for action and we'll begin the hardcore work that makes NHS tick. By the time the season wraps up in April, we should - and I stress should - be well ahead in material inventory from the same point last year.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Patriotism through villiany

I've received a few emails this week asking questions about why we're dressing up as the British this weekend - and one in particular that directed me to an old online discussion bashing NHS.

First, I should point out that the Naval Heritage Society (NHS) was formed in late 2009 from what until that point had been the Lobsterback Society (LS) - which itself was formed in 2006. The primary goal of the LS was to educate our fellow Americans about their revolutionary heritage by presenting them with the opposition faced by the Founding Fathers - a bunch of really pissed off government officials, their troops, weapons and equipment - all supported by the rule of law. How is it, after all, that common people - who just want to live happily, raise their families and get on with their lives - would put those lives on the line for an idea? The answer isn't so simple. You or I might never think of attacking the local magistrate's house to protest anything, thus risking being arrested and locked up. Most cops might be a little soggy in the midsection these days, but they are still very intimidating! And they do have their elite - think of being run down by a SWAT team. Not fun.

So, the idea was that we would get dressed up in costumes as British soldiers and play a sort of 'police' roll, enforcing now defunct laws and practicing those outrages that the Americans found to be so grievous that they would - as a result - turn on us. And even with the knowledge that we can't actually hurt you, many people were still very intimidated by the big muskets with gleaming bayonets. Very persuasive - sit down, shut up, take what we give you. And most adults tend to comply. Ironically enough it's the kids that usually end up taking a stand first, and when the crowd then realizes that we can be beaten back mob style, we are. And I find it quite interesting how well that whole small scenario parallels the opening of the Revolutionary War in Virginia - something we're setting out to re-create this weekend.

One of the nagging doubts facing most early patriot organizers was the 'might' of the British Military. When the last colonial governor made himself a fort barricading one of the only roads connecting North Carolina with Norfolk and occupied it with troops - and not just any troops, some were the elite 'SWAT team' types - the colonists decided to come out in force and see what - if anything - they could do. As it turns out, the small victory they ended up achieving there convinced more and more people that the "united we stand" principle could in fact beat the British military machine. Patriot ranks swelled, and the rest, as they say, is history.


So, onto the issues with the Lobsterback Society.

We adopted a British Marine impression, primarily because they were everywhere in history that we would need to operate in the present day. They were also formed into fairly fluid groups - and it would not be out of the ordinary to see a dozen or so of them at an engagement. If Royal Navy ships were around, more often than not the marines were provided to shore-based commanders for tasking.

We researched the uniform to some degree, using patterns for pieces of the uniform as we could find them to assemble the complete costume. The underlying administrative goal of the LS had always been to provide ALL costumes and equipment to participants free of charge, and so we weren't just building one impression, we were manufacturing them. That said, economy of scale had to prevail - machine stitching throughout and some corners - such as installation of pockets etc - had to be cut in order to make the process affordable. After all, these are costumes - worn a few times a year. The resulting product was quite good I think, and ended up incorporating many details of the historical uniforms, such as buttons and wool, both of which ended up being purchased in quantity from good quality stock.

The problem with our costumes is generated by what I think of as 'hard core' reenactors, who enjoy researching their costumes to the most minute details and reproducing with care as much as they can. I see this point of view quite clearly - mostly because if I were outfitting myself, I would choose to go that route. I have done this in the past, such as when I reenacted a private in the 5th New York Infantry (Civil War), my costume was immaculate - thoroughly documented and accurate to the type of thread that was used to assemble my cartridge box. But that sort of authenticity is simply not necessary when dealing with the mission of the LS, or of NHS for that matter. Neither our participants nor our audience really care much about what we're wearing - to them, its more about doing things reminiscent of the historical examples. Things such as assembling a full boat crew and being able to maneuver with great efficiency, navigate across great expanses of water, and in the specific realm of the marines - field a small unit that functions much like a small unit might have around that time - with the primary focus on combat readiness and tactics rather than the minute details of the costume. We do have some in the administrative establishment that strive for authenticity, which results in constant improvements to the costumes and equipment in circulation, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Don't take this as a knock against 'hard core' types, either - we, all of us that are involved in the reenactment hobby - bring something to the table. We should all strive to learn from each other, to work together to some degree and just have fun with our mutual love of history. And as far as I am concerned or ever will be concerned, the more involved the merrier! The more viewpoints, the better. The more ATTENTION TO THE SUBJECT the better.

A second issue arose concerning the name Lobsterback Society. It is absolutely true that the term 'lobsterback' is NOT an 18th century term - at least not in North America. Rather, the term was coined after the war - long after, in the 19th century to be exact - by American authors. It seemed appropriate, then, that we should adopt this popularized term generated by Americans after the conflict because, well, we ARE Americans looking back after the conflict. Critics of our use of that name should also note that our official motto was PRODITORES SUGUNT - Latin for treason sucks. It's all about fun here, after all.

I personally find it quite funny that the references many of the arguments provide were given long before on the LS website.

In 2009, three years after the LS began, it was decided that our ever-expanding projects were leading us farther and farther afield of the original mission of simply being 'the bad guys'. Membership numbers climbed higher and higher, interests diversified, and suddenly we no longer fit the mold of what we had created. It was decided to transition to become what we now know as NHS, building a ubiquitous Navy component as our primary focus while still maintaining support for our beloved marines.

We are still, and will remain, an easy target for 'hard core' criticism. I don't really mind that, in fact I rather enjoy revelling in my comparative normalcy - making me look 'normal' isn't easy to do. Besides, we're proving quite a tough turd to flush.