Thursday, March 31, 2011

Have you heard about this? What a great audience.

Earlier this week - on Sunday in fact, the Commander, US Fleet Forces Command put out some encouraging news that is directly pertinent to NHS. Take it away, Admiral (****) Harvey:

"Next year marks the start of the Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812. Our Navy is partnering with non-profit organizations and cities around the nation to put together a commemoration program that will celebrate and honor our contribution to the war and the lasting impact it has had on our Navy and our nation. This commemoration program will not only educate the public on the importance of our Navy’s contribution to the war, but will also demonstrate – through Fleet Weeks, Navy Weeks and other special events – the great talent and capability of our Sailors today."

I don't know about you but I'm excited. When was the last time you had a discussion about Naval history in the fleet that didn't start with "This one night, we were so drunk..."? Getting initiatives like this out to the fleet - those opportunities to publicly reflect on what our past means to us, find real definition of who we are in where we came from, are priceless.

As the locally recognized authority on naval history in my cubicle, I have been asked - "so really, what's the big deal?" The 'deal' couldn't be bigger. In general terms, we found our national identity in the War of 1812 - and more directly applicable, we began to understand as a nation the importance of sea power in peace and war.

Here's the ten cent summary. Follow the links for more information.

In the opening years of the 19th century the United States had been operating under its Constitution for less than a decade. The size and relative power of the Federal Government was tiny, the nation still being little more than a loose collection of states - each of which largely governed itself. And although the army and navy of the revolution had been disbanded, many people fearing that the President could use a standing military to undully influence the democratic republic, a heated debate in the 1790s had recreated both.

From its inception, the Navy had been employed protecting the rights of American merchant sailors at sea - most notably from French privateers and commerce raiders, and from pillaging Barbary Pirates on the North African coast. But only a few years into the new century, a new and greater threat had emerged - our old nemeses the British.

Hurting for manpower, British ships had begun stopping American ships on the high seas and 'pressing' American sailors into British service. Legally, the British considered a person 'once a subject, always a subject' and this applied to many Americans, the nation being less than 30 years old. Things got really heated when the HMS Leopard opened fire on USS Chesapeake when the latter refused to submit to the former's demand to turn over members of its crew. Tensions flared. President Jefferson ordered a general embargo - effectively banning US ships from sailing abroad. The economy took a nose dive.

Although the Navy had fought pirates and raiders, they were completely unprepared to go toe to toe with the largest Navy in the world. During the Revolution, the Navy went from one embarrassing defeat to the next, with little to show for it. The campaigns in North Africa and against the French in the Carribean had fostered a fractured Navy culture, where individual captains and commodores exercised almost complete control of their forces, and there was little mission continuity from one commander to another. Taking such a force into action against the British in a global fight seemed madness.

I won't go into detail on the individual occurrences of the war - you can find great narratives here and here. But suffice it to say that the Navy - and the United States - emerged from the conflict in 1815 in a totally different light.

The loose collection of states realized the power of closer cooperation and mutual security - the sort that could only be attained with a significant federal military. Freedom of the seas for commerce triggered by the end of the war caused the US economy to boom, and American merchants again plied the globe moving cargoes.

The Navy had developed a culture - under fire - that banded captains and commodores to a common mission, objectives and infastrucutre. They created a system flexible enough to adapt to varying combat environments, but rigid enough to ensure that commanders knew exactly what was expected of them, not only by the nation, but other commanders. And at the end of the war, seeing the potential for naval power to deter large scale conflicts, the US saw the first postwar Naval buildup and the rise of a young, able and energetic officer corps capable of dealing with diverse missions in wide-ranging theaters.

In an era when our nation is mired by the greatest economic recession of our time, when our military is being spread over an increasing mission set amid funding cuts, we cannot forget the mettle that was forged 200 years ago - when we applied ourselves to emerging from similar dilemmas. It's not a difficult stretch to see global terrorism the same way the Americans viewed the British in 1812 - too widespread, difficult to pin down, take out one element and it keeps coming. And its certainly not difficult to imagine a time of high unemployment and rising debt. The things we did then made us who we are as a nation, and as a Navy. It isn't bull----, its our heritage, and it couldn't be more meaningful than it is right now.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pep talk - an inside commentary

"A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow."

— George Patton

"You have to recognize that every 'out front' maneuver you make is going to be lonely, but if you feel entirely comfortable, then you're not far enough ahead to do any good. That warm sense of everything going well is usually the body temperature at the center of the herd."

— John Masters

"Eagles don't flock."

— Ross Perot

Reading makes you crazy

Quick plug - tonight at 1900 (7 pm), we're knocking out goodies for the Hornet model and digging in to the work on Monomoy No. 1. Come one, come all - free beverages, if you like the kind I've put in the shop fridge that is.


Some of you may have noticed the book stream on the right of my page. That's right - I'm shamelessly selling out for some ungodly small percentage of whatever you buy on Amazon. Actually, I just like having the scrolling images of book covers there and didn't want to bother our overworked multi-media person.

I've been really digesting one book in particular lately - Seamanship in the Age of Sail. If you've not seen it and you have any serious interest in nautical history whatsoever, you'll want to have a look. It is - for all intents and purposes - one of the best reference books on square rigged sailing ever written. Combing period texts in many languages, the author was able to assemble a fairly comprehensive analysis on everything from sailing theory to division of shipboard labor and dealing with casualties. Illustrated with hundreds - yes hundreds - of top quality sketches, paintings and photos, I've been finding it indespensible for work on our Hornet model.

I should note that after sailing on half a dozen tall ships, every single one had this book onboard. It's not something I recommend reading cover to cover, but digesting slowly, over time, and as needed - as any good reference book.

Check it out of your local library if you can - its out of print and can get damned expensive.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When you can't fall back on Christmas

Last night I cleared away the Framing Bay and moved the Hornet model into position in preparation for Wednesday's working session. I then layed out the rough shaped spars and spar blanks that have been made so far, and sharpened my planes, drawknifes and spokeshaves. I'm working on a better way to cut the four-sided blanks down to eight sides and realizing that I need better tools. I mean don't get me wrong, our tiny little band saw is great and all, but I need something with a bit more heft to it. Likewise the table saw - that thing makes me nervous sometimes. Christmas is a long way off, so going on a buying spree just isn't going to happen, especially with the caliber I need.

In times like this I go to my couch, pull off all the cushions, and gather all the spare change I can find. If it shakes out to be $1.50 or better (more than likely), it means I can go to the Navy Woodshop at Naval Station Norfolk! For 150 cents of your lost pocket change, they'll let you use all the great tools that I'll bet came off an old tender somewhere - they're just too massive and nice, in a 1950s sort of way. They run like champs, cut like butta and have all the bells, whistles and jigs you could hope for. Plus, the helpful staff there knows so much more about woodworking than I do - even if they don't have a clue what we're making!

So, anticipate a few trips there to knock out the spars and associated gear: masts, caps, tops, crosstrees, yards, poles, gaffs and booms (its not as bad as it sounds - famous last words) for the model. We'll also get a jump on blocks and deadeyes while we're there... and if you thought spars were fun, wait for the sober tedium of making these bad boys! Should be fun... maybe.


Working sessions are Wednesday and Friday nights at 7 PM - come on out and lend a hand on the model as well as our real boats. Monomoy No. 1 is undergoing a routine cleaning, scraping and painting and installation of a new leeboard in preparation for Conquer the Chesapeake 2011.


Monday, March 28, 2011

On double takes and head checks

Springtime is here and we're rolling out of the winter Dockyard lull - and you know what that means... TIME TO WORK! The Dockyard is humming again and we're going to be starting up our weekly working sessions. Monomoy No. 1 is being prepared to take on Chesapeake Bay again, and we've got a giant foam model to finish! WEDNESDAYS and FRIDAYS starting at 7 pm, the shops will be open, so come on out and lend a hand!


Keeping an eye on local shipyards, this week's noteworthy news is the haul out of Pride of Baltimore II in Portsmouth. If you look carefully while driving on I-464 you can make out her masts near the Ntellos Wireless Pavillion. She's in the process of gearing up for her 23rd season of sailing as Maryland's goodwill ambasador to the world.

But as great as she is, her proximity poses a problem. I don't know about anyone else, but when tall ships are around I can be a real hazard on area roadways. Sighting Pride's masts last Thursday, I swerved into adjacent lanes with excitement as I craned my neck to get a better view - road be damned. Now, I'm not advocating this, nor making light of what is very probably a serious defect but the excitement is hard to contain. Since we have a nice cache of bright yellow vehicle flags at the Dockyard (the kind you normally see emblazoned with a sports team logo - and we use to mark escort vehicles when towing), I've decided to mount one on my SUV to alert adjacent motorists to my condition. If anyone else needs one, please stop by during our regularly scheduled working sessions and we will fill your prescription at no cost. Just another way NHS is contributing to the safety of motorists in the Tidewater Area. Side effects may include tunnel vision, loss of situational awareness, momentary enthusiastic insanity, loss of appetite and degredation of decision making ability. Seek help for enthusiasm lasting longer than four hours. Consult your nautical historical professional to determine if a vehicle warning flag is right for you.

I'm here for you - this is our support group. I'm still working on the twelve steps.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rain, Thunder, Lightning - and wanting to do it again

Last year our most highly publicized event - and certainly the most daring - was our open boat row/sail across Chesapeake Bay and back using only historical navigation techniques. I've been assailed with questions about this year's program - if we're going to do it, when etc. - all of which come gift wrapped in a lot of enthusiasm. So, after a long time thinking and not wanting to do all the lead-in leg work, I've decided to just do it. Thanks Mike!

HA! I got you - its a commercial!

So, what are we doing and when? This year, we're dead set on making the trip without a chase boat, and extending it. Yes, that's right. This year, I'd like to go from Naval Station Norfolk to Cape Charles proper - the city itself. Well - that's not quite right. To the beach west of the City of Cape Charles, from which it is a quick hoof to Kelly's Gingernut Pub. OK, there it is. Why did NHS cross the bay? To get a good drink at the pub. Don't judge.

The trip is about 26 nautical miles as the crow flies, or almost nine hours in the boat assuming a straight-line speed of advance of three knots. We'll almost certainly be moving faster than that, but won't likely be able to make it in a straight shot - but more on that later. So assume 3kts/9hrs - probably a safe bet. It'll be a one-way trip, trailering the boat back to Norfolk.

Such a long trip in a small boat will require some flexibility, so we're blocking off the weekend of April 29 - May 1. We may depart at any time in that window, using winds, currents and tides in our favor. In extremely adverse conditions, we'll roll up to Cape Charles and begin there, sailing south to Norfolk and probably ending at one of the Colley Ave restaurants on the Lafayette River. We'll work on the contingency as we go.

The boat will be outfitted with all of her standard safety gear - everything from lifejackets, thermal blankets and survival gear to a SART - search and rescue transponder. We'll communicate by hand-held VHF and cell phone (when in range) when necessary. Unlike last year, we'll carry tents and camping gear so we can beach cruise if necessary - stop and recharge the crew if needed. Rations for three days will be carried, along with spares of everything to make repairs on the fly. The crew size will likely be reduced from 10 to 7 or 8 to give extra room and lighten the boat.

A logistics team will be needed to coordinate movement of the trailer and extra transportation to meet the boat and crew - to bring them home. Two or three people driving vans or SUVs and one towing the trailer should be fine, and not too difficult to get together.

I've already put out word to last year's crew, but we'll be accepting new applicants. So if you're interested give me a shout and we'll see when we can get you out for training.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Busy weekend

This weekend proved to be quite busy, with lots of travel, time in the shop, suit and tie, coveralls - I ran the whole gammot. Saturday morning I took advantage of a nice lull to visit Historic Jamestowne and their Military Through the Ages (MTA) program, and met up with some friends there. I was amazed to be asked about this blog by about a half dozen people - sometimes it amazes me that people actually read this - and two of them ventured guesses about what we have in the works, and were correct. It's not that hard to figure it out, I promise - but remember the first rule of Fight Club.

I'm guessing no more than two people get the movie reference - even when I use the title. Facepalm.

Despite celebrating five years of living in the Hampton Roads area, this was my first MTA and I have to say I was very impressed. Each group seemed to be interacting with the crowd very well, and keeping their attention. And although there is no 'fight' or reenactment to speak of, the demonstrations of burning powder etc are more in line with what reenactors ought to do. Contrived scenarios and pretending to die by falling down silently are getting rather old hat, afterall. But the great mix of interests, hands-on demonstrations and spectator involvement was tremendous, and should be used as a model for other 'living history' style events everywhere.

If there was one thing about reenactors/living history types that bother me, its people that get very serious about doing it. Dress up in costume - check. Pretend to be someone else - check. No sense of humor when a spectator (me) does a Brad Pitt impression "we're here for one thing and one thing only - killing Naaazies" in front of the SS camp - fail. Chill out, guys - and humor the crowd if they (or me) crack a joke. You represent the 'bad guys' - own it.

I was also taken aback at the Soviet Red Army station when I met up with the bubba who portrays Lord Dunmore every year at Great Bridge. Although he was dressed as a Red Army surgeon I repeatedly called him Comrade Governor - I don't think he made the connection that I knew him from Great Bridge, and consequently didn't seem amused.

Maybe my sense of humor needs a tweak - I dunno.


With the onset of good weather, we've cleared the Framing Bay and moved the Hornet model out there for some team driven efforts - volunteers needed so come on out! We have some mudding, painting, gluing - all of which will be explained. Suffice it to say that the model is like a parade float - correct shape and 1:12 scale - but weighs about 10 lbs soaking wet (which I hope it will never be) - being constructed of foam, scultamold and joint compound. The lower mast sections, made of wood, each weigh more than the whole hull - its a good thing we left access ports in the underside to add ballast.

Work on Monomoys No. 2 and 3 have halted - on purpose. They are part of the master plan, so not to worry. Nothing like putting all of your eggs in one basket, then putting the basket next to the Liquid Evil Generator. Fighter pilots aren't the only ones who like living in the danger zone.

Ahhhh... no.

It's Monday and already the jokes are stale - gripes!


Friday, March 18, 2011

The story of Dimmock Charlton - or - wait, they did WHAT?

Getting back on focus with some history surrounding the Sloop of War HORNET - I offer the narrative of one man and his struggle for freedom.

It is difficult for us to imagine the social complexities of the United States as it was in the early 19th century. The rigid system of deference - that is, a tiered social hierarchy in which your place was decided by birth - is so foreign, so bigoted and prejudicial beyond anything we commonly encounter today that to imagine it involves evoking images of the Dark Ages. Members of the social elite were considered to have a responsibility to lead the rest, govern, employ and 'dispose of' them. Middling ranks were filled with tradesmen, shop keepers, entrepreneurs and 'tinkerers'. Lower ranks were laborers, providing some of the motive power. And below all of these were the Irish, most Eastern Europeans, Asians and Africans - often considered lower forms of life - less than human. These were grunt laborers considered more akin to oxen and mules than those at the top of the social ladder.

In keeping with my typical movie references - Fritz Lang's Metropolis comes to mind. The concept was a nightmare even in the early 20th century.

Analyzing the social progression is the subject of many books and theses - which I just don't have time, space or intellect to dive fully into. But suffice it to say that in the early 19th century our nation was still struggling with the idea of "all men" being "created equal".


Dimmock Charlton - like the Sloop of War Hornet herself - is not a name readily recognized by the masses today, nor is he recorded in textbooks. But his story illustrates the complexities of the system slaves faced in early 19th century America - and the myriad pitfalls that beset any free black person in our nation at that time. Like the Amistad case several decades later, his is a story of perseverance against remarkable odds - and ultimately bittersweet triumph. His story was published in 1859:

A chronological description of Charlton's story begins halfway down page 8.

Read, digest, ponder.


Now, the real meat and potatoes. If you go back and read the narrative of Hornet's service life, you'll see that after sinking Peacock, she sailed straight back to the US, calling at Martha's Vineyard to discharge prisoners before sailing to New York via Hell Gate. But in Charlton's narrative, Army Lt. William Henry Harrison (future PRESIDENT) led him to Savannah, GA. I need to go back and study Hornet's logs to see if she called at another port before proceeding to Martha's Vineyard. BUT either 1) Charlton was separated from the other Peacock prisoners while onboard Hornet and delivered up during that port call or 2) he was separated ashore after they'd landed at Martha's Vineyard. Either way, there is something really fishy going on there.

Why did this happen? Why did it take nearly half a century for this man to earn his freedom and freedom for some of his family despite being a foreign national, and a prisoner of war? Simple - a rigid system of undue deference, and the crookedness that maintained it.

Understanding our past - or at least attempting to - is the only way to ensure we don't repeat past mistakes, and ensure we "rise up and live out the true meaning of [our nation's] creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

James Cagney loves Monomoys

Fast forward to about the 7:00 point.

What's the point? (1) JOs have had drudge jobs since time immemorial, and (2) I believe James Cagney - with his Monomoy - could trump Chuck Norris. Just saying - the gauntlet is thrown down.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

I AM the chairman

So amongst everything that is going on, I took a breather last night and went to see a movie with the girlfriend. We ended up getting tickets for The Adjustment Bureau - and while I don't want to plug the movie, I couldn't help but laugh every time they said 'the chairman'. As most readers know I'm Chairman of the Board of Directors - what dangers there are when you put the person in charge of construction in a place of authority!

But what was so funny is that in the movie, your destiny is orchestrated by a person who is never seen, only referred to as 'the chairman'. He makes the plans and then a complicated structure of suits ensure everyone stays on track. I nearly got a piece of popcorn stuck in my nasal cavity every time someone said something like 'its all up to the chairman - he writes the plan' or 'you need permission from the chairman to do that'. Still cracks me up over my morning coffee.

Works great in the movie - here, on the other hand, we shall see.