Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Patrick O'Brian!

Today would have been the author's 98th birthday.  His acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels has been described as "a masterpiece" (David Mamet, New York Times), "addictively readable" (Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune), and "the best historical novels ever written" (Richard Snow, New York Times Book Review), which "should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century" (George Will).

What most people today forget is that the series for which O'Brian became so famous was first published in the US in the fall of 1990, and weren't initially popular.  In fact, the books barely made it to publication:

“Starling Lawrence, an editor at W. W. Norton in New York, first heard about the Irish novelist Patrick O’Brian in 1986. Lawrence was having a friendly drink with a literary-minded cousin when he unexpectedly found himself the target of a belligerent tirade. ‘How can you call yourself a publisher?’ his cousin demanded. ‘Here is this genius Patrick O’Brian and you’re not publishing him. Nobody in the United States is.’”

Keep reading: Patrick O’Brian’s Ship Comes In, New York Times, May 16, 1993.

Happy Birthday, sir!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

OK, Army, that was a good one!

In anticipation of the Army/Navy game coming up this Saturday, it appears that an Army fan hacked the Superintendent's e-mail:

FROM: Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller
TO:  goarmysinknavy, AllUSNA, USCC, BTD 


In preparation for the humiliating defeat Army will be dealing to us in the near future, I have some guidance to pass down.

First: when we stage for march-on, we need to clean up our act. The internet has us pegged as dirty slobs  this year, we need to bring trash bags and clean up after ourselves. From what I understand, Army is embarrassed to even be associated with us.

Second: clean up the actual march-on. Please at least pretend to be in the military. Dress right dress, don't talk at attention, etc. Seriously, this one is too easy.

Third: we need to have better accountability of our goats. This is also very embarrassing.

Fourth: when Army sings second, we will be respectful and professional.

Fifth: we need to be better at cyber.

Finally, I award you all with PMI (sleep ins) until Christmas. Maybe even a little longer, depending on how morale is going after Army defeats us on Saturday.

Go Army, Sink Navy!
{free the bits}

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My eyes are up here

So this summer I learned a valuable lesson - if you're trying to get people to listen to something important, don't give them cool toys immediately before hand.  Distractions of any kind, in fact, should be avoided.

Some time ago the Hornet Team began wheeling out some spiffy new display pieces with them when they went to meetings.  I actually discussed production of the Hornet half-hull models more than a year ago, but when they first rolled out this summer, I simply didn't have time to post photos and everyone's mind was somewhere else.  But I digest.  The models show the complete hull framing, and the first iterations actually feature removable frame sections - each one a slide out cross-section of the hull.  So imagine, if you will, a conference room in a New York high rise, very intelligent people in expensive suits around a big table, and instead of talking business, everyone - our team included - are all playing with the removable frame sections like kids with a bucket of Legos.  Facepalm.  Actually it was kind of fun.  But moral of the story - the importance of staying focused cannot be overstated.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cold weather = return to computers!

Hello world - and apologies for the general lack of updates here in, well, months.  Things have been quite busy for the NHS team this year, with something always seeming to come up and get in the way of 'ops normal'.  Nevertheless, in the past few weeks - and despite the holiday! - we're starting to get back to business.  As the cold weather begins to set in, more and more of our volunteers are returning and our office is beginning to hum again.  And not a moment too soon - our inboxes are full of demands for information.

So here we are - November 2012 coming to a close and here's what we've been up to:

HORNET - we're still hard at work here.  The Summer of 2012 proved to be our busiest season of meetings ever.  But after significant interest and some impressively high-level discussions we have reached something of a relative standstill in terms of funding.  As it turns out, the kind of capital we've been working to secure for the project is rather hard to come by these days.  This does not mean we're giving up - far from it - just kicking our start date further down the pike.  A disappointment, I know.  But we haven't exactly returned to you with nothing to show for our stellar year of pitching - I'll save the biggest announcements for our also-neglected newsletter, but suffice it to say that we're going to be unveiling something on the scale of Mini-HORNET (our 1:12 scale mock-up) quite soon.  We've also added several new members to the Project Team.

THE PENNANT - I know how you all so loved the weekly trivia, so we're bringing our flagship weekly publication back in the first week of December to make some of the big announcements for the Hornet Project and bring everyone up to speed on the biggest stories of the past year.  So if you haven't signed up for the newsletter, visit our website and enter your email address soon.  For those who have signed up but not received anything - you'll start getting them December 3rd.

THE DOCKYARD - By far our biggest hit this year was sustained by the Dockyard facilities in Norfolk VA.  Our Deep Creek Annex has been humming on and off, and our giant Hornet demo model has migrated there.  But the Norfolk shop has been largely closed this year - a function of many of our active-duty volunteers being reassigned to move on to bigger and better things.  The Monomoy Pulling Boats are all perfectly preserved, exactly where we left off, ready to re-start operations as soon as our capabilities permit.

I'm also preempting the New Year and making a resolution to begin making more regular updates here.  After all, there is plenty to talk about these days.  So standby in the coming days - yes, I'm THAT ambitious - it's time to kick this pig!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Spoils of War

So many in the naval community have been inside the auditorium in Annapolis' Mahan Hall - certainly every Midshipman who's ever attended the Naval Academy has nodded off there during a presentation or two.  But few that I've spoken to even remember giving so much as a passing thought to the decorative cases that line the actual auditorium, and the corridors around it.  After all, the contents are faded, shabby, and for all intents and purposes trapped for the foreseeable future beneath thick plate glass that was installed to seal the cases as the building was constructed around them.

Lurking inside those oft forgotten veritable glass dungeons are precious and irreplaceable artifacts - spoils of war once heralded at mastheads and paraded triumphantly through American streets accompanied by cheers.  In this year and during the next few, they may warrant an occasional glance, and perhaps a few sparks of recognition.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy PENGUIN Day!

On this date in 1815, the US Sloop of War HORNET was attacked by and subsequently captured and sank HMS PENGUIN in the South Atlantic in a fierce 22-minute battle.  To relate a portion of the story of that great victory, I'd like to post the text of an article written by Mr. Joe Holt, who formed part of the Marine Detachment aboard the most recent USS HORNET, CV-12 from 1967 to 1969.

Take it away, Mr. Holt:

We all know the history of seagoing Marines goes back as far as the Navy itself, but how often do we come across an opportunity that tells their tale?  All after-action reports promote the Navy’s exploits, but it’s rare to come across a ship’s account that brags on its Marines.  I’ve been lucky enough to discover just such a report.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Research, or, When Nerds Get Excited

Yes, that's me.
Yesterday the NHS team received a very exciting bit of research from Stephen Duffy, author of Captain Blakeley and the Wasp - a copy of a letter and drawing sent by Isaac Chauncey in July 1805 to then Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith.  It reads:
I have the honor to submit for your consideration and approval a plan of the head for the U.S. Brig Hornet building at this place -
      I have the honor to be (etc)                            
                                  Isaac Chauncey

As those who've read the cursory history of Hornet published on the NHS website, the ship was originally fitted with an eagle figurehead that could be unshipped and replaced with a plain billet head.  Several contemporaries wrote of admiring the carving, which reportedly had an eight foot wing span, and even Hornet's builder, William Price, reported that it was hoisted into position on the ship's stem from the roof of his home and office at 910 Fell Street in Baltimore - a building which still stands today.

This latest bit of research is the first actual sketch, drawing or illustration we've had of this apparently notable feature of the original ship, and needless to say, we're very excited.

Friday, February 24, 2012

24 February - HORNET sinks PEACOCK

Happy Peacock Day!  Here at NHS we're commemorating the 199th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Peacock by the US Sloop of War Hornet, commanded by Master Commandant James Lawrence.  I had originally intended to publish a much longer paper on the subject, but as has so often been the case, new information has come to light that is redirecting some of my conclusions.  Nevertheless, I hope to have it ready for next year's 200th anniversary.

So what exactly happened there?  How did Hornet manage to "maul so unmercifully" (as one period newspaper wrote) a ship of approximately similar size that she was reduced to a sinking condition in less than 15 minutes?  The general story, though often retold in short by almost every author writing on the War of 1812, is far more interesting than it would seem.  And though the action didn't officially begin until 5:25 pm, 199 years ago today, this morning in fact, the events that led both ships into the engagement were already playing out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Footage of a bygone era

If I asked any number of naval history/heritage enthusiasts about their favorite film footage, most are likely to give me a Hollywood title - there certainly are a number of films made (or partially shot) aboard actual US Navy ships, most in the 1950s and '60s.  If you look closely you can even find James Cagney in a Monomoy, circa 1960!  In most of those films, Sailors past and present will undoubtedly recognize marked similarities to shipboard life today, and aside from the odd cigarette in the wardroom and general lack of OSHA approved safety gear, would be hard pressed to find real differences.

My favorite footage, however, is a bit older and more seemingly foreign.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Welcome Gary Jobson!

This week's edition of the NHS newsletter, The Pennant, announced sailing legend Gary Jobson joining the USS HORNET Project Board of Advisers.  Welcome, sir, and thanks for your support!

NHS Staff | News | 7 February 2012
In a meeting with NHS Chairman Will King, sailing legend Gary Jobson volunteered to join the USS Hornet Project Board of Advisers. 
        “Sail training provides a lifetime experience in leadership, teamwork and understanding the world.  Hornet will provide thousands of young people the opportunity to learn life’s lessons.” he said.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Another reason why Sailors are awesome

Apologies for the general lack of blog updates lately - I've been exceedingly busy and the press isn't letting up anytime soon.  But I have been doing some travelling, and last weekend I had the opportunity to visit with HORNET Design Team leader Melbourne Smith in Palm Beach, FL to discuss the progress of the plans and review some of his latest work.  Things are moving right along, but you'll have to wait for more updates in that department - mum's still the word on those advances.  We will, however, have some considerable project news in next week's issue of The Pennant, the NHS weekly newsletter, which is published every Monday.  If you haven't signed up, visit and click on "Hoist Your Pennant" to join the mailing list.

While I was in Palm Beach, I took a short jot over to the Society of the Four Arts for the opening of a new exhibit called "Recapturing the Real West - The Collections of William I. Koch".  The collection is absolutely stunning, containing amazing art and artifacts, from larger than life figures like Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer and Sitting Bull to the common 'cowboy' and the people who made the push westward.  I also caught the collector's personal presentation where he discussed his affinity for the subject but also made some interesting remarks about sailors.  Why sailors in a presentation on the Old West?  If you know a Sailor, you might well guess.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm glad somebody is saying this

Last weekend while at the NHS Winter Retreat, the attendees were amazed to watch the initial reports of the Costa Concordia sinking roll in - no pun intended.  I'm not going to get into the weeds on this, but suffice it to say that I'm very relieved to see some of the press more latched on to the "over-reliance on electronic navigation" and "a failure of judgement by the captain" and less on "we need safer ships and higher training standards".

Ships today - by and large - are very safe.  Remarkably so.  But the mariners who manage them on the other hand, well, as one myself I can tell you I've grown increasingly concerned over the past 10 years that fewer and fewer are rooted in the fundamentals of that profession.  So many today rely on electronic gizmos - and it's so easy to! - that the most basic principles, such as management of lifesaving on a foundering ship, are going by the wayside.  There was an old Quartermaster aboard my first Navy ship - the crusty  type who is almost irritating to talk to at first.  But I learned quite a bit from him, including evolved use of the Mark 1 Mod 0 Eyeball.  As incidents like these continue, I wonder how long it's going to take everyone to realize how simple the solutions really are.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Low gravity environment

One of the core missions of NHS is to use antiquated technology 'at sea' to develop teamwork and leadership skills.  This we accomplish with our small boats, a mission we will someday expand to Hornet.  Putting participants in an open boat with no engine and forcing them to be reliant on their own abilities to get underway and return safely is rather startling, too.  It has the effect of peeling back that blanket of security most people have in their daily routines and modern technology, leaving most feeling a little vulnerable.  And that's where the education starts - building up from the base of core abilities as individuals, and coming together as a team in a foreign, and highly demanding environment.

But it has another effect as well - it makes people think about the technology they rely on every day.  Some hearken back with anecdotes of the days before cell phones and the internet.  And after a while one question always comes up - as technology makes life, and information, more convenient, are we getting dumber, or perhaps worse, lazier?

Some time ago, I came across the picture above, and I've been thinking about that concept ever since.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

HELLOOOO Annapolis!

As we enter the new year, I've moved to Annapolis and started a new assignment as a seamanship, shiphandling and navigation instructor at the US Naval Academy.  Yes, I've entered the history-bedecked halls of our Navy's most celebrated educational institution.  I know - God save the Navy.

My regular weekdays will largely be spent alternating between Luce Hall and a gray-hull on the Severn River, returning to my surface warfare roots tackling all manner of naval navigational gnarliness.  After two years on an admiral's staff, the move is tremendously refreshing, and I'm psyched!

I also have to say, having not spent much time in Annapolis before now, that I'm amazed to find it such a small, close-knit community.  Everyone seems to know everyone else and I've constantly been meeting new people - including a few, um, fans.  That's right, a few NHS followers caught me out in town and stopped to say hi - so HELLOOOO Annapolis!  And don't worry - I.  Have.  A.  Plan.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bicentennial year - and we're already celebrating the 200's!

Well, I've been away for some time now - and to the more or less devoted readers follow this blog, you have my apologies.  It's been a busy season, not just for the holidays but also here at NHS, where the point was far from lost on our staff that we are entering the first year of the War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations.  But 200 years ago, right now, one of the fastest ships in the American fleet was racing diplomats to and from Europe.  During the winter of 1811-1812, newly promoted Master Commandant James Lawrence would find himself at the proverbial spearhead of the United States’ entry into the conflict we’re about to commemorate.

Many will no doubt recall that Lawrence would go on to give the Navy its legendary motto "Don't Give Up The Ship".  But in 1812, he was already somewhat well known.  In fact, while most no doubt associate Lawrence with the capture of the frigate Chesapeake, he had quite a stellar - albeit curtailed - naval career which I feel significantly outweighs the 'glory' of his bravely fought end.