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.