... imagine for a moment that you didn’t have to rely on maps to navigate the unknown—that your memory, instincts, and knowledge of the environment sufficed. This is the art of Polynesian wayfinding. An article by Lily Bui, a researcher at MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, summarizing how Polynesians managed to reliably navigate between more than a thousand islands in 10 million square miles of water, an area slightly larger than the size of Canada, with limited instruments and great memories for details. [more inside]
The 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race begins today, leaving Alicante, Spain headed for Cape Town, South Africa. The longest and most dangerous sporting event in the world, the epic sailing regatta covers 38,739 nautical miles and will take nearly 9 months to complete, covering the toughest conditions on earth, including the dreaded Southern Ocean.
This year's race shares almost nothing in common from the original Whitbread in 1973, save for one thing; there is no prize for winning. [more inside]
This year's race shares almost nothing in common from the original Whitbread in 1973, save for one thing; there is no prize for winning. [more inside]
The Art of Shen Ku is a rambling, eccentric website displaying pages of an illustrated instructional book of the same name. The site is roughly divided into four topics: Traveller, Physician, Sailor, and Martial Artist. It features heavily notated illustrations that demonstrate everything from using healthy breathing techniques and using aloe vera to learning martial art hand strikes, avoiding shark attacks, making survival shelters, and navigating. The author, Zeek, seems to be a sailor who spent much time in Asia. [more inside]
It only happens once every few years: a brackish river in New Jersey freezes over, and the iceboats come out. It's happening all over the Northeast, where an unusually cold winter is welcomed with delight by aficionados of this sport. Lightly constructed, beautiful, and fast (the record stands at 84 miles an hour propelled by wind alone), iceboats provide a winter thrill ride like none other. Iceboating or ice yachting has thrived in pockets of North America and Europe since the nineteenth century. When conditions are right, see them sailing and racing in Wisconsin, on the Hudson, in Maine, Minnesota, Prince Edward Island. and wherever else "hard-water sailors" congregate.
We tend to think now of scurvy as mainly a punch line, if anything—“scurvy-ridden rats” is the kind of popular pirate epithet that appears in even the most G-rated family fare. Partly this is because now, fully understanding its mechanism, it seems a particularly ridiculous problem. But ask anyone who's suffered from it: it is a singularly horrid and terrible way to die.- The Spoil of Mariners, Colin Dickey, Lapham's Quarterly.
September 7th marked the beginning of the battle for the 2013 America's Cup between defending Oracle Team USA and challenging Emirates Team New Zealand. As the winners of the last cup, the Golden Gate Yacht Club decided that this year's Cup match would take place in a new class of boat, the AC72 wing sail catamaran. Almost as much airplane as sailboat, these extraordinary craft are designed to lift out of the water, allowing them to sail faster than the wind and reach astonishing speeds of up to 50 knots. It was hailed as the pinnacle of the sport until a May 2013 capsize and death of Swedish crew member Andrew Simpson had some calling it the world's most dangerous sailboat. [more inside]
It seems eco-friendly cargo ships are slowly on the rise. Today i learned there is a full length documentary on Vimeo about one of these sailing vessels, the Tres Hombres; a bittersweet account of a voyage to transport supplies and aid to Haiti after the devastating earthquake: How Captain Longhair saved the World (HD, 42 min.).
In the autumn of 1832, 14-year old Yamamoto Otokichi was aboard the cargo ship Hojunmaru when a storm hit. 22 years and a trip around the globe later, he finally got back to Japan.
The schooner Nina was last heard from on June 4th, as it fought high winds and seas off the coast of New Zealand. It carried a crew of seven, including Evi Nemeth - well known to sysadmins for co-authoring The Unix System Administration Handbook. As of today, the search has been suspended, and all are presumed lost at sea.
"No GPS or weather reports—just a sailboat, the wild open ocean, and the constellations. Think you could find your way across the South Pacific? James Campbell rides along with a master navigator in the Caroline Islands, where they’ve been sailing this way for thousands of years." [more inside]
The Fastnet Race is a biennial sailing race from Cowes to Fastnet Rock to Plymouth, in England. In 1979, it was the venue for one of the most famous storms and greatest disasters in yacht-racing history. [more inside]
Of Fanás and Forecastles: The Indian Ocean and Some Lost Languages of the Age of Sail. Amitav Ghosh is tracing the culture and language of the lascars, the diverse Indian Ocean "natives" who made up the rosters on so many sailing ships. In 11 parts, the first nine are up now: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. RIDLH, of course
Looking for a project for the winter? Have some spare room and hand tools? Why not build a boat? [more inside]
Old Ships is a website packed full of evocative, interesting and historical pictures of old ships from A to Zambesi. It's a feast of all kinds of other vintage maritime images, including ports, docks, ferries, harbors, paintings, canals, rivers, maritime scenes, onboard pictures, shipboard menus, lots of great postcards and other old historical nautical memorabilia (even the ship's cat). [more inside]
Last year, the Heavy Air Laser Slalom regatta was run out of St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Organizers pick what they think will be a consistently windy day, and competitors race on the fastest points of sail. Here is some incredible footage. [more inside]
"Over in Ireland, mention Chris ‘The Viper’ Tordoff of the Hardy Bucks, and everyone immediately thinks comedy. But when Tordoff’s mock-commentary of Olympic sailing went viral" (video, 3 1/2 min.) "most international media failed to get the joke." Often compared to the Canadian hit TV show Trailer Park Boys (previously here & here), Hardy Bucks is an Irish mockumentary TV show "set in a small town in West Ireland, following the misadventures of five hapless men down on their luck, trying to leave their backwards rural hometown and attempt to reach Galway to sample modern civilization". As a series of largely improvised webisodes, it went on to win the 2009 Storyland competition held by Irish national broadcaster RTÉ, which then commissioned nine TV episodes (two seasons) and a Xmas special. [more inside]
Maritime Monday. (No NSFW images in this link, but some weeks there will be a random picture or two of a topless mer-person or sailor.)
Today Dutch sailor Laura Dekker returned to St. Maarten, completing her yearlong solo voyage around the world aboard her sailboat, “Guppy.” (Previously)
Donald Crowhurst (1932–1969) was a British businessman and amateur sailor who died while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race. Crowhurst had entered the race in hopes of winning a cash prize from The Sunday Times to aid his failing business. Instead, he encountered difficulty early in the voyage, and secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to complete a circumnavigation without actually circling the world. Evidence found after his disappearance indicates that this attempt ended in insanity and suicide. (previously: 1, 2)
Suppose you love to sail. Suppose, further, that you would like to do some cruising (travelling by sailboat) but can't afford the cost of an offshore-capable yacht. Or suppose you're reluctant to become dependent upon the many complicated systems that a modern cruising sailboat relies on. Or suppose the whole luxury RV aesthetic of modern cruising sailboats turns you off. What then? Well, maybe you should think smaller. [more inside]
Mast Brothers [vimeo 8:48] — They began their voyage in their apartment, using a homemade machine to process cacao beans. Over time they cultivated their creation, sourcing beans from family farms in Madagascar, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador. Each bar is handmade with incredible reverence for the process and history of chocolate. They are bound in ornamental papers and golden foil like a collection of rare books. Each bar offers its own story of flavors, and no two are exactly alike. [more inside]
Diabetes is overwhelmingly the most common cause of male impotence in the developed world. Men and women are designed to move, and when we do not, our immobility reduces us in every respect. A long, enjoyably rambling piece about urbanization, faux survivalist sailors, self-sufficiency, and the problems caused by the creeping spread of the modern Western diet and lifestyle. Also, the difference between Canadian and Afghani guts.
Mau Piailug passed away last week at 78 years old. He was a Master Navigator from the tiny island of Satawal. In the seventies, he traveled to Hawaii to help the Polynesian Voyaging Society revive the wayfinder's art, navigating by the sun, moon, stars, animals, waves and clouds. In 1976, he steered the Hokule'a, a traditional sailing canoe, from Hawaii to Tahiti without even so much as a compass. He began teaching a new generation of navigators and helped launch a revival of Polynesian culture. To honor him, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is raising money to assist the people of Satawal, while also preparing for a world wide voyage on the Hokule'a, to use their ancient wisdom to help imagine a new relationship to the planet we share.
Sad breaking news on a previously discussed topic as 16 year old Abby Sunderland is feared lost at sea. [more inside]
On June 27, 1898, all but unnoticed, a Canadian seaman named Joshua Slocum sailed his rebuilt oyster boat Spray into Newport, Rhode Island, completing a 3-year, 46,000 mile voyage conducted solely by dead reckoning that made him the first man to ever achieve a solo circumnavigation of the world. His account of the feat, Sailing Alone Around The World (HTML with illustrations, plain text, EPUB, audio), was described by Arthur Ransome as "one of the immortal books". In 1909, Slocum set out in the Spray for the West Indies. Neither he nor the craft were ever seen again.
"In the beginning, they asked if I was sure I really wanted to do it," says Laura Dekker, the thirteen year old Dutch girl who wants to become the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. "They have sailed around the world so they know what could happen and that it's not always fun, but I realize that too. But I really wanted to do it so my parents said, 'Good, we'll help you.'" (Additional Youtube link for people who don't like having to read words.)
Stan Hugill, often known as "The Last Shantyman," authored a book called Shanties From the Seven Seas, based on his own work experiences in the last days of sail. Influential in the folk revival, the book is one of the most important written sources for music sung aboard ships in the 19th and early 20th century, the "Bible" of sea music. Decades of chanteying in pubs and at festivals have kept many of the songs alive, but in most cases they've strayed stylistically from the verses and versions Hugill collected, or dropped out of popularity entirely. Now, one musician is returning to the source and creating a new audio archive for the original versions of the songs as written, by singing through the more than 400 songs in the book, one song each week, and posting the songs on YouTube, with commentary. [more inside]
Around Cape Horn - if you've ever wished for an authentic glimpse into the bygone era of the majestic age of sailing, this is it - a rare 1929 true adventure film about sailing a four-masted commercial barque around the Cape Horn during a huge gale. It was shot with a hand-cranked camera by Captain Irving Johnson who offers a spirited narration. 36 minutes, B&W
The 2008-2009 Vendée Globe starts tomorrow from Les Sables d'Olonne, France. Held every four years, this single-handed, non-stop, round the world sailing race is so competitive that the 2004-2005 edition saw the top 3 finishers separated by less than 29 hours after 87 days of racing! [more inside]
The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 — Authorized and funded by the U.S. government, six ships sailed with 346 men (including officers, crew, scientists, and artists) on a four-year scientific and surveying mission, logging 87,000 miles around the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Two ships and 28 men were lost, and the Expedition's contentious commander Charles Wilkes was court-martialled for his erratic behavior, and was sued by former officers and crew members. During the Civil War in 1861, he boarded a British ship, seized two Confederate agents, and nearly provoked military retaliation by England (he was court-martialled once again in 1864 for insubordination.) Wilkes' 1845 Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition and the Ex. Ex.'s journals were published by Congress, and some 40 tons of Expedition specimens and artifacts became the foundation of the Smithsonian Institution's collections. [Nathaniel Philbrick (video lecture) chronicles this almost-forgotten voyage in his 2003 book Sea of Glory (NYT review).]
The circumnavigators are out there. In February, Mike Beaumont completed the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle. Tomorrow, Rosie Swale, age 62, finishes her 4 1/2 year run around the world. As posted previously, Zac Sunderland is now attempting to break the record for the youngest sailing circumnavigation of the planet, now held by Jesse Martin.
Sixteen-year-old Zac Sunderland can't drive a car legally, but he's hoping to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Zac departed from Marina Del Rey, California on June 14, and right now he's blogging from somewhere off the Marshall Islands. If you have Google Earth, you can chart his latest position here. Here's the route he plans to take. Links to video and more press stories here.
Viking invasion ends as longship sails home. The Sea Stallion From Glendalough, a replica Viking longboat (previously), is returning to Denmark.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the ill fated Sunday Times Golden Globe round the world solo sailing race. Of the 9 starters, only 1 finished. The race featured courage, madness, and a cast of characters out of a book. The mad Donald Crowhurst, the enigmatic Bernard Moitessier, and the eventual winner Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.
The Skeleton Coast, so called for the whale skeletons that littered its shores when the whaling industry was at its peak, is now well known for the skeletons of shipwrecks. More. And a a bit of description here. Still, the coast is full of life. Each year hundreds of thousands of Fur Seals come ashore. (Video on this site of baby Fur Seal vs. a jackal.) (wp)
Confessions of A Long Distance Sailor - I had been sitting in dark rooms, punching computer keys, for years. I had always wanted to learn SCUBA diving, hike around in the tropics, so I booked a flight to Hawaii. But a month later I was in — are you ready? — a traffic jam on Maui. I understand now, from the moment I touched that sailboat's dock lines, I was doomed to sail.
Reid Stowe and Soanya Ahmad have embarked on a 1000 day journey aboard a 60 foot schooner named Anne which Reid built. They will remain beyond sight of land and will not be resupplied during the voyage. Reid has considerable experience as a sailor, having first sailed at 20 to Tahiti from Hawaii...and later building a a catamaran which he sailed across the Atlantic.
Alexander Selkirk, born in 1676 in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland, was the unruly seventh son of a cobbler. In 1703, having grown tired of life in his village, he was able to convince successful buccaneer William Dampier that he was the man to navigate Dampier’s next privateering expedition to South America. After a dispute with the young captain of the ship on which he served as sailing master, Selkirk was left behind on a small island 418 miles west of Valparaiso, Chile. Rescued four years later, he was the subject of several contemporary accounts of his ordeal, and likely served as one of Daniel Defoe's primary inspirations for Robinson Crusoe.
The Mysterious Voyage of Donald Crowhurst and the Teignmouth Electron In the autumn of 1968, Crowhurst set out from England in a homebuilt trimaran, to compete in the first solo nonstop around-the-world sailing race. Eight months later, the boat was found drifting and abandoned in mid-Atlantic. Crowhurst's diaries revealed that, although he had apparently radioed messages from his round-the-world course, he had in fact never left the Atlantic.
Ever dreamed of building a boat and sailing away? Two clearly mad Canadians decide to built a yacht. Clearly mad because they actually do it! It's a bit of a saga but well worth the read for the vicarious pleasure. I'm green with envy! N.B. the site navigation can be a bit dicky so you may have to change the url to get to the next day sometimes. It goes up to day 222.
Ellen Macarthur is trying to break the solo round-the-world sailing record. From her website you can see stills and videos while she’s enroute, and track her progress. Meanwhile, the Vendee Globe is underway, with 20 sailors racing a similar course – also nonstop, and with no outside assistance allowed. The first solo nonstop circumnavigation was only 35 years ago, and the record has gone from 313 days to 72. It’s the slow way around, to be sure, and that’s probably why only a few dozen people have done it.
I have recently begun Patrick O’Brian’s series of Aubrey-Maturin novels, set in the rich and vibrant world of the 18th century Royal Navy; I have also enjoyed the movie. These superb historic novel have rekindled my interest in the great age of sail, especially the exploits of Lord Nelson. The Royal Navy at this time ruled the world, although the tactics used were brutal and seaman were often taken to sea against their will. The Battle of Trafalgar is certainly the most famous engagement and HMS Victory the most famous of the ships. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the battle, the preparations sound spectacular and it is good to see the strong British sailing tradition continues.
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