Monday, March 29, 2010

Young, Modern and with Rowing Power.

On target for Women’s History month, at least two women have met astounding challenges on the high seas, Katie Spotz and Abby Sunderland. Rowing her 19 foot row-boat single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean, in the months of January, February and March, 2010, Katie Spotz made the 2817 mile trip from Dakar, Senegal to Georgetown, Guyana in 70 days and 6 hours. Her AIS, GPS systems and devices guided her as she braved waves and wind, and followed a pre-determined course over deep water and the Continental Shelf. She did it for the challenge, and for the sake of clean drinking water in developing countries. She rowed 10 hours a day, cooked her meals, wrote her blog, and slept, when she wasn’t caring for the equipment aboard her craft. Her triumph was reported all over the press and electronic media as she was the youngest person to complete this journey continent to continent on human power alone!

See more about fantastic circumnavigators and their voyages on these sites:

  • List of circumnavigators by the Joshua Slocum Society showing many details including the navigator’s name and country of origin, sailboat type and rigging, and length of the trip.

  • Lots of facts: women soloists, young soloists, fastest circumnavigations, etc. at Deep Radio Show.

  • Really nice photographs and lots of informative text on rowing the oceans, at Around n’ Over.

  • West coast navigators.

  • Single-handed circumnavigators and the first two chapters of Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World at Seven Oceans.

  • See rowers Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei at their website.

  • Plying wind and waves, proving confidence in the technology, these younger mariners are braving the wildest of journeys. Now it’s her turn, Abby Sunderland.

  • Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Women of Maritime History

    Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. / Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford. Williamsburg, Virginia: Cypress Communications, 1993. ISBN 0963641204. 183 p. incl. Bibliography and Index.

    This collection of stories is a powerful testament to women in maritime history. Portraits and graphic portrayals of these women lighthouse keepers speak of determination, personal strength, and commitment in lonely, isolated posts. They served coast and inland lighthouses and the navigators sailing in dangerous waters from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. In other words, many of these stories took place before the American Civil War (1860-1865), into the 1920s, and in California just prior to World War I (1917-1921). Five of the book’s 20 accounts tell of women lighthouse keepers on the California Coast: Point Pinos and Angel Island Lights, Mare Island Light, Santa Cruz Light, Santa Barbara Light, and Point Fermin Light, tracking the long coast from San Francisco Bay to San Pedro. Acts of bravery and heroism were highlighted by hourly attention to the light, its lamp, lens, fuel mechanism for lighting the lamp, and the grounds and house attached. If sailors were rescued from storms the house served as a way-station until the injured could be moved, the lighthouse keepers were life-savers as well as lamp-lighters.

    Consider the lives of lighthouse keepers who managed to warn mariners in fog despite failures of the lamp apparatus, who experienced damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, performed first aid, home-schooled their children, hired and trained workers, and repaired and kept equipment working! These women’s lives are heroic, starting with their imagination and sheer bravado in the face of adverse situations, when supplies were low, equipment failing, and no one around to help! Their dedication to serve was a very prominent characteristic, keeping navigators alerted to danger and from disaster along their shores.

    A second edition was published in 2001; the book is available at public libraries. The 1993 edition is available for circulation to Museum Members at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library.

    Explanation of terms and online links:
    Circulation to Museum Members: with your Museum Membership you may borrow books for a 3-week time period. Please call the Library for more information.

    See an account of “Women in Transportation”, a document from the publications page of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. It was written in honor of women pioneers and engineers in maritime as well as other areas of transportation.

    The following definitions are from Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge. /W.A. McEwen and A.H. Lewis. Cambridge, Maryland: Cornell Maritime Press. 1953.

    Lamp: “the familiar instrument for providing light…” and “a fixed light, as shown by a lighthouse, a continuous light of constant brilliancy.” ---from p. 275, 293.
    Lens, Fresnel: “…a lens originally designed for lighthouses by Augustin Jean Fresnel, French optician and geometer (1788-1827). --- p. 287
    Lighthouse keepers: from “light-keeper, person charged with care and operation of lighting apparatus of a lighthouse or lightship.” --- p. 293.
    Maritime: “…pertaining to or connected with the sea in respect to commerce, navigation, or shipping…” --- from p. 327.

    Point Fermin Lighthouse: built in 1874 and equipped with a Fresnel lens, located in San Pedro, on a bluff above San Pedro Bay. Visit the Point Fermin Lighthouse web site here.
    Post: an appointment to service; a structure on land; “…the first lighthouse built in the U.S. was in Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts in 1776; the first lighthouse on the California Coast was in San Francisco Bay just after the Gold Rush in 1854…” ---Women Who Kept the Lights, Introduction.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Punta Arenas, Chile, and a book review of the Story of Cape Horn

    Cape Horn The Story of the Cape Horn region, including the Straits of Magellan, from the days of the first discoverers, through the glorious age of sail to the present time... / Felix Riesenberg. Published by Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, CT, 1995. ISBN 1-881987043. 452p.

    Master Mariner Felix Riesenberg (1879-1939) wrote about adventures at sea, merchant ships on the Pacific Ocean, the seafaring life, explorers, missionaries, pirates, women sailors, tall ships, steamers, cannibals and grain ships.

    His well-researched and presented Cape Horn is an account of 400 years of circumnavigation, colonization, scientific inquiry and human drama. His story is endowed with detail and rich description:

    “Captain Francis Drake… had the most complete charts of the time, and tables of declination of the sun and moon… He carried three books on navigation, one in English another in French; a third, a volume of direction, was that of Magellan’s discovery, presumed to have been the account of Antonio Pigafetta. Compasses, clocks, hour and minute glasses, log lines and lead lines were supplied in abundance. That he used the log chip is fairly certain, and Captain Drake most probably had one of the new kennying glasses, for spying out ships and distant coasts.” ---- p. 62

    Says Museum volunteer tour-guide, Ron Ellis, “I loved reading Cape Horn because Felix Riesenberg was so knowledgeable. He sailed there himself a number of times. You get all the history, including Drake and Darwin! In Punta Arenas, a Chilean city along the Strait, there’s a statue of Magellan. If you touch the toe of the statue’s bronze native (reclining at the statue’s base), you shall return. There is a fine maritime museum there well worth a visit.”

    The book’s 23 appendices give specifications of ship’s holds, logs written by explorers, and a list of the first fifteen circumnavigators to sail through the Cape, from Magellan in 1521 to Commodore Anson in 1744. Illustrations in black and white include maps and artwork from the period of the 16th century.
    Riesenberg’s training as an engineer inspired him to write manuals and handbooks for merchant sailors. He lived at a very exciting time in maritime history, that era when steam, oil and gas overtook sail as the primary means of power. Cape Horn and other works reviewed European adventurers who pursued the quest for new water routes between 1500 and 1750.

    Selected titles by Felix Riesenberg:
    Living Again: an Autobiography. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1937.
    The Pacific Ocean. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1940.
    Under Sail, a Boy’s Voyage. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1924.

    Explanation of Words and Phrases:
    The first five entries below were found in Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Edited by Peter Kemp. Published by Oxford University Press, 1976. 971 p.

    Charts : essentially a map of the sea area, showing any coastlines, rocks, positions of buoys, lighthouses and other prominent features. -- p. 154.

    Commodore Anson: Lord George Anson (1697-1762), British admiral of the fleet, circumnavigator… was one of the founders of the naval profession.-- p.24.

    Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882): English naturalist, sailed on the H.M.S. Beagle between 1831 and 1836, in a voyage of discovery for science. -- p. 229.

    Francis Drake (1543-1596): he circumnavigated the world for Elizabeth 1st in 1577. -- p. 263.

    Log chip, or Log: the name given any device for measuring the speed of a vessel through the water. – p. 492.

    Magellan: Fernando Magalhães, a Portuguese explorer for King Charles of Spain, 1519-1522.

    Kennying, or kenning : the distance that bounds the range of ordinary vision, especially at sea, hence a marine measure of about 20-21 miles. p. 673, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
    Could have been a forerunner to “Spy-glass, or telescope”, as defined on p. 719 in the Oxford Dictionary.

    scientific inquiry: (in part) the scientifically based examination of newly found continents and territories. p. 143, The Rand McNally World Atlas of Exploration. / Eric Newby. New York, Rand McNally & Company, 1975.

    tables of declination of the sun and moon: the angular distance, a body is north or south of the equator. The sun’s declination ranges between 23˚ 27’ north to 23˚ 27’ south; the moon’s from about 28˚ north (maximum) to a like distance south… p. 72 The Mariner’s Dictionary by Gershom Bradford. New York: Weathervane Books, 1962.

    Museum Volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page at for more information.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    The Edge of the World, a book review.

    Over the Edge of the World Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe/Lawrence Bergreen. Published by William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0066211735. 458 p.

    Over the Edge of the World Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe / Lawrence Bergreen, 2003, boasts a title so enticing that you just have to look inside its covers. It’s the story of explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his maritime journey of three years, the first circumnavigation of the world for a European monarchy’s quest to conquer the unknown. Born Fernão de Magalhães, he was a Portuguese enterpriser who dared to sail for King Charles of Spain, journeying “over the edge” to the other side of the world. He discovered the route to the east by sailing west from Spain, across the Atlantic Ocean, and south, through Cape Horn, which is the southern tip of the South American continent. Between what is now known as Magellan's Strait and the islands of the Pacific Rim, Magellan’s fleet dwindled, yet he and his crew managed to reach the Philippine Islands. But he died in a violent attack by native people there when he tried to force them to convert to Catholicism. His pilot, Juan Sebastian De Elcano, a Basque captain, sailed the ship Victoria home to Spain in 1522.

    Writes Milt Weiner, a Museum volunteer in a review of Bergreen’s book for the Library:
    “Five ships and 260 sailors under the command of Magellan started in 1519. On September 6, 1522, 18 sailors and 1 ship without Magellan returned to Seville, Spain. Despite the journey’s hardships, the Victoria and her diminished crew had accomplished what no other ship had done before.”

    “Magellan believed that he could do what his boyhood hero, Christopher Columbus had never actually accomplished—reach the fabulous Indies by sailing westward across the ocean.”

    Bergreen’s colorful style brings you right into the events of the early 1500s. Little do we know of the intrigue and strife in store for a multi-national crew of members from many European countries who were assigned to the five ships of the fleet, called an armada, the Armada de Molucca. Indeed this passage portends an enticing read:

    “From the moment the fleet left Seville, Pigafetta kept a diary of events that gradually evolved from a routine account of life at sea to a shockingly graphic and candid diary that serves as the best record of the voyage.” – p.63.

    More books about Magellan's voyage:
    Antonio Pigafetta’s Log of Magellan’s Voyage, was written in Italian and translated into English. It was reprinted by the Yale Library in 1969. Other writers about Magellan and his quest are Tim Joyner, Magellan, published by International Marine, 1992; Rebecca Steffof, Ferdinand Magellan and the Discovery of the World Ocean, 1990; Stefan Zweig, Conqueror of the Seas the Story of Magellan, published by Viking Press, 1938 (text is also available online.)

    Explanations of words and phrases:
    Armada de Molucca
    : name of the enterprise of discovery supported by King Charles of Spain in 1519; Magellan’s five ships were christened the Victoria, Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepćion, and Santiago.
    armada—a fleet of warships (Webster’s New World Dictionary, ©1984)

    Moluccas—islands of Indonesia (Wikipedia, available at
    and at Wikisource, available at

    Lawrence Bergreen: biographer of Al Capone, Irving Berlin, James Agee, and Louis Armstrong; is a researcher’s author who includes detailed Notes sections and Bibliographies. His books are available in public libraries, and are all in print as of February, 2010.

    Circumnavigation: to sail entirely around the world. (Random House Dictionary, ©1966.)

    Juan Sebastian De Elcano: the Basque captain of the flag ship Trinidad, who became master of the Victoria when Magellan met his fate. (Rebecca Steffof, Ferdinand Magellan and the Discovery of the World Ocean, published by Chelsea House, 1990.)

    over the edge: in Medieval times, people believed the earth was flat, not round.

    Philippine Islands: a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, in Asia (Oxford Atlas of the World, published by Oxford University Press, 2009); the Philippines were first discovered for the Europeans by Magellan’s enterprise in 1522.

    Magellan’s Strait or Estrecho de Mallaghaes is located in the southern tip of South America, on the South Atlantic Ocean side of the continent, in the country of Chile. (Oxford Atlas of the World, published by Oxford University Press, 2009)

    Museum volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page at for more information.