Tag Archives: transportation

Going On The Account: From the Bottom, And Over the Top

Yeah, it’s been a pretty dead summer; part of the reason The Pirates of New York took so long to leave drydock was a whole host of mundane distractions that just piled up on each other, so getting that put out cut into some other projected project time,and the dominoes, they just didn’t stay up…

So, getting my time back in line, putting a few things in order and all that.  No more time for excuses here, which means when things happen they best be noted sooner rather than later.

Like another effort to find the HMS Hussar being underway.  You may remember we talked about her before, and now that some of the local shore line has been altered by Sandy last year, there’s a chance she may have been exposed when the silt shifted.  The chances are a long shot, as over the course of 200 years (which can be unforgiving to wooden hulls under the East River) the number of vessels that could have come to rest there is high enough that the ship found might have had some other treasure that came through much later, like Canadian hooch avoiding Treasury agents or was the sister ship for overflow from the barge Mobro, either of which are worth note just for historical purposes…



And speaking of coming later, when I was doing the last work I had thought the Northeast Passage was still a few years off from seeing much regular traffic.  Right now, the container ship Yong Sheng is taking this route, and expected to make Rotterdam in five days as of this post.  Which means I might actually get to visit that tiki bar on Baffin Island I envisaged for the sequel…

Assuming that I get to it, which depends on a few factors, such as encouragement.  Yeah, yeah, here’s where you usually hear the “poor-artist-needs-some-stroking-of-the-ego” pitch.  Just my ego, I promise, nothing more…

Although a few other signs might be available to me soon, he said cryptically…

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Going On The Account: Forty First Street Blues

So this is what life without a novel to share is like…

It’s been a rough few weeks.  In addition to the mundane concerns competing for my attention with personal memorialization of Richard Matheson (and believe me, I wish I could have gotten something better out there to share about this than this note), there was the letdown from finding a bit more time on my hands.

I couldn’t believe how not having a spot on the calendar to fill every Thursday morning, making sure the links were up and notices posted to the blog, would seem so depressing.  I have other projects I’m working on, getting some more rejection notices from paying markets and assembling something I can talk more about once I finish figuring out how to work this dang doo-hickey here, but getting the novel online, keeping hose plates spinning…

Why am I missing this?

I mean, I thought having more time was supposed to be a good thing, right?  A chance to sleep in a little, work on the next project(s), re-acquaint myself with how to be a bon vivant around town, going down to watering holes in the Village to spout off, finding myself within half a block of the Algonquin by accident and deciding on the spot, “What the hell?” and going to the bar to get a round and toast the ghost of Dorothy Parker, one BS artist to another…

I should be doing something else and enjoying the chance to do that, right?

Is it the lack of structure, not having anything to pimp hock promote?  The lack of something to define me?  Do I need the definition?

Something I considered this morning as I made my way along Forty First Street.


Everyone knows of the thoroughfare one block north, the two-way street that goes past Grand Central Station and through Times Square, celebrated in the novel, film and musical named for the way.

Forty First Street?  Not so much…

In fact, the street is famous for how much of it is not that navigable.  The street’s east end is on a rise that forms a 20-foot cliff overlooking First Avenue.  Going west, if you walk you need to take care when you get to Park Avenue, which you go under as you’re forced to one side of the street, as they only put one sidewalk under the bridge Park is carried over the street on.  You hit Fifth Avenue, you go right up the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library; you need to circumvent Bryant Park to get back on the street.  Once you find the trail again and skirt Times Square, you then run right into the Port Authority Bus Terminal at Eight Avenue, the last detour before you finally find your way to the Hudson.

Not the best river-to-river street in Manhattan, and frankly it feels more like an alley behind its brasher sister street a block north.  That gets all the tourists and paparazzi, while Forty First gets a lot of folks just pushed off to the side for them.

And yet it’s still there.  It is still on the map, it still has signs on the corners that are left, it’s just as much right to be walked upon as anyone any place else in the city.  It may not be your main way across town, or even that high up in your mind as a place you can conceptualize, but it’s still there.

And it has its place.  It has its purpose.  It may not be the place you meet those dancing feet; hell, the only dance you ever do there is the one where you avoid walking through the remnants of someone’s failures, a meal that couldn’t be kept down or a dog that should have been cleaned up after, maybe a pet that could be loved a bit better by being walked in the park instead.

But it’s still there, and by just being there it reminds you that even without a clear way, a few detours and you’re back going in the right direction.  Maybe not as elegant a symbol of perseverance as Bob Dylan’s approach to it, but we’re letting the melodic crap go one block north, here…

And walking the forgotten street, it reminds you that some things that you do, that you embrace doing, they never go away when you stop.  They are still there to get back to doing once the detour is navigated.

So this means I’m publishing something online again?  At some point, yes; Bryant Park and the Bus Terminal may need to be walked around first, but a few turns at the corner, then…


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Going on The Account: Go West, Young Seadog… (Where the Pickings are Easy)

And it looks like while things have calmed down to the east, that piracy off the coast of Nigeria  is becoming a hot topic.

A less humble, more boisterous person might note that this shouldn’t be real news, especially if one looks at notices about action here from July of 2012 or July of 2010 or March of 2010 or even June of 2008, though in all fairness there was a lot to distract people out there; didn’t the Kardassians have some kerfuffle or something…?

What makes this of note now is the fact that action in this theater is affected by the dreaded sequester, also known as “failure to embrace Keynesian principles like we used to.”  Buried in the AP piece that finally recognized West African piracy was word that the US Navy may not have the resources to patrol the Gulf of Guinea, which considering the potential such actions have to destabilize a member of OPEC could be considered either (a) an act of wanton folly, or (b) betting heavily on projected US crude output figures making us a net exporter sooner rather than later…

The idea that we might not be able to afford projecting our power on the sea lanes is a little unsettling.  I’m not entirely sure Jefferson was all that worried about going after the Barbary pirates 200 years ago, but recognized it as a good investment worth making at that time.  The idea that we have come to the point where we look at our ability to do things the way the dystopia in George Lucas’ THX 1138 used to consider their actions makes me sweat as I consider it:

Hell, the idea that THX 1138 is an appropriate metaphor for American power projection in my lifetime is scary enough, almost as scary as how few other people out there may have actually seen this picture; futility is trying to discuss this with anyone I know for more than a few seconds before the blank stares stop me like the gaze of Medusa…

What would it take for Nigeria to get the same level of interest in time before it got bad the way it did off Somalia?  A few civilian hostages?  Maybe if the Nigerians took a Kardasian or someone else from the over-privileged class(less)?

How much will we allow before it becomes unbearable?  And why in hell can’t we do something before it’s needlessly too late?

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – The Pirates of New York – Four

Welcome to the eighteenth day of Blogtober, where we try and recall the glories of the past.  I remember how glorious it was getting sleep at regular intervals; next time Speaker7 and Sips of Jen and Tonic suggest something crazy like a post a day all month, I should just ask the Lovely and Talented Susan to keelhaul me.  Twice!


Which has a plus in that, now we’d have an excuse to get a boat…




And speaking of getting something to go to sea with, the next part of our miniseries THE PRIATES OF NEW YORK continues, as we cover a lot of different ships, from frigates to aircraft carriers, many of whom are involved directly in the Sweet Trade…


Part the Fourth: From Privateers to Professionals, or Taking Care of Business


New York’s involvement with the Sweet Trade can be compared with Henry Morgan’s career, in that like the captain the city started off with a wild side that encouraged all sorts of rowdiness, but as they both matured they stopped going on the account, and later had a hand in reigning in the pirates on the seas.


They also both got heavily involved in having their names and likeness associated with major product branding, but that’s a post for another time…


When the United States was formed, New York was already established as a major port city where many of the goods from the newly formed United States.  So important was the city that it served as the new nation’s capital from 1785 through 1790, which was convenient for those looking for jobs as privateers; under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the US Constitution, Congress has the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal, which were probably sought with great frequency to go after the first foreign powers the United States went to war overseas with:  The Barbary Pirates of North Africa.


Unlike the Revolution, however, the United States this time went with professionals to do most of the fighting.  Ironically, a nation that owed its birth to privateers used regulars to go after pirates themselves, which gave Stephen Decatur his baptism by fire and gave the US Marine Corps something to sing about, having marched to the shores of Tripoli during this action.


This was not to say, however, that we were done with such rogue.  Came the War of 1812, aka Round 2 of our issues with Great Brittan, or as the British thought of it, “that damnable sideshow keeping us from fully dealing with Napoleon,” and suddenly letters or marque were being issued with greater  frequency, nationally as well as on the state level.


It was inevitable that a war whose causes included impressing American sailors at sea, an act that required the seizure of ships in open water and removing content (in this case compliment) off board, would result in calling up privateers.  One survey of the privateers of the War of 1812 indicated that out of 518 vessels logged, 100 claimed New York as her home port.  The only port to have more vessels claim her as their home port was Baltimore, and only by a thin margin.


Let’s keep two things in mind with regards to the rush to issue letters of marque, one verifiable and one assumed.  What we do know is that many of the ships issued license were sloops or schooners, many with no more than eight guns on their decks, often less.  A look at the actions listed in the link above shows that not all of these vessels running out with the “naval militia” were successful in patrolling the seas; quite a number were more prey than predator.


The second, an assumption, is that with the large number of sloops and schooners claiming some form of authorization to board and seize vessels, that a number of captains and ship masters may have tried to use the crisis to their advantage to engage in their own boarding actions, who when asked for their letters of marque might have claimed any number of excuses as to why they could not produce their paperwork.  The opportunity and temptation was probably too great for a number of potential pirates to not hoist the colors and engage in their own actions, though at this point there is no verification of this, merely an understanding of human greed that allows for such to be a possibility.


Regardless of who was a privateer and who was an out-and-out pirate, there were more small boats willing to go up against a professional foreign navy than there were small boats in the climax of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (which frankly is a great film, if you have a moment to watch it).  This proved to be an issue with the British, especially to Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane, who was stationed in Bermuda and tasked with putting down the American naval presence.


Cochrane had a number of options before him, which included going into the known pirate dens and taking out these centers.  (Bear in mind, to the British any vessel engaged in seizure, letter of marque or not, was considered a ‘pirate.’  Hell, they still thought John Paul Jones was a pirate back then…)  And given the fact at sea, he had to consider the possibility of coming for New York, which was filled with such raiders as well as being a major economic target.


Unfortunately, there was the matter of the just completed Castle Williams, built to insure that the British would not repeat what happened in 1776.  Placed on Governors Island, her two tiers outfitted with a combination of 32-, 42- and 52-pounder guns enabled the fortress to take out just about any vessel that got between her and Manhattan, with heavy direct fire shot on a stable platform that would have taken out even the heaviest first-rate designated vessel.


Castle Williams, New York Harbor
Photo Courtesy of Susan Ryan


The alternative for Cochrane was the other great hub of pirates that plagued the seas, Baltimore, which was less well protected by a smaller-grade set of defenses, a set of works call Fort McHenry…


Fort McHenry, Baltimore


As a result of New York’s defenses, the British decided not to come here, instead going south, losing a major ship-to-shore engagement, in addition to losing a favorite drinking song, “Anaceron in Heav’n”.  Yes, New York’s pirates lost some of their cred because of Castle Williams, though as no one wanted to go through repeats of what happened 40 years before they were more than willing to forego a little reputation for some safety…


What would remind people of the potential pirates found on the wharfs here was an incident that changed how the US Navy trained its recruits.  In 1842, the brig USS Somers was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and served as a school ship for potential seamen by giving them “on-the-job” training.


This “school” wasn’t exactly Fordham Prep, unfortunately.  The vessel was badly over-crowded with too many young men given intimate exposure of some of the worst elements of a sailor’s lot, which drove some of the midshipmen to discuss what it would take to mutiny and become pirates.  They may or may not have been joking when they discussed this, depending on whom you asked and when.  Considering the recruits were probably not used to the harsh realities of naval service and thought they could cashier out when they got ashore, versus how truly ugly a sailor’s lot was then, the truth may have been somewhere in the middle.


Unfortunately for the pirate wannabes, her captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a native of New York and a 27 year veteran who fought Barbary and West Indian pirates and witnessed atrocities in the fight against them during his service,  was probably not the person who should have been in command when some of his midshipmen discussed mutiny.  A combination of low tolerance and bad fortune saw members of the crew placed in irons for discussing becoming cutthroats; ultimately, Mackenzie used his prerogative to execute three of the mutineers while thirteen days out of New York, where a court martial could have been held for the mutineers there.  When Mackenzie pulled into harbor, the court of inquiry held in the matter concluded by a split vote that while the captain was within his rights to do so, they did not endorse his actions, which effectively ended Mackenzie’s naval career.


It also ended the experiment in “on-the-job” training, and encouraged the War Department to consider a new way to train seamen.  One of the condemned conspirators, Philip Spencer, was the son of Secretary of War John Spencer, whose experience may have helped berth and launch the United States Naval Academy, founded at Annapolis, Maryland, a convenient trip from Washington even in the 1840s that would have insured that had another Cabinet member’s son discussed going pirate he could be visited by his dad quickly and talked out of such foolishness.


It may also have been the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Billy Buddyet one more legacy to come out of either a failed mutiny or a bungled command, depending on where you stand on the incident…


Once again, something touched by pirates leads to some business heading south.  There’s no apparent record if they ever considered putting a naval academy here in New York, but it’s probably for the best; imagine the chaos the Army-Navy Game would engender every time if the two campuses were only an hour’s drive away from each other…


Speaking of pirates, southerners and New Yorkers, we come to an unfortunate set of facts in the continuing narrative, how New Yorkers came to be involved with the blockade runners of the Confederate States of America.


Before the American Civil War, there was a lot of money to be made by New Yorkers willing to deal with King Cotton.  The ROI on trading cotton, buying it from Mississippi and selling it to England, could be between six to seven cents for every penny paid out, which made the product very desirable and a lot of New Yorkers rich, in particular the shareholders of John Fraser & Co.


While the US had moved away from relying on privateers since the last war with the British, and had established a professional navy that was being led by graduates from Annapolis, the seceding states were in desperate need of a navy, especially as the Union blockade cut off the southern coastline.  What resources they had went more into R&D (resulting in such vessels as the CSS Virginia and the CSS H L Hunley) in order to break the hold on them, leaving few ships to go up against the US Navy itself.  This led to President Jefferson Davis requesting from the Confederate Congress the power to issue letters of marque, to grant to ships to run the blockade, sell goods to England and France, use the money to buy munitions to bring back, and if they had a chance to take out a Yankee merchant vessel or two.

In short, the plan was to encourage a new generation of pirates and smugglers to ride the waves again on behalf of the new nation, much the same way the first war for independence relied on a private navy.


And a major  agent on the business side representing the Confederacy was John Fraser & Co., which through offices in New York, as well as Liverpool and Charleston, handled not just trades as shipping agents between Richmond and the European capitals, but provided a ship for the cause.  The CSS Kate Dale was a steamer originally intended for customer service before the war between New York and Charleston, funded by John Fraser & Co., which joined the rebellion when hostilities broke out.  She had 20 successful runs through the line before she was captured off Tortugas in 1863, ending her career.


Also of note was the CSS Nashville, whose hull was also laid in Brooklyn and became the first CSN warship to raise her colors in the English Channel in 1861.  After she captured two prizes, she changed name twice before her sinking in Georgia, brought down by the USS Montauk.


The ship that brought her down is worth note here, as it is indicative of how New York found its way into both sides if the conflict, for the Montauk was also built in Brooklyn.  In fact, her entire class of vessels, the Monitor-class (named for her most famous namesake, USS Monitor), was developed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which would go on from there to provide more warships for the navy than raiders for pirates come 1865.  Among the more famous ships launched into the East River from there would be the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri and USS Constellation, none of which were ever in danger of mutiny the way the USS Somers had been…


Despite the sympathies a number of business leaders had for the Southern cause, or more precisely for the profit to be made from the Southern cause, by the 1860s respectable New York did not engage in the widespread funding of pirate ventures the way their ancestors had before the Revolution.  Upper class New Yorkers were decent, law-abiding citizens, who were above such foolishness.


Their lower class neighbors, on the other hand, were about to make one last grand going on the account…


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Going On The Account: Not Quite Hoisting the Jolly Roger, And Yet…

You know, with the long tradition pirates and privateers have had for on occasion being courtly as they seized prizes, you would think people would be less surprised when Somali pirate Jamal Faahiye Culusow started handing out courteous memos to ship owners whose vessels were now his prizes.


Then again, we see so many pieces about rude drivers, kids not sending thank you notes, poor sportsmanship by fans, and what have you, that maybe for most of us this is a novelty…

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