Archives For Pacific Ocean

alaskan ferry

Kalakala Ferry Today
CC Image Courtesy of rbanks on Flickr

Once a majestic art deco ship shuttling passengers across Puget Sound, the Kalakala is today rusting away at her moorings in Tacoma, Washington. For nearly a decade, owner Steve Rodrigues has attempted to restore the ship to her former glory, but has faced serious funding issues and legal troubles with the US Coast Guard and the state of Washington. Unless someone with deep pockets steps up soon, the ship is most likely destined for the breakers yard.

Originally built in 1926, the Kalakala has had a colorful history and began life as the Peralta, a traditionally styled ferry operating in San Francisco, California. In 1933, a fire at Peralta’s terminal wrecked the ship’s superstructure and, instead of rebuilding the vessel in its prior form, the ship was graced with a sleek art deco superstructure to become the world’s first art deco ship.

Kalakala entered service in 1935, but a design defect obstructed the view of the bow from the bridge and the ship was plagued with poor handling in the tight confines of ferry terminals. Kalakala continued ferrying passengers around Washington and British Columbia until 1967. The vessel then sailed to Alaska where she was purposely run aground and converted into a shrimp processing plant on dry land. In 1982, the Kalakala’s owners declared bankruptcy. Thus began a 30 year dance of legal maneuvering and fundraising during which the vessel was moved back to Washington and efforts launched to restore the ship.

art deco ship

Kalakala Ferry in 1958
CC Image Courtesy of kitchener.lord on Flickr

research vessel

Photo: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

The US Navy has announced that their newest Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) class of vessels will be named after naval aviator and astronaut Neil Armstrong who passed away last month. The class will be composed of two vessels and construction on the lead ship, R/V Neil Armstrong, began in August. Neil Armstrong is set to enter service in summer 2015.

The Neil Armstrong class of vessels will displace 3,200 tons, stretch 238 feet in length and have a cruising range of 11,500 nautical miles at 12 knots. Neil Armstrong’s 1,800 square feet of dry, wet and computer labs will give its 24 embarked scientists plenty of space to conduct research and exploration operations throughout the globe. In addition to its lab and staging spaces, the Neil Armstrong will be able to launch and recover various ROVs and mini-submersibles with its stern and main cranes. Among the innovations included in the ship’s design is a hull optimized to divert bubbles from the sonar area for enhanced sonar performance.

The ships are funded by the Office of Naval Research, but will be operated by non-profit oceanographic institutes. The yet unnamed second vessel of the class (AGOR 28) will be operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. Neil Armstrong will be based at the Woods Hole Institute of Robert Ballard fame and conduct most of her operations in the Atlantic.

civil war navy

Pulitzer Prize winning author James M. McPherson’s latest book, War on the Waters, is a concise naval history of the American Civil War. Most authors and historians focus on the great generals (Lee, Jackson, Grant, Sherman, etc.) or the great battles (Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Shiloh etc.) and often ignore the vital role the navies played in the conflict both on the rivers of the western Confederacy and the high seas. Entire books have been written on various aspects of the naval war – riverine warfare in the west, blockade running, Confederate merchant raiders, foreign intrigue in Europe and the innovations that made their debut in the conflict. McPherson neatly summarizes each of these topics and arranges them in easily digestible chapters that proceed in chronological order.

McPherson’s organization and writing style allow both the uninitiated reader and the Civil War buff to understand the ebb and flow of the conflict and the various personalities, events and inventions that influenced the war. Perhaps most importantly, McPherson accompanies his chapters with strategic or tactical level maps that enable the reader to understand the events which occur in the chapter. McPherson understands the unwritten rule that the inclusion of a relevant map is worth multiple pages of text in helping a reader establish an awareness of the events being described. Along with the maps, various etchings and photos accompany each chapter and neither maps nor illustrations are confined to a few pages in the center or the beginning of the book. This allows the reader to visually grasp the crux of each chapter and makes both the maps and the illustrations more relevant to the narrative being told.

Overall, War on the Waters is a fantastic single volume history of the Civil War’s naval history. McPherson hits all of the highlights of the Civil War – CSS Virginia vs. USS Monitor, blockade running, William B. Cushing’s daring raid on the CSS Albemarle, and the first successful attack by a submarine – in only 225 pages. War on the Waters is a welcome addition to the naval literature of the Civil War and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in American history, naval history or the Civil War.

helicopter carrier

Hull of LHD Canberra aboard heavy lift ship MV Blue Marlin
Photo: Royal Australian Navy

The first of the Royal Australian Navy’s new Landing Helicopter Dock ships is ~1/3 of its way to Australia. Launched in February 2011, the LHD Canberra is the first of two Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock ships being built for the Royal Australian Navy. The ships are based on the design of Spain’s SPS Juan Carlos I which entered service in the Spanish Navy in 2010. The hull and flight deck were built in a Spanish shipyard and are being transported to Australia via heavy lift ship. The same lift ship was used to transport the USS Cole back to the United States after it was bombed by Islamic fundamentalists on October 12, 2000. Upon arrival in Australia in November, the Canberra’s final fitting out will be performed by BAE Systems. Once commissioned in 2014, the Canberra will be the largest warship to ever serve in the Royal Australian Navy.

Australian helicopter carrier

LHD Canberra Cutaway
Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Depending upon mission needs, the Canberra class LHDs can accomodate up to 1,000 troops and 110 vehicles in its multiple decks. The Canberra’s welldeck can hold and launch 4 landing craft and RHIBs. Air capabilities include 6 medium helicopter launch spaces and room for 26 medium-helicopters (up to CH-47 Chinook size) in its hanger and light vehicle deck. The ship is approximately the same size as the United States’ Wasp class amphibious assault ships and as such could most likely operate V-22 Ospreys as well as the F-35B if/when it becomes available. Additionally, the ship was designed with the lightest draft possible so as to be able to operate in the littorals and secondary ports. The addition of the Canberra and her sister ship Adelaide in 2015 will give the Royal Australian Navy further power projection capabilities and help maintain the balance of power in a region increasingly under the influence of Chinese autocracy.

Shi Lang

Former Soviet Carrier Varyag
Photo: Information Dissemination

China’s first aircraft carrier is finally getting an official name.  Blogger Andrew S. Erickson, an expert in Chinese naval affairs, is reporting that an official state media outlet has stated that the ship’s name will be Liaoning, in honor of the province where the ship was recently re-built. The ship’s name has been the source of much speculation with it often being referred to as Shi Lang in Western news reports. While many might scoff at the hubbub surrounding the naming of the carrier, its name will carry some significance regarding Chinese attitudes towards other countries in the region. Shi Lang was a Qing general who subdued Taiwan through a seaborne invasion and the naming of the ship after him would have had sinister overtones for Chinese-Taiwanese relations. Another name choice reportedly debated within government circles was Diaoyu Dao which is an island group controlled by Japan, but disputed by both China and Taiwan. Either of those names would have indicated a bellicose attitude towards Japan and/or Taiwan.

Liaoning was originally launched as the Varyag in 1988 by the Soviet Union and remained unfinished at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. China purchased the Varyag from the Ukraine in 1998 and the ship sat derelict for several years until the decision was made to rebuild the carrier to fulfill its original role. Re-building of the ship was completed earlier last year and she has undergone multiple sea trials since. Naval experts have differed as to whether China intends to use the carrier for belligerent purposes or merely as a training vessel. It takes years to hone the skills necessary to effectively conduct the air-sea ballet that is carrier operations and it is most likely that the Liaoning will serve merely to train the crew and officers of the follow-on carriers China intends to build. The Chinese have even built a mock-up of the ship on dry land to get a head-start on training its newest generation of naval aviators.

Pouto Point Shipwreck

CC Image courtesy of NASA on Flickr

Thirty years ago locals discovered the remains of a wooden ship off Pouto Point in New Zealand. The group salvaged a few wooden timbers before the vagaries of the sea buried the wreck under more than 90 feet of sand. Through the use of radio carbon dating and tree ring sequencing, scientists now believe the ship to have sunk around 1705 – making it 65 years earlier than Captain Cook’s exploratory voyages to New Zealand.

New Zealand was first located by European explorers in 1642 when Dutchman Abel Tasman landed on the islands. Although numerous places and items have been named after Tasman, he is perhaps best known for the Tasmanian Devil Looney Tunes character. The current historical narrative asserts that the next European to visit the islands was Captain Cook in 1769; however, the dating of this ship calls into question whether Cook was indeed the next European to visit the islands. The types of wood recovered have led researchers to believe the ship was refitted at Genoa or Java before wrecking off Pouto Point, New Zealand. British admiralty maps dated 1803 suggest the Portugese may have discovered New Zealand in the 1550s. The wood recovered from the wreck and the timing of its sinking in 1705 would be in line with the supposition that the wreck was the result of another expedition to New Zealand as both Genoa and Java were transit stations for Portuguese ships. One researcher had believed it to be the wreck of the Portuguese ship Cicilla Maria, however the new dating information now precludes that possibility. Irregardless, the dating of the wreck sheds further light on the origins of European settlement in New Zealand.


The lure of easy money has long driven salvors and their financial backers to chase rumors of buried treasure. Unfortunately for many, the vast amounts of money necessary to find a ship, much less recover it, has often resulted in bankruptcy. For others, though, the successful location and excavation of a ship garnered them nothing more than worthless trinkets.  One of the greatest and costliest failures in shipwreck hunting history is the search for the Japanese WWII transport Awa Maru.

Guaranteed safe passage by the US government, the Awa Maru sailed for Tokyo from Singapore with more than 2,000 Japanese civilians and medical supplies in late March 1945. Although the ship was marked with a red cross and instructions given to US forces to grant the Awa Maru safe passage, a tragic miscommunication resulted in the torpedoing of the ship by the USS Queenfish on April 1, 1945.  Of the 2,004 souls on board, only one survived. The US submarine commander was removed from command and court-martialled. Rumors immediately began to run rampant that the ship was carrying millions of dollars in precious metals and artwork.

In the late 1970s, the People’s Republic of China began hunting for the wreck and successfully located it. Over the course of 3 dive seasons, Chinese salvors made 10,000 dives and and cleared 10,000 cubic meters of mud from the site.  In addition, the Chinese spent $20 million on the Dalihao, a specialized salvage barge, to perform work on the site. The Chinese eventually declared defeat after only finding human remains and personal effects which were sent to Japan. A declassified 1981 US government document revealed that the treasure was never aboard the Awa Maru, that it had been shipped via another vessel and that the Chinese expended millions of yuan and thousands of man-hours chasing after a treasure that had never existed. In defense of the Chinese efforts, though, noted shipwreck treasure expert Nigel Pickford listed the Awa Maru in his 1995 book The Atlas of Shipwrecks & Treasure as a significant treasure ship lost during World War Two.