Category Archives: Sailing

When Old Ironsides shelled Da Nang


It was in the spring of 1845, according to the USS Constitution Museum, at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts, where Old Ironsides is docked nearby, still afloat after more than 200 years.

Captain John “Mad Jack” Percival was then in charge of the pride of the American Revolution’s world cruise and he ordered the shelling that redistributed some of the tile on the roofs of old Da Nang. Back then the French had dubbed it Tourane—or soup bowl—for the shape of its harbor on the South China Sea.

Percival was acting on behalf of what he thought were some unfairly detained French missionaries, though the Vietnamese emperor Thiệu Trị considered them disruptive. I alluded to the incident in my Vietnam war novel The Butterfly Rose, which focuses not only on our war there but the 19th century French invasion as well.

I didn’t give much space to the shelling, apparently done by the ship’s starboard Paixhans guns, the first naval guns designed to fire explosive shells, being preoccupied by my fictional French Foreign Legion assault on Hoi An a few miles south and almost 20 years in the future, during the American civil war.

So it’s good to see the museum website’s offering of the story and you should give it a read to appreciate just how long ago American involvement in that part of the world began—almost a hundred years older than the accepted 1950s version of most contemporary histories.

Our post WWII role as world policeman, it seems, is much older than we think.

Yankee hypocrisy: The lies New York publishers tell

I’ve been wondering what to do for a post on this Sesquicentennial year (1863) of the American Civil War. I finally decided that this 3-year-old review on “The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set its Sails” suits the case with a little editing.

“The title is a phony, as the author makes clear deep in his text. The truth seems to have been too much for his New York publisher to bear. That is the author’s unveiling of the little known business offices of slave traders in New York City and their slave ships down at the wharves of Lower Manhattan. They were the real “last American slave ship(s).”

Author Erik Calonius shows how, until 1864, the third year of the war, these Yankee slave dealers gathered their capital from Northern businessmen and sent their ships to West Africa to buy African slaves low and then sell them high in Cuba and the Caribbean. Then they hosed down their Middle Passage decks and steamed home to New York City.

“All under the disinterested eyes of corrupt port officialdom (despite federal law then making American slave-trading a crime punishable by death). The book’s focus on the Southern sloop Wanderer and the few hot-heads who took it to the mouth of the Congo River for slaves and then back to Georgia once in 1859 ignores the New York slavers which operated for another five years.

“Calonius smartly weaves the Wanderer tale in with the 1850s politics of North and South and other events, such as the John Brown raid, that precipitated the American Civil War. The tracing of the successful descendants of one Wanderer slave was a nice touch. Would have been much better, though, to have included a few of the unwilling passengers of the more numerous New York slave ships.

“I suppose we should be pleased that the publishers didn’t snip the real story out of the book entirely.”

Capitalism can even fix federal stupidity

I haven’t tried to pour gasoline from a gas can since the days when I still owned a sailboat with an outboard hanging off the transom. So I’d forgotten what the feds did to the gas can, in their usual bureaucratic stupidity, though I hear the ventless gas can actually was first developed in California. Oh, of course.

Nevertheless, there’s hope for the new non-illuminating light bulbs, not-very-flushable toilets, discoloring paint, too-soon-broken refrigerators, and the other junk Barry’s new socialist bureaucracy has, or plans to, foist on us.

Because this clever entrepreneur fixed the ventless gas can. Yep. It does require a new part and something else to fiddle with, but it’s only $1.65 at Amazon. So there’s obviously hope for America. Thanks to capitalism, King Pinocchio, capitalism.

Via Instapundit.

And let’s not forget capitalism’s share in Canadian Chris Hadfield’s brilliant music video from the ISS, updating David Bowie’s old song Space Oddity (“Ground control to Major Tom”), with a few alterations to the lyrics. It deftly relieves the Space Age of the boredom government control has brought it (minus the inevitable tragedies) ever since Russian Yuri Gagarin’s first solo.

“A gigantic hearse with windows”

“A gigantic hearse with windows,” was author Charles Dickens’s comment after joining one of the steamship Britannia’s first Atlantic crossings in January, 1842.

Dickens and his wife had the misfortune to encounter several days of tossing and pitching storms enroute from Liverpool to Halifax which left them and their cramped little cubbyhole of a cabin waterlogged.

Reading of the latest Carnival cruise ship disaster is a reminder that while the ships and their accommodations have changed greatly, after 171 years the journey can still be a gamble.


Actually, it’s the U.S. battlewagons of 1945, entering Lingayen Gulf in the Phillipines. You can tell the war by that bedsprings thingie perched atop the mast of the battleship in the foreground—an early iteration of radar. Notice the guns trained up. By 1945, Japanese fighter-bombers were their deadliest foe. Apropos of nothing, though it’s too bad they were scrapped. They could help sober the latest North Korean bombast. Click on pix to biggerize.

We’re all astronauts

It amuses me every time I see or hear of some child claiming to aspire to become an astronaut. The poor thing doesn’t realize we’re all astronauts, back to the oldest generation and ahead to our farthest descendants.

What else could we be, denizens of a water world shining by reflection of Sol, our system’s sun, and sailing around it in the black void at 18.5 miles a second. Good thing we can’t feel the speed, I suppose, but not being able to only increases our blindness to what is really going on. Where we really are, have been and will be—space travelers all.

Neil Armstrong buried at sea

I had no idea. Shows what happens when you ignore most of the media most of the time. The first moonwalker, who performed that feat in July 1969 when I was rather preoccupied on patrol in Vietnam, died at 82 in August.

I knew that part. I didn’t know he was cremated and his “ashes” and “dust” were buried at sea in the Atlantic somewhere off Florida. Probably directly east of the launch pad, though it doesn’t say.

Meanwhile, a day or so after the retired Endeavor space shuttle flew by McGregor, Texas, on its 747 carrier, Space X tested its Grasshopper, a vertical landing space vehicle, there. For now, it’s the first stage of X’s Falcon 9 powered by a Merlin engine—and the classic scifi image of the landing space rocket. If they ever do succeed at making that routine, we’ll know our space future is on the way.