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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bullfrog Bud Marquis, Hero of the Everglades

This is Bullfrog Bud Marquis, hero of the Everglades, who, while frog hunting one night from his airboat in the swamp and muck of South Florida, became one of the very first on scene when Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed on December 29, 1972.

Bud rescued a number of desperate souls that night, at great personal risk, but to this day he doesn't consider himself a hero. They had to force the award on him; he even returned a $125 check Eastern had sent him by mistake, thinking that he had been hired to take part in the rescue.

Many of the survivors tried to pay Bud for his aid that night; he wouldn't accept their money.

If you're in the area, you can join the Southern Airboat Association for a " Bullfrog Bud Marquis Ride, Feast and Appreciation Ceremony." As advertised on their website:

Ride the Glades to the crash site with The Angel of the Everglades,
"Bullfrog" Bud Marquis, rescuer of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crash victims

See Bud's historic airboat as rebuilt by members

All Airboaters are welcome and encouraged to relive this unparalleled event in airboating history and to join members of as we retrace the path and efforts of a historic Gladesman, "Bullfrog" Bud Marquis.

While frog hunting deep in the Everglades 35 years ago, Bud saw the plane crash and responded with his own airboat. He showed uncommon courage in spite of tremendous personal peril and was injured by his actions to save victim's lives deep in the heart of Florida's Everglades.

Join us as we honor the heroic efforts of Bud, show him and Nancy our deep appreciation and share in a Florida Airboat Association hosted Florida Cracker Feast immediately after the ride.

George Washington is a Better Captain

A bunch of re-enactors trying to retrace George's crossing of the Delaware underestimated the strength of the current and ended up having to be pulled to safety by a rescue boat. But these weren't the failings of inexperienced men. They'd been doing this since 1976 and had never failed to cross in the past. However, this time, the current was too much for them. I'd refer you to the AP story but that page has some problems with it.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Navigation Radar Overlay

If you know me, or you've been reading my columns and blog entries, you know I'm not a fan of the nav-radar overlay. The weather overlay's great, it's just the nav-radar I have issues with. I'm sure there are other mariners out there who think the nav-radar overly is the best thing since the invention of the paddle. I'm just not one of them. I find the image at best distracting and at worst misleading. It's even worse when you start adding AIS and ARPA capability. Too Much Information (TMI) on one screen for my taste -- or maybe it's my 54 year old brain that can't unravel the two-system imaging.

Look at the screen grab below as presented by an ICAN radar overlay. Everything is lined up perfectly where there is a bold shoreline or a bold target but at locations where there are softer targets the image, for obvious reasons, doesn't quite correspond. It's misleading. If you were looking at the radar on a dedicated screen, with no overlay, you would automatically reference a chart first to make sure you weren't creeping into shoal water, say toward the souther'd of the chart, where you see the darker blue or light green of what might be a bar. Also, if you look closely at the image, you'll notice a lot of sea clutter around the position of the boat. To be honest, I can't tell from this screen grab if it's true sea clutter or a bunch of contacts. Either way, if you were to add chart images of nav-data, buoys or day markers, you'd be looking at a lot of different colored imaging. Personally, I would rather have the two screens side by side on two separate and dedicated display units, without the distraction of multiple and confusing images. I could then verify ship's position with the radar, which, if installed and tuned properly, is considerably more accurate and trustworthy than the GPS-based electronic charting and tracking system. Let's face it, the GPS plotter is not 100% accurate, no matter how it's installed.
Here's another screen grab, this time from a MAXSEA overlay (below). Similar issue. Presumably, where the shore isn't bold, there's no radar return. Where the target is hard and, particularly where it has some height (inland) there is a good strong return. But how do we know we don't have a GPS accuracy issue at play here?

Granted, if we had GPS accuracy issues, we would have them with the overlay as well as without. In other words, the dedicated chart display would be similarly skewed by the incorrect GPS input data. Some might argue that having the overlay brings the GPS inaccuracy to the attention of a helmsman faster than if he or she had been staring at two dedicated displays. It's a valid point, but I would argue it instills a false sense of security and confidence. I would rather see my helmsman operating on the basis of not knowing for sure than assuming the position of the target is somewhere between the charted position and that of the radar image. It's too easy to make that visual leap of faith with an overlaid image.

Finally, I think the TMI issue is serious enough that electronics manufacturers have to dial back on the technology until such time as a study has been completed to determine if captains and mates are susceptible to information saturation. We already hear reports of captains and mates filtering out AIS data while in high traffic areas. To me, this is a clear indication that the radar/plotter display has reached an information saturation point.

Perhaps these overlay issues wouldn't bother me if I was looking at a large, high resolution screen. Or maybe if I had picture and spot zoom capability. I'm not sure. My gut feeling is we need more data processing and less data imaging. If things keep going the way they're going, we'll have three dimensional virtual displays of everything taking place outside of the wheelhouse windows. When that happens, somebody is bound to ask why we need real captains and crews. (See USV below.)


How Will the Navy's USV Program Impact the Future of the Marine Industry?

This is a Protector series USV (Unmanned Surface Vessel) designed by the Rafael Armament Development Authority. It is only one of many surface vessels designed and built for unmanned and remote operator missions. Combined with a multi-integrated navigation and weapons delivery package and satellite communications there's no reason to think a helmsman can't be sitting in a high tech command center at the Pentagon while sending this, or something 100 times larger, into combat halfway around the world. In fact, this particular series has already seen action in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean.

Industry and military experts have long been anticipating the successful implementation of remote-operated unmanned service vehicles to broader areas of the marine environment. We already have them in use as anti-terror and surveillance devices, weapons delivery systems and research and survey robotics. I can remember reading an article in Popular Mechanics Magazine when I was a kid about unmanned tankers crossing the oceans to deliver their product. Back then, it was the stuff of science fiction, as nobody in their right mind would believe the on-site decision-making ability of a real captain and crew could be systematically bypassed by wires, servos and radio waves.

That was then, 30-plus years ago, and this is now.

With powerful high speed satellite communications, AIS and ARPA capable radars, precision GPS tracking and a full-functioning remote helm, anything is possible. I'm sure, with today's technology, a captain can deliver an 800' tanker from Dubai to New Jersey -- provided nothing goes wrong along the way.

I suspect we're safe, for awhile. Until air-rescue reaches a point where a crew can be delivered to an unmanned ocean going vessel in time of need and at supersonic speeds, the concept of large scale unmanned transport across the oceans will remain on the drawing board. In the meantime, USVs, and their underwater cousins UUVs, will be limited to relatively small, high speed attack and surveillance operations.

CRS USV Report to Congress.


Ancestral Rat-Whale Found . . .

I'm not sure I'm buying this one. (Just kidding. Who am I to say?)

Above is an artist's rendering of what The National Geographic and others say might be the missing link to the whale. About the size of a raccoon, scientists claim it shares many of the whale's physical and anatomical characteristics, including bone thickness, DNA, and something about the ears. It has long been theorized the whale evolved from a primarily land animal. Still, look at the thing. It looks more like an amphibious rat. I would rather believe the whale has more in common with a platypus (below). More on this story here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Furuno FR 8002 Series Radars w/ Trackball

Furuno is billing its new FR 8002 Series radars as "Pure Radar for the Radar Purist," and that's a slogan that attracts my attention. As far as I'm concerned, you can take your radar overlays and multi-function displays and shove them in the back of your bosun's locker. I like my radar simple and unadulterated, and I've been that way ever since the days when a radar meant sticking your head into the rubber hood and waiting for the sweep to tell you if there really was a contact or if it was just a low flying gannet.

Seriously, I'm all for a GPS interface, AIS, ARPA, etc. It's just the radar overlays and the split screens that give me angina. I think it's too much on too small a screen and a terrible distraction. I'd rather split my time between dedicated screens.

Another thing I missed with the rash of so-called technical achievements was the retirement of the track ball, which I'm very happy to see Furuno has brought back in the 8002 series.

Understandably, track balls were prone to problems, similar to the problems you had with your original mouse. You had to clean them regularly by rotating the locking nut, removing the ball, and wiping or picking the accumulated dust and grease off the three or four contacts underneath. In a radar with a waterproof head, this meant taking the cover off the radar, which meant removing all the cables and screws from the back. Pain in the proverbial butt.

Hopefully, Furuno has a more robust trackball in the 8002 series, or one that cleans with less effort.

The thing with the trackball as compared to the joystick button that replaced it is this: The trackball is faster, much faster, than the joystick button. I challenge any joystick radar user to a cursor race. Give me a new trackball, and I will leave the joystick user in my wake. Hey, as we all know, sometimes cursor speed counts for a lot, particularly if you're in a high traffic area and you're on the radio trying to tell a seemingly oblivious boater off the starboard bow exactly where to look for you.

Another thing: Although the joystick button is probably longer lasting than the older trackballs, it still wears out and gets dirty from oil and grime that finds its way under the rubber waterproof boot. In fact, I find them very susceptible to radar operators with "heavy" thumbs. The trackball, while prone to dirt problems, can withstand more of this type of abuse.

So, thank you, Furuno, for bringing back the trackball in a small, powerful radar. And thank you for appreciating the concept of "simple IS beautiful."

Furuno 8002 Series PDF.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Tanker Ops

Winter Storm Casualty - Broke Loose From Mooring!

12/16/07: This Eastern Rig broke from its mooring in the north end of Rockland Harbor and got blown into Lermond Cove on the easterly. I heard the Coast Guard came in and took it in tow but obviously that was incorrect information. If they took it in tow, they didn't get very far. Highest winds at Matinicus Rock were 60 knots. Highest sea at the Eastern Shelf Buoy was about 20'.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Word of Caution About Garmin GMR 404 and 406 Radars

I've been looking for a replacement radar for the one I soaked during one of November's many SW gales and came across what looked to be a great deal on the new Garmin 404 radar. Imagine buying a 4 kW-72 mile marine radar scanner for under $725. Granted, you have to also buy a display head but with Garmin's proprietary plug-in and go network technology you have your choice of combining the GMR scanner unit with any Garmin chart display. This means you can go as big or small as you like, fitting the display head into the specific space (and budget) needs of your own wheelhouse. It also means you have the option of a radar overlay, something I prefer to do without simply because I find the combination too much on the one screen. (I'll take a separate screen for my plotter any day.)

Of course, if a deal sounds to good to be true, it usually is. Sure, the scanner head is $725, but if you read the fine print in the ads you'll discover you will also need to purchase the pedestal, sold separately. How much is the pedestal? It's about $2,550. So, all in all, you're looking at about $4,000-$5,000 to get a 4 kW radar from Garmin, and that's no great savings over any other 4kW radar.

Why Garmin and its dealer network offer a radar scanner without the required pedestal unit is beyond me, unless they're trying to suck you into a mail order purchase. That's like selling a car without an engine. Oh, by the way, in order to drive it out of the lot, you have to buy one of these motor things and have it installed.

If Garmin had several pedestal options, I'd understand. But they don't. So why not sell the scanner and pedestal together?


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Birds and Fish Dying in the North Atlantic

There was an interesting news item awhile back about millions of dollars worth of farm raised salmon being killed off by a population explosion of a certain type of jellyfish known as the mauve stinger. (Belfast Telegraph story here.) Some people, of course, were quick to blame global warming, observing that this particular type of jellyfish has never been this far north in these types of concentrations or numbers. Others pointed to cyclic activity and the earth's natural ebb and flow as the cause. Either way, one thing we can say for sure, there's nothing natural about farming salmon in unspoiled coastal areas. It's industrialization, plain and simple. (I'm not saying this is bad, just calling it for what it is, part of man's industrialized complex.)

But here's another story -- and I want to thank my friends at BIRDCHAT for bringing this to my attention -- about pelagic seabirds dying from eating, or trying to eat snake pipefish, a species of small fish typically found in northern waters in only small numbers. For a bref overview I've taken the liberty of copying and pasting a post by Wim Vader of the Tromsø Museum in Tromsø, Norway.
The Snake Pipefish Entelurus aequoreus, a quite large and somewhat pelagic pipefish species has indeed during the last few years experienced an explosive population increase im the North East Atlantic: in N.Norway, where I live, this used to be a rarity, only occurring in the area west of the North Cape. When I published my fish list of the area in 1979, not much more than 50 specimens had been reported. Now, in the last years, many hundreds are washed ashore on the outer coast near Tromsø, the seabirds also here feed pipefish to their young, often with disastrous results, and the species has also extended its distribution: it has been found (vomited by a Kittiwake) at Hornøya nëar the Norwegian/Russian border, and even off Ny Ålesund, at 78*N off the west coast of Spitsbergen (Fleischer 2007)!. Harris and colleagues (2007) have shown a similar explosive population growth on the Scottish coast, and what it has meant for the seabirds there, and this is probably what has been referred to in the National Geographic.

In these northern waters such sudden flare-ups of certain species are not unheard of, and in my opinion it is a bit too easy to blame this pipefish bonanza without more ado to Global warming; Mike Harris is very careful not to do so. Puffins, who fish mostly pelagically, will of course meet these pipefish most often.


Yann Martel's Lost at Sea Survival Tips from His Acclaimed Novel Life of Pi

[Seabgb's Note: The following 15 Survival tips come from author Yann Martel's fictional book Life of Pi, a story about a young Indian boy marooned on a life raft with a cast of zoo animals for over 200 days. It's a philosophical fable, not meant as a serious dissertation on survival at sea. However, there is certain merit in some of these 15 survival tips. I bring them to you here as part of an ongoing discussion on survival techniques that began with the previous post, D'Angelo's first hand account of his experience surviving the sinking of the M/S/ Explorer. My commentary on these 15 tips is in brackets.]

15 Shipwreck Survival Tips from Life of Pi by Yann Martel

1. Always read instructions carefully.

[Great advice, if you have instructions. Truth is, if you are in a life raft, and the raft is equipped with survival tools, e.g. flare guns, rations, first aid, desalination pumps and/or solar stills, etc., then by all means read the instructions first.]

2. Do not drink urine. Or sea water. Or bird blood.

[Do not drink alcohol, colored snow and ice, engine coolant or anything that might contain antifreeze or chemical additives, stagnant pond water, or any type of blood. Alcohol increases dehydration and impairs judgment, urine is contaminated by metabolites, stagnant water is bacterial and blood is too hard to digest without water. For that matter, so is food. Eat sparingly if there's no fresh water.]

3. Do not eat jellyfish. Or fish that are armed with spikes. Or that have parrot-like beaks. Or that puff up like balloons.

4. Pressing the eyes of fish will paralyse them.

[Not sure about this. Never tried it. Best just to knock their heads on a seat or gunnel.]

5. The body can be a hero in battle. If a castaway is injured, beware of well-meaning but ill-founded medical treatment. Ignorance is the worst doctor, while rest and sleep are the best nurses.

[Don't let anyone sleep if they have a recent head injury or are suffering from hypothermia or heat exhaustion.]

6. Put up your feet at least five minutes every hour.

[Sounds like good advice.]

7. Unnecessary exertion should be kept occupied with whatever light distraction may suggest itself. Playing card games, Twenty Questions and I Spy With My Little Eye are excellent forms of simple recreation. Community singing is another sure-fire way to life the spirits. Yarn spinning is also highly recommended.

[Tom Hanks had his little friend Wilson in the movie, Castaway. Not sure how much that helped him.]

8. Green water is shallower than blue water.

[Not always true at the greater depths but mostly true in shoaler waters.]

9. Beware of far-off clouds that look like mountains. Look for green. Ultimately, a foot is the only good judge of land.

10. Do not go swimming. It wastes energy. Besides, a survival craft may drift faster than you can swim. Not to mention the danger of sea life. If you are hot, wet your clothes instead.

11. Do not urinate in your clothes. The momentary warmth is not worth the nappy rash.

12. Shelter yourself. Exposure can kill faster than thirst or hunger.

[The general rule here is: To be dry is to not die.]

13. So long as no excessive water is lost through perspiration, the body can survive up to fourteen days without water. If you feel thirsty, suck a button.

[Just don't choke on it. It's very hard to give yourself the Heimlich maneuver.]

14. Turtles are an easy catch and make for excellent meals. Their blood is a good, nutritious, salt-free drink; their flesh is tasty and filling; their fat has many uses; and the castaway will find turtle eggs a real treat. Mind the beak and the claws.

[Good luck finding a turtle in today's ocean environment. But I think he's talking about a castaway on land, with "beak and claws". And remember what we said earlier, don't drink the blood, and remember to eat sparingly if you don't have water. Also, your survival kit will have fishing gear. Small fish will begin to congregate in the shadow under your raft or lifeboat. Try to catch the small ones, eat some, and use the others as bait to catch larger ones. Try not to catch or attract really large ones that would be more trouble than they're worth.]

15. Don't let your morale flag. Be daunted, but not defeated. Remember: the spirit, above all else, counts. If you have the will to live, you will. Good luck!

[Stay dry, protected from the sun and elements, and collect water at every opportunity. Build a solar still (a plastic bag with a rock and some vegetation or wood in it; leave the bag out in the sun and it will collect condensation. Check all water collected off a tarp for debris and particulates. Bird droppings and flakes of plastic and other material can make you deathly sick.]

OK, that's a start. If anyone wants to add, please use the comment button below.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Peter D'Angelo's First Hand Account of Surviving the M/S Explorer Sinking in the Antarctic

This is a PDF File and should open automatically with Adobe Acrobat. Use your browsers backspace button to return to this page. CLICK HERE FOR STORY.

Interesting to note Mr. D'Angelo's speculation about the actual cause of the vessel's loss -- a breach in watertight integrity through the sewage system. Moreover, being that his report is disseminated to us by MARAD, I'm inclined to believe the Administration is taking his cause/effect suggestion seriously.

[12/9/07] After thinking a bit more about what I first wrote on the 7th, which I have since edited, I feel I need to add the following: It's probably true there's a weak link in a vessel's watertight integrity through the plumbing/sewage system, but is it enough to cause rapid and catastrophic flooding through the other compartments in a ship? I'm not sure. The M/S Explorer wasn't a particularly large vessel. It had a small number of private cabins with private heads. Even if half of them flooded back through the holding tank and into the other cabins, would it be that much as to be uncontrollable? Unless something else in the system let go, it's hard to believe flooding through the sewage system could cause a ship to sink as quickly as the Explorer sank. But I wouldn't count it out, either.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How Can This Happen?

A lot of people don't realize a tanker with a single screw will maneuver pretty well on its anchor and a shot or so of chain (a shot is equal to 15 fathoms or 90'). While small boat owners are inclined to think this poses a danger to the vessel's propeller, ship captains remind us that large oil tankers are hundreds of feet long. All they're doing is dropping the anchor in the mud under the bow, using it as a break or drag against the force of the screw.

I can't say this is what happened to the tug in the video above but it's likely an order was given to drop the anchor for maneuvering not realizing the tug was in position under the hawse pipe.

Tanker on Approach to Penobscot Bay

The news this morning carries a report of a tanker explosion in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the report failed to mention it was a tanker "truck" and not a seagoing oil tanker. (I didn't have a public domain photo of an oil tanker or a tanker truck to post so I posted a video of one entering Penobscot Bay from the East. This was taken early last fall.)