From Maritime Propulsion:  comes this story about the newest Russian icebreaker - LK60 - whose 34m (112') beam and 10.8m (35') draft will make a big path through the ice for large ships using the Northern Sea Route over Russia. 

This formerly impassible Arctic route is now open 3-5 months a year, and the navigable season is predicted to grow to year-round in coming decades as Polar ice retreats. But icebreakers like this can make the NSR a year-round route right now.

Below I've posted a video of an earlier type Russian icebreaker making a trip to the Pole through 2m (6') ice, maintaining impressive speed - 16 knots - as though running in clear water. This older type icebreaker can handle up to 3m (10') ice and go as fast as 20 knots. I don't know what the capabilities of the new LK60 type will be, but obviously they'll be able to do even more. 

I've never worked on an icebreaker, but with the Arctic opening up more each year as the ice cap shrinks, this will be an opportunity for more and more sailors. 

Have you worked on an icebreaker? Please let us know what your experience was like!
That would be us. . .
A Trip Down The Mississippi, Fit 3 - Can't Get Started; Or, Am I My Own Worst Enemy?

In Fit 2, you learned about our dory, SEADRAGON - how we'd acquired her, modified her, and equipped her. We'd had fun and learned a lot while doing all that, and couldn't wait to test her, and ourselves, in action on the Big River. (If you haven't read that story, click on "Fit 1" & "Fit 2" in the Categories list on the right side of the page!) So in the fall - later in the season than we'd planned, because the company sent our reliefs late - we hitched up my old sedan to our converted horse trailor with SEADRAGON on it, and hurried toward Wisconsin and the Mississippi River. 

We meant to put in at a public boat ramp we'd picked out on the map. I really can't remember why we chose that spot; perhaps because it wasn't far from Interstate 90. We just wanted to get on the river, and that must have looked like a good place to start. And we were in a hurry! Our planning up to that point had been pretty thorough, so this hasty decision looks jarring in retrospect. These days, root cause analysis would identify it as the source of most of our subsequent troubles. I've no defense for it; all I can say is that we let the rush color our judgment. But the Mississippi River, like the sea, is intolerant of ignorance, and quickly taught us some simple, lasting lessons.

In spite of the lateness of the season - it was November already - the weather seemed to smile, and we were filled with optimism when we found the boat ramp. After putting in the dory, and storing the car and trailer at a service station nearby, we cast off lines and, Pow! headed directly toward the main channel. 

Between the boat ramp and the main channel was a dense group of low, marshy islands - a slough - about a mile wide. Looking at current maps, I think it was Wigwam Slough, near LaCrosse, Wisconsin - but at the time we didn't know that, because we had no chart book! The reason we lacked this fundamental resource was because we'd come so late in the season that the local bait store was sold out. Was that a red flag? Nah. Huck Finn didn't need a chart book. Hell's bells, we could see the channel from where we stood! Get into that, and how could we go wrong? Didn't need no stinkin' chart book for that. We'd buy one further down the river. No sweat, let's get going!

If we'd had a chart book and done even cursory trip planning, we'd immediately have seen that by keeping in easy clear water close to the Wisconsin bank for a few miles, we'd join the main channel further south with no fooling around or wasted time. We didn't draw any water, so we didn't need to be in the channel - indeed, given towboat traffic were better off out of it. But, we didn't know that. Pig-headed and ignorant, we wanted the main channel - the real river! So we set off into a maze of channels between the islets, beyond which we could see towboats moving up and down the river. The channels between the islets appeared easy to negotiate, and they appeared to be the most direct route; our goal was in view! Appearances, famously, can be decieving.

I won't go into detail about our trials in the slough that day. We'd cast off in the early afternoon; 20 minutes later, we were caught among stumps and snags that stopped our outboard and bumped the dory's bottom. Out came the oars, not to row, but to push with. A couple of times we got hung up in spots we didn't think we'd get out of. After a miserable, sweaty time - and this wasn't hot weather - we fought clear of the snags and motored back to the dock we'd departed from a few hours earlier, chastened but only somewhat discouraged. Evening was coming on - better to wait here for now and start again in the morning. In the meantime, we sought local knowledge.

The man at the bait shop was surprised to see us back, but if he was amused at our misadventure he courteously didn't show it. Instead, he dug out an old worn chart book of his own. He showed us the slough where we'd been pleasantly disporting ourselves for the past few hours. He showed us the easy route to join the channel. And he also generously - or maybe out of pity - made us a present of his old chart book to use "for the time being" and urged us to acquire an up-to-date one as soon as possible! He was a good man, and obviously didn't want to see two strangers die of terminal ignorance within the borders of Wisconsin, if he could do anything to prevent it. We were starting to see his point.

Armed with chart book and pilot directions courtesy of the bait shop man, we got going early the next morning after a quick ham-n-egg breakfast at a restaurant - the last bought meal we figured to eat in a while. This day was colder, with a gusty wind and threat of rain. Nothing loth, off we went, adding oilskins to our warm clothes as we went south and got into a wide-open pool several miles across. The strengthening wind kicked up a nasty chop, and whipped sheets of cold spray over the boat while we huddled at the stern pretending to have a good time. I'm not sure whether I convinced John that I was having one, but I know that he completely failed to convince me. Finally the river narrowed down a bit, giving the cold waves less fetch, and we approached our first lock.

Among the things John and I were completely ignorant of was how to get through a lock. We had some pamphlets that told the casual sportsman how to hail a lock, though, so we got on the radio and called this one. That was after we figured out that the long, dam-looking thingy  with the water roaring over it was something to keep away from; and as we did that, we doped out from the chart that the other walled contraption on the Wisconsin side was the lock. I don't remember how we got through that lock for some reason, but I do remember we passed through alone - later on we did many lock transits along with tows. Once through we set off with renewed energy, and the hope of the clueless, down a long stretch of open river.

It got colder and colder, the wind picked up, the sky got grim. After mid-day, we kept an eye out for likely camping spots, but didn't see any. In spite of the rain gear we were wet through, and shivering cold with it. Snow began to fall, and it fell so hard that between that and the spray, we could hardly see. Then the sun went down. 

Pretense gave way completely at this point. John and I were cold, wet, shaking and miserable. A small town hove into view on the Wisconsin side of the river. A marina, we thought - to Hell with camping, let's find a marina! But there didn't seem to be one. 

As we despairingly slid by the very last of the town, we spotted a boathouse. Obviously private property, but so what. . . it was shelter! Pointing the dory straight at it, we arrowed through the driving snow at far too fast a speed toward this sudden haven, and made it safely inside somehow. Mooring the dory with numb fingers, we struggled out into the storm past a dark house, toward some nearby lights. One of them turned out to be a bar and restaurant! 

We made for it, like Shackleton sliding down the mountain toward Stromness at South Georgia Island, if you know that story from Endurance! Within minutes we were basking in steam heat, wolfing down hot food and had a couple of whiskies inside us - death by hypothermia averted. When we were thoroughly warm and dried out we returned to the dory, rigged the tent, made ourselves one last hot drink on the Primus stove, strung hammocks and turned in. You might imagine we slept like dead men, and you'd be right. 

We were brewing coffee next morning when we heard steps on the pier next to the boat, and popping a couple of frowzy heads out of the tent, we saw a young girl staring down at us - looking a little alarmed, as well she might. Our story soon earned her sympathy, though. She told us we could stay, but that we really should have asked at the house the night before - her father was the local Sheriff! 

We went up, explained ourselves, and offered to pay, but those good people were just glad - like the bait shop man - to have helped Wisconsin avoid a spike in ignoramus fatalities. For a second time in one day, we'd been aided by strangers! God looks out for children, drunks and seamen. 

Oddly enough, this first day's adventure wasn't enough to dampen our spirits. I don't know whether it was courage, youth, stupidity or sheer bloody-mindedness, but we carried on down the Mississippi. Our theory, founded soundly on geography and modern climate science, was that if we traveled south fast enough we'd outrun Old Man Winter and leave him snorting in our wake. It was a good theory, too, but we couldn't make it work. Thanksgiving found us frozen solid in the ice at Hannibal, Missouri - yeah, that Hannibal, Mark Twain's boyhood home - forcing a sober (not to mention cold-blooded) review of our options. We decided to throw in the towel and come back next year. 

While John prepared SEADRAGON for layup, I took a bus to Wisconsin to retreive the car and trailer. Breaking ice all the way across the little harbor to reach the boat ramp we got the dory on her trailer, and left her for the winter. We'd learned a lot, we hadn't died, and (in spite of pain, or because of it) had some great stories to tell. We sure knew what NOT to do. 

And so ends Fit 3. In Fit 4 you'll find out how we made out after our sad, hilarious beginning. There was lots to come, most of it great fun and all of it interesting - girls, snakes, fellow-travelers, quick thinking, and some lucky scrapes. So watch for Fit 4 - coming soon to a blog near you!

Here's a link to SOS - Save Our Seafarers - a campaign to fight piracy being fought by prominent maritime organizations.

From the SOS website:

"SaveOurSeafarers was established in March 2011 and is calling for unified action to raise awareness of the human and economic cost of piracy.

We are one of the biggest ever maritime industry groupings, comprising thirty organisations that have joined together to raise awareness of the human and economic cost of piracy.  

Our campaign has gained support worldwide including, the Philippines, South Africa, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and from many other countries within Europe.   

We understand the problems Somalia faces (the most prolific area for attacks) after 20 years of vicious civil war but we believe our innocent seafarers and the global economy have the right to protection."

The rising tide of outrage against piracy is beginning to have an effect - and this is something that will benefit the citizens of Somalia, too, if the world can come together with actions and policies that allow them to re-establish a stable government there. 

Piracy flourishes partly because it's allowed to, filling the power vacuum left by ineffective government; and also because a starving population will take any action to feed itself, even something like piracy that goes against their social norms and religious beliefs. Helping Somalia become a viable state will help allay the problem of piracy.

Check it out and see if it's something you can support - I did! 


One of the guys I work with directed me to this (thanks, Phil!) - he saw it on the Workboat Magazine website. A pusher tug has got caught in a strong current under a bridge in Portsmouth, NH - she's heeled over badly and taking water. You can see her engines working to try to free her, with little result. 

Suddenly from upriver the harbor tug arrives - a single-screw Moran boat - spins around, maneuvers close to the trapped pusher and passes her a line. Within minutes they're towing her upriver, still listing but free. The crew were said to be all right. A good job done by the Captain of the harbor tug, handling his single-screw boat in a strong current in close quarters with skill and aplomb.

Great video - a film crew happened to be on scene for another purpose, and were able to record this rescue in HD!


I'm on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter - I guess those are considered basic these days, with a lot of folks also on Pinterest and other services, too. So I'd like to solicit connections with mariners who have those accounts! Let's link up and broaden each other's worldviews. 

One of the great things about the maritime world is the sheer variety of people you work with and live with - folks you'd never know otherwise, from other countries and cultures. You learn to work in close cooperation on crucial operations, you learn to trust, and you often form friendships between cultures or faiths that you'd never have expected. I've had many assumptions about others tested and changed over the course of my maritime career. 

So check out my social accounts on the Contact Me page, and send an invite - I'll be sure to respond. It's another avenue for this blog to gather insights and news about the fascinating maritime world we live in! And don't neglect to respond to any posts you see here that pique your interest, or that you feel you could add to - every point of view adds value for all of us. Thanks!

This is a brief interview with Alex, a Ukrainian sailor, whose ship was released after payment of ransom. He recounts how, after waiting four and a half months for payment of the ransom, the crew were afraid they'd be shot while pirate gangs argued over the money. Just a snapshot of a piracy survivor - hundreds are being held right now, and some of them may not survive to tell a story like Alex!
Another tip o' the hat to gCaptain - this article about Rolls-Royce's new line of LNG-powered prime movers. Given the growing presence of natural gas and LNG in the marine world, this is a great thing to be on top of. Even Tier 3 engines put out significant pollutants, though things are much better than they were twenty years ago.

Anyone working on a vessel with LNG-powered engines? Please comment and tell us what your experience has been!


Post edit - 
I don't know what became of the English subtitles in the embedded video in the post below, but they do appear on the original YouTube video - see this link:!

I saw this first on gCaptain, and - as they point out - snippets of this video have been making the rounds for several days This seems a full-length version (almost 9 minutes long) and has subtitles in English if you don't speak Italian.  It documents events on the ship's bridge after striking the rock and losing power, up to the time of "ABBANDONARE LA NAVE!" Interesting - see what you think. And let us know in the Comments if you can point us to other resources! 


I saw this on gCaptain this morning: - a good site for maritime news.

Two Indian fishermen have been shot by the crew of an Italian ship, because the crew feared the fishermen were pirates. Although any seaman would understand the crew's fears and their desire to take proactive action against being captured, this is a very sad outcome, and shows another negative side of the piracy problem. The incident has caused a diplomatic problem between India and Italy that may get worse before it gets better.

It's probable that the fishermen were not monitoring their radio or not paying attention - sometimes, regrettably, the case on fishing vessels. Their failure to answer alarmed the Italian crew so that they fired on the fishing boat.

The well-intentioned - but marginally effective - international naval response hasn't solved the piracy problem, and no political solution is in sight in the Horn of Africa. Terrorism continues to muddle the picture. So use of deadly force by ships crews, or hired guards, is increasingly seen as one of the few effective measures a ship can take to avoid capture.

But as this sad incident illustrates, deadly force, once deployed, can't be recalled. These two fishermen are gone forever! 

Davy Crockett, a perhaps mythical American frontiersman, put it like this: "Make sure you're right, then go ahead." Or so I was taught as a kid. Whether Davy really said those words, that's good advice for those contemplating use of deadly force.

Just after posting the piracy story below, I ran across this:

It's an effort to teach isolated African communities how to build wind turbines out of old car parts, junk, etc. Energy independence at low cost for villages, rural clinics, schools. . . it's at least interesting and imaginative, and apparently works in some cases! I hope it proves viable and can be repeated all over Africa and the entire developing world.

I've spent time in Kenya, too, and remember Mombasa well. Have any experiences down there? Let us know!

The last time I passed through the Suez Canal and down the African coast was in the 1980s. Somalia was desperately poor then, too, although not quite so desperately poor as it is today; and piracy hadn't started yet.  I remember a stop at Djibouti and the shocking poverty there. 

There was a French Foreign Legion detachment in Djibouti. I didn't speak French, but my friend & shipmate Rojko was from Yugoslavia and spoke several languages, including French. We went ashore together, ran into several of the Legionnaires, and did the town with them. It was a dreary town to do, but we managed to have fun. I liked the Legionnaires - they were very sharp, very fit, like Marines, very disciplined - and a little wild on the town like Marines, too.

Things have changed in the Horn of Africa since then, and - as bad as conditions were then - not for the better. No one knows about this better than seamen, who are caught in the middle. As violence has escalated, seamen have been tortured, killed, imprisoned for long periods, and allowed to starve. Pirates have done these things to punish ship's crews who stood up to them, or in retaliation against violent measures directed against them, or to pressure shipowners to come up with ransoms. In some cases, even when the ship has been released some of the crew have been kept prisoner. 

Everyone knows about the international anti-piracy mission - joined by ships from the world's navies from China to North America - and how, in spite of the warships' occasional successes, piracy continues virtually unabated. And as time goes on, piracy is increasingly being associated with terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab.

This link gives some details of an open battle between pirates and NATO forces near Kudha Island, recently taken from Al-Shabaab forces:

While shipping companies and governments dither, seamen pay. Have you passed through the area in the last couple of years? We'd very much like to hear your experiences. Please respond in the Comments section!
Faster than the trip I made! We went East - West. Fun video - if you've made the trip and have any observations, please comment!

Here is an interesting post on the Maritime Professional website by Joseph Fonseca about the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the nearly ice-free route over Russia and Canada that has opened up as a result of global warming. The route is now virtually ice-free 3 to 5 months a year - a period that is predicted to grow over the coming decades - and it holds the potential to revolutionize global navigation. Read more in Fonseca's post:

From the time I was a young man, I had a fascination with the Arctic! It's an ambition that I never satisfied. I'm sure a new generation of young seamen will grow up having had an opportunity - and maybe making their careers - in Arctic navigation. I'm envious! 


Mariner's Fatigue. . . 
A few days ago I posted a video about a study that has just been done (click Fatigue Video in the Categories list on the right side of the page). As a professional mariner I've been subject to the problem at times in my varied career, and at times (as Captain) I've probably been part of the problem, as well. No one who looks into the issue of mariners' fatigue can say it's a simple! And like many such stubborn conundrums, the more you look at it the knottier it becomes.

In a perverse way, I enjoyed this post on  the Safety4Sea site by Apostolos Belokas:

Apostolos does the math and comes up with some amusing, amazing, or perhaps troubling results - depending on your point of view. He does at least illustrate the thicket of thorns that recording and enforcing rest hours could become! I'd not look forward to documenting this if I was Master. And yet it's an issue we must come to terms with somehow, if shipping is to join the modern age in human terms.

Shipping has advanced rapidly on the technical side; but manpower issues - from finding numbers of qualified mariners, to finding ways to keep them alert and productive - still lags.

Are you on a vessel where these regulations are in place? Have you found it to be a blessing or a curse? Let us know.

Or, are you in charge of documenting these regs - what's your opinion? Please comment!


In a recent post I linked to an article about a thorough fatigue study carried out under realistic conditions. But at the time of the post, the study hadn't been released yet. Here, though, is an introductory video discussing the fatigue problem and how the Horizon study was done:

Also, the British MCA's guidance on fatigue:

As noted, the problem of mariner's fatigue is something that will be getting more and more attention from regulators. You and I have direct experience with it; and I can honestly say, as can you, that I've worked in a fatigued state at times. In our industry, it's usually taken as evidence of toughness to persevere regardless of how you feel. It's expected - deal with it, is the attitude I used to encounter, especially years ago. And to tell the truth, I had no problem with that most of the time. The ship needs you, shut up and get to work! And I did. It's still often the case today. 

But as the video points out, that wouldn't be accepted in other industries. When fatigue is the proximate cause of expensive or fatal accidents, then it's worth dealing with, in both the dollars-and-cents and the moral senses.

And yet, there is the manning question - it would radically increase manning costs, especially as wages rise to retain personnel - and in tugs and small vessels, for instance, there's the question of accommodations for more men if you were to move from two watchstanders to three (as in changing from 6&6 to 4&8). In the throes of a seafarer shortage, where would more watchstanders come from? With pressure already on many company's bottom lines, how are they to be paid for? What about fishing? Big change for the maritime industry, and lots of things to balance.

The fatigue question isn't going to make many friends and its resolution will affect us all. But with most accidents taking place because of human error, and human error being strongly affected by fatigue - in a modern maritime environment involving higher speeds, more traffic, and shorter port stays - fatigue will have to be looked at.

Do you have any thoughts about working hours - how does your end of the industry stack up? Share your thoughts in the Comments section!