Sunday, November 20, 2016

To the Lighthouses

After my seafaring career had concluded, and when the children were still quite young, we often went to the seashore to admire the ocean.  We had a number of favorite locations that were reasonably close to our house, to my parents’ house, or to my in-laws’ house.  Several of these spots contained lighthouses, and in the seasons of the warmer weather, we visited them regularly.

As a mate aboard ship, I had always viewed lighthouses as strictly utilitarian objects, although admittedly, many of them looked quite attractive architecturally.  But I was using them for navigational, not artistic, purposes, and so I gave their aesthetic appeal little attention.  

Miss Patty held another view, however.  While recognizing the lighthouses as important navigational beacons, she also saw them as emblematic in a metaphysical and spiritual way.  For as they shone their lights through the nocturnal darkness to guide seamen on their voyages, they represented the supernal “light that shineth in [spiritual] darkness” (John 1:5) to guide all people everywhere on their voyages through life.  By displaying artificial illumination of impressive intensity visible for many miles at sea, they represented “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9).  In this sense, one might say that they were “sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:8).

In the daylight hours, the lighthouses’ distinctive appearance—tall and slender and often white, the traditional color of purity—caused them to stand out clearly from their surroundings as beacons for passing ships.  They served the same purpose both day and night; only the method changed.  We visited these lighthouses in both daylight and darkness, although admittedly more often in daylight with small children.  But day or night, their metaphorical value and spiritual significance remained undiminished.  They always bore mute testimony of “the true Light.”

These lighthouses were usually situated in secluded places, far from the madding crowds of summer tourists.  This serene atmosphere enhanced their spiritual value, and we spent many happy hours quietly imbibing the combined ambiance of the sea, the shoreline, and the lighthouses.  They were precious times.

I’ve selected several photographs from our lighthouse-hopping travels with the children, and I’m happy to share them here: 

One of our many visits to the Portsmouth area took place on Saturday, July 23, 1994.  Posing placidly on the seawall in New Castle, New Hampshire, are James and Steven, with the Portsmouth Harbor Light watching over them.  To the right lies the open Atlantic.  To the left the Piscataqua River leads to downtown Portsmouth. 
Miss Patty’s favorite lighthouse is Nubble Light in York, Maine.  Situated on a small island just across a narrow channel from Cape Neddick, the Nubble has long been one of New England’s most popular and most photographed lighthouses.  Access to the island and the lighthouse itself is prohibited, so even on a busy day the view of the structure remains clear.  In this late afternoon portrait from Saturday, June 28, 1997, the western sun illuminates the Nubble perfectly.

Several miles offshore from the Nubble lies a cluster of rocks called Boon Island.  A treacherous outcropping that spelled doom for several merchant vessels in the colonial era, it was eventually fitted with a light to prevent further disasters.  Like the Nubble , it is not open to visitors, but we came close on Monday, July 24, 2000, aboard the tour boat Oceanic.  A very interesting spot with a long and colorful history,
Guarding the entrance to Portland Harbor is Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  Merchant vessels arriving in and departing from Portland pass directly in front of Portland Head.  While a popular destination for summer vacationers, it does not become overly crowded but remains peaceful and quiet.  This is a noon time view on Wednesday, April 30, 1997.
A short walk from our house in Nashua lies the Merrimack River, and at the mouth of the Merrimack lies the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  The estuary where the Merrimack and the Atlantic meet is marked by the diminutive Plum Island Light, shown here on Friday, June 22, 2000.  As evidenced by the adjacent bird house, the light reposes in a bird sanctuary, a restful and quiet place to enjoy Nature, both maritime and avian.
Closer to my original home on Long Island, New York, the Fire Island Light stands on the barrier beach that separates the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.  For four generations this lighthouse has been an important landmark for my family, and we went to visit it every summer with the children and their grandparents.  After church on Sunday, May 29, 1994, the light tower stood up brightly in the strong southern sun.  A beautiful place to gaze seaward and contemplate the majesty of Creation.
Finally, at the easternmost end of Long Island stands the Montauk Light in Montauk Point State Park.  The family waded in the surf of the great Atlantic in front of the lighthouse on Monday, August 11, 1997.  Another outstanding location to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the sea and sky.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Concrete Ship

A few hundred feet offshore from Sunset Beach in Cape May Point, New Jersey, rest the visible remains of the cargo ship Atlantus.  She and several similar vessels were constructed as experiments in concrete shipbuilding during the First World War.  Their careers were short lived, however, as the extreme weight of the concrete made it impractical for shipbuilding for several reasons.  Under new ownership after the war, the Atlantus arrived at her final resting place by accident in 1926.  In the ninety years since then, she has enjoyed a second career as a tourist attraction.

Summer vacationers have long traveled to Cape May and its environs to enjoy the sea.  Situated at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May is surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Delaware Bay, and the Cape May Canal.  For someone who enjoys the ambiance of the sea, Cape May is an ideal location.  Sunset Beach forms part of this ambiance. Facing west on the Delaware Bay, it is famous for its views of the sunsets, the ferries sailing between New Jersey and Delaware, and the concrete ship Atlantus.  A novelty, a curiosity, and a relic of history, the Atlantus is almost never referred to by her actual name.  She is simply called “the concrete ship.”  And while she does attract tourists, it is all very low key.  Sunset Beach lies several miles west of the more populated Atlantic beaches and therefore is never very crowded.  People go there to sightsee, to fish, and to browse in the small gift shop.  There is no swimming and only limited wading because of the strong tidal current.  Photographers  sometimes gather and take pictures of the concrete ship as if it were a famous lighthouse.

In the years that my family vacationed in Cape May, it was not always easy to obtain any serious information on the concrete ship, its history, or its reason for running aground there.  With the arrival of the internet, this has changed.  The concrete ship now boasts its own Wikipedia article[1] and is included on a website devoted to the history of concrete vessels.[2]  My research into the subject started with collecting all the picture postcards that featured the ship.  Eventually there were four of these, and I’m pleased to present them here:

This is my favorite portrait of the Atlantus.  The view dates to the 1930s and is an artistic rendering made with some artistic license.  The little rowboat provides a good sense of scale, but the Atlantus is not really as close to the beach as she seems to be.  The painting also gives the ship a remarkably clean and neat appearance. 
I believe this photograph was taken about 1960 or so.  The painted-on advertisement for boat insurance was a local joke and not in very good taste. 
This picture shows the condition of the Atlantus when I saw her in the early to middle 1970s.  The sign was new then.  Clearly the ship had deteriorated a great deal by the time I came along.
A new sign and a further deteriorated hulk.  This view postdates my family's visits to Cap May.  The before and after scenes offer a good basis for comparison. 
In addition to the postcards, the local gift shop eventually offered a capsule summary of the concrete ship’s history printed on a small sheet of note paper.  I daresay this came out in response to endless inquiries from vacationers seeing the concrete ship for the first time.  For a few pennies, then, I added this item to my collection.  Until recently, it was my only source of information about the concrete ship, but it remains a good one, and I’m happy to share it here:

Finally, we have several pictures of the concrete ship that we took on our family vacations.  Most of them are amateur photographs of very mediocre quality, but a few of them turned out well.  These are the two best:

My father took this photograph of the Atlantus on the family's first visit to Sunset Beach in the summer of 1967.  I was a young child then, and this shipwreck was an intriguing sight.  Faintly visible on the horizon through the haze is the northbound ferry New Jersey, soon to dock at the terminal in North Cape May.
My father took this picture of the Atlantus from a nearby jetty in August of 1971.  This view looks northward, with Sunset Beach on the right.  We returned to this spot every summer through 1975.

More recent photographs posted on the internet show an even more deteriorated and broken up hull.  Much of the concrete is crumbled, and the steel reinforcing rods are exposed and rusting.  Most of the ship lies beneath the surface of the water now, and no doubt much of it has sunk into the sand of the bay bottom.  All this decay in 90 years.  In another 90 years, it’s likely that none of the concrete ship will be visible above the water.  Perhaps a buoy will be placed over it to mark the site as a fish haven.  Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, as it returns to Nature the concrete ship is going the way of all material things. 

As we also must eventually do.  But in our case, though our mortal bodies must die and decay, our immortal souls will live on.  Our lives will thus continue despite physical death.  We are assured many times “that God hath given to us eternal life” (1 John 5:11), and further “that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body . . . are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11).  When the concrete ship is completely withered away, it will be gone forever.  Unlike this inanimate object, we will be gone only temporarily, until the resurrection, when “the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form” (Alma 11:43).  Life will indeed go on, a happy prospect to consider.

Meanwhile, as the deterioration of the concrete ship remains a work in progress, we may rest assured that the Master and Chief Engineer of the universe is in charge of it all, and that his work is also in progress.  His Creation knows this, too, as one of our hymns states:

                                    Be still, my soul; The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.[3]

[1] See
[3] Katharina von Schlegel, “Be Still, My Soul,” tr. Jane Borthwick, in Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985. p. 124.  A more literal rendering of the German (Dein Heiland wird zeigen,/ Wie vor ihm Meer und Gewitter muss schweigen) would be: Your Savior points out how before him sea and thunderstorm must be silent.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Broader Canvas

Since childhood, I’ve collected pictures of ships.  Mostly postcards, these portraits were easily affordable and portable during travels.  The collection started with the passenger liners on which my grandparents sailed, and then continued with whatever seemed relevant to the family or historically noteworthy.  The result is an eclectic assortment, a little of this and a little of that, with a little from here and a little from there.

Each image has its own story, and in several instances, its own connection to our family.  With no further ado, then, let me present a dozen or so of what I think are the best and most interesting photographs:

The place where it all started.  An aerial view of the passenger piers on the West Side of Manhattan.  Shown at left are three Cunard ships, including the Queen Elizabeth in the center.  At right are the America of United States Lines and one of the twins Constitution and Independence of American Export Lines.  Note the overhanging fantail tern on the American Export ship.  This is a long gone aspect of the shipbuilder's art, a lovely finishing touch on a very attractive vessel.
The Constitution and the Independence were my grandparents' favorite ships.  They made unhurried voyages between New York and several Mediterranean ports, and while certainly first class operations, they did not engage in the movie star sophistication of some of the more famous liners.  This is my favorite portrait of the Constitution, one of a half-dozen that my grandparents collected.  She appears to be at anchor, probably off a Mediterranean port, judging by the shadows cast by a high summer sun.  
Twice my grandparents sailed aboard the Cristoforo Colombo of the Italian Line in the late 1950s.  They mailed this portrait of the ship home from Italy following a voyage from New York to Napoli in October of 1959.
When the Cristoforo Colombo arrived in Napoli, she docked here at the Stazione Maritima.  Monte Vesuvio looms in the background across the bay.  The American Export ships also docked here.  Note the multi-colored twin stacks of either the Constitution or the Independence rising above the building.  Many years after my grandparents' travels, the Rigel docked here during my time aboard here in 1979.  More recently, the Nieuw Amsterdam, on which my oldest son got married, has docked here while on her summer cruises.
During my transatlantic travels of the 1970s, I happened across this souvenir log of the United States, which I gave to my grandfather.  He and my grandmother had made one voyage on this ship in 1955, and I thought he would find this item interesting.  He did.  He told me, however, that the United States went too fast--New York to England in three days--and he preferred a slower, longer, and more leisurely crossing.  The voyage data on the back of this card brag about speed, speed, and speed.  I've come to agree with my grandfather.  The ships I later sailed on typically took ten days to reach Europe.
The troop transport Upshur is about to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, most likely after departing from the Military Ocean Terminal in Oakland, California.  For years this vessel carried American military personnel, their families, and their belongings between the West Coast and the Far East.  She also carried South Korean troops during the Korean War.  Long afterwards, as the school ship State of Maine, notices stenciled in Korean remained on the bulkheads in the troop compartments.  I made two summer voyages on this ship as a teenager in the mid 1970s.  I also sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge several times, not on the State of Maine, but while aboard the Mercury and the Comet in the 1980s.
The ferry R. S. Sterling of the Texas Highway Department.  I rode this ferry on Monday, May 30, 1977, during the time of my apprenticeship aboard the tanker New Jersey Sun.  While she was drydocked at the Todd Shipyard in Galveston, I wandered around town on Memorial Day and found entertainment in free ferry rides between Galveston and Port Bolivar, Texas.
The aircraft carrier Lexington moored in her home port of Pensacola, Florida.  On another side trip during my time aboard the New Jersey Sun, my brother and I took a tour of this ship on Saturday, May 21, 1977.  Years earlier, as a student pilot, he had landed on and taken off from the Lexington at sea in the Gulf of Mexico.  I remember him remarking that the flight deck seemed pretty small.
A winter view of the first Queen Elizabeth at the Ocean Terminal in Southampton, England.  While such snow is unusual in southern England, the Queen Elizabeth and her sister the Queen Mary called at this spot regularly for decades.  Years after they reached the end of their careers, the oceanographic survey ship Wilkes docked at this same berth several times with me on board in the winter of 1980 and 1981.
Cunard's new flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 leaves Southampton for the first time in 1967.  The QE2 and I have followed each other along the American East Coast.  I saw her a few times in Fort Lauderdale when I was posted on the Bartlett and the two ships tied up across the pier from each other.  Years later, I took the children to see the Queen several times in New York and once in Portland, Maine.
An aerial view of the passenger ship piers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the 1970s.  I acquired this postcard in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in early November of 1979 when I was sailing aboard the General Hoyt S. Vandenburg.  I wanted very much to visit San Juan and see the old colonial city, but that would have to wait a few years.
The nearly identical twin sisters Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood of Marine Atlantic.  These were two of the four vessels that connected North Sydney, Nova Scotia, with Argentia and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.  We sailed aboard the Joseph and Clara Smallwood from North Sydney to Argentia on Monday, June 21, 2004.  At the time, it was the longest voyage the children had made--fourteen hours--and they loved every minute of it.  I did, too.  I remember that it felt absolutely wonderful to sail out of sight of land and onto the open Atlantic again!
The cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam of the Holland-America Line appears in a computer-generated image.  While the line of foam alongside the ship would lead us to believe she is underway and making way through the water, there is no bow wave, no side wave, no stern wave, and no wake.  There are also no passengers or crew out on deck.  My guess is that this is an artist's rendering made while the vessel was under construction in 2010.  Still it's a good likeness of a fine ship.  Our oldest son, James, was married aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday afternoon, February 5, 2012.  Three days later, with the whole family aboard, the Nieuw Amsterdam docked at the cruise ship piers in San Juan.  A dream come true, I happily spent the day exploring this beautiful city.  In one further family history connection, my grandparents' final voyage was a winter cruise to the Caribbean in January and February of 1968.  Sailing one last time aboard the Constitution, they visited San Juan and docked at the same piers as the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Since my childhood, then, ships have been important means of transportation as well as the centerpieces at family gatherings on many occasions.  From the bon voyage celebrations at the West Side piers to the wedding aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam and numerous voyages in between, these vessels have have served us very well.  Now, even though most of these ships are long gone, they live on in the photographic arts and in the family archives, and they bring back many happy memories.  The family and the ships thus form a dual blessing, and we are expected to “receive it from the hand of the Lord, with a thankful heart” (D&C 62:7).  In looking back on these happy times aboard these great ships, how could anyone not feel thankful?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Watching the World Go By

At my age now, it’s sometimes nice to just sit back and relax and enjoy the show.  In the shipping business, the show goes on around the clock, day and night, every day of the year.  Some times are busier than others, of course, but there is almost always something to see. 

When the children were growing up, we frequently took them to watch the ship show.  This was always fun, educational, and inexpensive, and it always held the whole family’s interest, even for extended periods.  We had a few favorite spots where the traffic tended to be both concentrated and varied, and also where the scenery was beautiful.  Often we combined this entertainment with other activities, and we almost always brought a picnic lunch with us.  If we set out early enough, we brought a picnic breakfast as well.  We also always brought a camera, and sometimes a video camera, too.  I used up a lot of film on these excursions, believing that I could never have too many pictures of the ships and my children.

Several times each year, we took the children to Long Island to visit their grandparents.  There it’s always easy to watch the ship show because there are so many good vantage points close to home.  One of my favorites is in Brooklyn.  Alongside the Belt Parkway and in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge lies a small park overlooking the Narrows, the main entrance to New York Harbor.  Several benches line a promenade and face the water.  Local residents relax on them, take in the view, and fish.  We went there to watch the fleet arrive and depart.

One such occasion in particular stands out in memory.  Arriving at 6:00am on a rainy and foggy Sunday, August 17, 2003, we did not need to wait long for the first ships of the day to appear.  Emerging from the drizzle hovering over the Lower Bay, three major vessels in succession entered the harbor.  Another left and went to sea, and others maneuvered through the fog in the anchorage.  Photographing these ships through the mist proved challenging, but I managed to get a few good shots.  We spent about two hours at this vantage point.  I would have been happy to remain all morning, but it was Sunday, and of course we had to go to church.  For now, I’ve selected the best of the pictures I took that day, and I’m happy to present them here:

The first arrival of the day.  In the very early morning of Sunday, August 17, 2003, the container ship P&O Nedlloyd Seattle has just sailed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and now proceeds up the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Next comes the cruise ship Carnival Legend.  Very few passengers are out on deck at this early hour.
The container ship OOCL Faith of the Orient Overseas Container Line heads out to sea. She and the Carnival Legend passed port to port just north of the bridge.
The cruise ship Norwegian Dawn arrives next, bound for the renovated passenger piers on the West Side of Manhattan.
Finally, the Elizabeth Ann comes in with the barge 4001 on the hip.

Another of our favorite ship watching spots lies a few states away to the northeast.  The Spring Point Ledge Light stands at the end of a breakwater that extends from Spring Point in South Portland, Maine, into Portland Harbor.  It commands a superb view of Casco Bay, Portland Head, the harbor entrance, the city, and the surrounding islands.  We’ve taken the children there on several occasions, and they’ve all loved it.  One cloudy afternoon on Wednesday, August 7, 2002, proved to be a busy traffic time, as these photographs indicate:

A close-up view of the Spring Point Ledge Light, at the end of a 900-feet long jetty in Portland Harbor, on Wednesday, August 7, 2002.  At the very end of this jetty, and in the shadow of the lighthouse, we relaxed with our picnic lunch and watched the world of commercial shipping pass in front of us:
The oil tanker Nassau Spirit maneuvers past the lighthouse on her way to the adjacent Portland Pipeline Terminal, just to the west.

The ferry Island Romance heads from her terminal in downtown Portland to the Casco Bay Islands.
The pilot boat Portland Pilot returns to the city after delivering a pilot to an arriving ship.
The cruise ship Regal Empress arrives with a load of tourists.  The rounded merchant cruiser stern, the riveted overlapping strakes of shell plating, and the graceful curvature of the hull identify her as a fairly old vessel, but she is still running.
Finally, on Tuesday, June 26, 2001, we have a partial view of the tanker Rebecca moored at the Portland Pipeline Terminal.  The comparatively tiny catboat lying at anchor gives a good perspective of the massiveness of the Rebecca.

Next, returning to Long Island but going this time to its eastern end, we visit the ferry dock at Orient Point on an August day in 1976.  This predates my children by eleven years; in fact, I was still a teenager myself then.  A day trip by automobile with my parents took us to both the North and South Forks of Long Island, to both Montauk Point and Orient Point.  In something of a busman’s holiday, as I had just shortly before returned home from sea, we visited the waterfront and gazed out to sea.  Then we looked over the ferry facilities and took pictures of the ship in port.  I did not realize then how much of a role this ferry link to Connecticut would play in the family’s future, especially after the children arrived.  Here, then, is my favorite picture from that day:

The ferry Orient loads up at her terminal in Orient Point, Long Island, on a sunny day in August of 1976.  The battered hull plating and the generous allotment of rust indicate that the Orient has seen many years of service and has taken some punishment from a rough sea.  She has since gone to her reward, and newer vessels have taken her place.

In these and other waterfront locations, the beauty of the earth, sea, and sky are readily apparent in all weather conditions.  There is something about the sunlight in the way that it plays upon the water, the shore, and the ships that brings out the best in all of them.  And, without the responsibility involved in working aboard these ships, I have the leisure time to contemplate the majestic beauty around me.  At the end of the day, one of our hymns elevates this beauty to the supernal:

                                    Softly now the light of day
                                    Fades upon my sight away.
                                    Free from care, from labor free.
                                    Lord, I would commune with thee.[1]

[1] George W. Doane, “Softly Now the Light of Day,” in Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, p. 160.