Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Willing Foe and Sea Room! A Short Naval Toast

Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom modified two of the Naval Toasts following the Loyal Toast in the Royal Navy after centuries of ‘tradition and privilege’. The amendments were necessitated by cultural changes that have (slowly) transpired over the course of centuries to reflect that women have been entering and moving up the ranks of the Navy, whether in the UK, the US and many more, and also women having a more frequent presence in the merchant marine fleet worldwide as well.

The history of the Loyal Toast (‘To The King/Queen, God Bless Him/Her!’) is long and its origin is lost in time, but its purpose is self-explanatory; since Lord Horatio Nelson’s era, it was common that the Loyal Toast be followed at mess dinners by several toasts that eventually had to be formalized and used on a rotating basis, a separate naval toast for each day of the week:

On Sunday ‘To Absent Friends!’,  on Monday ‘To Our Ships at Sea!’,                                             On Tuesday ‘To Our Men!’, and on Wednesday ‘To Ourselves!’                                                     On Thursday ‘To A Bloody War or A Sickly Season!’                                                                      On Friday ‘To A Willing Foe and Sea Room!’                                                                                   and on Saturday ‘To Sweethearts and Wives!’

The toasts were well-meaning and appeasing to good fortune and self-serving individualism, but also reflecting the practices and the mores of the times – such as Tuesday’s toast ‘To Our Men!’ mirroring that all onboard were men, from the Captain down to the lowly boatswain. The toasts were also reflecting personal aspirations for promotion, like Thursday’s toast to ‘bloody war’ and ‘sickly season’, as engagement in battle usually meant high casualties that hopefully would translate to a promotion for the lucky surviving members of the crew. Likewise, Friday’s toast to a ‘willing foe’ and ‘sea room’, few navy fleets had the strenght and capacity to engage the Royal Navy, and the crew who was looking for ‘prizes of war’, the wish was for a gutsy enough enemy to engage in a battle and get caught or clear the way allowing plenty of ‘sea room’ for the Royal Navy to sail over the world.

Toasting aboard HMS Elephant the night before the Battle of Copenhagen (1801)

Toasting aboard HMS Elephant the night before the Battle of Copenhagen (1801)

Besides the self-serving, ritualistic and cultural artifacts of such toasts, one has to keep in mind that all sailors were men, at the prime of their virility, away from women – whether wives, fiancées, mistresses or ‘women of pleasure’ – living under limiting living conditions in terms of space, victualing and privacy, under strictest laws and hierarchical rules, risking their lives on a daily basis whether battling the elements of nature, the frigates of the enemy or exploring unknown navigational routes.  No wonder, that the above formal naval toasts were apt to ‘commentary’ during the formal salutes in a male-dominated, rowdy environment where adrenaline and testosterone had to be kept on fine balance: Wednesday’s toast ‘To Ourselves’ was usually followed by “As no one else is Likely to Concern Themselves with Our Welfare’, while most famously (or notoriously) Saturday’s toast ‘To Sweethearts and Wives’ elicited from those in attendance ‘May They Never Meet!’ Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) in the movie ‘Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World’ is the one cheerleading this line with his officers.

During the past summer, two changes were imposed by the Ministry of Defense: changing Tuesday’s toast to ‘To Our Sailors!’ (instead of ‘to Our Men!’) and Saturday’s toast to ‘To Our Families!’ to reflect that men and women are almost equally likely to be serving the country or the Captain aboard a ship and the language had to be politically correct. There always will be those who are traditionalists and nostalgic of the past, and certainly high ranking officers objected to these ‘historical’ changes, but again, we all have to adapt to the times. At least, officers in the Royal Navy still maintain the tradition to be the only branch of the armed forces allowed to toast the Sovereign and proffer their naval toasts while sitting. No one really knows how the tradition started, but it is believed that a king onboard (possibly King Charles onboard the Naseby in 1660) bumped his head at a low beam while toasting, and made it a rule to allow for toasting while sitting. One has to remember that the height of the decks at sailing ships barely allowed for men to fully stand up in any case, and that the tables and the settees were fixed to the floor, and thus, rising to toast while maintaining a dignifying posture was almost impossible.

There were some formal variations to the naval toasts above, one case of which has as follows:

On Sunday, ‘To Absent Friends and Those at Sea!’                                                                         On Monday, ‘To Our Native Land, King/Queen and Country!’                                                      On Tuesday, ‘To Our mothers / Health and Wealth!’                                                                   On Wednesday ‘To Ourselves, Our Swords and Old Ships (i.e. shipmates)!’                             On Thursday, ‘To The King/Queen!’                                                                                               On Friday, ‘To Fox Hunting and old Port / Ships at Sea!’, and                                                       On Saturday, ‘To Sweethearts and Wives!’

Besides these ‘authorized’ toasts, there have been many more over the years. As expected, a great deal of them could be considered today sexists, or racists, or chauvinistic or immoral; again, no wonder since they reflect different ages and were prepared by men at the top of their virility having to be kept under short ‘leash’ and not knowing whether tomorrow may be their last day of their short life.

Herebelow are a few of the less rowdy naval toasts when raising a drinking glass, enjoying a chantey song, and wishes for the ships and the sailors about to embark on a long voyage, some metaphorical, some allegorical, some satirical, but always a refection of the weakness and desires of the human nature:

‘The wind that Blows,                                                                                                                       The Ship that Goes,                                                                                                                           And the Lass that Loves a Sailor!’

For friendship:

‘Here’s to Tall Ships,                                                                                                                     Here’s to Small Ships,                                                                                                                       Here’s to all the Ships at Sea.                                                                                                         But the best Ships are Friendships,                                                                                               Here’s to You and Me!’

Or, with a variation to the last line: ‘And May They Always Be!’

Wishes when leaving for a trip:

‘May your Departures equal your Landfalls!’

or equally wishful:

‘May All (Y)Our Landfalls be Expected!’

And, for those triumphantly reaching their homeport, reflecting that escaped premature death at least this time:

‘Once Again, We Have Failed to Die!’

or

‘Ho! Stand to Your Glasses Steady!                                                                                                 ‘Tis all We Have left to Prize.                                                                                                           A Cup to the Dead Already.                                                                                                             Hurrah for the next That Dies!’

A common toast (or farewell) ‘Fair Winds and a Following Sea!’ or the full version

‘Fair Winds and Following Seas, and Long may Your big Jib Draw!’

At the age of the sail, having favorable winds in direction and neither too strong as in storms or non-existent as in the doldrums was crucial for competitive sailing. And the ‘following sea’ with her rolling waves coming from behind, the vessel was only contributing to a fast and smooth voyage. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, in 1851, “let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homeward”; in Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator ‘following sea’ is defined as “a sea in which the waves move in the general direction of the heading.”

In present day when the wind is not as important for sailing and the diesel engine is more crucial to navigation, it has been paraphrased as

‘Calm Winds and Fair Seas!’

More appropriate for modern-day sailing:

‘May Have the Wind on Your Back!’

or

‘Keep the People in the Boat,                                                                                                       And the Water out of the Boat!’

or

‘Keep the Wet Side Down!’

or

‘Bottoms up to Your Drink but Never to Your Boat!’

or even,

‘Here’s to Being in a Boat with a Drink on the Rocks,                                                             Rather than Being in the Drink with a Boat on the Rocks!’

For a mild version of ‘kinky’ toasting, Popeye the Sailor Man sings:

II’m Popeye e Sailor Man                                                                                                                 I live in a Grabage Can                                                                                                                     I like to go swimmin’                                                                                                                     With bow-legged women                                                                                                                 I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!

which the ‘softer’ version of:

I love to go swimmin’                                                                                                                       With bow-legged wimmin                                                                                                             And swim between their legs                                                                                                         Swim between their legs.

And sometimes, it was ‘bare naked women’.

In the movie ‘jaws’, Quint toasts to “Here’s to Swimming with Bow-legged Women!’

There is no definition of a ‘bow-legged’ woman in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but it’s believed that there were good at horse-riding and thus the connotation that they were ‘easy’ to copulate with.

A more civilized version is the toast:

‘I Dream of Princesses and Gold,                                                                                                   but Farmers Daughters and Silver will Do!’

HMS Surprise and Captain Aubrey (Image source: http://www.thedearsurprise.com/?p=1637)

HMS Surprise and Captain Aubrey (Image source: http://www.thedearsurprise.com/?p=1637)

and the sailing song heard again in the movie ‘Master and Commander’,

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies,                                                                   Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;                                                                             For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England, (or “…under orders…”)

On a more civilzed, romantic note from “Windjammer Barefoot Cruise”,

Here’s to lying, cheating, stealing and drinking                                                                           If you’re going to lie, lie to save the life of a friend                                                                     If you’re going to cheat, cheat death                                                                                             If you’re going to steal, steal the heart of the one you love                                                       and if you’re going to drink, drink with friends both old and new!

Or the more metaphorically, A Windsong by Ray Paquette (1984):

As you set sail for new horizons                                                                                                   May a brisk fair wind be with you                                                                                                 May your journey provide that mixture of                                                                                   Joy, contentment, love and excitement                                                                                         That gives rise to zestful anticipation                                                                                           Of new adventures together.                                                                                                       May you cheerfully weather                                                                                                            the unavoidable storms together                                                                                                  And steer as clear of all obstacles                                                                                                 As the currents allow                                                                                                                     May God Bless and keep you                                                                                                           Bon Voyage

PLEASE DO LET US KNOW WITH ANY GOOD NAVAL TOASTS WE ARE MISSING!!

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and such information is believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

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Ship’s Figurehead, the U.S. CGC ‘Eagle’

In our last post, we had presented a few samples from the history of figureheads on vessels through the ages. During the weekend, we serendipitously run into some very recent pictures of the figurehead of the United States Coast Guard Cutter „Eagle”, presently moored at CG Yards in Curtis Bay, Baltimore, Maryland, until the middle of January, undergoing routine maintenance.

Figurehead CGC Eagle_CG Yard, Baltimore, MD NOV17, 2013 (USCG photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

Figurehead CGC Eagle_CG Yard, Baltimore, MD NOV17, 2013 (USCG photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

The CG Cutter „Eagle” (WIX-327) is the largest tall ship flying the Stars and Stripes and the only square-rigger in U.S. government service. A three-masted barque, Eagle’s foremast and mainmast carry square sails and her mizzenmast carries fore-and-aft sails. The vessel is 295 feet long (231 ft at waterline), 39.1 ft beam and when fully loaded, 16ft draft. The vessel is 1,824 tons displacement, and having two anchors of 3,500 lbs (port) and 4,400 lbs (starboard). Both foremast and mainmast have a height of 147.3 ft, whereas the mizzenmast is 132.ft.  Fore and main yards are 78.8 ft, with 22,300 sq.ft. sail area, and six miles of rigging (standing and running). Speed under full sail is 17 kts and under power 10 kts (one 1,000 HP Diesel D399 Caterpillar engine.) Dimensions in metric: length overall: 90 m, at waterline 71 m, beam of 12 m, height of foremast and mainmasts at 44.9 m, mizzenmast of 40.2 m, sail area of 2,030 sq.m.

Figurehead Eagle

Figurehead Eagle

The ship was built in Hamburg, Germany by Blohm + Voss (Shipbuilder’s Hull No 508, Hull No 509 was the battleship „Bismarck”) and was launched in 1936 as Segelschulschiff „Horst Wessel” in the presence of Adolf Hitler. The ship was originally named after Horst Wessel, a Nazi party leader. The ship was built as a sail training ship operated by the pre-World War II German navy (Kriegsmarine), and was designed and constructed by John Stanley. The ship was built at the end of the sailing ship era, and she integrated all of the advances and knowledge acquired from sailing and trading tall ships.

Figurehead Eagle (June 21, 2012)

Figurehead Eagle (June 21, 2012)

She’s of the Gorch Fock class and six sistership vessels have been built on the same design (with minor modifications): „Gorch Fock I” (1933), „Sagres III” (ex Albert Leo Schlageter) (1937), „Mircea” (1938), „Herbert Norkus” (1939), and the „SSS Gorch Fock” (1958). With exception of „Herbert Norkus” which had to be launched prematurely and unfinished, since the berths were needed at that time for building submarines, and was sunk in 1947, the rest of the Gorch Fock sisterships still sail today and grace with their sleek silhouettes the waters.

The SSS „Horst Wessel” was taken as prize of war in 1946 by the United States (also „Sagress III’ was taken by the US, while „Gorch Fock I” and „Mircea” by the Soviet); she was commissioned with the Coast Guard under the name „Eagle” with homeport in New London, Connecticut. USCGC Eagle is the sixth U.S. Coast Guard cutter to bear the name in a line dating back to 1792.

Figurehead Eagle_snow cap

Figurehead Eagle_snow cap

The vessel is presently used as a cadet training vessel for the US Coast Guard and is a popular tourist attraction on her port calls sailing worldwide, with her compliment of six officers and 56 enlisted.  The ship was built at the twilight of the sailing era and her lines, masts and hull embody all the grace and knowledge of sailing tall ships but built at the era of steel which includes both rivets and welding; her hull is riveted Krupp steel four-tenths of an inch thick (10mm). There are two full-length steel decks with a platform deck below. The raised forecastle and quarterdeck are made of quarter inch steel overlaid with three inches (76 mm) of teak, as are the weather decks.

Figurehead Eagle in Baltimore on June 15, 2012

Figurehead Eagle in Baltimore on June 15, 2012

The ship has under an intense inspection and maintenance schedule by the US Coast Guard with scheduled drydocks every four years and annual inspection. Because of her unique built and rich history, her maintenance is actually a preservation act of a floating historic monument. Since her commission with the USCG, she has undergone several major refurbishments and improvements in order to maintain her seaworthiness but also to comply and benefit from advantages in technology. Major changes include the replacement of her original1936 Burmeister & Wain diesel engine with a D399 Caterpillar engine.

The figurehead of the ship is the ship’s namesake and the United States national bird, the bald eagle. The figurehead is made of wood and weights three-quarters of a ton. During the ship’s last drydock in January 2012, the figurehead was removed from the ship, had extensive work done by master carpenters as the wood was cracked and then painted in (fake) gold.

Figurehead Eagle in St Petersburg, FL (2013)

Figurehead Eagle in St Petersburg, FL (2013)

NB: all images under this posting are taken from the United States Coast Guard site or affiliated entities, and we are grateful for the reproduction.

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

Ship Figureheads

Figureheads - Mystic Seaport (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors)

Figureheads – Mystic Seaport (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.)

Since antiquity, the bow of vessels has not only been used to plow the waters efficiently, as a matter of function and purpose, but also it has been used as the anthropomorphic facade of an inanimate object to face the sea and the risks associate with it, known and unknown, the weather elements and the superstitions emanating from the limited body of knowledge at the time; like the hood and the masque of today’s cars, the elaborate construction of a vessel’s bow was also a symbol of wealth and power of the vessel owner (status symbol with today’s car market) but also medium of intimidation of the fighting enemy for military vessels of the times past.

Oculos - Trireme OLYMPIAS, Musée Hellénique de la Marine, Le Pirée 2 NOV2013

Okulos – Trireme OLYMPIAS, Musée Hellénique de la Marine, Le Pirée

Each seafaring culture has brought their own traditions and beliefs in the motifs of figureheads, usually a wooden figure mounted on the vessel’s bow or on top of the main block of wood where the keel was anchored and whose finishing was perceptive to artistic interpretation.  The earliest record that the prows of vessels were modified (decorated) beyond functional purposes date from the Egyptian times (usually depicting lotus or holy birds), while vessels of the Phoenicians were depicting horses for their vision and swiftness.  Ancient Greeks were decorating their vessels with figureheads of boar’s heads (again, symbol of vision and ferocity) or with the ‘seeing eye’ (or ‘okulos’) which when mounted on both sides of the bow seemed like the ‘eyes’ for the vessel that could look out for the right direction and route, away from harm’s way and storms.  Besides the metaphorical scope of looking out for the best route, the purpose of the eye also had been of an apotropaic eye to ward off evil influences, demons and bad spirits and monsters.  Often the prow was covered with the fleece of a votive animal sacrificed to the gods before the departure in order to appease them and ensure safe passage.

Provincial Roman or Germanic, 4th-6th century AD From the River Schelde near Appels, Oost Vlaanderen, Belgium (Source: Courtesy of the British Museum)

Provincial Roman or Germanic, 4th-6th century AD From the River Schelde near Appels, Oost Vlaanderen, Belgium (Image source: Courtesy of The British Museum)

The Romans preferred figureheads of centurions to indicate military prowess but also figureheads of serpents and monsters in order to intimidate their enemies.  The snake and sea serpent motifs were also preferred by the Vikings for their longships in their exploring the North Atlantic, while Danes often decorated the bows with wooden statues of dolphins, bulls or dragons.  By the 13th century, the swan is a common motif for the bows of vessels bringing in mind images of graceful mobility in the water.

With the construction of forecastles in the 16th and 17th century, the figureheads are mounted on the bowsprit, and the figureheads now are sizeable wooden statues of usually female or feminine-inspired figures. With Christianity as the dominant European religion, vessels are decorated with the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) or images of the Holy Virgin.  Quite often, the figurehead is a female figure exposing one or both breasts, alluding to the belief that naked female breasts could calm the weather elements (unlike women onboard a vessel which was considered as a sign of bad luck.)

Figurehead Joseph Conrad (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors)

Figurehead Joseph Conrad (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.)

Figurehead Rickmer Rickmers (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors)

Figurehead Rickmer Rickmers (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.)

Cherokee Indian figurehead - Mystic Seaport (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors)

Cherokee Indian figurehead – Mystic Seaport (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The female figureheads in the 18th and 19th centuries may now represent the shipowner’s wife or daughter and are properly dressed, or could be figurative representations of the society ashore and people’s aspirations at the time or artistic influences in the carvings, the decorations and styling.  It was also acceptable to depict male figures as figureheads, usually the shipowner himself (square-rigger „Joseph Conrad” at the Mustic Seaport) or a son or favorite grandson (Rickmer Clasen Rickmers’ grandson Rickmer Rickmers is the little boy figurehead of the eponymous windjammer), but other male figures were acceptable alternatives, sometimes evocative of the origin or the trading routes the vessels are engaged to. Captain Death’s privateering ship aptly named the „Terrible” had skeleton as the figurehead while Surcouf’s French corsair „Revenant” carried a corpse. Military figures or representations of Olympian male gods, mythological figures, monks, saints, monarchs, etc were preferred figureheads for military vessels.

In the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), the lion became the general British figurehead, and remained popular until the end of George II’s reign (1727 – 1760). It was borne by such famous ships as the „Great Harry”, Elizabeth’s „Victory” (1569) and Sir Richard Grenville’s „Revenge” (1577), in the early days of the beak bow. In these vessels the figurehead took the form of a heraldic lion couchant or gardant. James I introduced the Scottish lion rampant, with a Royal Crown. Cromwell eliminated the crown, but Charles II restored it. He began also the custom of varying the figurehead for all first-rates, although the lion remained for ships of all other types.

Nannie Dee - Clipper Cutty Sark Figurehead

Nannie Dee – Clipper Cutty Sark Figurehead

A famous and historic figurehead has been Nannie Dee witch on the clipper vessel „Cutty Sark”, a mean-looking female figure with long hair, both breasts exposed and with her left arm extended to the sea, where fresh seamen were to make a ‘mini’ cat-‘o-nine-tails from old rope and place it her hand in order for her to tame the sea elements. Actually, the long hairy tail in her hand in the original story was supposed to be a mare’s tail according to the Tam O’Shanter legend!

By the mid-eighteenth century’s Royal Navy, the lion went out of fashion for ships of the second rate and below, and its place was taken by full-length figures. About this time classical names became more common for Navy ships, who were often borne by French prizes whose particularly gallant resistance had earned them a compliment of their names being retained on the British list. In such ships appropriate heads were often charming, but other vessels were given effigies of princes, politicians.

In the eighteenth century, the Admiralty made several unsuccessful efforts to abolish the figurehead because of its cost, also, a heavy figurehead projecting over the bow of the ship was a serious handicap to her sailing qualities due to weight and balance. In the 17th century, figureheads were made predominantly from elm, but usually from oak in the 18th century. After an order by the Navy Board in 1742, figureheads were made from soft woods, such as pine, while deal and teak were also used as these proved to be more resistant to wood-boring insects and decay. For man-of-war vessels there was also the consideration that figureheads could be partially damaged during battles, and thus it necessitated to figures with extremities kept close to the torso that also could be easily repairable. Similarly, the Admiralty attempted to restrict the colors to gilt or white, but since the bluejacket preferred something in more than natural colors, the authorities were tactful and often turned a blind eye.

Billethead - USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) (Image source: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Billethead – USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) (Image source: Naval History and Heritage Command)

The technological development of ships in the 19th century, from sail to steam and wood to iron, led to the gradual end of the naval figurehead and replacement by scroll work and “fiddleheads” or “billetheads” – the former curling inwards, the latter outwards, which were smaller, non-figural carving, most often a curl of foliage.  The loss of the bowsprit, under which the figurehead was traditionally placed, was the main reason for the disappearance of the figurehead. Figureheads for larger warships were finally abolished in Britain in 1894, but some smaller ships kept them until WWI (1914-1918). Later, ships had a medallion or shield (ship’s badge or ship’s seal or ship’s crest) a form of naval heraldry. The last ship to have a figurehead in the Royal Navy was  the HMS „Espiegle” (1880).

Hong Kong Maritime Museum - Antique figurehead, possibly of Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) 19th century (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors)

Hong Kong Maritime Museum – Antique figurehead, possibly of Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy); 19th century; the fleur de lys (lilly) in the figurehead’s hand may evoke the lotus (water lilly) of Buddhism.  (Image source: Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.)

Several private collections worldwide and also museums have put together worthwhile collections of ship figureheads, relating a small artistically and cultural important aspect of maritime tradition. The Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth, the MarinMuseum in Karlskrona, Sweden, the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, the South Australian Maritime Museum, and many more.

Hopefully, all these wooden figures will be preserved for future generations for their cultural value.

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Figureheads at Galjonshallen Marinmuseum (Image source: courtesy MarinMuseum)

Figureheads at Galjonshallen Marinmuseum (Image source: courtesy MarinMuseum)

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Newbuildings and the ‘eco design’ debate

So far this year, the newbuilding market has been exceptionally active. There are many reasons for that, primarily because shipping is entering a long-awaited recovery but also because ‘eco design’ vessels with their economic efficiencies are expected to send non-efficient vessels to the scrapheap.   No doubt that competitive markets always navigate toward efficiencies eventually (whatever they may be) and the ‘new’ render the ‘old’ obsolete (one of the inimitable truths of nature); however, the level of newbuildings placed on order in most shipping segments, not only this year, but ever since the market crashed in 2008, assumes that older tonnage will just disappear and will find some corner of the world where they would go and die off quietly.

There is no doubt that, during peak years of the cycle, owners were ordering vessels that they were expected to be delivered fast and start earning (big) money as soon as possible. Attention to detail for engineering and design and attention to workmanship were secondary priorities since any floating device with cargo carrying capabilities was making (big) money. Especially in the dry bulk market where there was and there is no ‘honor system’ of ‘major approvals’ (vetted and approved by oil majors) and in the market for smaller tonnage where a river bank and a crane were sufficient credentials to start shipbuilding operations (‘greenfield yards’), there is an unknown amount of the existing world fleet that will never reach their design life of about twenty-five years.  It is difficult to quantify the percentage of the world fleet (primarily dry bulk and containership vessels, and again, smaller tonnage) that will have to get scrapped much sooner than later, but our own shipbrokerage experience and also anecdotal evidence suggests that in certain, particular asset classes more than 10% of the world fleet – again for certain market segments, may have to be scrapped in the next five years.

However, does accelerated technological obsolesce combined with efficient modern vessel designs justify a world fleet outstanding orderbook of 17% across all market sectors when, in general, the world fleet is newer than five-years old?

Let’s follow the industry practice: a charterer at any given market rate and at any given geographic location and within short chartering window (laycan) will charter on the spot market the best (commercial) vessel possible, that is the vessel with lowest fuel consumption and largest cargo carrying capacity for any given trade available at certain location and timeframe.  Nominally, a brand new, efficient vessel with cargo maximizing holds would get the charter at such rate; it’s logic and good business sense. However, a vessel that is a tad inferior in fuel consumption or in cargo capacity but with a lower cost basis (was cheaper at acquisition time, or has been written down through good freight rate markets or the mortgage bank eased off on claiming timely payments) can afford to underbid the competition (the top notch vessel) and accept a lower rate, just because her owner can afford to or because the owner is desperate enough. Thus, the ‘bad’ effectively drives down the market and gets the business from the ‘good’; and, even if the good vessel manages to get the business (charter) at market rate, still, they have not earned any premium over the market to compensate for the savings that can generate for the charterer; they have earned the preference of the charterer to earn their business, but no much premium over the market. For period charter market where vessels are employed for longer periods of time where financial calculations can be more rigorous and market transparency lower (and also vessel delivery location and charter window can be known well in advance and thus there is sufficient time to be addressed vs. the spot market), the charterer will give more consideration and preference for the modern vessel, but never really will pay much premium above market and definitely will not compensate dollar-for-dollar for the savings they will earn from a modern vessel. Likewise, for charterers / traders working on Contract of Affreightment (COAs) where the cost is predominantly seen as $/ton or $/bbl (vs $/d for time charters), efficiencies are more important and stronger preference for modern vessels; again, there is never dollar-per-dollar to the owner for savings reimbursement; just the preference of doing business with modern, more efficient vessels, but never an ‘obligation’ or definite commitment.  And, there always will be an owner with a lower cost basis or desperate enough to undercut the competition and any competitive advantage, and thus the whole ‘preference’ argument goes out of the window. Shipping is an almost perfect competition market, and there are very limited opportunities to earn a premium over market rate by providing superior product; shipping is a commodity business, a ‘need’ business and not a ‘want’ business like Apple’s (ticker: AAPL) where they charge for their latest cool phone exactly what the market can bear.

Another Newbuilding!

Another Newbuilding!

In the tanker market and the containership market where chartering standards and fuel efficiencies are a higher priority than in the dry bulk market, poorly designed and maintained tankers and containership vessels will become obsolete sooner than dry bulk vessels, ceteris paribus.  However, it does not mean that overnight, older tankers and containerships will become obsolete and magically disappear off the market. After all, the MT „EXXON VALDEZ’ accident in 1986 brought into effect OPA 90 regulations that forced single-hull tankers out of the market only in 2010, a cool 24-year later.  Usually, the charter market and the $ sign are more effective at driving the market than regulations, but again, scrapping a vessel, especially a modern vessel, is hard thing to do; it’s easier to give hell to competition and underbid the market first rather than irrevocably sell the vessel for demolition and take the loss.  For the dry bulk market, where charter and regulatory standards are lower and where there is a very, very long tail of charterers, those vessels can be kept profitably in the market for many, many more years to come.

MEWIS Duct Propeller (Image Source: Courtesy Becker Marine Systems)

MEWIS Duct Propeller (Image Source: Courtesy Becker Marine Systems)

Our argument is not against efficiencies (and savings and transparency) in shipping; we are strongly for it. However, we think that the newbuilding story has been taken to the extremes and accepted at face value. There has been the argument that equally commendable fuel efficiencies can be achieved by modifying existing quality vessels (with ducted / MEWIS duct propellers, etc) at a relatively low cost ($1-2 million per vessel, depending on vessel size), proposals that have been suggested or already implemented by companies like Danaos Corporation (ticker: DAC), Ardmore Shipping (ticker: ASC) and Euronav (ticker: EURN).

A potential side effect of the present newbuilding wave may be that market recovery may be longer in the offing than many market players would care to wish …

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.

Sale & Purchase Update – November 3rd, 2013

Our latest Sale & Purchase (S&P) update has been posted to our Shipbrokerage website.

You may review the update by following this link!

 

VLCC Tanker MT ARDENNE VENTURE (Image Source: Frontline)

VLCC Tanker MT ARDENNE VENTURE (Image Source: Frontline)

© 2013 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  Access to this blog signifies the reader’s irrevocable acceptance of this disclaimer. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means and under any circumstances, whatsoever, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders of this website. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that information herewithin has been received from sources believed to be reliable and believed to be accurate at the time of publishing, no warranties or assurances whatsoever are made in reference to accuracy or completeness of said information, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted for taking or failing to take any action upon any information contained in any part of this website.  Thank you for the consideration.