Tag Archives: maritime history

Images of ‘Highland Light’ at North Truro, Cape Cod (2)

The Highland Light (previously known as Cape Cod Light), an active lighthouse on the Cape Cod National Seashore in North Truro, Massachusetts, on the Outer Cape Code, is the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod, and the 20th lighthouse built in the USA. It is owned by the National Park Service (a Cape Cod National Seashore property) and cared for by the Highland Museum and Lighthouse, Inc., while the United States Coast Guard operates the light itself. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Highland Light Station.

In 1700, the town of Truro, Massachusetts, nine miles east of Race Point at the tip of Cape Cod, began its history under a different name—one it easily earned: “Dangerfield.” Even in calm weather, fishermen could suddenly find upon approaching land such a swell breaking that they dared not attempt to come ashore.

“I found that it would not do to speak of shipwrecks in the area, for almost every family had lost someone at sea,” Henry David Thoreau would later write about Truro in the December 1864 issue of Atlantic Monthly. “‘Who lives in that house?’ I inquired. ‘Three widows,’ was the reply. The stranger and the inhabitant view the shore with very different eyes. The former may have come to see and admire the ocean in a storm; but the latter looks on it as the scene where his nearest relatives were wrecked.”

Blindingly dense summer fogs lasting till midday that turn (in Thoreau’s words) “one’s beard into a wet napkin about the throat” provide conditions that to this day challenge even the most experienced mariner. The letter Reverend James Freemen wrote petitioning for a lighthouse near Truro stated that in 1794 more vessels were wrecked on the east shore of Truro than in all of Cape Cod.

On May 17th 1796, President George Washington signed the bill, along with $8,000 budget, authorizing a wood lighthouse to warn ships about the dangerous coastline between Cape Ann and Nantucket. It was the first light on Cape Cod, situated on ten acres on the Highlands of North Truro, was usually the first light seen when approaching the entrance of Massachusetts Bay from Europe.

The nation’s first eclipser was installed in the lantern room to differentiate Highland Light from others on the way to Boston, but delays in receiving it pushed the inaugural illumination back to January 15, 1798. With a focal plane of 180 feet above the sea, the light, with its array of lamps and reflectors, had the potential to be seen up to twenty-four miles, but the haze that often hung over the cape reduced the light’s visibility. Sperm whale oil was initially used in the light, but the fuel was later changed to lard.

In 1833, the wood structure was replaced by brick and in 1840 a new lantern and lighting apparatus was installed. In 1857 the lighthouse was declared dangerous and demolished, and for a total cost of $17,000, the current 66 foot brick tower was constructed, with a first order Fresnel lens from Paris. Along with the lighthouse, there was a keeper’s building and a generator shed, both of which can still be seen today.

In 1854, $25,000 was budgeted to rebuild Cape Cod Lighthouse on a proper site and to fit it with the “best approved illuminating apparatus to serve as substitution for three lights at Nauset Beach.”

Construction did not begin until 1856 on a new sixty-six-foot tower and a dwelling for the head keeper and a double-dwelling for his two assistants. The lighthouse was completed in October 1857, for $17,000, which included a new first-order Fresnel lens that produced a fixed white light. Before the addition of the first-order lens, the station had employed just one keeper.
The sixty-nine winding steps leading to the lantern room could be quite tricky for man.
In 1873, $5,000 was allocated for the station to receive a first-class Daboll trumpet fog horn that gave blasts of eight seconds, with intervals between them of thirty seconds. A frame engine-house, measuring twelve feet by twenty-four feet, was built for the fog signal along with a fuel shed.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, duplicate four-horsepower oil engines with compressors replaced the old caloric engines, reducing the time needed to produce the first blast of the fog signal from forty-five to ten minutes. In 1929, an electrically operated air oscillator fog signal was installed at the station as mariners complained that the old reed horns could hardly be heard above the heavy surf crashing on the beach below the station. Power for operating the new signal was furnished by a direct-current generator, driven by a four-cycle, internal-combustion engine that ran on kerosene.

On June 6, 1900, Congress appropriated $15,000 for changing the light’s characteristic from fixed to flashing. The new Barbier, Benard & Turenne first-order Fresnel lens had four panels of 0.92 meter focal distance, revolved in mercury, and gave, every five seconds, flashes of about 192,000 candlepower nearly one-half second in duration. While the new lens was being installed, the light from a third-order lens was exhibited atop a temporary tower erected near the lighthouse. After the new light was exhibited on October 10, 1901, the temporary tower was sold at auction.

In 1946, the Fresnel lens was replaced with a Crouse-Hinds, double-drum, rotating DCB-36 aerobeacon, which was in turn replaced during the automation process in 1987 with a Crouse-Hinds DCB-224 rotating beacon. The Fresnel lens was mostly destroyed during its removal, but a piece is on display at the lighthouse.

By the 1960s, the assistant keeper’s double-dwelling and fog horn building had been removed, and Keeper Isaac Small’s original ten acres had shrunk to little more than two. In the early 1990s, erosion seriously threatened the light. While in 1806, the tower had stood 510 feet from the cliff, by 1989, that distance had shrunk to just 128 feet.

Highland Lighthouse attracted visitors even when it was staffed by resident keepers. In 1922, 7,300 people registered at the lighthouse. Highland Museum and Lighthouse, Inc. was formed in 1998 as a non-profit to partner with the National Park Service in running a gift shop in the keeper’s dwelling and in offering tours of the lighthouse. After fifteen years in this role, the non-profit lost its contract due to operational issues, and on January 1, 2014, Eastern National was awarded the contract for operating the lighthouse.
The present location of the lighthouse is not the original site as beach erosion had rendered the original location dangerous. The structure was moved 450 feet (140 m) to the west from the cliff’s edge. The move was undertaken in 1996 at a cost of $1.5 million. The 430-ton structure was successfully moved intact on I-beams greased with Ivory soap.

Formerly a location associated with notable danger, the lighthouse presently is surrounded by an oceanfront golf course, the Highland Golf Course. After an errant golf ball broke a window, they were replaced with unbreakable material. The lighthouse grounds are open year-round on Highland Light Road in Truro, with tours and the museum available by the National Park Service during the summer months.

Highland Light Station is located on Highland Rd. in North Truro. Traveling north on Rte. 6, take the “Cape Cod/Highland Rd.” exit; turn right onto Highland Rd. and follow to the Highland Lighthouse area. Highland Light Station is situated on grounds owned by the National Park Service as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and is managed by the Truro Historical Society. The grounds are open all year and the lighthouse is open May-October. A trip to the light station allows the visitor to enjoy the Interpretive Center, watch a 10-minute video and climb the lighthouse tower for a small fee. For further information, visit the Truro Historical Society‘s website or call 508-487-1121.


Previously posted pictures by Karatzas Images of Lighthouse ‘Highland Light’ from 2014 can be seen here.

Cape Cod (Highland), MA, LighhouseFriends.com

Maritime History of Massachusetts 


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at dawn on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at dawn on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at dawn on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at dawn on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at sunrise on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at sunrise on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at sunrise on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro at sunrise on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro; details of windows and thickness of walls. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


Highland Light (Cape Cod Light) at N. Truro on a winter morning. Image credit: Karatzas Images


The Atlantic Ocean and the cliffs that were putting three widows in a house… Image credit: Karatzas Images

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

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMERS:  Vessel description is provided in good faith and is believed to be correct and accurate but no assurances, warranties or representations are made herewith. Vessel description is provided for entertainment  purposes only. We have no responsibility whatsoever for any errors / omissions in vessel description.

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.

Images posted on this blog are typically minimally processed gpeg images of lower resolution. Original images are typically shot in RAW format, which can be provided upon special request.


How to Name a Ship: ‘My Wife will be Delighted!’

In 1936, Cunard White Star Line Limited’s chairman Sir Percy Bates was granted an audience with King George V to inquire about a sensitive matter, to get the king’s consent to name one of company’s ocean liner vessels under construction at the time after the king’s grandmother, Queen Victoria. Traditionally Cunard’s vessels had names ending in –ia, and at the time, the Cunard line was on the quest for a more nationalistic and majestic, shall we say, line of vessel naming.

“Your Majesty,” Bates said respectfully, “the Cunard line is building the best, biggest, and speediest ship in the world, and requests your gracious permission to name her after the most illustrious and remarkable woman who was ever been Queen of England.” The king, probably presuming a uxorious hyperbole in the proposition, replied, “My wife will be delighted,” and so, the vessel got to be known to history as Queen Mary instead of Victoria. [1]

Ships have been huge undertakings from time immemorial in terms of physical dimensions and financial commitment, often disappearing on the horizon not to be seen or heard from again, if ever on occasion, until several months later, whether the purpose of their voyage was military or commercial. While the shape of their hulls was determined by the progress of the science of naval architecture at the time, anthropomorphic markings (such as the ‘oculus’) or artifacts (such as figureheads on the prow) were to impose fear on the enemy, dispel bad luck or bring good luck, calm the elements of nature, and so on, and so forth. The naming of ships has often played a similar role through history, and has imparted practical and commercial concerns through the times.

There is no formal procedure or nomenclature on vessel naming, but usually after the launching of the vessel on the slipway in the shipbuilder’s yard and the smashing of a champagne bottle on the bow by the vessel’s godmother (again, a superstitious act offering libation to the gods of the sea for favorable treatment of the vessel while plowing the waters), there is the naming (or christening) ceremony at which ceremony the vessel is named and her name is ceremoniously revealed from under garlands and banners; sometimes, the naming ceremony takes place just before the delivery of the vessel to her new owners. And today, by IMO regulations, it is required that the name of the vessel is clearly printed on both the portside and starboard bow and the superstructure, while the name along with her IMO number and her homeport are clearly printed on the stern with lettering at least four inches in height. According to the US Coast Guard, “a name for the vessel composed of letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman numerals and may not exceed 33 characters. The name may not be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance at sea; may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent, or profane language, or to racial or ethnic epithets.” On occasion vessels can have two names, one stated on the bareboat charter party and another actually printed on the hull – often trying to accommodate legal or financial considerations. Vessels upon their sale most often change name and the chimney is painted with the house colors and house flag of the new buyer, while the vessel on documents can be identified by the prefix ‘ex-‘ on her previous names, such as MT “Mediterranean”, ex-Exxon Valdez. Sometimes, for older vessels or vessels intended for demolition, the new name can be a variation of the previous name, especially if buyers are to save on new lettering and documentation expenses; as such, a once beautiful tanker named MT “Glenross” became just MT “Ross” on her way to the scrap yard by just painting over partially over previous name; no much romance and aspiration in the naming, just surplus black paint (or primer) did the trick.


A tanker to be renamed: MT 'Glenross'

A tanker to be renamed: MT ‘Glenross

In terms of ship naming conventions and writing style, a ship’s name is always italicized. Prefixes, hull or pennant numbers, and disambiguation are rendered in normal upright font. The definite article is not used with vessel names, and usually feminine pronouns (sometimes neutral as well) are utilized for ships. Common prefixes are MV (for Motor Vessel), MS (for Motor Ship), MT (Motor Tanker), SY (for Sailing Yacht) or MY (for Motor Yacht), while prefixes from older times were SS (for Steam Ship) and RMS (for Royal Mail Ship) or ever older HMS (for His/Her Majesty’s Ship). For a more thorough list of maritime abbreviations, please click here.

While the presence of women onboard ships bored on the superstition of bad luck, non military vessels traditionally have been given female (or neutral) names rather than male names. On occasion vessels were named after the shipowner’s wife, daughter or even paramour, mistress or female companion. There have been owners who went as far to name vessels after colloquial names of ‘working girls’ in port cities such as ‘Lulu’, ‘Fifi’, and ‘Zuzu’; vessels trading in the spot market (often called ‘tramp trade’ since the next cargo and voyage is unpredictable and completely dependent on what cargos and trades will be found at the next port call), just as a ‘working girl’s’ schedule in a port depends, well … depends on trade. Vessels are named after flowers, whether national (“Chrysanthemum” or not, such as “Rose”), in English or in local languages (“Bunga Begonia” in Malay and Indonesian for “begonia flower’). Vessels are named after “Love” or “Amor” or “Prem” (love in Hindi), while there are trading tankers at present named “Lovely Lady” and “Amoureux” (in love), while we should not forget a sitcom of the past taken place on cruiseship MS “Pacific Princess” (better known as “Love Boat”). Pleasure boats and yachts often bear more affectionate, inspirational or evocative names such as SY “Sea Joy” or MY “Eclipse” (Abramovich’es yacht) or “Octopus” (Paul Allen’s, Microsoft co-founder) or MY “Rising Sun” (Oracle’s Larry Ellison yacht) or SY “Maltese Falcon”. Cruiseships often had alluring names such as “Oasis of the Seas” but now at the age of size and industrial scales are also named MS “Carnival Victory” and MS “Carnival Valor” just the way major industrial shipowners name their vessels with in two-words, with their funnel name accompanied by a second name such as MV “Maersk Alabama” or MV “MOL Japan” or MT “Front Cecilie”.

Save SS United States!

Save SS United States!

On occasion, ships are pointedly named, especially in times of war and conflict, while veins of nationalism can sometimes run through ship onomatopoeia as well. Japanese-owned vessels often contain the word ‘Maru’ as the last word in a vessel’s name, meaning ‘circle’ literally, but based on the notion that ships are floating castles, protected spaces or small worlds on their own; a rather astute connotation, actually! When the US claimed as prize of war the German-built Vaterland (‘Fatherland’), President Woodrow Wilson had her re-named Leviathan; when asked about the name, his reply was: “Why, that’s easy, Leviathan …It’s in the Bible, monster of the deep.” [2] In 1952, the ocean liner vessel SS United States was built in Newport News shipyard; the vessel was an engineering marvel of her time in terms of safety, speed, efficiency and luxury, and she was so named to make a point against traditional British dominance of the seas through superior naval architecture and navigational skill.

Sometimes shipowners used to recycle names of glorious, lucky or profitable ships, or maintain a line of naming through family generations; during World War II, the dry bulk vessel “North King” survived seventeen crossings in convoys of the Atlantic Ocean and the Nazi U-boats, and even today the multi-generational house of A.G. Pappadakis & Co. has been naming vessels bearing the first name “North” such as “North Prince”, “North Empress”, “North Princess” [3]. In previous and more innocent times when communications were expensive and access to information not instant (anyone remembers such times?), ship names were more important for trading purposes as charterers and brokers who recalled their names were more inclined to contact the owners for more business. In an interview several years ago in a shipping trade publication, Japanese shipowner Hachiro Kaifu, who was heading Far East Shipping & Trading, brought up such point as “charterers and brokers involved in shipping with Far East often remember our vessels because of their names, and consequently whenever they have a cargo we want, they recall our vessels more quickly than any other vessel,” and thus the unusually but memorably named fleet: MV “Never on Sunday”, MV “Louisiana Mama”, MV “Amor Amor”, MV “El Condor Pasa” and MV “ Shenandoah”.

Famous names of ships are Syracusia, allegedly the largest commercial ship in (western) antiquity; Argo, Jason’s ship going after the Golden Fleece, Santa Maria (or fully La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción) as Columbus’ flagship on his first trip to Americas; Mayflower bringing the Pilgrims to the western world; HMS Beagle, Darwin’s ship for his scientific travels and call to the Galapagos Islands; Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s oceanography vessel; HMS Victory, Nelson’s man-of-war flagship. The clipper vessel Cutty Sark (‘short house skirt’) was famous for her sleek lines and fast times and iconic USS Constitution (‘Old Iron Sides’) in the US instrumental in the country’s war for independence; SS Patrick Henry, was the first of about 2,200 ‘liberty ships’ built during the war effort in WWII; Glückauf was the first oil tanker, with MT Exxon Valdez being a tanker of notoriety, and MT “Seawise Giant” (renamed “Happy Giant”, renamed “Jahre Viking”, renamed “Knock Navis”), was the largest tanker (and movable structure) ever built; as the litany of her names suggests, her size was not commensurate with luck or commercial success. But if there is a vessel that rightfully holds the dubious crown of bad luck, and according to polls has been the most recognizable ship name ever, it is RMS “Titanic” that sank on her maiden voyage with great loss of life, some say as the result of a provocative name and claims of man taming nature and delivering the ‘unsinkable’ ship.

Widawati Delivery_2011


[1] The Cunard Story; Johnson, Howard; Whittest Books, 1987.                                                       [2] Home is the Sailor; Hartley, Herbert; Vulcan Press, 1955.                                                           [3] Ἑλληνες εφοπλιστε᾽ς και ναυτιλιακε᾽ς επιχειρἠσεις; Για᾽ννης Θεοτοκα᾽ς & Τζελι᾽να Χαρλαυ᾽τη; Εκδο᾽σεις Αλεχα᾽νδρεια, 2007.


© 2013-2014 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 here within 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.

Nautical Weather Lore

Ever since people tried to navigate the seaways, the prevailing weather has always been very crucial to the success of expeditions. To steer away from trouble like storms and hurricanes, obviously, but also to put to service natural resources long before wind and solar energy were standard terms. With tall ships completely dependent on wind to carry on with their businesses, the understanding of trade winds was the obvious subject of ‘weather forecasting’. Thus, early on, a thorough understanding of and a diligent attempt to forecast the weather elements had to be part of any good navigator’s skill set.

Since humans’ early records to understand the weather, from Aristotle’s Meteorologica around 340 B.C., a philosophical treatise with theories about the formation of rain, clouds, hail, wind, thunder, lightning, and hurricanes, meteorology has evolved into a highly quantitative science to model the movement and interaction of natural elements; think of the Earth as a huge sphere of 12,800 kilometers (8,000 miles) in diameter covered with a 40-kilometer skin of various gases, whose concentration varies both spatially and temporarily. Keeping in mind that this sphere has a bumpy surface and is rotating all the time, its tilt about the vertical access varying with the season, and also, that this sphere is heated from 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) away with about eight million quadrillion BTUs of solar energy each year reaching its surface (about 20,000 times the energy consumed by all human activity in a year), thus there is an always changing interaction among the factors determining the weather. Long before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US and the Met Office with the Shipping Forecast on BBC’s Radio 4 in the UK, sailors and navigators were crystallizing shortcuts of weather patterns to become weather lore about the appearance of the sky, the shape and type of clouds, the conditions of the atmosphere, and the direction of the winds.

Red skies at sunset, Georgia (Image source: NOAA)

Red skies at sunset, Georgia (Image source: NOAA)

At sunrise and sunset, sunlight is set low on the horizon and travels disproportionally longer distance in the lower atmospheric strata in order to reach the earth surface; thus, sunlight spending more time traveling the atmospheric strata determine the weather, and thus providing more clues for its forecast. At noon, sunlight hits the surface of the Earth vertically – at least at the Equator – penetrating uniformally all atmospheric strata, and providing less of a clue about weather changes.  Preponderance of dry dust particles in the air is a proxy of lack of water vapors in the air (predecessor to rain), and thus dry air particles act as a prognosticator for lack of immediate raining.

In the Northern Hemisphere and around the mid latitudes (‘Horse Latitudes’, where becalmed vessels often threw overboard horses due to lack of water onboard the vessels), usually prevailing winds move from west to the east; whether easterly moving dry dust particles were located westerly or easterly to the observer, it has been a fair quick rule of thumb about weather forecasting.

Based on these rudimentary principles, here are few interesting nautical weather sayings for old salts and landlubbers alike:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,                                                                                                 Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.

Variations of the theme:

Evening red and morning gray, help the traveler on his way.                                               Evening gray and morning red bring down a rain upon his head.


Orange or yellow, can hurt a fellow.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight, indeed! (Image source: NOAA)

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, indeed! (Image source: NOAA)

These are perennial favorites of weather sayings with interesting scientific explanation behind it: in the mid latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, typically weather moves from west to east, blown by the westerly trade winds, meaning that storm systems generally move in from the West.

The colors we see in the sky are due to the rays of sunlight being split into colors of the spectrum as they pass through the atmosphere and ricochet off particles and water vapor in the atmosphere. The amount of dust particles and water vapor in the atmosphere are good indicators of weather conditions. They also determine which colors we will see in the sky.

During sunrise and sunset, the sun is low in the sky and it transmits light through the thickest part of the atmosphere. A red sky suggests that lower atmospheric strata are loaded mainly with dust particles (when atmospheric pressure is high, the lower air holds more dust than water vapors) and low in water vapor concentration.  When we see a red sky at sunset, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west, meaning that effectively good weather will follow. We see the red, because red wavelengths (the longest in the color spectrum) are breaking through the atmosphere. The shorter wavelengths, such as blue, are scattered and broken up.

A red sunrise reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. This indicates that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain is on its way.

The evening red sure sign of a fine day; Lighthouse at Point Judith (image source: Basil Karatzas)

The evening red sure sign of a fine day; Lighthouse at Point Judith (image source: Basil Karatzas)

A red sky in the morning can be caused by the dawn light bouncing off cirrus ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Cirrus clouds can be at the leading edge of a frontal system and so this can also work to signal poor incoming weather.

This weather saying has been referred to in the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) when Jesus said to the fishermen, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Several centuries later, Shakespeare in his play Venus and Adonis says: ‘Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.’

A comparable saying, incorporating the gray color has it as:

The evening red and morning gray,                                                                                               are sure signs of a fine day,                                                                                                             but the evening gray and the morning red,                                                                               makes the sailor shake his head.

Gray sky at night means that the western air is filled with moisture and it will likely rain soon.

Based on similar scientific analysis, also:

A rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.

In the morning, in the northern hemisphere a rainbow out to the west is caused by the sun in the east refracting on water droplets to the west, similarly to producing red skies. And moisture in the air will be heading east likely to produce rain.


Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day;                                                                               Rainbow to leeward, rain runs away.

A rainbow from where the wind is blowing (from the west, usually, in the Northern Hemisphere) is indicating that water vapors are closing in as they are pushed with the wind, whereas a rainbow to the direction the wind is blowing (leeward), it means that water droplets have already passed the weather observer.

Related to rainbows, there is the saying of:

When the sun shines while raining,                                                                                               it will rain the same time again tomorrow.

The incident of raining while the sun is shining is called ‘sun shower’ or ‘sunshower’ and often accompanied by the formation of a rainbow.  As per rainbow explanations above, rain from westerly winds is still in the cards.

Mackerel sky, not 24 hours dry,

Or its variation:

Mackerel sky, mackerel sky,                                                                                                           never long wet, never long dry.

Or, another variation:

Mackerel sky (or scales) and mares’ tails,                                                                                     make lofty (or tall) ships carry low sails (or, Make tall ships take in their sails).

Mackerel or fish scale cloud formations are high, thin cirrocumulus clouds formed by shifting wind directions and high speeds and are typical of an advancing low pressure system or an approaching storm system or front.

‘Mare’s tails’ is a term used to describe those high cirrus clouds that are caused by strong winds high in the air.

So it stands to reason that if you have a Mackerel sky and mares’ tails together, it is going to be wet and windy.

When a halo rings the moon or sun,                                                                                           rain’s approaching on the run (or, The rain will come upon the run).

or, its variation:

If there is a halo round the sun or moon,                                                                                 then we can all expect rain quite soon.


A ring around the sun or moon,                                                                                                   means that rain will come real soon.


Halo around the sun or moon, rain or snow soon.

A ring or halo around a bright object like the sun or the moon is caused by refraction of the light through the ice crystals of high cirrus (cirrostratus) clouds.  The presence of these ice crystal clouds is often a sign that a weather front is on its way probably bringing rain and the brighter the circle, the greater the possibility. Cirrus can be the first cloud to appear ahead of a front. The U.S. Weather Service confirms that rain follows about 75 percent of sun halos and about 65 percent of moon halos.

Sun sets Friday clear as bell,                                                                                                           Rain on Monday sure as hell.

Unknown explanation, and we will be obliged hearing any comments and suggestions on the origin of this expression.

If clouds are gathering thick and fast,                                                                                           keep sharp look out for sail and mast,                                                                                         but if they slowly onward crawl,                                                                                                 shoot your lines, nets and trawl.

and, similarly,

When the wind is blowing in the North                                                                                         No fisherman should set forth,                                                                                                     When the wind is blowing in the East,                                                                                         ‘Tis not fit for man nor beast,                                                                                                     When the wind is blowing in the South                                                                                         It brings the food over the fish’s mouth,                                                                                   When the wind is blowing in the West,                                                                                         That is when the fishing’s best!

Collision of warm and cold air masses (image source: NOAA)

Collision of warm and cold air masses (image source: NOAA)

With the approach of a low pressure front, easterly winds typically pick up, uncomfortably warm, dry, and dusty in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.  Northerly winds, which follow around a low, are cold and blustery.  Sailing in conditions of northerly winds requires expertise and a sturdy vessel capable of handling heavy seas.  Southerly winds typically bring warmer temperatures, and though they may not feed the fish, they do provide pleasant fishing weather.  The best is to have a westerly wind blowing since it is likely to persist for some time, the weather should remain fair and clear, and the wind should be relatively constant.

Beware the bolts from north or west;                                                                                           In south or east the bolts be best.

Meaning that storms to port going North that the storm is coming your way (from the west), while storms to starboard have passed.

A wind from the south has rain in its mouth.

On occasion attributed to Benjamin Franklin, a wind from the south usually brings rain and precedes a cold front.

When rain comes before the wind, halyards, sheets and braces mind,                                   But when wind comes before rain, soon you may make sail again.

or similarly,

With the rain before the wind, stays and topsails you must mind,                                           But with the wind before the rain, your topsails you may set again.

Winds occur when two masses of air of different pressure come into contact; for westerly prevailing winds in the Northern Hemisphere, winds before the rain indicated that the two masses of air are already in contact and thus the strong winds, with the rain following from the westerly winds. However, rain, prior to the winds, is indicative of westerly winds blowing to the east without yet reaching the weather front and creating a storm.

No weather’s ill, if the wind be still.

Typically, strong winds occur near weather fronts (frontal boundaries) where two masses of air of different pressures come into contact. Winds tend to be stronger near these frontal boundaries. When the wind is still, it tends to be toward the center of high pressure or the center of an air mass, and thus no ‘weather illness’.  Calm conditions, especially with clear skies, indicate a high pressure area and lack of any phenomena typically associated with weather, such as clouds, wind, and precipitation.  However, calm conditions may also result from a circumstance known as ‘the calm before the storm’, when a large storm cell to the west is sucking up the surface wind in its updraft before it arrives.  This situation is readily apparent by looking to the west for he approaching storm.


If clouds are gathering thick and fast,                                                                                     Keep sharp look out for sail and mast,                                                                                         But if they slowly onward crawl,                                                                                               Shoot your lines, nets and trawl.                                                                                                   The sudden storm lasts not three hours                                                                                       The sharper the blast, the sooner ’tis past.

When at weather fronts masses of air of different pressure and temperature forcefully interact, usually such forceful interaction lasts only for a few hours since a new approximate equilibrium of barometric pressures is achieved and thus mitigating the forcefulness of the ‘blast’.

Clear moon, frost soon.

or, similarly,

Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.

When there are no clouds to obscure the moon, there are no clouds to ‘blanket’ the earth’s surface and retain any heat that the earth absorbed during the day so, the surface will cool rapidly on a clear night.

If the new moon holds the old moon in her lap, expect fair weather.

When the new moon can be seen along with the outline of the rest of the moon (‘the old moon’) as in a shadow, then the air must be clear and stable enough for us to see faint objects in the sky. Thus, it means that the weather is fair and is likely to stay that way for a while.

The higher the clouds, the better the weather

Cumulus clouds (Image source: NOAA)

Cumulus clouds (Image source: NOAA)

For cumulus clouds, nice little woolpacks, with high bases – around 4000 feet or more, rain is unlikely. Similarly, for mackerel appearance clouds (cirrocumulus clouds) with no mare’s tails, then again, the weather looks set fair. These clouds generally indicate both dry air and high atmospheric pressure – usually associated with fair weather. Lowering ceilings indicate rain. However, ahead of a warm front, high cirrus clouds will be spreading high across the sky, a fore-runner of rain some hours later.

A piece of seaweed hung up will become damp before it rains.

As seaweed naturally absorbs water, as atmospheric humidity increases before it rains, dry seaweed gets damper easier and faster, and thus the ‘science’ behind the saying.


When ropes twist, forget your haying.

Natural hemp ropes and rigging have a tendency to twist as humidity rises as they get damper with water vapors from the atmosphere, thus indicating that rain will follow soon.

Similarly in terms of explanation,

When the chairs squeak, it’s of rain they speak.

Besides earthy inanimate objects having weather predicting powers, also animals, birds and fish have been known to have tried their luck with forecasting the weather:

Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand,                                                                                                     It’s a sign of rain when you are at hand (or, It’s never good weather when you’re on the land).


When sea-gulls fly to land, a storm is at hand.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that animals can sense miniscule changes in the environment and their actions accordingly can predict the weather. It’s not always clear how animals exactly sense or interpret changes of atmospheric pressure or impending storms, etc, and how their sensory reception can come to their survival instincts. In general, birds and animals roost/being nothalgic more during periods of low atmospheric pressure. Before a hurricane, flocks of birds will be seen roosting; taking off may be harder when the pressure is low or the air is thinner because the natural updrafts are lessened.

Sharks go out to sea at the approach of a wave of cold weather.

Several studies have shown that sharks are known to move to deeper waters before hurricanes and storms, seeking better protection from strong waves and jeopardizing getting launched on land.

When porpoises sport and play, there will be a storm.

Frolicking porpoises (Image source: Mothership Adventures)

Frolicking porpoises (Image source: Mothership Adventures)

Porpoises are aquatic mammals similar in appearance to dolphins; porpoises are not successfully kept in captivity like dolphins. No much explanation is available why these animals, and also land animals and pets, get more playful before severe weather.  Any suggestions or explanations, we will be thankful to hear.

A backing wind says storms are nigh, but a veering wind will clear the sky.

A backing wind is a wind that turns counter-clockwise with height, while a veering wind is a wind that turns clockwise with height. A backing wind is associated with cold air advection and dynamic sinking (CCBC or CounterClockwise, Backing, Cold air advection). Ahead of a warm front, the wind will back from W or NW to SW, S and even SE. So, this can be a good predictor although not all backing winds will presage a warm front. As a cold front passes, winds will veer from a SW’ly point ahead of the front to NW behind. So, in this case, the wind veer (CVW or Clockwise, Veering, Warm air advection) will be as or after the front has passed. Winds back behind cold fronts.

If wooly fleeces deck the heavenly way, be sure no rain will mar a summer’s day.

Fleecy, wool-like white clouds are only a few hundred feet thick, indicating that they have barely developed due to condensation. As such, they are a sign the atmosphere is still relatively stable.

When boat horns sound hollow,                                                                                                     Rain will surely follow.

or, similarly,

Sound travelling far and wide,                                                                                                       a stormy day betide.

Sound travels faster in the water than in the air, and a little bit faster in humid rather than in dry air. Also, sound is absorbed to the greater extent when traveling through humid air rather than dry air. Thus, sounds in humid days – days proceeding rain, have a hollow (echo-y) effect and travel faster.

When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.

As water vapors and humidity increase in the air, in advance of rainy weather, smaller stars on the sky cease to be visible, while bigger, brighter ones overwhelm the sky and shine with a blur or a corona around them (‘fogginess’), giving the impression of cluster of stars rather individual stars.

When the bubbles of coffee collect in the center of the cup, expect fair weather. When they adhere to the cup, forming a ring, expect rain. If the bubbles separate without assuming any fixed position, expect changing weather.

Although our own empirical evidence seems to confirm this weather saying, while sailing or ashore, we have had hard time finding a logical explanation. But, as they say, it’s usually the small things in life that defy easy explanation; after all, it took Albert Einstein himself a whole doctoral dissertation in 1905 on the hydrodynamic derivation of a relation between the coefficients of viscosity of a liquid with and without suspended particles to mathematically explain how sugar dissolves in coffee; we regret that after his dissertation went on to publish with months of his dissertation his next seminal work on Brownian motion, and didn’t dedicate more brain power on the bubbles at a surface of a coffee cup!  Probably, we will have to wait for the next genius for a mathematical formula!

© 2013-2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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„Charles W. Morgan” – The story of the last whaleship: work of love, sweat and tears, but of blood, too

The Mystic Seaport museum in Connecticut launched in late July the sailing whaleship „Charles W Morgan”, allegedly the oldest and only remaining whaleship in the world. The „Morgan” was originally built in 1841 in New Bedford, Massachusetts when New Bedford and the adjacent area was then a major, and very prospering, whaling center worldwide. Like the wooden ships of her time, her expected life – between the dangers of limited maneuverability depending heavily on weather elements, cannibals and mutiny, Arctic ice and Confederate raiders, fire, woodworms, saltwater, was not expected to top twenty years, but it turned out that the „Morgan”, despite her many close calls, she ended up making an unheard of 37 voyages during eight decades of prime commercial life (average voyage duration was about four years.) Some interesting ‘personal’ accounts of her original ownership and the early restoration efforts can be found here.

Charles W Morgan - Outline

Charles W Morgan – Outline

It cost about $27,000 to built the vessel at the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, and about another $26,000 to outfit her, about $1.5 million in total in today’s money. Her least profitable trip made about $200,000 while her most profitable trip brought in about four million dollars, all at today’s purchasing power again. Over her trading career, she generated more than $32 million in gross profits (at today’s PPP), mostly in the form of sperm oil, a waxy ester (prized as illuminant because of its bright, odorless flame), and whale oil made from the blubber of baleen whales (used for the production of soap, margarine and as cheaper illuminant due to her darker flame and fishy odor.)  At 110 ft long, 27 ft beam and 17 ft draft, she had three decks, sailing capacity of 13,000 square feet and with about 35 crew, she was classed as a 351 ton whaling ship. She could hold 3,000 barrels of 31.5 gallons each; given that, on average, each whale could fill fifteen barrels, each of the voyages meant the life of 200 whales, implying that the ship has been the production plant (and graveyard) of 7,000 whales. Just one ship.

We are of the opinion that killing whales is a despicable practice in our days and ought to be banned altogether, but we have to admit that whaling was ‘big business’ a couple of centuries ago and the industry has been the cause for advancement of naval architecture and navigation, exploration and trade, and a pillar of the development and growth of most of the New England area in the USA and many other ‘clusters’ for the trade worldwide.

We feel strongly and enthusiastically about the Mystic’s diligent work to rebuilt and restore the vessel to her original condition based on tools and craftsmanship technique from the time of her original construction.  The restoration so far has taken more than five years and has cost about seven million dollars employing 60 people.

Charles W Morgan - Under restoration (image cource: Wiki Commons)

Charles W Morgan – Under restoration (image source: Wiki Commons)

Imagine, if you please, what would be to sail on the vessel at her time: thirty five crew members packed in quarters no larger than two bedrooms, sailing around the Cape Horn for four years, away from families and loved ones, living on rations, no fresh food and vegetables onboard, with potable water stored in wooden casks for months, no bath, shower or toilet (just a ‘head’) battling the elements of nature, harpooning whales from the four small whale boats, towing the poor humongous beasts to the mother vessel, manually cutting, mincing, lifting, ‘trying out’ huge chunks of the meat, working on your knees and soaked in blood and fat (the decks of the vessel were not high enough to stand up, in order to preserve space.) With the exception of the captain and the first officer, a modern observer could justifiably say that being on the ship at such time was sort of voluntary indenture.

Working quarters - Elbows & Frames

Working quarters – Elbows & Frames

How many things have changed since then? The ships; the people; the culture and the morals; ethics and what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; major trades and industries important to local societies and even nations… Ships always have a story to share… from the people who dreamt of them, to the people who built them, to the people who sailed on them, to the people who serviced them, to the people who restored them way past their trading life.

We should take a minute listen to their sort of ‘Siren song’!

Charles W Morgan - In her previous glory (Photo credit: Mystic Seaport)

Charles W Morgan – In her previous glory (Photo credit: Mystic Seaport)

© 2013 – 2014 Basil M Karatzas & Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, images are provided by Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co. No part of this blog can be reproduced by any means or under any circumstances, in whole or in part, without proper attribution or the consent of the copyright and trademark holders.