Sea-Fever blog


Sea-Fever Style: India House’s “Mildewed Maritime” Decor by Peter A. Mello

Well, that the opinion of ALAN FEUER in his Rooms column in today’s (April 22, 2009) of the New York Times (Time and Tide Gnaw at a Downtown Enclave) While sounding a little harsh, there is more than a ring of truth to it and frankly therein lies the India House’s charm. At least for me.

India House by epicharmus on Flickr.com

A maritime curiosity shop as much as a luncheon club, the India House was where I was taken on a number of occasions by the “big wigs” to celebrate successes when I was cutting my business teeth. For good luck it was always a good idea to rub the belly of the big fat smiling Buddha standing sitting guard inside the front doors. If you like maritime culture, history and heritage, this place is like Disneyland (with cobwebs and expensive threadbare Persian rugs).

And this was a place where captains of industry made history. From the India House’s website:

We will never fully know how discussions over luncheon and private meetings at India House changed history from 1914 through World War Two. The maritime historian, Frank O. Braynard, in his 1973 foreword to the second edition of The Marine Collection at India House, states that “England could not have survived [World War Two] without the armada of American-built, American-manned, American-operated merchant vessels…managed by many of the outstanding members of India House.”

So without the India House, German might be spoken in England today. (more India House history)

Sept 27, 1914 NYT article - click to download PDF

Click on the above article for a PDF download of the original 1914 story which makes interesting reading. I was particularly struck by the following paragraph which shows how little things have changed in nearly 100 years.

From the sound’s of Feuer’s article, the same people who I spied across the room thirty years ago are still going there today. They appeared to be pretty old back then so there must be something good going on here. Maybe the new marketing pitch should be “Eat in the India House and Live Forever!”

This economy is causing all kinds of casualties. And while most people wouldn’t notice if the India House rolled up its carpet, it would be a real loss to our national maritime heritage. And heck, where else can you go and grab a good turkey club and feel like you are eating in a maritime museum.

The NY Times has a cool interactive feature you should check out.

Previous NY Times article: Streetscapes/India House, at 1 Hanover Square; A Club Created With the Theme of World Commerce

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Bad News Day For Maritime Heritage And Professional Mariners by Peter A. Mello

Some very bad news for tall ships, maritime heritage preservation and professional mariners today.

Plans for U.S. Brig Niagara’s sailing season could be sunk by Kevin Flowers for the Erie-Times News March 25, 2009 (download copy)

Foreclosure For Tall Ship Mystic by Joe Wojtas for The Day (New London) – March 25, 2009 (download copy)

I’ll be writing more about this later.

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Moby Monday: Frank Stella and Herman Melville by Peter A. Mello

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The Grand Rapids Museum of Art currently has an exhibition of a modern master who get inspiration from a literary classic: MOBY-DICK: Frank Stella and Herman Melville.

If you have never experienced Frank Stella’s monumental artworks you are missing out. His large three dimensional paintings/sculptures on twisted metal (stainless steel) in vivid colors are some of my favorite works of art.

From the Grand Rapids website:

From 1985 to 1997, leading American painter and printmaker, Frank Stella, created a major series of works linked to Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. He created one or more works for each of the novel’s 135 chapters. The completed series consists of 266 pieces: large metal reliefs, monumental sculptures, a mural, and an extended series of mixed-media prints.  The series that Stella named for Melville’s novel is his greatest sustained achievement in four decades of making art.

The exhibition MOBY-DICK: Frank Stella and Herman Melville brings together more than thirty monumental printed works from Stella’s series, including his definitive masterpiece, The Fountain. Twenty-four feet in length, The Fountain is Stella’s largest and most complex work on paper. The woodblocks with metal inlay plates for The Fountain are included in the exhibition on loan from The National Gallery of Australia. A preamble to the exhibition includes a group of Rockwell Kent’s ink-drawings for Moby-Dick and the original Lakeside edition of the book.

You can download the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s audiotour of the exhibition from the museum’s website and view a short video interview with the artist on Blip.tv.

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Preserving Maritime Heritage: The Port Society Website by Peter A. Mello

Sea-Fever Consulting LLC recently launched a new unit called seaz media which focuses on helping maritime and nonprofit organizations use social media to advance their missions.

One of our first projects was to create a web presence for the New Bedford Port Society, a small nonprofit organization that has been serving mariners and the local community continuously for nearly 180 years.  The Port Society owns and maintains two of the most significant buildings in our nation’s rich maritime heritage: The Seamen’s Bethel and The Mariner’s Home.

To learn more about this project, check out the seaz me blog and visit the Port Society website.

NBPS frontpage 2

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Tallest Ship Brings High Hopes to Littlest State by Peter A. Mello

Oliver H. Perry by Onne Van der Wal

While the title of this post sounds a bit like a children’s story, it’s really all big business.

On January 23, 2009, Ariana Green wrote an article in the NY Times titled In Rhode Island, Hoping a Tall Ship Can Help a Sagging Economy about a nonprofit organization, Tall Ships Rhode Island, purchasing a less than half finished tall ship from a foundering Canadian organization with the hopes boosting their tiny states economy, among other things.

Tall ships in America got their start in Newport, RI back in 1973 when Barclay Warburton III, along with a group of like minded maritime enthusiasts including Bart Dunbar, also member of the current group, established a new nonprofit to advance the concept of sail training and organize the US Bicentennial Tall Ships Celebrations in 1976. The American Sail Training Association was founded and over the years has grown to become a national and international nonprofit whose mission is to “encourage character building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public and support education under sail.” (I was the executive director of the ASTA from 2001 through 2006.)

Warburton and the ASTA founders actions were very important to the local community because up until 1973 Newport was a Navy town. However, in that year, the fleet left, the base was downsized significantly and Newport was left pondering a potentially dismal economic future. Tall Ships and the Americas Cup would end up saving the day by transforming the city into one of the sailing capital’s of the world and a maritime heritage tourism destination.

Fast forward 36 years and can the current group pull another miracle out of their duffle bag? Green writes:

As Rhode Island struggles with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, city and state officials hope that turning the hull into a tall ship will create jobs, attract tourists and spur interest in the state’s maritime history.

“Today cities realize they benefit from having a flagship for their community,” said Timothy Walker, who teaches maritime history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “It’s a way to be really visible and make an impression that can travel. It can literally fly the flag for a community.”

But not everyone is aboard with an optimistic assessment:

But Jeff Bolster, a professor of maritime history at the University of New Hampshire, said officials should not overestimate the economic contribution a ship project would make.

“A vessel of this scale is not going to be a huge help to the ailing economy,” Mr. Bolster said. “It has a modest operating budget, so it alone can’t solve the state’s fiscal problems in a major way.”

It will be all very interesting to watch. This is a very experienced group being led by Captain Richard Bailey who for years ran popular sail training programs aboard the HMS Rose until to she was sold to Fox to star in Master & Commander as the HMS Surprise. Today the Rose/Surprise is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s fleet of historic ships.

On the downside is that the Oliver Hazard Perry is a very large ship, second only to the USCGC Barque EAGLE in the United States. Ships this size are very costly to run and often difficult to fill. While nearly anyone who has sailed aboard a tall ship will vouch for it’s power in being a life changing experience, marketing the concept to wider public has always been challenging. The current projected cost of the project is $5 million and her scheduled launch is 2011, but I have yet to see a ship of this scale come in on budget and on time. Tall Ships Rhode Island has always been good at raising money and in this economy and for the foreseeable future, they have to really count on all of the contacts, connections and tricks they can pull out of their ditty bags.

This is a very exciting project for the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island, the entire region and even the nation. While it seems pretty ambitious in scale, it’s no less so than what Barclay Warburton III pulled off in the early 1970’s. I bet he’s looking down and giving Tall Ships Rhode Island a big Huzzah for their efforts.

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Messing About In Ships podcast episode 31 by Peter A. Mello

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(49 minutes)

Download MP3: Messing About In Ships podcast episode 31

Subscribe Via iTunes HERE

Shownotes @ Messing About In Ships blog

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This Day In Maritime History: A Stove Boat Begets A Whale of a Tale by Peter A. Mello

Gregory Peck as Ahab in Moby-Dick

Wired.com reminds us that November 20, 1820 marks the real life event that inspired one of the classics of American literature, Moby-Dick.

The story of the Essex was the inspiration for a young Herman Melville who himself served time at sea on similar whaleships. More recently the Essex story was chronicled in nonfiction fashion by Nathaniel Phlibrick in his award winning book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex .

From Wired.com:

The Essex had taken its share of whales and on Nov. 20 appeared ready to take a few more when a pod was sighted off the starboard beam.

The ship’s three remaining whaleboats — one had been destroyed by a whale’s flukes during an earlier hunt — were dispatched for the kill. As the harpooning began, First Mate Owen Chase, commanding one of the whaleboats, looked back and saw a large sperm whale, which he estimated at 85 feet, approaching the Essex.

As he watched helplessly, the whale propelled itself into the ship with great force. Some crewmen on board were knocked off their feet by the collision, and Chase watched in disbelief as the whale drew back and rammed the ship again. This time the Essex was holed below the waterline, and doomed.

The crew organized what provisions they could and two days later abandoned ship aboard the three whaleboats. Twenty men left the Essex. Eight would ultimately survive the harrowing ordeal that played out over the next three months.


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