Category Archives: Sailing

Who Was The Pirate? Curious Case of Blackbeard’s Murder

A site called Coastal Review has a fascinating take on the events that led to Blackbeard’s untimely violent death.

Blackbeard did not prey on a single ship in the waters off the Outer Banks during his surprisingly brief 23-month career as a pirate. And, as previously stated, his pitiful camp at Ocracoke and pirate company of 15 men were hardly a threat to anyone.

[…]

Blackbeard and his friends from Bath, many of whom were killed, were unwitting pawns caught in the middle of what turned out to be a failed political coup.

Furthermore, Lt. Maynard’s 60 Royal Navy sailors acted as little more than pirates themselves.

Hao Projection: Chinese-Drawn World Map

Maps are political by nature of defining boundaries. Whoever has that authority to classify territory, gains a lot of power.

More interesting than just drawing the lines, however, is the graphical representation of 3D spaces in 2D. Many probably are familiar with the impact of the Gall-Peters map (by Arno Peters based on a 1885 James Gall paper) since the 1980s.

UNESCO promotes the use of the Gall-Peters projection, and this option is widely used in British schools. Boston became the first public school district in the United States to adopt this map as its standard in 2017.

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Lately it seems like the Gall-Peters projection opened the door to dynamic maps that try re-frame our understanding of reality in terms of coastline length.

Sailchecker, a charter company, offers us this warped view…

Speaking of coastlines, a report in 2010 by Linda Jakobson at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” shows China’s perspective on sailing through the Arctic.

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The captions label Shanghai, Rotterdam, New York, the ‘North East Sea Route’ (red) and the ‘North West Sea Route’ (blue).Source: Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, ; map drawn by Hao Xiaoguang,

Then on 11 December 2013 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the researcher (geophysicist) Hao Xiaoguang had drawn another new map of the world.

…with the authorization of National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. Traditional word map is suitable for expressing the relationship of east and west hemisphere, it uses meridian to cut the global and should be called as merdian-wise world map. As contrary, the new version of world map uses prime vertical to cut the global and should be called as prime vertical-wise world map, consequently, it is suitable for expressing the relationship of north and south hemisphere. In order to express the geography relationship properly, the workshop had proposed the design scheme of series of word map since 2000 to 2002. In recent years, the new version of world map had been applied by many agencies for different scientific purpose, and the draft has been collected by State Museum, From now on, the new word map will be available in our daily life and will give us brand new geography idea.

Saying prime vertical-wise world map is a mouthful (maybe sounds better in Chinese?) and so the Hao Projection might be easier and make more sense.

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You can buy your own 1.1 meter sized relief version (3D凹凸地图 美观大方) of the Hao projection (ironically, shipping options are geographically limited) at the TMALL:

Who Caused 2018 Power Outages in Russia?

In 2018 a very important and very large dry dock facility in Roslyakovo was in the news for a horrible tragedy.

There were about 60 people on the dock when it started to sink. Five of them did not manage to get in safety. One is reported dead and four injured, one with a serious condition.

This gave me a flash back to 1984 when Severomorsk, Russia hit the news for a horrible tragedy. A navy weapons depot caught fire and exploded, killing hundreds.

…the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the accident from travelers, then positioned satellites and electronic devices to assess the damage. Those sources said the death toll was estimated at between 200 and 300 people, many of them ordnance technicians sent into the fire caused by the explosion in a desperate by unsuccessful effort to defuse or disassemble the munitions before the exploded in a chain reaction over several hours. Officials at the State and Defense Departments, as well as diplomats and congressional officials all blamed the accident on Soviet “carelessness.”

There’s even a CIA file (with a copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly and details of a criminal trial for the Navy analyst who leaked the photos) for perspective:

…U.S. District Court Judge Josepth H. Young has already ruled that Morison’s motives were irrelevant, [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Schatzow voiced skepticism about the defense claims that Morison wanted to alert the American public through the medium of a British magazine where he was seeking a full-time job. “He didn’t send it to CBS,” Schatzow declared. “He didn’t send it to The Washington Post. He sent it to Jane’s.”

That Jane’s disclosure story from 1984 points out an ammunition dump also exploded in the Bobruysk airfield (Belarus), and at the end of the prior year ammunition exploded in the Dolon (Kazakhstan) airfield and two more ammunition depots exploded after that… by June there was a huge explosion in Schwerin. So the CIA file in fact shows Murmansk was the fifth or sixth Soviet safety disaster a row.

And that’s not to mention, or who can forget, the April 26, 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant?

Way back in 1984 there would have been “travelers” to inform intelligence agents about a disaster. In 2018 terms there instead is monitoring of social media accounts to start the discussion about the tragic sinking of a massive dock.

And from that angle the 2018 news of disaster reads at first like it should get a footnote similar to the 1984 official commentary: Russia continues to be known for operations fraud, “carelessness” and decay.

Maybe there’s nothing more to this story than just people discussing a tragedy resulting from bad safety practices:

…the dry dock has itself had repeated problems with its aging technical equipment, including the electricity system…

Reports mentioned sub-par maintenance of a huge floating platform built by Sweden in 1980, neglected since, with possible criminal charges for the private owners of the dock. Rosneft bought 2015 for its “oil operations”, which in terms of Russian oligarchical corruption means transfer of government funds to someone’s pockets by forcing major Navy repairs into private hands.

That makes the most simple explanation of disaster very believable: when a power outage hit the dock’s huge ballast tanks they failed-unsafe because of careless management. When a power outage hit that floating dock it predictably filled up with water and sank.

The subsequent lawsuits probably say something like Rosneft cut safety corners to increase profits, as one expects from an unregulated/monopolized market — the only dock big enough for the Russian navy to do repairs on its fleet.

It’s an unbelievably unfortunate operations situation coupled with a design flaw someone must have known about for a long time, especially given a history of having unstable power sources in that region.

A very predictable disaster.

Yet such a vulnerability makes it too tempting to not float the idea that this is also was fertile ground for someone hunting for easy cyber attack targets.

Again, the basic narrative since 1984 of Russian carelessness still makes sense. Yet early 2018 also saw a series of electricity “hacks” on America purported to originate from Russia.

For a little context from 2018, two years earlier the U.S. loudly warned that its “military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid…for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights…”.

A month after these 2016 U.S. statements, the Russian city of Murmansk experienced a massive energy blackout. It was blamed on an intentional short circuit at the Kolenergo substation.

The acts were done near a city block in the street of Knipovich, Nikora said in an extraordinary meeting in the regional Staff of power security. It is not clear who was behind the acts, nor whether it is consider as deliberate sabotage or result of an accident.

That’s kind of important context, given how two years later rolling power outages hit the same region, sinking the largest dock in Russia and crippling their global navy operations. Even if not a cyber attack, you can’t say a fail-unsafe design makes any sense for the dock.

The most interesting run-up to the power outages in 2018 perhaps starts months earlier when the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was trying to boast they had breached America’s power grid:

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities…

It was thus after aggressive hacking claims by Russia that it faced:

…several cases of power outage all over the [northwest] region, including in the cities of Severomorsk and Murmansk…

These power outage cases not only crippled Russia’s ability to manage its fleets by sinking their largest Naval dock, they also damaged Russia’s only aircraft carrier in the dock failure (Admiral Kuznetsov, which had been serving in Syria to infamously carry out air strikes yet losing two aircraft during routine landings).

Again, it has to be emphasized Russia earned itself a reputation for carelessness and predictable self-inflicted disasters. There may have been no cyber attacks at all and disasters still could have happened from decay or “incredibly easy” physical attacks.

Just a year after the dock sank, that same one and only aircraft carrier caught fire during repairs, blamed on a short circuit.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia’s TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship’s repairs, are unaccounted for.

The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents…

It’s hard to prove a cyber attack hit a country causing a power outage when that country is so bad at operations, but that’s exactly the point. The Stuxnet attack targeted a facility that already was suffering under something like a 30% failure from rust and basic operations failures.

This is why timing of the 2018 power outages in Russia shortly after its boasts about hacking can make for interesting reading. Despite the lack of any real details or news from the cities in Russia affected, I’ll be surprised if historians don’t find out more here by poking around.

Perhaps US Admiral Stavridis put it best in October 2016 when he quoted a Russian proverb: “Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed.”

Captain Morgan Hated Being Called a Pirate Because He Hated Democracy

Someone just suggested to me that the Spanish loved pirates while the British hated them.

This isn’t even remotely true and it reminded me how a Spanish city official (Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, a decorated veteran of wars in Flanders) once called Britain’s Captain Morgan a pirate, using that term to insult him as those aspiring to monarchy hated pirates.

The story then goes Morgan indeed hated the exchange and was so enraged that he planned a devastatingly brutal siege of the Spanish city Guzmán defended, torturing residents and pillaging the area for weeks just to prove he was no pirate.

Here’s how one historian has referred to Morgan’s style of leadership:

Behind him were smoldering ruins, pestilence, poverty, misery and death.

A first-person’s account of Morgan’s battles was written by Alexandre Exquemelin, a doctor serving him, in a book called Buccaneers of America. Exqumelin wrote that Morgan lashed together Spanish nuns and priests to use as human shields while he attacked the Spanish military, and that he regularly imprisoned and raped women.

Painting that Morgan commissioned of himself, documenting his boyish and elitist clean-shaven look, while “under arrest” in London after 1672. Source: National Trust of the United Kingdom
Captain Morgan’s vicious retort to his critics — as in the violent argument he waged upon the Spanish, burning their cities to the ground — was that he was a proud privateer in service of the British monarchy during a war (Governor of Jamaica in 1667 gave Morgan a letter of marque to attack Spanish ships).

Morgan thus ran an autocratic and ruthless mercenary operation on behalf of a Crown authority. He was accused by his own men of “cheating” them of promised wages and benefits as he pillaged cities, a military campaign he wasn’t even authorized to do (again, just to be overly pedantic, his letter of marque was to attack ships only, nothing on land).

The privateer life meant public forms of immoral service to a monarchy of questionable values (ultimately atrocity crime charges against him were dismissed and instead he received a plush reward by appointment to government, which also is where Morgan proudly owned hundreds of slaves that operated Jamaican sugar plantations).

Thus, how dare anyone accuse him of being a liberal pirate or try to imply he was fair to his followers or a representative/elected leader?

He would surely have tortured and killed someone if they did accuse him of being so democratic.

In that sense, pirates seem to have been operating somewhat as entrepreneurs challenging the brutality of unjust political systems of monarchy.

Pirates fought against those who had expressly denied human rights and trafficked in human exploitation. They weren’t going to fight in wars that benefited only a few elites, because Pirates also were known to use a democratic system of leadership based on votes and qualifications (given nobody was born into office or summarily appointed by royalty).

Privateers functioned almost in the exact opposite way to pirates while appearing similar; business operators appointed by authority who served awful political systems to exploit high-risk and unregulated markets. Privateers like Morgan operated as ruthless mercenaries in privileged positions of milking their own corrupt system for large personal gain.

It’s a significant difference between an owner-operator business in highly distributed undefined territory (pirate) versus exploitative vigilantism (privateer).

Confusing? Somehow pirates have become associated with the latter when historically they have operated far more as the former.

The important difference perhaps is best explained in Chapter 8 of “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates” by Peter T. Leeson

The Captain Morgan brand of liquor thus has popularized a man who promulgated human trafficking, rape, theft, murder and authoritarianism. Don’t call him a pirate.

It reminds me of Hitler wine.