Monday, October 21, 2013

Sea Serpents Abound....

In two separate instances within the last month, giant sea creatures have washed ashore in California. See for a description of the latest occurrence. Scientists are puzzled with the spate of strandings of giant oarfish, a species that usually spends its time in the water at depths of hundreds of meters.

The picture seen above was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and was originally taken near San Diego in 1996 and shows a 23-foot long specimen of an oarfish being held aloft by a group of U.S Navy sailors.

This drawing of "Banks's Oarfish" appeared in an 1877 book entitled "History of Fishes of the British Isles" and appears online courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries' Digital Collections. Notice the hair-like frill that runs along the back of the fish.

When Captain Peter M'Quhae of HMS DAEDALUS first spotted a sea serpent to starboard in August of 1848, he was very analytical in his description of the creature. It passed close enough to the ship that M'Quhae stated that if it was a human acquaintance, "I should have easily recognized his features with the naked eye." He continued in his report that, "The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches in diameter behind the head....It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of seaweed, washed about its back." The painting below is one of two in the collection at Mystic Seaport of Captain M'Quhae's sea serpent. An engraving almost exactly representing this image appeared in the Illustrated London News in October of that year. Whether the newspaper image came first or the painting (which was purchased for the Museum in Scotland in 1960), is unknown, but M'Quhae's description of the size of the creature and the "mane" that appeared on its back is oddly similar to that of the oarfish. 

Mystic Seaport Museum. Accession number 1960.207

The current events in California have caused quite a stir as evidenced by the national media coverage. No less a commotion was in evidence in the autumn of 1848 in London. Was the good Captain's sea serpent an unknown, undiscovered relic of ages past or was it a lost visitor from the deep in the guise of an oarfish, which have been reported to grow as long as fifty feet? Unfortunately, we can only speculate.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

U.S. Charges Back to Win America’s Cup!

Looking at the title above, you would be justified in thinking this was about the miraculous comeback of Oracle Team USA in beating New Zealand in San Francisco recently. The truth is that it relates to the 1920 America’s Cup race that took place off of New York.

Sir Thomas Lipton challenged the New York Yacht Club for the fourth time and brought his SHAMROCK IV across the pond in 1914 for a scheduled September race. While in transit, SHAMROCK IV learned of Germany’s declaration that began the First World War, thus postponing the race until July of 1920. Leaving the boat to sit six years in a cradle in New York did not deter Lipton from continuing his quest after the War was finished.

The American boat, RESOLUTE, was skippered by Charles Francis Adams, the great-great grandson of President John Adams. Adams was hailed as America’s best sailor in 1920 and took on the challenge of defending the Cup. And he did…..just barely.

For the first and only time in his five challenges, Sir Thomas’ boat won a race. And then he won the second race in the best of five challenge. And all of a sudden the Americans were one race away from losing the Cup. Thanks to the handicap rule then in place, and Adams’ experience at the helm, RESOLUTE came back to win the final three races to keep the America’s Cup at home in the New York Yacht Club.

NYYC certificate honoring Charles Francis Adams as the successful skipper of the 
1920 America'sCup challenge. HFM 7. G.W Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.
The picture shown is of a certificate in Mystic Seaport’s collection. The exquisite document praises Adams as the club member who had “such unusual qualities and nautical skills as top accomplish this difficult defense with unqualified satisfaction to both Club and Country.” Lipton would challenge one more time in 1930, but would go home once again without the “Auld Mug.” Click on the image to read the entire document.

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