Friday, April 22, 2016

The Worst and the Best – of the Pacific

Review by Bill Doughty

Tragedy and triumph. "Collision" and cooperation. War and Peace. 

Simon Winchester, author of "Atlantic," explores the yin and yang of the world's biggest ocean in "Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers" (2015, HarperCollins). "Pacific" is a great read for Earth Day.

Winchester's clear-eyed assessment ranges from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, garbage gyres, el Niño and the "Ring of Fire" to the joys of surfing in a book he calls "a description of the modern Pacific Ocean" that begins at the end of the Second World War.

Japan rose from the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to become an innovative and inventive world power, creating the transistor and transforming business. The Japanese people rejected an authoritarian military-controlled government to "display a mettle quite unimaginable in its scope, heft, and range" in the Pacific theater:
"In those first months after the surrender, the country was gripped by a spasm of self-repair, of make-do and mending, of precipitous institutional about-faces and adaptations. Factories that had weeks before been making war materials switched their production lines to start making items needed not by generals and admirals, but by the bone-tired civilians and by the ragged menfolk returning from the battlefields. So bomb casings became charcoal burners, sitting neatly upright on their tail fins and helping households get through that first bitter winter. Large-caliber brass shell cases were modified as rice containers, while tea caddies were fashioned from their smaller shiny cousins. A searchlight mirror maker turned out flat glass panes to repair thousands of smashed Tokyo windows; and for country dwellers, a fighter plane engine piston maker turned his factory to building water pumps. A piston ring fabricator named Soichiro Honda took small engines used during the war as radio generators and strapped them onto the frames of Tokyo's bicycles – the resulting Bata-Bata motorcycles, the name being onomatopoeic, later evolved into a brand of bike still famed from 1950s Japan as the Dream. Its popularity and commercial success heralded the birth of today's automobile giant, the Honda Motor Company."
Supercyclone Tracy bears down on Darwin, Australia in 1974.
The end of empires casts a long shadow in this book: Imperial Japan and especially the British Empire – and how the monarchy's influence faded in Hong Kong and Australia.

Darwin, Australia becomes a focal point in a discussion about Pacific storms and the effects of global climate change. "During the war, more Japanese bombs rained down on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor," Winchester writes. But when Supercyclone Tracy turned from the sea toward Darwin on Dec. 25, 1974, it destroyed 80 percent of the city. "There has never been a more dreadful and destructive event in recorded Australian history."

Winchester mentions how the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii tracks storms in the Pacific, including Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which "devastated much of the Leyte Gulf region of the southwestern Philippines." 

Northern Lights seen in ICEX 2016. Photo by Aerographer's Mate 2nd Class Zachary Yanez
He quotes former U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear III, who, three months before Haiyan, said changes in the climate were causing increased typhoon activity. "Significant upheaval related to the warming planet is probably the thing most likely to happen ... and that will cripple the security environment," Locklear said. "Probably that will be more likely than the other scenarios we often talk about."

Winchester discusses coral bleaching, first seen on the Great Barrier Reef in late 1981, "under threat from a rise in sea temperature and acidity." He also describes the Pacific garbage patch, effects of plastic pollution on birds, efforts to stop overfishing, and rising sea levels in Kiribati.

Staff Sgt. Skinowski from the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing watches Mt. Pinatubo eruption, June 1991.
The explosion of Mt. Pinatubo, accompanied by a devastating typhoon in 1991, is described as a pivotal moment in the history of the region. Winchester reports how the USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) were diverted to the Philippines to help with evacuation and recovery (Operation Fiery Vigil) and of the vacuum created by the loss of Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base.

The U.S. Navy figures prominently in "Pacific," from the USS Pueblo incident with North Korea in 1968 at the height of the war in Vietnam and during the Cold War to deployment of littoral combat ships today to Singapore. 

Winchester shows how the border for North Korea was created by a grease pencil on a National Geographic map early in the Cold War and what that meant for those affected by the "wretched annoyance" of the "pariah state."

Exploring with science and helping try to understand the origins of life: HOV Alvin.
The author takes us aboard the Navy-commissioned, civilian-operated Human-Occupied Vehicle HOV Alvin, a submersible that made a startling discovery 39 years ago.
"On a Thursday morning in mid-February 1977, this doughty miniature research submarine, so precisely engineered and so heavily armored as to allow three explorers to be brought down into the ocean deeps and then drive safely back to the surface, was lowered into the warm blue waters of the eastern Pacific for the 713th logged dive of her career. What she would find later that day, in the abyssal gloom almost two miles down, would laser-etch her name into oceanography's history books as having made perhaps the greatest maritime discovery of all scientific time. For she discovered down in the dark a whole new undersea universe, a previously unimagined dystopia of crushing pressures and scalding temperatures, of curious topography and even more curious life-forms, all gathered around a family of hitherto unknown phenomena that were immediately named for the gaseous torrents that they spewed ceaselessly out into the sea. Alvin, on that midwinter's day in 1977, first discovered the existence of what were to be called deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, gushings of gas and superheated water in places where all was believed to be cold and dark and dead."
The Navy, with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution aboard Alvin, had discovered new forms of life that existed through chemosynthesis, providing "information about the origins of life itself."

While he focuses primarily on the United States, Japan and Australia, Winchester presents an enlightening discussion about China and it's "new Great Wall" at sea, saying the founding of the People's Republic "would eventually turn the Pacific into a cauldron of contention," challenging ships in international waters with claims of sovereignty.
"And still the contagion spreads, and becomes ever broader. In recent years, China's dominance of the South China Sea has been followed by attempts to impose similar hegemonic control over the East China Sea. A long-standing claim made by the Chinese to the disputed Diaoyu Islands, an uninhabited cluster northeast of Taiwan that the Japanese have long called the Senkaku Islands, was suddenly backed up in 2013 when the Beijing government declared the airspace overhead a restricted area, and demanded that all aircraft, civilian and military, report and seek permission before entering it."
Past and future. Destruction and renewal. Fear and hope. Symbolism and stark reality. The yin and yang of "Pacific" rides on warships and surfboards.

Through the words of Jack London and Mark Twain and his own storytelling, Winchester introduces us to surfing icons George Freeth, Hobie Alter and Duke Kahanamoku – "a swimmer to beat all and a surfer to crown all, and if not the father of surfing ... its greatest of ambassadors, to America and beyond." His writing about the sport comes alive:
"The Pacific is a liquid place, and on most of its inhabited coastlines this liquid is warm and ultramarine and inviting. It is also by its very nature ceaselessly in motion. For centuries native peoples who lived on many of the islands of the ocean's tropical interior have made great use of all this motion in ways that provided them with the purest joy imaginable. they rode out on long wooden boards through the beachside surf and spume and waited, floating, for a wave to lumber in from the ocean, and then stood up on the boards, toes gripping the leading edge, and from the wave's summit crest, rode the boards down its steep green face, all the way back into shore."
The love for the sea becomes transcendent and expansive in "Pacific's" epilogue, "The Call of the Running Tide," as he describes the "duty of humanity" for Malama Honua, "to care for our island Earth." Malama Honua. That's the name of the three-year worldwide voyage of traditional waʻa, or sailing canoe, Hōkūleʻa, sailing with, as Winchester points out, "No compass. No extant. No radar. No radio. And certainly no GPS."
"They have left the Pacific behind. The crew have now to divine their way across seas – the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea – that are very different from their home waters. They will pass beneath skies and patterns of stars quite strange to them. Whether or not they succeed, those aboard all keenly believe that their simple attempt will serve as a powerful reminder of the sea's singular importance. That is what all on the boat and back in Hawaii believe lies at the heart of their venture. Malama Honua: that all should be urged to care for a body of water that nourishes every living thing on earth, that gave it life in the first place, and yet that is now wearily compelled to absorb all the excesses of the humans who live beside and around it."
Winchester concludes:
"It seems to me there is even more potent symbolism to the Hōkūleʻa's journey, symbolism that relates quite specifically to the ocean where the boat was born, where her crew members revived and then learned their skills, and from where she came to venture out to the rest of the planet. The Pacific occupies a unique position among the world's seas; the Hōkūleʻa's journey has served as a reminder of why."
At the end of this insightful book about the modern history of the Pacific, readers can be excused for wanting more stories from the author. But as one considers China, North Korea, global climate change – and the hopefulness of Malama Honua – history is still being written.

From today:  "After arriving in Newport News on Friday, April 22, Hōkūleʻa will (be) celebrating Earth Day with the Mariners’ Museum at the James River Fishing Pier on Saturday April 23rd. Canoe tours will be available to the public from 10 am to 2 pm. Enjoy fun and engaging educational activities for families, learn about traditional Polynesian voyaging and wayfinding, and meet the crew of Hōkūleʻa."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Exploration, Navigation, Commitment to Care

Master builder Wright Bowman Sr., born in 1907, created this scaled reproduction sculpture of Hōkūleʻa in 1978, on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

by Bill Doughty

U.S. astronaut Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Lacy Veach looked out the window of the space shuttle as it passed over Hawaii and had an epiphany about "island Earth."

"Lacy could see all the islands, and he could see his whole spirit and soul here. He could see the entire planet as one vision," said master navigator Dr. Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Thompson credits Veach for inspiring Mālama Honua ("Care for the Earth"), the worldwide journey of a double-hull voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa, using traditional navigation techniques. The voyage is underway to raise awareness of our collective responsibility to protect and cherish our home planet.

"Hawaii is a laboratory for living well on islands, including Island Earth," according to Thompson, in an interview with PBS.

Kathy Muneno of Hawaii's KHON reports, "Thompson says it’s when Veach saw Hawaii from space that he knew it held the answer to a beautiful, sustainable and caring Earth. He says Veach actually planted the seed for Hōkūleʻa to sail around the world."

Muneno writes, "Veach and Nainoa Thompson became fast friends and hatched a plan for a three-way call: Veach in the space shuttle, Thompson on the ‘spaceship’ of ancestors, Hōkūleʻa in the South Pacific, both fielding questions from children in Hawaii and broadcasting to hundreds of classrooms."

Friends Nainoa Thompson and Lacy Veach.
They answered students' questions and put navigation by the stars – and with the stars – in context: "exploration."

Hōkūleʻa ("star of gladness," named for the star Arcturus, which passes over Hawaii) departs from Titusville, Florida today after a poignant visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where Thompson and other voyagers paid tribute to Veach's legacy before continuing their voyage up the East Coast.

“The country needs to know that Lacy was the one that planted the idea as a seed into us in 1992 to take Hōkūleʻa around the world.” said Thompson, “Florida becomes foundational for us to articulate and communicate to this country that that’s why we’re coming – out of respect, and out of honoring and making sure that they know that Lacy’s legacy counts. I don’t think we can go up the coast until we establish that.”

Arriving in Titusville, Florida. Photo courtesy and Oiwa TV, by Niehu Anthony.
Thompson held a ceremony aboard the canoe to honor the memory of Hawaii astronauts Ellison Onizuka and Lacy Veach and their contributions to exploration in space. He spoke with NASA employees and shared stories of how Veach inspired a generation of students and voyagers at sea and in space.

“Coming to NASA for me has been an amazing celebration,” Thompson told Hōkūleʻa and NASA crew, as reported on “Lacy is our navigator on this voyage, and for that, this is the most important two days for me.”

Thompson's tribute to Lacy and his vision of "the beauty of island Earth" is published by the Polynesian Voyaging Society. It's a beautiful tribute and shows Veach's commitment to teaching the next generation.

Like President Obama, Veach is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu. He was commissioned in the United States Air Force upon graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1966 and served as a USAF fighter pilot. According to his NASA bio, he flew "the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-111, and the F-105 Thunderchief, on assignments in the United States, Europe, and the Far East, including a 275-mission combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam."

Lacy Veach in space.
He was a member of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, in 1976 and 1977. Veach left active duty in 1981, but served as a F-16 pilot with the Texas Air National Guard before becoming an astronaut in June 1985. 

From his bio: "He held a variety of technical assignments, and had flown as a mission specialist on two Space Shuttle missions, STS-39 in 1991 and STS-52 in 1992. He had logged 436.3 hours in space. Most recently, Lacy had worked as the lead astronaut for the development and operation of robotics for the International Space Station."

Veach is mentioned in the same breath as Pinky Thompson (Nainoa's father), Mao Piailug and Eddie Aikau, inspirational leaders who are part of a seafaring tradition. 

Eddie was an experienced waterman and crew member of Hōkūleʻa who was lost at sea in 1978 when he set out on his surfboard to get help after the canoe capsized. "Eddie would go" symbolizes determination, commitment and selflessness.

U.S. Navy Sailors in Hawaii have a history of working with the Polynesian Voyaging Society – volunteering to assist with fixing and painting facilities, sanding and refurbishing canoes, and advising voyagers.

Just prior to Hōkūleʻa's voyage, Rear Adm. Frank Ponds (then-Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific) spoke with Kathy Muneno and spoke about mitigating the dangers they could face transiting the Pacific, including pirates, storms and rogue waves.

Lt. D. Stayton holds a sextant in a class at USNA. (Photo by MU2 T. Caswell.)
Recently the Navy announced a renewed interest in teaching traditional navigation techniques at the Naval Academy (USNA), using constellations, the sun and moon as Hōkūleʻa does, without relying on global positioning satellites.

National Public Radio published a story about the initiative, noting "Navigation by the stars dates back millennia. The ancient Polynesians used stars and constellations to help guide their outrigger canoes across thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean. And right up until the mid-20th century, navigation on the sea was usually done by looking at the heavens."

As for Hōkūleʻa, the voyaging canoe heads north up the East Coast now toward Washington D.C. and New York via South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. At the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, the voyagers plan to participate in the Earth Day celebration there April 23. 

In a post on

"After spending about a week in Washington DC, Hōkūleʻa will sail to New York City, where she will be a focal point at World Oceans Day events hosted by the United Nations on June 8, 2016. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is 'Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.' While in New York City, Hōkūleʻa will also participate in the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge, which is the East Coast’s largest Pacific Islands festival and one of the world’s most competitive outrigger races. Hōkūleʻa is expected to depart New York City on June 18 for several engagements in the New England area."

To follow the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, visit

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Father of the Navy: GW

Review by Bill Doughty

Was George Washington the first Chief of Naval Operations? Was the Revolutionary War the first world war? Did the colonial navy provide the decisive power that achieved America's independence?

Author Sam Willis brings an objective international perspective to these questions in "The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of the American Revolution" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016). Willis shows how and where privateers and sailors fought up and down the East Coast, across the Atlantic, and in Canada and the Caribbean.

The book opens with how to burn a wooden war ship in the age of sail. Not as easy as it sounds. A group of Americans – angry about authoritarian British customs rules – set fire to a grounded British schooner, HMS Gaspee, in June 1772.

There were other incidents leading up to the war, too, along with the burning of Gaspee and the first shots fired at Lexington.

Rebels launched whaleboat attacks against the mighty Royal Navy and burned another armed schooner, HMS Diana, in Boston Harbor in 1775. It was "a hostile act in the lion's den itself that displayed both American courage and resourcefulness and convinced many of the direction that the revolution was taking," Willis writes. The act planted the idea to create an American navy.
"The man with the idea was George Washington: by profession a surveyor and farmer from Virginia, by limited experience a frontier soldier, by political demand the new commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. In 1775 Washington knew more about farming than anything else."
Washington had fought with the British in the Seven Years' War, but his experience with sea power was nearly nonexistent. But, Willis writes:
"Washington may have lacked experience in sea power, but it is too easy to overlook his knowledge of waterways and skill in boatmanship. He may well have been a 'farmer' – a traditional seaman's insult – but he was a farmer in Virginia, and in the 1770s all farmers in Virginia had a keen nose for matters maritime. Virginia was a colony that constantly looked to the sea. The most significant aspect of the Virginian economy was the exportation of tobacco, and vast fleets, well over 100 ships strong, made an annual migration to Virginia to move the tobacco crop from its magnificent natural harbour at Hampton Roads back to Europe."
We're reminded of Washington's crossings of the Delaware (three crossings and returns) and of his profound faith in the Navy. He told Count Rochambeau: "In any operation, and under all circumstances, a decisive naval superiority is to be considered as a fundamental principle, and the basis upon which every hope of success must ultimately depend."

Faith and hope was embodied in the innovation and industriousness of American shipbuilders from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, North Carolina and other colonies.

Building the Navy for national defense required a centralized government – a fiscal-military nation state to provide oversight. "This is why the birth of the American navy reflects the birth of America itself."

In fact, the Navy directly contributes to the spread of liberty and broadcasting of the Declaration of Independence worldwide. In the week after July 4, 1776 American ships carried printed copies of the Declaration to the rebels' potential allies including to France and to the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. From there, news of the document and copies of its text quickly traveled to Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.

Willis calls Part 3 of his four-part book "World War, 1778-1780."

He shows how France and Spain became committed allies. French help was invaluable to America's maritime war effort, despite "a fascinating and paradoxical mixture of distrust and exceptional high levels of expectation."

Like the British, the French suffered from overconfidence in their own maritime prowess.

And on several occasions major strategic mistakes were made when control over the navy was given to army leaders who tried to apply land tactics to the maritime domain.

Both the British and French underestimated the problem of providing adequate logistics, "finding the realities of prosecuting an aggressive naval strategy 3,000 miles from home extremely difficult."

Lessons apply today in the exercise of forward presence, the need for strong allies, and the importance of protecting sea lanes to ensure the free flow of trade.

In the 18th century, from Europe and the New World to Asia and the Silk Road, "trade ran from Britain and America to Newfoundland, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Indian Ocean and beyond, and where trade went, navies followed."

The 13 colonies had strong affinity for India, which was also under the shadow of the British Empire. A warship in the Pennsylvania State Navy was named Hyder Ali, after an Indian warlord.

The British Navy in Quebec.
If it was indeed a world war, Willis writes, "the first shot of this war was fired between soldiers at Lexington Commons in 1775, but did you know that the last was fired between warships at the battle of Cuddalore in the Bay of Bengal on 20 June 1783."

The rise and fall of empires is a theme in "The Struggle for Sea Power." So is the nature of naval warfare, which included littoral combat. Rivers and lakes presented deadly challenges to mariners. Contemporaries did not see distinction between the importance of command of the seas and control of inland navies, considering both "command of the water."
"If you are struggling to see a lake in the same terms as an ocean, I urge you to stand on the shores of Lake Michigan in a storm. You will not want to go out in a boat. Shallow it may be, but that shallowness and the relatively short fetch of the shores make for particularly brutal conditions on the water. And what about rivers? Rivers were to an eighteenth-century army as railways were to armies of the nineteenth century, but these were no passive, gently bubbling streams but evil and treacherous tongues of brown water whose currents could create whirlpools big enough to suck down a fully manned cutter. Figures do not survive, but it is safe to assume that during this war hundreds, perhaps thousands of sailors drowned in rivers or otherwise died fighting on, in or near them. Most of the riverine warfare I describe in this book, moreover, happened on the lower reaches, where powerful ocean-bound currents met relentless land-bound tides. Operating vessels in such conditions was the ultimate test of seamanship."
"Struggle" offers more than a dozen pages of cool contour maps and charts, beautiful photos, and strange political cartoons of the time. Willis provides extensive notes, bibliography and even a glossary of nautical terms.

The author credits today's U.S. Navy, especially the Naval History and Heritage Command, along with other entities, with providing the background and information necessary to bring his book to print.
"These focused studies are supported by an ongoing project of astonishing scale to publish significant documents pertaining to the war at sea. Under the aegis of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, the 'Naval Documents of the American Revolution' series has been running since the mid 1960s and has become an important historical document in its own right. It now stands at twelve volumes, each over 1,000 pages long, with forewords from several generations of American presidents: from Kennedy through Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush to Obama."
Willis offers a compelling perspective, and it's obvious he achieves the goal he set in writing this important history. The book's opening epigraph is by Herman Melville: "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme."