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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Newly discovered account of the deadly Halifax explosion

From The Smithsonian

JULY 14, 2017

"We turn out of our hammocks at 6.30am and lash up and stow in the usual way,” a Royal Navy sailor named Frank Baker wrote in his diary on December 6, 1917. “We fall in on the upper deck at 7am and disperse to cleaning stations, busying ourselves scrubbing decks etc. until 8am when we ‘cease fire’ for breakfast.” Baker was pulling wartime duty as a ship inspector in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the lookout for spies, contraband and saboteurs.

But there were no ships to be inspected that day, so after breakfast he and his crewmates aboard HMCS Acadia went back to their cleaning stations. “We...had just drawn soap and powder and the necessary utensils for cleaning paint work,” he wrote, “when the most awful explosion I ever heard or want to hear again occurred.”

What Frank Baker heard was the biggest explosion of the pre-atomic age, a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions. The 918 words he wrote for December 6 make up the only eyewitness account known to be written on the day of what is now called the Halifax Explosion. After World War I, his diary sat unread for decades. Now, it has been included in an exhibit on the explosion’s centennial at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, across the harbor from Halifax. It is published here for the first time.

“The first thud shook the ship from stem to stern and the second one seemed to spin us all around, landing some [crew members] under the gun carriage and others flying in all directions all over the deck,” Baker wrote. Sailors 150 miles out to sea heard the blast. On land, people felt the jolt 300 miles away. The shock wave demolished almost everything within a half-mile. “Our first impression was that we were being attacked by submarines, and we all rushed for the upper deck, where we saw a veritable mountain of smoke of a yellowish hue and huge pieces of iron were flying all around us.”

Unseen by Baker, two ships had collided in the Narrows, a strait linking a wide basin with the harbor proper, which opens into the Atlantic to the southeast. An outbound Belgian relief ship, the Imo, had strayed off course. An inbound French freighter, the Mont-Blanc, couldn’t get out of its way. 

The Imo speared the Mont-Blanc at an angle near its bow. The freighter carried 2,925 tons of high explosives, including 246 tons of benzol, a highly flammable motor fuel, in drums lashed to its deck. Some of the drums toppled and ruptured. Spilled benzol caught fire. The Mont-Blanc’s crew, unable to contain the flames, abandoned ship.

The ghost vessel burned and drifted for about 15 minutes, coming to rest against a pier along the Halifax shore. Thousands of people on their way to work, already working at harborside jobs, or at home in Halifax and Dartmouth, stopped in their tracks to watch.

Then the Mont-Blanc blew.

“A shower of shrapnel passed over the Forecastle, shattering the glass in the engine room and chart room to smithereens, which came crashing down into the alleyways,” Baker wrote. “...The fires all burst out on to the floor of the stokehold [the engine room’s coal storage] and it was a marvel that the stokers were not burned to death, but all of them escaped injury as did all the other of the ship’s company.

“A tug was alongside us at the time and part of her side was torn completely out and three of the crew were injured, one of them getting a piece of flesh weighing nearly 2 pounds torn off his leg. A hail of shrapnel descended about 20 yards from the ship, this came with such force that had it struck us we should certainly have all been lost.”

The Mont-Blanc had disintegrated, showering iron fragments and black tar across Halifax; the shaft of its anchor, weighing 1,140 pounds, spiked into the earth more than two miles away. The explosion tore a hole in the harbor bottom, unleashing a tidal wave that tossed ships as if they were bathtub toys and washed away a Mi’kmaq fishing settlement that had been at the northwestern end of the basin for centuries. A volcanic plume of gray smoke, sparkling fragments and flame rose miles into the sky before billowing outward.

“This was the last of the explosion, the whole of which had taken place inside of five minutes,...” Baker wrote. “Then came a lull of a few minutes and when the smoke had cleared sufficiently, we saw clearly what had happened....One ship had been hurled wholesale for a distance of about 400 yards, dashing it close to the shore, a total wreck with dead bodies battered and smashed lying all around in disorder.

“Fires broke out on ships all around and hundreds of small crafts had been blown to hell and the sea presented an awful scene of debris and wreckage. Our doctor attended to the wounded men on the tug as quickly as possible and we laid them on stretchers in a motor boat and took them to hospital. The scene ashore was even worse.

“The N.W. part of Halifax was in total ruins and fires were springing up all over the city. Part of the railway was completely demolished and everywhere were dead and dying among the ruins. When we arrived at the hospital, the windows were all blown out and the wards were two feet deep in water owing to all the pipes having burst. We had to return to our ship as quickly as possible, as we are Guard Ship and responsible for the safety of the other vessels in harbour.”

Back on the Acadia, Baker beheld a desolate scene: “What a few hours before had been beautiful vessels, were now terrible wrecks, their crews all dead and bodies, arms, etc. were floating around in the water.” That afternoon the Acadia’s crew was called upon to quell a mutiny aboard the Eole, a French ship running relief for the Belgians. After doing so, they returned to their ship. “We quickly got hurried tea and proceeded ashore,” Baker wrote. “Here the scene was absolutely indescribable…

Read the rest.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What would you do to make your favorite author finish a book?

It's a hot, hot, sweaty day on the French version of the autobahn.  There are three grizzling, whining kids in the back, and your wife is doing her best, but getting desperate.

And you are on the way to your holiday house.  Sounds good?  No, it's a wreck of a stone cottage in the countryside, and you are going to spend the whole of your vacation trying to bring it up to scratch.

Including filling a dangerous well where your kids might fall down and die.

Your name is Michel.

You take the chance of a petrol stop to call into the bathroom and rinse your face with cold water.  And when you look up, there is this very respectable, buttondown type guy looking at you.  He smiles.  He looks too long and he smiles too long, and he moves too close.

He's a school friend.  Michel can't remember him in the slightest, but he brings up all kinds of memories -- the girl they both scored with, the poem in the class magazine (which he quotes without a quaver), and the novel Michel never finished.

He's Harry.  And he wants to help.

Somehow, Harry and his girlfriend (Plum) end up at the wreck of a vacation house for dinner.  So, he,with Michel and his lovely wife, Claire, and their three whining children, finds that Michel's parents have left them a present.

A totally ick shocking pink bathroom.

Can you imagine anything more ghastly in an old stone cottage?  Michel can't.  And neither can Harry.

Then Michel's car breaks down.  So Harry (who has endless funds) buys him a new SUV.  With air conditioning.  Perhaps significantly, it is red.

And so it goes.  Ever and ever downward, as the suspense builds up.

The ending is a shocker.  And yet satisfying.  The producers have marketed it as a Hitchcock- type thriller, but it is much, much more than that.

Watch it.   The film is called, HARRY, HE WANTS TO HELP, and you can get it with English subtitles.

You will not be sorry.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Little Boat that could -- how it came about

My post on the Little Boat That Could has garnered huge interest.  To my delight, Victor Lee Graham Fox got in touch on facebook, to thank me for the post, and to reveal fascinating background to the Little Boat adventure.

"Thanks for posting this!," he wrote.  "I work at Mid-Coast School of Technology in Rockland Maine that has a Marine Technology program for high school students that makes the hull, deck and skeg keel for these intrepid little sailboats sailing across the ocean! Once our students are finished their parts they are passed onto a boat builder like Lyman-Morse to be assembled and made ready for sea working with a sponsorship school or organization that does the tracking and promotion and education with "Educational Passages" of Belfast, Maine. The Kennebunk students for their project "The little boat that could" worked with The Landing School of Boat Building and Design to assemble and make ready for sea this amazing little boat that could! I've attached my link to pictures at MCST of the green molds and one white hull ready to be shipped to a happy sponsor.....Cheers!"

And then I followed the link to EDUCATIONAL PASSAGES that he provided.

There are tips on how to build your Little Boat:

And even an interactive map showing where all the Little Boats have gone.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Ducks escort tourists on Lake Taupo cruise

According to the Waikato Times, it is because they love the captain.

At least twice a day, cruise boat captain Pete Boyle is visited by a flock of ducks, much to the enjoyment of his passengers.

It started with holding bits of bread out of the windows.

Now they fly alongside, beaks out waiting for their treat.   And each year there are more and more in the flock, as the ducklings learn from their parents.  By now, says Boyle, there would be three or four generations.

The future could be interesting.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The little boat that could

It would make a wonderful children's book.

A model boat made by students in Kennebunk, arrived safely after thousands of miles, on a beach on a remote island in Scotland.

 From the Press-Herald

“The Little Boat That Could” has lived up to its name.

After 168 days and 12 hours at sea, a small sailboat built by high school students in Kennebunk washed ashore in Scotland after traveling thousands of miles. The boat had sailed across the Atlantic, then up and down the coasts of Portugal, Spain and Ireland before it was discovered Friday by a pair of Canadian tourists exploring a beach on a remote Scottish island.

“It really was a crazy journey,” said Leia Lowery, the director of education for the Kennebunk Conservation Trust who worked with the students who built the boat and documented its journey on Twitter.

The 5-foot boat washed up on Balivanich Airport Beach on the island of Benbecula, where it was found Friday by John and Angelika Dawson of British Columbia as they were walking their dog. The couple notified local police, who called the Scottish coast guard.

At first, no one quite knew what to make of the boat, which is covered with stickers from Maine groups and businesses. The blue and white sail is a bit tattered and the underside of the boat is covered in mussels, but the solar panel, camera and sensors appear to be undamaged. Even the tiny Lego pirate that had been the students’ mascot while they built the boat survived the journey intact.

“Everyone was really excited to hear it was in pretty good shape,” said Ed Sharood, a teacher who worked with the students to build the boat and who informed them of its discovery via text message and email. Some students who had doubted the boat could make it were a bit surprised, he said. 

After determining the boat was not hazardous, the Scottish coast guard moved it to a secure location while officials tried to contact the owner, according to a Facebook post from the HM Coastguard Benbecula. In an update, the HM Coastguard Benbecula said the boat has been handed over to Mari Morrison, a primary school teacher from North Uist. Morrison had previously been involved with the rescue and repair of a similar mini boat that landed in Scotland in 2016.

The boat project is part of an ongoing partnership between the students in the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. The trust bought the kit to make the boat from Belfast-based Educational Passages using an $1,800 grant from San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance.

Kristen Cofferen, one of the students working on the project, suggested the boat’s name after a classmate expressed skepticism that it would make it across an ocean.Seven students from the high school program teamed up with the trust and The Landing School in Arundel to construct the 5-foot self-steering boat that is powered solely by wind and currents. 

Inside the boat – named “The Little Boat That Could” by students – is a waterproof pod that includes a chip that should have collected data from the sensors, along with information about the alternative education program, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and items that tell about life in Maine.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to engage ourselves,” Cofferen said in December when the students were finishing up the project.

Students in the alternative education program take classes for the first couple of hours each day, then spend the rest of the school day in the community working on projects and learning about career opportunities. There are seven students in the program, which launched in 2012 to serve kids who weren’t finding success in traditional classrooms.

Students handed the boat over to Educational Passages on Dec. 29 and it was launched near Georges Bank on Jan. 2 by a fishing vessel from the Portland Fish Exchange.

The students and their teacher tracked the boat on the Educational Passages website, following its progress as it initially made a beeline for Spain before veering south toward Morocco. It came within 100 miles of Portugal, then headed back out to sea.
“We laughed and said we’re the only ones who would send out a boat that would boomerang right back home,” Lowery said.

The Maine students had hoped their boat would make it to across the Atlantic and that they’d be able to connect with students in another country via Skype. Now that Sharood and Jacqui Holmes, the other teacher working with the students, are in touch with the Scottish teacher, they’re planning to make that happen.

Sharood said Morrison’s students have been studying the ocean. During an assembly celebrating the last day of school Friday, Morrison plans to bring out “The Little Boat That Could” to show students. Sharood and Holmes plan to coordinate with Morrison to start a conversation between students in Maine and Scotland.

Sharood thinks his students will have lots of questions about Scottish culture and life on Benbecula, an island off the west coast of Scotland with about 1,300 people. He said they’ll work with the Scottish teacher and students to retrieve the data and make repairs so “The Little Boat That Could” can be relaunched. Sharood and Lowery also are dreaming of finding a way to get the Kennebunk students to Scotland for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to learn about the island where their boat made landfall.

“So many of (our students) thought the boat wasn’t going anywhere. They ironically named it ‘The Little Boat That Could,'” Lowery said. “I wish we could get these kids over there to teach those kids how to fix the boat and relaunch it.”

More information about the path the boat traveled is available on the Educational Passages website.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

Digitizing Venetian archives

From times of great antiquity, Venice was the hub of maritime commerce, the link between West and East. 

As Robert Zimmerman quotes in his blog Behind the Black

As Venice’s empire grew, it developed administrative systems that recorded vast amounts of information: who lived where, the details of every boat that entered or left the harbour, every alteration made to buildings or canals. Modern banking was invented in the Rialto, one of Venice’s oldest quarters, and notaries there recorded all trading exchanges and financial transactions.

Crucially, those records survived through turbulent centuries. While the rest of Europe was roiled by its perpetually warring monarchs, from the eighth century onwards Venice began to develop into a stable republic that provided the peace and order required for trade to flourish. In many ways it was a model democracy. The people elected a leader — the doge — supported by various councils, whose members were also usually elected. Governance was secular, but for the most part co-existed tolerantly with religion.

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to the Serene Republic in 1797. En route to Vienna during his attempt to conquer the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he declared Venice’s secular and democratic governance to be a form of autocracy, and the city to be an enemy of the revolution. He forced the republic to dissolve itself. In 1815, the old Frari was turned into the State Archives of Venice. Over the next decades, all state administrative documents, including death registers, were transferred there, along with medical records, notary records, maps and architectural plans, patent registers and a miscellany of other documentation, some from elsewhere in Italy. Particularly significant are ambassadors’ reports from wider Europe and the Ottoman Empire, providing a unique source of detailed information about daily life. “Venetian ambassadors were the most observant travellers, trained to find out things like what was being unloaded at the docks, or what a prince or other high-up was like as a person,” says Daston. “Their reports were full of gossip and intrigue.”

Most of the archive, predominantly written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, has never been read by modern historians. Now it will all be systematically fed into the Venice Time Machine, along with more unconventional sources of data, such as paintings and travellers’ logs.

Only metres away from the tourist throngs that bustle through Venice's crowded piazzas, the silence inside Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is so profound it hurts the ears. State archivists long ago took over this fourteenth-century friary, but they are just as studious as the Franciscan brothers who once lived here, as they tend the historical records that fill some 80 kilometres of shelving within. Now, a crew of scientists laden with high-tech equipment is stirring things up in these hallowed stacks.
History hangs heavy at the Frari, and computer scientist Frédéric Kaplan likes it that way. He has an ambition to capture well over 1,000 years of records in dynamic digital form, encompassing the glorious era of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. The project, which he calls the Venice Time Machine, will scan documents including maps, monographs, manuscripts and sheet music. It promises not only to open up reams of hidden history to scholars, but also to enable the researchers to search and cross-reference the information, thanks to advances in machine-learning technologies.
If it succeeds, it will pave the way for an even more ambitious project to link similar time machines in Europe’s historic centres of culture and commerce, revealing in unprecedented detail how social networks, trade and knowledge have developed over centuries across the continent. It would serve as a Google and Facebook for generations long past, says Kaplan, who directs the Digital Humanities Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).
Although the previous decade has seen many digital-humanities projects that scan, annotate and index manuscripts, this one stands out because of its ambitious scale and the new technologies it hopes to use: from state-of-the-art scanners that could even read unopened books, to adaptable algorithms that will turn handwritten documents into digital, searchable text.
A reader that can scan the contents of a book without that book being opened?
Marvelous for scholars -- but rather spine chilling for writers and publishers.  Could these dedicated scientists open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences?  After all, that is the story of the internet so far....

Monday, June 26, 2017

Exciting book giveaway

New post on linda collison's Sea of Words

Enter for a chance to win Barbados Bound

by lindacollison
With Rhode Island RendezvousBook Three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, on the horizon we're offering five copies of book one -- Barbados Bound -- as a give-away through Amazon. To enter the sweepstakes click on the link at the end of the post. We'll also be giving away some Kindle copies soon.
I came aboard with the prostitutes the night before the ship set sail…
Portsmouth, England, 1760. Patricia Kelley, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Barbadian sugarcane planter, falls from her imagined place in the world when her absent father unexpectedly dies, leaving her no means of support.  Raised in a Wiltshire boarding school far from the plantation where she was born, the sixteen-year-old orphan stows away on a ship bound for Barbados in a brash attempt to claim an unlikely inheritance.  Aboard the merchantmanCanopus, under contract with the British Navy to deliver gunpowder to the West Indian forts, young Patricia finds herself pulled between two worlds -- and two identities -- as she charts her own course for survival in the war-torn eighteenth century. 
 Barbados Bound was first published as Star-Crossed in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf, and chosen by the New York Public Library to be among the Books for the Teen Age – 2007.  The story is basically the same but the author has made minor changes to the manuscript, in some cases replacing words and phrases edited out from Knopf's Young Adult version.  

It all started with a ship. On April 14, 1999, I saw in the newspaper a startlingly anachronistic photograph of a three-masted wooden ship under sail. It looked like it had just sailed out of the eighteenth century. Below it, an intriguing advertisement:
Help wanted: Deckhands to man floating museum…a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail as crew on Endeavour, the replica of Capt. James Cook’s ship that will visit Hawaii in November. Crewmembers sleep in hammocks slung together on the lower deck.  They must be prepared to go aloft and work the sails at any time of day in any weather, not suffer from chronic seasickness or fear of heights, and be physically fit.  Sailing experience is not essential…
Six months later Bob and I were at the dock in Vancouver, signing ship's articles.
We spent three weeks aboard the Endeavour, as part of the foremast watch, crossing the Northern Pacific Ocean. We learned the names and functions of the hundreds of lines, sails and spars that power the ship; we learned to climb aloft on the ratlines, stepping out on the foot ropes under the yards to make and furl sail. We took turns steering the ship and were responsible for cleaning and maintaining her in eighteenth-century fashion. We slept in hammocks we strung from the deckhead every evening.
The voyage crew, as we green-but-willing sailors were called, bonded quickly, for we were all in it together and we all felt the same swing of emotions -- anxiety, fear, fatigue, exhaustion, sea-sickness, hunger, occasionally resentment – but most of all, exhilaration and awe. For me, those weeks on the Endeavourwere nothing short of a time machine.
When Bob and I disembarked in Kona, Hawaii, I carried with me the seeds for a novel. It would not be about Captain Cook or his extraordinary voyages, but it would begin in the mid-eighteenth century aboard a ship much like the one I had sailed on.
It would take me more than five years to research and write the story born aboard Endeavour. In 2006 Alfred A. Knopf published it under the title Star-Crossed, as a stand-alone, young adult historical novel which the New York Public Library chose it to be among the Books for the Teen Age – 2007. I had not written the story for teen readers per se, but I had written about a teenager, from her narrow and still immature perspective.
Click on the link for a chance to win a trade paperback copy of Barbados Bound; Book One of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series. Open to readers in the United States who have an active Amazon account.

lindacollison | June 25, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Tags: Amazon give-away | Categories: Give-aways | URL:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

BookLife and Indie marketing

BookLife, by Publishers Weekly, is an interesting approach.  "Put the marketing power of Publishers Weekly behind your book," blares the headline in their PW Select offer.

"For just $149 your book cover and synopsis appear in front of thousands of book-sellers, librarians, agents, publishers, film producers and production companies," they say.

Back in 2012, I began an experiment in Indie publishing, predicting that digital books were the way of the future.  As it happens, I was wrong.  As eminent newspapers like the New York Times have found out, big investment in digital was ill-advised.  Print books and newspapers still keep 75% of the market, and always will.

But as an experiment it has proved very interesting.  As part of my own participation, I started another blog, called Kindle Publishing Hints.    It has proved very popular, with thousands of hits and -- most satisfyingly -- over one thousand thank you letters.  Apparently it has helped many writers through the technics of formatting, editing, illustrating, and submitting to KDP, and has even coached many through the intricacies of designing and uploading a cover.

For me, though, the crunch came when I was to advise about marketing.  I promised to do it, but never came through, because it has proved so difficult.

Bean-counters have taken advantage of this, by offering marketing at various prices.  The cheapest, by far (because it is free) is Draft to Digital, a firm that promotes your book with a range of digital booksellers, such as Kobo, for a commission that is just a fraction of the selling price. 

Others charge hundreds, or even thousands.  So when I came across the offers made by Publishers Weekly, a highly respected marketer and reviewer of new books, I was interested, as the prices of the various options seemed reasonable.

First, there is the Book Life Prize.  This is an annual competition, where the entry fee is $99 (occasionally reduced to $79 as a special deal).  Entry is easy, involving a download of the pdf file of your book, a jpeg of your cover, and the writing of a blurb and so forth.  It is very like submitting your book to Kindle Direct Publishing.  In return, you get a critique.  It is not a review, being terse and formal, with various aspects of the book -- character development, plot development, and so on -- being graded out of ten.  It can be very quotable, and you are allowed to quote it, as long as you give Book Life Prize as the source.

Worth it?  Yes.  Good value for money.

And then there is the Book Life section of Publisher Weekly.  It is called PW Select.

According to what they say --

When you pay $149 to participate in PW Select, your book appears in:
- Publishers Weekly's print and digital edition
- the home page of
- the home page of
- BookLife's weekly email newsletter to 18,000 recipients
- BookLife's Twitter and Facebook channels
Plus you receive:
- a six month digital subscription to Publishers Weekly
- a one year digital subscription to Publishers Weekly's PW Select monthly supplement
- a listing of your book in Publishers Weekly's special announcements database powered by Edelweiss which reaches tens of thousands of booksellers, librarians and reviewers
- a free copy of the Publishers Weekly print issue in which your listing appears
My reaction, after submitting The Money Ship to this process?  Does it help promote the book?  

Well, if that is what you are expecting...
It's a con.
The appearance in the PW print and digital was so fleeting I would have missed it if I had blinked.
The listing is almost as brief.  You can see it at the head of this post.  The only plus is that it is one of the first to be listed. 

There is also the cachet of being able to say that your book has been listed in this prestigious magazine.

And the 6-month digital subscription is also a bonus, if you like being kept up to date with the American book world.  (A one-year digital subscription is currently being offered at a discounted $168.00.)
My advice?  Try the Book Life Prize, by all means.  It's a new and interesting marketing ploy.  Forget PW Select.  There are much better ways to promote your book.