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For starters, yes I do feel I’ve dropped the ball and missed taking and publishing fotos of such sixth boro events as the final move of the Willis Avenue Bridge and City of Water Day.  If anyone has fotos to share, I’d love to see them.

The North Country here means the St. Lawrence and beyond.  The white-helmeted gent does seem to be leading and gentle giant on a leash, not even having to

tug as BBC Rio Grande (ex-Beluga Gravitation, 2008) traverses the Iroquois Lock.  All the Wisconsin-built Staten Island ferries had to make their way through this lock.  Anyone have a foto of a big orange ferry passing here?  I previously wrote about these locks here and here.

It hardly seems possible their beam would squeeze through.

William Darrell ferries loads of improbable size across the international border between Cape Vincent and Wolfe Island, Ontario.  86 windmills now churn in the breezes near this northeast tip of Lake Ontario, not without controversy.

The “H” on the stack stands for Horne, the family that has operated this ferry since 1861.  This particular vessel entered service in 1953.

Bowditch (ex-Hot Dog, 1954) works out of Clayton, NY; as do

Maple Grove (left) and the unidentified “landing craft/freight ship” on the right.

More upcountry workboats tomorrow.  All fotos here by Will Van Dorp.

For now, some announcements:

Kudos to the ArtemisOceanRowing (scroll way down) crew who left New York in mid-June;  they broke a 114-year-old  record when they arrived at Isles of Scilly this weekend.

And finally, I’ve started a new blog called My Babylonian Captivity.  Exactly 20 years ago today, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, the US entered the current era, and I became trapped and remained so for over four months.  It’s a different kind of blog–all text– but I plan to chunk it out day by day or week by week until December.  Please send the link along to folks who you think will enjoy it.  It’s all nonfiction, the experience as filtered by me.

What I would like to know is how widely known is “seaspeak,” or SMCP.  Or, how much have seaspeak principles been morphed–voluntarily or by regulation–into common VHF practice?

Most large ships look alike, allowing for differentiation into groups like container ship, tanker, RORO, pure car truck carrier, and then sub-groups with military vessels. Explanation:  physics,  global standards related safety, and the dictates of efficiency.

But within a tank, any of a range of fluids might live;  within a container, a limitless number of goods might be moved.  So it’s not  surprising–given the diverse points of origin of sixth-boro traffic–that a need exists for a simplified but unambiguous standard language.

As to signs of this diversity in shipping?  Check out Al-Mutanabbi.  That’s not “al” short for “Allen” or “Alberto” either.  More on the “al” at the end of this post.  I’d no idea until I looked it up that

Al-Mutanabbi was an Iraqi poet who died more than 1000 years ago.  In the foto above, vessel in the distance is MSC Dartford.

Elixir suggests magic for me, until

I learn that Yang Ming, a Taiwanese company with a history that dates back to the Qing dynasty (the last dynasty before the “republic”),  has a whole set of  container vessels with “e” names like Efficiency and Eminence.  Give me elixir any day.  By the way, that’s Vane’s Sassafras passing port to port.  By the way, sassafras was once a major ingredient of that great elixir called root beer.

Lian Yun Hu . . . I’ve not much clue about, other than that it’s owned or managed by Cosco, conjuring up thoughts of Cosco Busan and Shen Neng 1, of San Francisco and Great Barrier reef notoriety, respectively.

Most watchers of the boro would be clueless here without

a little help elsewhere on the exterior of the ship.

In Hindi, I’m told, “jag PLUS prerana” means “world”  AND “inspiration.”  Now, I wish they put an asterisk there with a translation painted just above the waterline somewhere.  I’d want to know that!

A large number of ships in the harbor are constructed in Korea.  And their names are straight-forward English although generally hangul writing coexists with English.  Tug is Amy C McAllister.

An interesting fact about hangul is that its invention gets credited to a Korean king named Sejong, a Renaissance man on that peninsula a  half-millennium ago.

All of which I use to illustrate my point:  if I didn’t read or understand English, I’d be helpless.  And I’m really just a shore-watcher.  Without an international language, communication on the sea–as in the air–would be worse than garbled.

Finally, here’s a gratuitous shot of Flintereems, from the land of my mother tongue.  Spelling notwithstanding, I believe the “eems” in this Flinter vessel refers to the river whose estuary forms the border between the Dutch and the Germans.  I set Goldman Sachs atop the Flinter  deck to mimic the last Flinter vessel “borg” appearing on this blog here.

All fotos, Will Van Dorp.

For a perspective on some verbal and non-verbal communication in the harbor, check out bowsprite here.

Oh . . . Al the prefix in Arabic means “the.”   You know it from such English words as “algebra, alchemy, algorithm” and –believe it or not–“elixir.”    Here’s more on that.


Post written by Tom Briggs, shown above, edited by Will Van Dorp.  Foto above by NMCB 3 Public Affairs.

When [Will] asked that I write something for the blog, I initially thought to discuss my recent trip to the upper reaches of the Euphrates River valley. But what I had seen disappointed the sailor in me:  no dhows or fisherman in traditional dress. Rather,  guys dressed in slacks and shirts, fishing with old fishing poles and hand cast nets from beat-up aluminum boats with outboard motors. Contemporary Sindbads really didn’t look or act all that different from US sport fisherman.


Therefore, I began to reflect on common ground between my Iraq “trip” and time spent sailing in New York Harbor. My trip was  chaotic,  violent and  dreary. The way to escape this was to relive the peace that I’d found sailing in New York Harbor and the quality of friends that I’d made there. It shocked me that the only people to write me while I was away, other than my wife, were my sailing friends. Others that I’d known for years simply didn’t have the time or inclination to maintain contact.


I first set foot on Pioneer in February 2006. Despite having an iron (now mostly steel) hull, Pioneer is very much a traditional vessel: sixty odd feet on deck, one hundred feet overall, gaff-rigged, without winches and with only the minimal fittings necessary to operate for public sails. What draws me to her is not conventional beauty  but longevity.  A workboat meant for hauling cargo no more than twenty or thirty years, she survives and sails one hundred  twenty-three years later.
aaaiq3 I first sailed Pioneer in fifteen to twenty knots of wind, what Pioneer LOVES! I was on bow watch as Pioneer pounded through the waves, water shooting up through the hawse-holes, soaking me. I loved sailing from that moment on and I wanted to learn to be a better sailor and so gain acceptance by the volunteer crew. Not all of the volunteers were excellent sailors, not all of them loved the same traditional nautical things that I did, but they were kindred spirits. I can remember nights after sailing sitting in the bar arguing with the chief mate and another volunteer over how to tie a sheet bend and what its similarities are to a bowline. Who does that? What kind of freaks sit and argue in a bar about knots?

Toward the close of my second year aboard Pioneer, I received my deployment orders to Iraq. I considered this exciting news since I had volunteered for the deployment. But as departure grew closer, I got nervous and my friends from Pioneer were there for me. They took me out to restaurants all over the City and gave me a going-away party that I’ll always remember. And when I was deployed they wrote  letters, sent  packages and did everything that they could to remind me that there existed another world that I would go back to one day. I can’t say how much of a relief it was after working a twelve to fourteen hour watch in Iraq, to go back to my SWA (South West Asia) hut, tie knots, read letters and listen to sea shanties on my iPod. It sounds odd to me now, but my friends helped me keep my sanity then.

Three middle fotos by Will Van Dorp.

Welcome back, Tom.  I offer the foto below: a scene of dhows, Iraqi tugs, and wooden date barges somewhere along the Shatt.  It comes from a postcard given to me by Umm Majed, my Iraqi Arabic teacher, a woman with a 1001 stories that need to be heard.


Spring, Iraq War Year 6, and Easter all begin these days. These fotos show how the Meadowlands in northwestern New Jersey will look in a month or so. Below upper left, that’s Snake Hill aka Laurel Hill aka “Rock of Gibraltar” in the background.



When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, I was working in Kuwait and trapped there. After two weeks of staying out of sight, I was arrested. A few days later, Iraqi soldiers turned me over to the secret police. Along with about 15 other people (frequently changing) I was held at a strategic site as a human shield from late August until mid-December 1990. In my case, the site was an oil refinery south of Basra not far from the Shatt al-Arab water way.  In Iraq, there’s an area not unlike the Meadowlands. Today I heard Dr. Azzam Alwash of The Eden Again Project interviewed on the Leonard Lopate show. By the way, the Iraqi marshlands begin south of Qurnah, regarded as the site of the legendary “Garden of Eden.” Hearing Dr. Alwash felt like the first positive story I’ve heard about Iraq in years. Listen to it on podcast at the link to his name above.

Alwash will be one of the many fabulous speakers at World Water Day 2008 at the American Museum of Natural History. It’s been said that future wars will be over water, not oil. Or both. Even states in the United States conflict over shared water.



The foto above shows the Meadowlands at low tide. Like the Iraqi marsh, it’s a major bird world. If the Meadowlands ever had a stable human population like Iraq’s Marsh Arabs–depicted in Wilfred Thesiger’s outstanding fotos— we have no knowledge of them. It’s hard enough to imagine NJs current Meadowlands as a place once covered by dense forest, which it was until the British colonial constabulary burned it down to ferret out pirates.

Photos, WVD.

My time in Iraq can be read about here.

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Seth Tane American Painting

Read my Iraq Hostage memoir online.

My Babylonian Captivity

Reflections of an American hostage in Iraq, 20 years later.


June 2023