Monday, September 26, 2011

Those Were the Days: A Salute to Hudson River Sloops


It has been said that any culture that fails to appreciate and understand its past cannot have much of a future. Westchester’s forgotten history is a good example of this dictum. Although the Dutch occupied the Hudson Valley for only fifty years, they nevertheless left us a lasting maritime legacy.
Many nautical terms, for example, have come down to us from the Dutch. Captains of Dutch vessels were schippers--our word "skippers." The ships they sailed on the Hudson were sloeps and jachts. Dec meant "roof" in Dutch, and so they applied this term to the "roof" of the hold of a ship.
Our word for the rail at the stern of a vessel--"taffrail"--is derived from tafereel, the Dutch word for the ornate carvings at the stern of 17th-century ships. Buoy, cruise, luff, marline, scow and yawl are other words with Dutch antecedents.
The Dutch also gave us a distinctive vessel--the Hudson River sloop--a single-masted fore-and-aft rigged, shallow-draft sailing ship with a low bowsprit and a single headsail set from the forestay. Eearly sloops had a square-rigged topsail, but a triangular sail that could be handled by fewer crew members later replaced this.Evolution of the Sloop
The first Dutch ships in New Netherland were ungainly keelboats with high sides. Drawing as much as twelve feet of water, they could also be used as ocean-going vessels. Faced with the capricious winds and powerful tides of the Hudson, however, the Dutch soon modified these cumbersome craft.
The specialized Hudson River sloop that evolved was a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed, low-sided, wide boat carrying a large area of sail--a vessel that could navigate the river's unpredictable currents. In its heyday around 1830, the average sloop on the Hudson displaced about 85 tons and could as much as125 tons of cargo. Seventy-five feet long, with a beam as much as 25 feet, its draft was only about six feet. Emphasis was on large cargo capacity and comfortable passenger accommodations. Even more important was a draft that would allow transit of the notorious treacherous shifting shoals and sand bars in the Hudson's upper reaches below Albany.
The Hudson soon became an elongated commercial empire of vast extent, and the broad-beamed sloop was its queen. By 1810, 206 sloops were plying the river. Twenty-two years later, John Finch, an English traveler, would write, "Twelve hundred sloops are employed on the Hudson. They are painted with the most brilliant colors, and their white sails and variegated flags and streamers, present a beautiful addition to the scenery of the river."
Sloops were built in virtually every Hudson River town and village. Among the vessels registered between 1789 and 1867, Nyack built 170, followed by Marlboro (in Ulster County) with 112 and Albany with 106. In the lower Hudson Valley, Mount Pleasant and Sing Sing jointly accounted for 76. Peekskill built 62.
A sloop generally carried a captain, pilot, three or four sailors, and a cabin boy or cook. Cargoes were varied. Produce of the land--flour, grain, hay, lumber, and furs--was brought downriver to the cities. Manufactured goods and imports went upriver--crockery, earthenware, cloth, hardware, oil, rum, salt, sugar, tobacco. Early sloops were called "merchant sloops," "freight sloops" or "market boats." Such vessels had no regular time of departure or fixed destination. They went when and where goods were available to be hauled.
At the peak of the sloop's popularity around 1830, a hundred could be seen on the Tappan Zee on a summer day. Every town and village along the Hudson had its own fleet of sloops, ranging from a half dozen to as many as 50 or 60. Large anchorages resembled a forest of masts.Sloops Grow Larger
An innovation in design eventually enabled sloops to be made larger and increase their carrying capacity. This was the centerboard, a vertically sliding dropped keel that made the vessel much easier to handle. Arthur H. Clark, author of a 1904 history of yachting, attributes the invention of the pivoted centerboard to a British naval officer, Molyneux Shuldham, who built a model of one in 1809 while a prisoner of war in France.
A U.S. patent for a centerboard was granted on April 10, 1811, to three brothers from Cape May, N.J.  Henry, Jacocks and Joshua Swain,\. Hudson River boat builders added centerboards to sloops five years later. A centerboard made it possible for a large and heavily laden vessel to have a draft of only six feet, and clear the Hudson's shifting shoals.
Steamboat operators published timetables showing arrival and departure times at the ports they served. This led to the introduction of competing "packet sloop" service. First to do this was Capt. Elihu S. Bunker of Hudson, N.Y.
John Lambert, an obscure young Englishman, has left us a word picture of travel on a large packet sloop. He had been sent to Canada in 1806 to encourage the cultivation of hemp needed for cordage on sailing ships. Failing in his mission, in 1807 Lambert decided see the sights of North America before returning to England. His plan to take Robert Fulton's new steamboat to New York was stymied, however.. It been withdrawn from service for modification to increase its passenger capacity during the winter when the river was frozen.
Lambert traveled by coach to the town of Hudson, where he booked passage on Captain Bunker's brand new sloop Experiment, paying five dollars, for which passengers also received three meals a day, "including spirits." Built at Marlboro, at 130 tons it was "the largest and best" sloop specifically designed for the Hudson River passenger trade.
Two private cabins toward the stern contained several berths for women. Amidships was a large general room upwards of 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. On each side was a double tier of berths with printed cotton curtains for men. At the front of this cabin was a bar "like that of a coffee-house," where the passengers could buy "wine, bottled porter, ale, segars, and such articles as were not included in the passage-money." Between the bar and the crew's quarters in the forecastle was "a very complete kitchen fitted up with a good fire-place, copper boilers and every convenience for cooking."Decline and Fall
Steamboats offered growing competition, but sloops remained an important means of transport. At first, steam vessels were not ready to capture the bulk of the lucrative passenger business from sloops. Robert Fulton's monopoly on steam navigation limited the number of steam vessels in service before 1825. Moreover, his company had to overcome the misgivings of travelers that steamboats were dangerous. Several well-publicized incidents of mechanical breakdown of steam vessels led some to believe that steamboats were an unreliable or even a dangerous mode of travel. Sloops were also popular because they offered service to and from the smaller towns at which the steamers did not stop.
Competition from the Hudson River Railroad in 1851, however, sealed the sloop's doom. The first train had sped from New York City to Greenbush, opposite Albany, in less than four hours. Additional competition from tow boats and barges eventually limited sloops to two tasks: local traffic in goods and passengers, and the carrying of low-priority bulk cargoes--lumber, bricks, coal, flagstone, lime, cement and hay--in their holds and on their broad decks. Sloops that transported bricks were dubbed "brickers."
By 1860, few sloops were being built. One of the last of these was the Stephen Underhill, displacing 42 tons, launched at Croton Point in 1867. Older sloops that remained were converted to more easily managed two-masted schooner rigs or became mastless barges and harbor lighters. Others were weighted with stones and sunk to become breakwaters, or were run aground and left to rot. At the turn of the century, only a few abandoned hulks survived. The last of these was destroyed on a beach in Staten Island by the devastating hurricane of 1938.
Hudson River sloops are long gone from the river, but a few modern replicas remind us of their glory days. The Clearwater, designed by Cyrus Hamlin and built in 1969 by the Harvey Gamage Shipyard Company of South Bristol, Maine, is used for educational purposes. Slight modifications in hull design had to be made to conform to Coast Guard regulations, and an auxiliary engine was added. Two smaller sloops, called "ferry sloops," also were built. A wooden-hulled Woody Guthrie, and the Sojourner Truth, with a hull of ferro-cement, replicate the smaller market sloops owned and operated by farmers and local entrepreneurs.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Remembering the Legacy of 9/11


     Who doesn’t recall the centuries-old rhyming proverb that portrays how one small item can touch off a chain of reactions with serious consequences?

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

     In the welter of articles about the horror of 9/11, one fact has been overlooked: The doors to the passengers’ toilets on the hijacked airliners were sturdier and more impregnable than the door to the pilots’ compartments. .One has to wonder what the designers of the planes’ interiors were thinking.
     On this, the tenth anniversary of the horror of 9/11, it is even more disquieting to speculate what would have been the outcome if the flimsy doors to the pilots’ compartments on four commercial jet airliners had been as sturdy and impregnable as the doors to the planes’ passenger toilets.

A Fateful Morning
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, nineteen mostly Saudi-born terrorists took control of four commercial airliners en route to San Francisco and Los Angeles from Boston, Newark, and Washington. Planes with long flights were intentionally selected for hijacking because they would be heavily fueled. Two of the airliners, American Flight 11 and United Flight 175, were intentionally crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and thousands working in or visiting the buildings.
Both towers collapsed, destroying or damaging nearby buildings. A third airliner, American Flight 77, was crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth plane, United Flight 93, crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control of the airliner.
Casualties totaled 2,996, including the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims, distributed as follows: 246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. All who died in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed in the Pentagon attack.
Among the 2,753 victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center were 343 New York City firefighters and 60 police officers from the City’s and the Port Authority’s police departments, plus eight emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Another 184 people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon. The majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of over 70 countries. 
A total of 1,366 people at or above the point of impact in the North Tower were trapped and perished from smoke inhalation, from jumping from the tower to escape the smoke and flames or by the building's eventual collapse. In the South Tower, one stairwell remained intact, allowing some to escape from above the point of impact. About 600 people died in the South Tower, less than half the number of those who died in the North Tower.
At least 200 people jumped to their deaths from the burning towers and landed on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below. Some occupants of each tower above its point of impact made their way upward toward the roof in hope of helicopter rescue, but found roof access doors locked. No plans existed for helicopter rescues. The thick smoke and intense heat would have prevented helicopters from plucking people from rooftops.
In Virginia, the third airliner was crashed into the Pentagon at the first-floor level, causing one section of the western side of the building to collapse, killing 25 employees, all 53 passengers, six crew members and five hijackers. Piloted by the hijackers, the fourth plane headed back toward Washington, most likely to hit the Capitol Building, but crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control of the airliner.
A wave of revulsion swept the country, which clamored for the capture and punishment of the perpetrators. Intensive screening techniques that should have been in place were instituted at airports to guarantee that this method of mass murder and destruction would never again be attempted. The doors to the pilots’ compartment of all commercial planes were made sturdier and more impregnable than the doors to passenger toilets.
President George W. Bush declared that the country was now engaged in a "global war on terror." Daniel Pipes, a conservative commentator on the Middle East and usually a supporter of the President, pointed out in the Jerusalem Post that terror is a tactic, not an enemy. Pipes added that by insisting its quarrel was with terror and not with radical Islam, the U.S. was obscuring the political roots of the confrontation.

The Legacy of 9/11
Following the attacks, suspicion immediately focused on al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, who initially denied involvement. In 2004, he belatedly admitted being responsible for the incidents, citing U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia and years of crippling sanctions against Iraq as motives for the attacks.
Ironically, bin Laden was a creation of the United States, although the U.S. government remained singularly quiet about its role in the recruitment and arming of the al-Qaida fighters who forced the Russians to abandon their occupation of Afghanistan in 1989.
When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA, operating quietly at arm's length, organized an Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the “godless” Russians, with the cooperation of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The CIA provided weapons, recruited candidates from various Muslim countries and facilitated their travel to Pakistan for training.
Arab countries were the main source of fighters, jocularly called "Afghan Arabs." Recruits came from Algeria, Indonesia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Sudan. Bin Laden led this jihad and was its paymaster.
In October of 2001, the United States responded to the attacks by invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban for harboring the al-Qaida members who had planned the 9/11 attacks. Although ample Special Forces were available, to spare American casualties U.S. commanders chose to use fighters of doubtful allegiance from rival factions to root out Taliban die-hards.
Our primary target was Osama bin Laden. Yet he was allowed to escape from our clutches in the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, thriving and issuing pronouncements via taped messages from the safety of a hideaway believed to be somewhere in Pakistan.
Despite a record-shattering reward of $50 million offered for his capture, Osama bin Laden managed to remain at large for almost ten years, a potent threat to the United States and the West. What is remarkable about bin Laden as an adversary was that he clearly spelled out his intentions and objectives in his many taped messages. Persistent investigation of a few slim clues eventually pointed to a compound in a quiet corner of Pakistan. On May 1, 2011, he was killed in a daring raid authorized by President Barack Obama.
Bin Laden’s objective in the 9/11 attacks had been to destroy American symbols: the twin WTC towers (Wall Street/wealth), the Pentagon (the military), and the Capitol (the government). The magnitude of the American response exceeded his wildest dreams.
We attacked bin Laden's archenemy, the hated secularist Saddam, and laid waste to Iraq in a vain search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. It became a war in which experienced generals took a back seat to civilians. A month before the war began, Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki had told Congress it would take an invasion force "on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” to pacify Iraq.
Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a skilled Washington infighter, retaliated and undercut Shinseki’s authority by leaking the name of his successor 18 months ahead of the general’s retirement.
Deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz predicted an easy victory in which American troops would be greeted wildly by Iraqi civilians and pelted with flowers, and Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the occupation.
At a meeting to air soldiers’ gripes, Rumsfeld told a soldier who complained about the poor quality of equipment, “You go to war with the Army you have.” The problem with his answer was that the leaner, smaller, lightly-armored Army we sent into Iraq had been designed by the imperious Mr. Rumsfeld.
Iraq turned out to be an unwinnable war that has taken 4,474 American lives since March 19, 2003, including 44 killed thus far in 2011.
We are still actively engaged in another interminable and unwinnable war in Afghanistan, propping up the graft-ridden and corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzi. Afghanistan promises to be an even less-successful attempt at nation building than Iraq. In all, a total of 1,752 Americans have died there since October 7, 2001, including 306 killed thus far in 2011.
More than two thousand years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, author of the classic titled The Art of War, noted that no nation ever benefitted from a long war. Similarly, Israeli military historian and theorist Martin van Creveld has pointed out the futility of engaging in long wars.
Democracies, by their very nature, are not suited for long wars. They exist to provide a higher quality of life for their citizens, who will accept the need for short-term sacrifices. But long wars soon erode the popular will to continue a war, a condition we are experiencing now.
Historically, Afghanistan has been called “the graveyard of armies.” From Alexander the Great to the British and Russians, invaders have repeatedly discovered the rightness of that maxim. How long will it take for America’s leaders to awaken to the truth?

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