Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Website for Museum Ships!


Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Abraham Crijnssen         

          Photograph taken by Pim van Wijngaarden



In 1986, the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Abraham Crijnssen visited Albany, New York, in honor of the City’s tricentennial.

When Paul Grondahl, an Albany Times-Union reporter who is now director of the New York State Writers Institute, covered the arrival of Abraham Crijnssen, he offered readers detail and wit.  The frigate was commissioned in 1983 and named after a Dutch naval hero.  It served with other NATO navies, ready to protect sea lanes in wartime.  

        The turbine-powered (Rolls Royce) frigate, which could reach speeds of 32 miles per hour, bristled with guns, torpedoes and anti-submarine weapons.  Unlike U. S. Navy ships, it carried beer for the crew.  Grondahl concluded “Abraham Crijnssen came steaming up the Hudson . . . with enough firepower to blow Rensselaer (a city across the Hudson from Albany) off the map and enough of Holland’s flagship beer, Heineken, to inebriate half the population of Albany.”

Recently, my friend Lotfi Sayahi, a University at Albany linguistics professor, was invited to a conference in the Netherlands.  I told him about Abraham Crijnssen’s visit to Albany and then went to find Grondahl’s article.   

In the hunt for Grondahl's article, I found something equally delightful - - the website museumships.us and its founder/creator Pim van Wijngaarden.

Pim was aboard Abraham Crijnssen when it visited Albany.  In a recent e-mail, he recalled the frigate came to the United States for more than the Tricentennial.  “We were there for Fleet Week, Independence Day and the Statue of Liberty centennial, events all rolled into one awesome unforgettable week.”

In addition to the visit to Albany, Pim has a more enduring connection to the City.  He met his wife, a SUNY Albany grad, on the trip.  After concluding sea duty, Pim served in the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C.  He left naval service in 1992 and has since become the embassy’s IT Manager.

The idea of  a website about museum ships crept up on Pim while he worked at the embassy and traveled around the United States.  “I found myself visiting museum ships more often,” he recalled.  “I wanted to volunteer aboard one but it wasn’t easy to find a museum ship berthed in the Washington, D.C. area.”

Pim has since become a volunteer on the Liberty Ship John W. Brown in Baltimore Harbor.  But before finding this ship, he thought, “What can I do to help museum ships if I cannot find one where I can volunteer?”

Battleship USS Iowa is now a museum ship
in San Pedro Harbor, in Los Angeles

With his love of ships and IT talents, he started building the museumships website in 2014.  The website has a dedicated page for 375 ships worldwide, of which about 120 are in the United States. Pim plans to keep adding pages until he runs out of ships.  

The 120 US ships are docked in harbors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and along the Great Lakes.  The remainder are found along the Gulf coast, in coastal states farther from the ocean and in states far from big water, such as Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. 

Pim also manages a Museumships Facebook page and together with four other administers a Facebook Group

Smaller museum ships include torpedo boats, tugboats, fire boats and light ships. Larger ships include Great Lakes ore carriers, the ocean liner Queen Mary, aircraft carriers and battleships.

The four ships at the Buffalo Naval and Servicemen's Park,
USS Little Rock, USS The Sullivans, USS Croaker and PTF 17,
are all included on the Museum Ships website
(photo by Matthew J. Starr from a postcard of the Park)

Pim adds ships to his website after he visits them, reads about them or hears about them from website visitors.  He tries to visit as many ships as possible.  He researches each entry and works with ship curators and social media people to fact-check entries and obtain appealing and informative photographs.

When Pim hears from museum ship staff “that they love and appreciate what I do to get the word out,” it inspires him to build the next page.  

Despite finding the personal contact with such people “incredibly rewarding.” Pim finds “sad moments are unavoidable as well.”  “Nothing lasts forever,” he continued. “Salt- and freshwater are hard on wooden and steel ships.”  

Lack of funds, a proper berthing space, dwindling volunteerism makes it hard to keep a ship open. “The museum submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343),” Pim continued,  “at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina is in a death knell right now and might be reefed soon. Also, the former USS Ling (SS-297) in Hackensack, New Jersey is not out of the woods yet, but at least seems to have dedicated volunteers.”  

Both are Balao-class submarines; Ling is in nearly original WWII configuration, and Clamagore is even more historically significant.  She is the only remaining GUPPY III converted boat.  The U. S. Navy modified World War II submarines under the “GUPPY” (Greater Underwater Propulsive Power) program to improve submarine speed, maneuverability and time they can run submerged.
The museum ships website is a gift that gives twice.  It will help a prospective visitor determine if a ship is open and if specific pandemic safeguards are in place.  

If a ship is closed because of the pandemic, weather or if a person does not wish to travel, they can come to museumships.us, drop anchor as an armchair mariner and enjoy a generous slice of maritime history without leaving the house!  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Big Weather

        As if pandemic mayhem was not enough, the weather in 2020 has played pile on as well.

        In California and elsewhere in the West, wildfires destroyed everything in their path. They killed people and burned up critical habitat for endangered species.

The fires torpedoed air quality with massive amounts of smoke and ash. In California, after hard-working, often heroic fire crews fought the flames to a standstill, Santa Ana winds added insult to injury. They not only dried out more vegetation and made it ready for more fires, the winds picked up ash on the ground from the fires, further messing up the air. 

        The Monday December 21, 2020 LA Times brought the further bad news that the Los Angeles area and big parts of Arizona and Nevada are in a severe drought.

On October 7th, a derecho clobbered eastern New York. According to the National Weather Service’s website, “derechos are fast-moving bands of thunderstorms with destructive winds.” “Instead of spinning like a tornado or hurricane,” the website continues, derecho winds “move in straight lines; the word derecho means ‘straight ahead’ in Spanish.”

We did not know any of this when, standing in the living room, we watched the sky darken and heard the wind roaring. Looking out the side window, I saw a white pine limb sailing through the air, like those witches in the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. When I found the limb some days later, it was three inches in diameter and nearly 10 feet long.

Despite the storm's fury, the sun came out within minutes. When we went to the back of the house, we saw the wind had snapped a red spruce, about 80 feet high, in two.

            Although the storm was so loud we did not hear the tree fall, I got a sense of the sound and vibration the fall made after felling the remaining half of the tree several days later.

During the clean up, I broke the chain brake on the chain saw. My friend John Debottis set up a Zoom call and coached me through removing the old brake and installing the new one. At one point, it was such slow going that John got his guitar and played a short concert to fill in the time.

During wind storms, electrical utilities, transportation agencies and their staff face a massive job.  The work is dangerous, physically demanding and requires much coordination.  In an e-mail, Patrick Stella, the Public Information spokesman for National Grid, the utility in our area, offered more detail on the storm.   "We had 250,000 customers out in eastern New York alone on October 7," Stella said. "This event," he continued, "qualified as the most severe weather event for National Grid in all of upstate New York in the past 20 years; the event occurred almost exclusively in greater Capital Region."  

With over 2,700 people mobilized and working long hours, the utility restored power to over 90 percent of its customers in three to four days.  For some reason we waited five days for our lights to come on, even though a contract tree service got the tree off the wire the first day and even though in the end it took two utility workers just minutes  to reactivate service it by poking a piece of electrical hardware with a long pole.

Along with the red spruce, many other trees came down. A black walnut by our back field snapped and hung up in another tree. At the Guilderland Community Garden, the wind snapped off a row of trees.

Many people - - property owners, government workers and utility crews - - have fixed much of the storm’s considerable damage.

But the storm’s fury remains evident, in gaps in the treeline, and in places where downed trees have not yet been cleaned up.

At the end of Wednesday night, December 16th, we saw a gentle snowfall out the window. It was the kind of designer snow that would have been to die for, for the directors of over 100 holiday movies being released this year.

When we awoke on Thursday morning, the view was beyond winter wonderland. Two outdoor tables and the car were hidden under big drifts. Overnight and into the morning, over two feet of snow had fallen.

Our neighbor Dave kindly cleared our driveway. With an hour’s worth of work, the front and back paths got cleared. The snow had different layers: closely packed and slightly wet at the bottom, ski slope-like powder at the top.

This storm had a curious pattern. It dumped snow on eastern and southern New York. But it hardly made it to the coldest part of the State. My friend who lives on the edge of the Lake Ontario snow belt got only three inches of snow. On Long Island, my mother got rain and sleet; an hour away as the crow flies, my sister got a lot of snow.

I put as much of the snow as possible in a pile in the front yard. With some hollowing out, this would make a great igloo!

        But with temperatures forecasted to reach the 50's by week's end, I better get going on making that igloo - - before it melts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Halloween and Harvest

 How was your Halloween?

In New York’s Capital Region, Halloween was the coldest since 2008. We live on a rural street; that, the pandemic and cold made it even more unlikely that any trick or treaters would come a-calling.

Just in case, we had a bowl of Milky Ways. After we turned out the lights at 8 PM, I took one piece of candy each time I walked past the bowl. The bowl is about a quarter full. Who knew that mooching fat and sugar could be the occasion for so much walking?

Our only live Halloween event was a turkey vulture deciding to sit on a high branch in one of our trees. But the cold weather even knocked the spookiness out of this bird. Instead of circling, as vultures do when they find a meal, it sat forlornly. While I was looking away, it slunk off; no soaring, it just disappeared.

The saving grace for our Halloween were two beautiful pumpkins from our backyard garden. Dorothy advised me to pick them before they ripened completely. We have assorted creatures that like to eat pumpkins. By last week, both pumpkins were ripe and ready for carving.

(photograph by D. Holt)

One of the pumpkins was 25 pounds. This was the biggest pumpkin I ever grew. We saved some seeds to roast and some for gardening in 2021.

No, it's not Ed O'Neill; it's just a giant pumpkin
(photograph by D. Holt)

Pumpkins were a gift that gave three times. The pumpkins themselves were great. The long vines with many large yellow flowers formed a border on two sides of the area where we sat in the yard. On one of the other sides was a stand of tall, colorful zinnias. The third gift will appear at the end of this post.

Pumpkin vines bordering yard
(photograph by D. Holt)

Pumpkin flowers
(photograph by D. Holt)

(photographs by D. Holt)

Giant swallowtail and zinnia
(photograph by J. Rowen)

My 2020 gardening reminds me of the line in that Dolly Parton song, “looking better than a body has a right to . . . “ I got a late start and only got one sunflower that grew as a volunteer in the backyard. The sunflowers that usually grow in my spot in the community garden, and can be transplanted, never showed.

The single sunflower and zinnias
(photograph by D. Holt)

But the harvest was amazing. I started with a few plum tomato plants that soon looked as if they were dying from blight. It turned out they just needed fertilizer. With an insecurity about the plants dying off, I kept buying plants as back ups. I went from 18 to 24 and ended up with 47.

Ailing tomato plants
(photographs by J. Rowen)

We may have had over 300 tomatoes from these plants. Some ended up on sandwiches and in salads. Lots ended up in pasta sauce, in the freezer. All of them were ripe and juicy, unlike the pulpy versions now on offer in the produce section.

Even more compelling than the taste and texture was the smell of a large bowl of tomatoes. Some people who shake hands with a celebrity will not wash their hands for days after. I was tempted not to wash up after picking tomatoes, to prolong enjoying the experience. But there were so many tomatoes, I washed up and knew I could smell the tomatoes the next day.

Each garden visit had ups, downs and surprises. In July, I was mad when I saw that an animal chewed up the cauliflower plants. But on the same visit, I was happy to see the sweet corn thriving. In fact, we planted two waves of sweet corn. In the first, some ears of corn were as big as professionally planted sweet corn; in the second the ears were small, but still tasty.

On another visit, the carrots were not growing, unlike previous years. But pepper plants next to the carrots were flowering and then heavy with peppers. These peppers were great for salads, pizza toppings and stuffed peppers.

When I visited the garden last Thursday, it was sad to see the frost had leveled the tomatoes and peppers. But surprise and happiness came from finding a head of cauliflower that was almost as big as the ones in the supermarket - - and seeing Brussels sprouts stalks almost three feet high.

In the paragraphs above is an obsession with replicating commercial agriculture. On one level that is foolish. When we get carrots, they are smaller than the ones in the supermarket but tastier. Homegrown tomatoes are always better. Many vegetables that do not get large can be sliced to be baked and no one is the wiser about their source.

But with ears of corn, cauliflower heads, Brussels sprouts stalks or eggplant, the vegetable needs to be larger, otherwise it is hard to cook or eat.

The third gift of the pumpkins was that they inspired Dorothy to bake a pumpkin for Halloween. The pie offered an appealing, delicious way to ease the transition from early fall to the impending deep freeze.