Takaom Universe

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The heart of the matter

My writing friend Diane M Graham though her many courageous blog entries has inspired me to share this time  from my heart.

One of my goals, call it an editorial policy, is to consistently proclaim God's active involvement in human affairs. Through my writing, I want to tell the forces of darkness that their time on Earth is about up and that they have already been disarmed by Jesus' finished work on the cross.

I want to stress God's sovereign power over all.   I also want to state without a doubt that miracles are still happening. God is still defending and nurturing those who love him and call out to him.

Whenever I write about the unfailing love of God, someone brings forward a litany of woes that God has apparently not addressed. They name natural disasters, wars, and inevitably the big "C," cancer.

I know the big "C" quite well. Cancer has killed many family members.   It claimed the life of my second wife  after a hard, five-year struggle against ovarian cancer.  I know it and hate what it does.

On the evening of Memorial Day weekend 2008 while she lay in her hospital bed, I closed the blinds of her windows in preparation for a fast-moving thunderstorm.  We had been together in the hospital for almost eight weeks doing everything possible, both medically and spiritually.

My heart and body ached. I didn't know how long I could keep going.  Three days earlier, our doctors told us that nothing else could be done.

In her lucid moments under heavy morphine she said she wanted to go home. She had made her choice, yet it was a reluctant one. She was still looking to guidance from the Holy Spirit, as was I.  It was simply time to take her home and wait on God.

I knew that if God did not intervene, she would die within days from a deeply-rooted untreatable  infection, a side-effect of the last cancer operation.

The storm arrived, with its cold, driving rain pelting the windows. I was numb, unable to pray, unable to do anything but mark the slow passing of time until we could leave on Tuesday morning.  I felt abandoned by God. In closing the blinds I wanted to shut out the world, shut out the pain, and simply shrink within myself.

The rain stopped and through the blinds I saw an intense, golden light.  I opened the blinds and there on the front lawn stood the magnificent arc of a double rainbow, flying over the hospital.  I could hear the startled exclamation of the nuring staff as they scurried from room to room.

I remembered the first time we came to the hospital, five years previously.  It was a Friday evening and after two hard weeks,  I was walking down the hall from my wife's hospital room toward the elevator to get a bite to eat.  I heard astonished murmurs from the rooms I passed, but I was too tired to care.  A nurse came up from behind, grabbed my arm and took me back to my wife's  room.  She pointed out the window. There on the front lawn stood a magnificent double rainbow, arcing over the hospital.

At that time, I thought that 2003 double rainbow was a sign from God that all was well and things would work out according to His plan.  Five years later, I was again staring at a double rainbow.  I remembered that my wife was unconscious the first time as she was the second time the double rainbow appeared.  Then I realized the rainbows were not signs to her of God's unfailing love, they were signs meant for me. He broke into the mundane world to tell me that He would never abandon me or forsake me.

"No matter what happens," I said to the LORD. "I will always love you and I will always serve you."

I wept, looking out the windows as long as the double rainbow lasted.  A nurse came into the room and I told her about the first double rainbow.  I asked her how many times double rainbows occurred at the hosptial.  She told me she had only ever seen one and that was in Colorado. She claimed none of the nursing staff had ever seen a double rainbow at the hospital.

"It's a miracle," she whispered.

"Yes,"  I said. "It is."

I have come to understand what  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego meant when they told King Nebuchadnezzar they knew that God would deliver them from a fiery death. Then in Daniel 3:18 they said as  thumbs in the eyes of the dark powers listening through their human hosts, ""But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

I will always love Him and always serve Him, no matter what.  In the two years since, God sent me a beautiful, loving woman to be my bride. With her zest for life, she has loved me back to life and encouraged my writing.  I am very blessed, but blessed most of all to be loved by our passionate, loving Father.  He has never failed me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Riding out the storm

For centuries ships at sea have survived storms not by fighting against heavy weather, but by using the forces of the storms to ride through them.  In most cases, the absolute worst thing a sailor can do is nothing.

Capsizing is greatest danger to a vessel during a storm. If  a ship comes broadside. or a-beam,  to the storm waves, it can capsize when it heels (rocks)  excessively and can no longer right itself. 

Waves approaching from either the stern or bow can eventually rotate a vessel until is is broadside to the storm waves.  When a vessel is broadside to the storm waves, it is said to be "broaching" them.

A number of different tactics recommended by sailing experts can be used to keep a vessel oriented away from or toward storm waves. I never put in any helm time in during heavy seas, so I defer to the experts on this subject.

There are three active methods used to maintain headway.  The first is to reduce sails or run with bare poles. In this method the sail area is reduced by taking in, or reefing, the sails. This keeps the sails from shredding or perhaps damaging the masts and rigging.  In very heavy wind conditions, the presence of the rigging and masts offers enough sail area to keep the ship underway so the sails can be completely furled..

The second method is to run with the wind and surf the waves.  When running with the wind, the captain sets a course away from the storm.  Clipper ship captains used this method to exploit storm system energy and get high speeds of 20 knots or better.  There is a danger with running with the wind.  You can begin to overtake waves and in very heavy seas slide down the wave and into the trough. A vessel is then in danger of slamming into the back side of the next wave. The trick is to surf the wave at a an angle to lessen the force of the entry into the next wave, but too much of an angle might set the ship up for a broach.

The third active method is to run warps and use a drogue.  A warp is a heavy towing cable that can be played out of the stern and hopefully create enough drag to keep the vessel from broaching.  A drogue is a small conical device or fabric parachute-like device that when towed in the water acts as a brake to keep the stern from sliding  and creating a broach condition.  Running warps alone is being disputed these days, but has been conventional wisdom for some time. Using a drogue is a very good tactic.

If the storm is just too big, there are passive ways to weather out the storm. With these methods, you are trying to ride out he storm rather than make headway.

The first passive method is to "heave to."  We've all heard this phrase with pirate gibberish, but it's really a cool thing.  You can actually use the wind energy against sails to cancel itself out when balanced against the tilt of the rudder.   Heaving to can be used to stop a vessel that's underway, or keep the vessel nearly stationary with very little forward momentum.

The second  passive method  is to use a sea anchor off the bow.  A sea anchor is a drogue that's large enough to actually stop the forward movement of the vessel. This again keeps the vessel  perpendicular to the waves, avoiding a breach condition.

The third passive method calls for hositing a small sail at the stern of the vessel. The wind action against the stern sail will cause the vessel to align itself into the waves.  This can be used at anchor to keep the vessel facing the wind.

The final passive method is to simply hunker down.  This is called lying a-hull.  In this method, the sails are furled and the vessel is simply allowed to drift with the rudder turned leeward. No sea anchor is used. The main danger to the vessel is being caught in a breach condition. Lying a-hull is a last effort and very controversial storm tactic.

The crew of tall ships have to protect the yards in heavy seas and men aloft would frequently have to disassemble the yards and pass them down to the deck below.  Additionally, taking down the topmast was not an uncommon storm tactic and is recounted in the sailing classic, Two Years before the Mast.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Happy 110th Birthday!

Today marks the official adoption of John Philip Holland's gasoline-powered submarine, Holland (SS-1) and the beginning of the U.S.Navy's Submarine Service. It was not the the first U. S. submarine, nor even Holland's first.

Most U. S. school children have heard of the Revolutionary War American submarine, the Turtle.  Built in Connecticut by Yale student David Bushnell with trials on the Connecticut River, the Turtle represented 18th century high technology at its best with even Benjamin Franklin on the engineering team.

On the night of September 7, 1776, Army volunteer  Sergeant Ezra Lee piloted  the Turtle, attacking  British Admiral Richard Howe's flagship the  frigate HMS Eagle near Manhattan.  At this time, the submarine was considered a infernal machine, outlawed by conventional warfare. If caught, Sgt. Lee would have been been immediately hung.

While submerged, Sgt. Lee attempted to attach a time bomb to the ship's hull.  Some have blamed the copper plates on the ship's hull, intended to defeat the Teredo worm, from  keeping  the Turtle's detachable drill bit from boring into the hull. The current thinking is that the complex currents south of Manhattan Island and Lee's inexperience with the Turtle kept him from placing the submarine against the Eagle's hull.

Exhausted and oxygen deprived, Sgt. Lee released the bomb and piloted the little sub to the surface.  He opened the hatch, only to discover he had been spotted by picket boats.  The British cut short their pursuit after Lee jettisoned his bomb, which later exploded spectacularly.  Aside from reports of sea mines, there are no official British records of the event, causing some historians to doubt the veracity of the story.

The British eventually sank the Turtle with its tender when Bushnell attempted other raids with his submersible.  Bushnell successfully recovered the Turtle, but it was not used in further attacks.  It may have been used as the basis for two additional submarines, which reportedly attacked the British during the War of 1812.  However there is also evidence that these two submarines or submersibles were independently developed.

Washington promoted Bushnell as Captain-Lieutenant of the newly created corps of sappers and miners. He proceeded to perfect his underwater mine, which did successfully damage a support vessel of the 28-gun frigate HMS Cerebus.

In the face of public score of the Turtle, Bushnell considered his war work a failure.  He left his home state of Connecticut. He may have been in France during Robert Fulton's development of the Nautilus, though proof of any contribution is pretty sketchy.  He eventually wound up in Georgia practicing medicine under the  name David Bush, where he lived to the ripe old age of 90. 

Nonetheless, George Washington did get to pin a medal on Bushnell. Washington described Bushnell as, "a man of great mechanical powers, fertile in inventions and master of execution."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gunnery 201 - Powder and shot

I've already outlined the naval gunnery strategy used during the age of sail, namely to concentrate the most firepower on a vessel without sinking it and then close on the enemy as close as possible with as many guns as possible. Ships would queue up in a line called a battle line in order to close with an enemy fleet and engage it.

For warships, this resulted in decks packed with guns.  For instance British warships were rated according to the number of guns from first-rate to fourth-rate for ships of the line  and from fifth-rate to sixth-rate for frigates.   By the Napoleonic Wars, a first-rate ship of the line of some 2,500 tons with a crew of 850 men could have as many as 100 to 120 guns on three decks.  The smaller vessels, a gun-brig or cutter of less than 220 tons with a crew of  five to 20 men could have six to 14 guns.

Since  merchantmen devoted much of its interior hull space to cargo, they had fewer cannon that were all situated on the outer deck.  In the case of the larger East India men, while they did have cannon ports on more than one deck,  the guns were often stowed away or completely assembled as in the cargo space.

Pirates rarely had the luxury of capturing a warship, so they modified whatever they captured for the optimum number of guns without greatly sacrificing speed and maneuverability. Pirate ship's carpenters and gunners would frequently gut ships to add additional decks or even cut out the forecastle and great cabin in order to gain more deck space for guns. These cannons came from captured vessels, salvaged shipwrecks, and shore fortifications.

In the early 18th century, the caliber of cannons were measured in the weight of their projectiles and not the cannon's bore.  Merchantmen of around 200 tons might have four to six three-pounder guns. In theory you could get another four on board with two in stern and two in the bow. In practice,  the superstructure of these vessels were not up to the weight..

During this time, English warships packed eight-pounders to twelve-pounders on their decks.  Blackbeard's flagship the 300-ton   Queen Anne's Revenge  with a crew of approximately 160 men had thirty guns: four 12-pounders, 12-six pounders, six bronze eight-pounders, and eight four-pounders.

The variety of guns added a level of complexity for the gunner of the Queen Anne's Revenge.  He and his mate  had to prepackage powder charges for each of the different calibers. The charges were stored in the powder magazine and then passed out to young boys called "powder monkeys," who took the charges to the gun crews.  Crew members passed the cannon shot from its storage area, which was called a "shot locker."

Cannon projectiles came a in a variety of types.  Bar and chain projectiles had iron balls on either ends of chain or solid iron bars.  These were used to attack rigging and sails, which offered a considerably large target. Solid show was used to punch holes in the vessel's hull, and thus had the potential to be used to sink the target vessel. 

Cannister, grape, and langrage shot were used as short range anti-personnel ordinance. The cannister shot consisted of smaller projectiles inside a container. The grape shot consisted of grape-sized projectiles inside a canvas bag that disintegrated after the cannon fired. Langrage shot was simple anything at hand that could be crammed down the cannon's muzzle.

Gunpowder is a very, very touchy explosive.  More than one fireworks factory has been leveled when a small static spark set off the powder dust.  Since warships carried large quantities, special precautions had to be taken.  The crew stored powder deep inside the ship in and area called the magazine.  The magazine was separated from the rest of the ship and entry was allowed only through an airlock arrangement called a light room.  Because gunpowder is very touchy stuff,  crew could not handle gunpowder around open flames. Hence, the light room also provided illumination for the magazine through its glass paned walls.