"A sketchbook is a secret thing, a collection of unfinished and often times abandoned ideas never intended for public consumption—at least not in their current state. It’s a private space for honing one’s craft and workshopping, separating good ideas from those best left unexplored." -Brian Heater at The Daily Cross Hatch.

15 December 2010

Salty Walt and the Rattlin' Ratlines.

Months ago, Salty Walt approached me and asked if I'd like to do some art for his sea chantey band...Not having done any band flyers since my East Village days where I (unconsciously) channeled Raymond Pettibon at the behest of Sweet Diesel's bassist, I struggled with how to portray Salty Walt and the boys... In the end, with the aid of Herbert Asbury's true-crime book "The Barbary Coast", I decided to portray them doing what 19th century sailors did best...and that's have a good debauch while ashore... Walt, Ratlines, I hope you guys have a good sense of humor...

10 November 2010

Happy 235th Birthday, Marines.

EDIT 04/25/11: This is a digital-media version of a drawing I did that was initially going to be the basis for a watercolor. I was going to do it for a Vietnam Vet friend of mine (it's him) but never finished it, because I was afraid of fucking it up. Anyways, contact me if you'd like a signed giclee! coldisthesea09@yahoo.com.

When I first posted this, it was the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. So I'll leave you with the last line of the initial post: "Wherever you are today Marines, be safe!"

29 October 2010

Work Doodles

Didn't get a lot of sleep last night, so by mid-afternoon I felt like the walking dead. I had a bit of free-time, and once secured from view, I commenced to doodle.

You'll notice a couple of Guernsey sweaters in there. Being a traditional sailors garment dating back to the 18th century as a uniform item for the Royal Navy, they're made out of "oiled wool", presumably for it's water resistant property. I just ordered one- didn't get the traditional Navy blue version, but Desert Rat-ecru. (Can't have all of my clothing looking like Navy surplus). Hopefully it'll get across the pond soon, because it feels like the snow is getting ready to fly up here.

On the lower right-hand corner is an image inspired by this passage from John Dos Passos' "1919":
"Joe Williams put on the secondhand suit and dropped his uniform with a cobblestone wrapped up in it, off the edge of the dock into the muddy water of the basin...he walked slowly out to the beacon and watched the fleet in formation steaming down the River Plate. The day was overcast; the lean cruisers soon blurred into their trailing smokesmudges." 

Having crapped out while reading "Manhattan Transfer", I'm only reading the "Joe Williams" chapters of 1919 (I'm skipping the "camera eye" parts and everything else) so I'm having a great time with it. I'm also rationing it out. I don't want to finish it quickly.

Joe is a great archetypal sailor- his life follows a pattern- he goes out to sea- eventually gets fed up with it- comes back to the beach and tries to get a straight job. But the pull of life at sea is always too irresistible and he always ships out again. The scene above describes his desertion from the Navy in the beginning of the book. Someday I'd like to make that an illustration...apologies to Reginald Marsh.

24 October 2010

Troubled Water

"If you doubt for one moment that I understand your problems, if you doubt for one moment that I am a sincere black man..."...He could see the contempt in their eyes, the way they looked at him with disgust and scepticism.
                With a sudden burst of resolve, Cloud reached down to a man...and took his weapon, a heavy piece of steel...
"The first man in this crowd that for one moment does not believe my sincerity, I hold this weapon and I bare my back for you to take this weapon and beat me into submission right here!"
...Cloud stood there for a moment, the weapon held high, his heart racing and his lungs heaving, wondering if one of the sailors would suddenly charge. He knew that if one man attacked, the whole crowd was likely to follow and he would die an agonizing death, right there on the deck of the Kitty Hawk, at the hands of his own men. -From "Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk"  by Gregory A. Freeman

One thing I love about a good sea story is that it takes you away from your troubles. It doesn't put your mind on your money woes. It doesn't make you think about politics, health care or "the education crisis". It doesn't make you think about anything real, like military policy in Afghanistan, transnational Takfirist terrorism , or our ascendant peer-competitor, China. It doesn't make you think about anything too aggravating.
"Troubled Water " by Gregory A. Freeman is exactly the opposite of that kind of sea story.
This book cuts to the core of one of America's most turbulent times- the early 1970's, when the anti-war and civil rights violence of the 1960's was still fresh in the American consciousness. In 1972 Vietnam was still raging- even though American troops had been reduced by 2/3 from their peak- and ships like the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk were still sending in sortie after sortie over Vietnam.
It is often said that an aircraft carrier, due to the size of its manpower (5000 men) is a microcosm of American society- nothing could be truer here. "Troubled Water" details a "perfect storm" of 60's angst (the draft, racism, drugs, radicalism, anti-war sentiment) ,  the decline of military discipline and the strain of an incredibly long, extended deployment aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
                Gregory Freeman writes that in the early 1970's race riots, radical activism and sabotage against military equipment- especially anything headed to Vietnam- were increasing in frequency within the US military. Aboard the Kitty Hawk anger over real and perceived racial incidents fueled an explosive atmosphere which erupted as the Kitty Hawk  cut short a much needed port call in Subic Bay to head back to Yankee Station.  Still tense over a racial incident which evolved into a riot in Subic, many (but not all) African-American crew members aboard the Kitty Hawk became worked up to the point where they picked up improvised weapons (everything from fog foam nozzles to tie-down wrenches) and started roaming through the ship severely beating any white sailors they came across- including those in showers, their racks or in sick bay- which was assaulted en masse several times throughout the night. Some sailors were beaten so seriously that they had to be medevac'd into Vietnam for treatment.
                On the military side of things, the book is a study in the failure of the unity of command. The riot evolved slowly and sporadically. Information was spotty, and communication between the Captain, the XO (LCDR Benjamin Cloud pictured above) and the officer of the Marine detachment, was non-existent during the crux of the violence.  So naturally, rumors flew and panic mounted. Officers were missing or not at their appropriate stations. Orders were given and countermanded over the 1MC. No plan had been created for this contingency, so none was implemented. Chaos and confusion reigned aboard the Kitty Hawk.  During the heat of the riot, some African-American crewmen voiced their intent to take over the Kitty Hawk and sail it to San Diego.
Mutiny you say? Definitely not, says the Navy. Since they were unsuccessful I think this only qualifies as an "attempted mutiny". Still- the Navy downplayed and buried the incident- as did the other services. "Chickens coming home to roost" after a couple hundred years of slavery, segregation and racist violence perpetrated against African-Americans? Most likely.
There's a lot more I'd like to say about "Troubled Water". Robert McNamara's Project 100,000 was also a factor in the Kitty Hawk riots, but time does not permit to muse on this anymore tonight. If you were in the military around this time, or have any reminiscences about racial incidents during the Vietnam War-era, please leave them in the comments.

09 October 2010

The Battle of the Atlantic: Hell and High Water

"...for it was the weather that was the most violent enemy of all. For eight days they steamed straight into a westerly gale: five hundred miles at a grindingly slow pace, buffeting through a weight of wind that seemed to have a personal spite in every blow it dealt." -Nicholas Monsarrat, The Cruel Sea.

It was the logistics train that saved Europe. From 1939-1945, lightly armed, newly built Liberty Ships  and an array of Allied (mostly British and Commonwealth)  naval vessels with air support constituted the "sinews of war" that brought gas, guns, food, ammunition and everything else a ground army needs to win, to the shores of Britain, Africa, North Russia and then later, continental Europe.

German Admiral Karl Donitz identified the logistics lines across the North Atlantic as the center of gravity for the Allied war effort against the Third Reich.  He then set about to sever them. U-Boats hunted the Allied merchant ships in groups called Wolf Packs and sent 36,200 Allied civilian and military sailors to their deaths. My Great-Uncle (an engine room snipe) was one of them. U-482 put two torpedoes into the side of his bulk-fuel carrier, the SS Jacksonville, 50 miles north of Londonderry. Two men survived, only because they were topside.

But the U-Boats weren't the only enemy. The weather and sea conditions also tormented the Allied crews as we can see in another passage from The Cruel Sea (whose author lived it, by the way):

"Aboard Compass Rose conditions were indescribable. She rolled furiously, with a tireless malice allowing no rest for anyone. Cooking was impossible...Everything was wet through: some water had come down a ventilator and flooded the wardroom: forward, the mess-decks were a crowded hell of saturated clothes, spare gear washing around their feet, food overturned- and all the time the noise, the groaning slamming violence of a small ship fighting a monstrous sea. Compass Rose caught in a storm that could take hold of her bodily and shake her till the very rivets loosened: a storm that raged and screamed at her until they were in the shelter of land again: Compass Rose adrift on a malignant ocean, seemed doomed to ride it together."

The Cruel Sea is full of passages like that. U-Boats aside, it is a testament to the skill and the emotional endurance of those sailors that they went through horrendous conditions like that, day in and day out for 6 years, all the while being hunted by submariners of the German war machine.

Technological advances made dominance in the Battle of the Atlantic go back and forth. Radar and sonar were a great boon to the Allies, but then the German schnorkel and the acoustic torpedo swung the balance back momentarily. In the end, it was the compromise of the German Enigma code that many historians credit with giving the Allies the best success in hunting, finding and killing German submarines. There were a plethora of other stratagems such as the convoy system and the coordination of air and sea power that drove the rest of the nails into the coffin of the U-Boat service of the Kreigsmarine.

But again, I think we have to give the most credit to human endurance in the face of "wrath of god"-style weather that enabled the Allies to succeed in the Battle of the Atlantic.

"...he...felt the gale whipping and tearing at his face...Compass Rose lurching under his feet as if the world itself were drunk, it was with a body from which every instinct save dumb endurance had been drained...the water crashed and thudded against their side, and the wind howled at them out of the blackness as if it had a conscious intention of terror. Round them there was nothing but a waste of sea, a livid grey whipped up here and there to white foam; and then beyond it, like a threatening wall, the surrounding dark, the chaos and  flurry of the night."

30 September 2010

Duffle Coat Experiment

This was just an experiment in digital color for me. I am super not happy with the results, but it's a baby step, and I'll try again.

05 September 2010

A History of the Gadsden Flag

This is a joint venture conceived by Monkey Fist (of Maritime Monday fame), written and photographed by Tugster (Will Van Dorp) and illustrated by yours truly.

Let's let the Tugster take it away:

For this first launch, let’s do Q and A format: Doesn’t the yellow rattlesnake flag so common in political rallies recently have a maritime history? What IS that maritime history?

Below is an example of the flag, flying over a great coffee, beer, and lunch place up in Cold Spring, New York (across the river from West Point) .

These yellow flags with rattlesnakes you may have started seeing everywhere. . . they are not new. I trace them back to the contrarian from Pennsylvania who played with lightning, yes … Benjamin Franklin. He also extolled the health benefits of skinnydipping and created bifocals, without which we older folk couldn’t exist. His wit generated such gems as “fish and visitors stink in three days” and “beer is evidence that God loves us.”

Franklin liked rattlers, even proposed they become our national symbol because they were honorable beasts who –if they felt tread upon—would communicate, would rattle a warning of an impending strike if said-treading continued. Before the “French and Indian” War (1754—1763), Franklin published a quite famous political cartoon featuring a rattler chopped into eight pieces with the caption “Join, or Die,” probably an earlier draft of his aphorism: “we must hang together or we shall hang separately.”

The next North American war saw colonists fighting the British Empire. The first commander-in-chief of the fledging “colonist’s navy” was Commodore Esek Hopkins. By then, the rattler flag (a version that had an uncoiled rattler superimposed onto a red-white striped field) had gained the support of Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. In 1775, Hopkins was instructed to use the flag to signal an engagement with British warships on the Delaware River. As such, it became the first Navy Jack. The rattler symbol also decorated the drums carried by the five companies of Marines in Hopkins’ fleet.

In 1980, the rattler flag took on new significance as a result of the directive from the Secretary of the Navy that the flag be flown by the naval vessel in longest active status.

The August 31 NY Times ran an article about Andy C. McDonel, who was told by the Avalon Village Community Association that he could not fly the rattler flag. This is a non-story, I think: community and neighborhood associations everywhere enforce charters or covenants about such things as how many cars can be parked in a driveway or what hues of which colors you may paint your house. They can tell you you’ve planted the wrong flowers or cannot grow corn in your garden!

What’s not discussed though a strong undercurrent, it seems, between McDonel and the Community Association is the new set of associations the flag has taken on, as the appropriated symbol of the “Tea Party” movement, which explains why we’re seeing it so much these days.

That’s how it is with symbols; with time, they acquire new associations. I have a yellow t-shirt with a rattler. I used to wear it partly as tribute to the First Navy Jack and partly as reflection of my years in libertarian New Hampshire. I think I might retire it for awhile. And given my admiration for Franklin, I might just find one with a turkey, the beast he wanted to see as our national bird. Either that, or—much more fun– I’ll pay my tribute to Franklin and go dipping skinny.

Cold is the Sea, here. By the way, I just couldn't let the opportunity pass to link you to Kate Beaton's excellent take on Ben Franklin's conception of the Gadsden flag's predecessor, the "Join or Die" political cartoon...

01 September 2010

USS Kirk on NPR

Boy was I shocked and surprised today to hear NPR do a story about the role of the USS Kirk in the evacuation of Vietnam...I would love to do a little art for this, but time does not allow and my eyelids are heavy...Fascinating and poignant sea story there. I was also surprised to hear about the role Richard Armitage played in directing the rescue of RVN Navy personnel and their families. Listen to the NPR story- especially this segment- and learn what happened to the pilot of the foundering Chinook featured above after it smacked into South China Sea.

31 August 2010

Matlow v. The Bolsheviks ...One Panel at a Time...

I've been wanting to continue on with my "Matlow v. The Bolsheviks" project for a while now and I decided that what was holding me back (among many things) was my desire to get everything 100% historically accurate and write the story first. Well, I'm a busy guy. I just don't have time for any of that! So here we go with the new format, fast, on the fly and barely accurate. :) Story (sort of) follows from here.

15 August 2010


I've been tearing through Karl Marlantes' Vietnam novel "Matterhorn", which set my mind and pen wandering to draw this sketch. (This is taken from Larry Burrow's Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken atop "Mutter's Ridge" in 1966.) Having read a ton of Vietnam novels in my day, I can offer the informed opinion that "Matterhorn" is one of the best Vietnam novels, if not one of the best war novels ever written. There's no hackneyed patriotism or testosterone fueled chest thumping manly action. The bravery and heroism displayed in the book are demonstrated by men who simply survive horrific, grueling conditions that are sometimes (often) created by the whims of the 'politically' ambitious.

A poster on Terminal Lance (who I assume knows from whence he speaks) says that the novel could have taken place during our current war, implying that the more things change the more they stay the same. Indeed, Marlante's publishers urged him to change it and make it about Iraq or Afghanistan.

What makes it unique from most Vietnam fiction is that racial tension is one of the main drivers of the story. (Marlantes says that in early drafts he tried to avoid it but couldn't.) In James Webb's Fields of Fire (which I consider to be the best novel about Vietnam), racial issues create some of the conflict, but not to the extent they do in "Matterhorn". I chose to sketch the image above, because it exemplifies how Marines in line units transcended racial friction- even though Marlantes says that once they were out of the field, that same tension became impossible to ignore.

There are parts of the book which are grueling and exhausting to read and make you wonder how anyone could have survived. Very little war literature (with the exception of "The Thin Red Line") approaches the vivid detail and intensity in which the suffering sustained by Marlantes' Marines (and Sailors) is illustrated.

Anyways. Hell of a book. I'm glad it made it into print.

10 August 2010

"If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them..."

Moments ago (moments people!), the incredible Monkey Fist (of Casco Bay Boaters, Maritime Monday and the brand-spanking new "Adventures of the BlackGang" fame) emailed me and asked "Where the hell's the maritime art?" (she didn't really ask that...).

So, I'll share with you a few of the remotely maritime snippets of a commission I've been working on for the last couple of months (months? yikes...better step on it).

Above you see the visages of USMC Gen. James Mattis, JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and the legendary Gen. Victor "Brute" Krulak. What do all these guys have in common? Well, you'll just have to wait and find out. Hopefully, you won't be waiting forever... <:)

05 August 2010

Today's Inspiration: Carl G. Evers

Whenever I need some illustration inspiration (which is every day) I head over to Leif Peng's "Today's Inspiration" where he showcases illustrators from the the unparalleled era of the 1940's and 1950's.

Today, he showcased Carl G. Evers, a maritime artist who I'd never heard of, who painted in gouache! I paint in gouache a lot and let me tell you...even contemplating trying to approach Evers level of mastery over that medium is a daunting prospect.

Anyways, if you want to see some really fantastic maritime art, head on over to Leif's place for Charlie Allen's retrospective on Carl G. Evers.

03 August 2010

Tugster: My Babylonian Captivity

Hi folks. No art update today as I'm still trudging through a challenging commission.

What I would like to do is introduce you to a new blog by Will Van Dorp (author of the amazing Tugster blog) entitled "My Babylonian Captivity". Will has the unusual distinction of surviving the opening salvos of the 1990-91 Gulf War as a human shield held by the Iraqis in Kuwait. His new blog will present excerpts from a previously completed manuscript detailing his captivity.

Fascinating stuff. Head on over and take a look.

27 July 2010

Cold is the Sea: THE NOVEL (and a little TMI)

A few years ago I read Captain Edward L. Beach's novel, Run Silent, Run Deep. Loved it. Not only a page turning classic WWII novel, but how many men have actually experienced war beneath the waves and lived to write about it? So, you can imagine my excitement when I ran across the sequel, Dust on the Sea in a flea market in Red Bank, New Jersey? ...Now, imagine my disappointment when the book took on the turn of a "Boy's Own" adventure and just became so unbelievable I couldn't really get into it.

Fast forward a couple of years and I find out that Captain Beach wrote a third sequel to the Run Silent/Dust-on-the-Sea series, a novel called Cold is the Sea...I am reluctant to read it because Dust kind of sucked...but the title is so catchy...it sticks in my brain and eventually I begin to use it as my nom du guerre (nom du art?) for this incarnation of my sketch blog.

PRESENT DAY: A few days ago I had finished my serious book (Koran, Kalishnikov and Laptop), my bedtime book (Shadow Divers) and my gym bag book (Lord Jim), and lo and behold I needed something to read.

Now, this confluence of book-finishing transpired on an especially humid, miserable hot day (not DC humid-miserable, but close) and the cover of Beach's Cold is the Sea, with a submarine breaching some sea ice seemed so...inviting... I figured that the time had come to read the novel that I had named myself after. I would just grit my teeth and grind through it...but soon I found out I was reading a gem.

So far (and I'm only about 60-some odd pages in) the novel appears to be a fictionalized account of Captain Beach's pissing contest with the famously irascible Hyman G. Rickover. For those who don't know anything about Rickover, he was the father of the nuclear navy (i.e., the singular driving force that got reactors on subs)- and apparently a very "prickly" personality. Prickly like a steel brush. (Read Sherry Sontag's Blind Man's Bluff for more about Rickover.)

From what I can tell, Beach and Rickover had a little clash of egos. Rickover was the Engineer. Beach was the WWII Hero Sub Ace. Rickover was born in a Polish shtetl that was the target of pogroms. Beach was an Academy ring-knocker and the son of a Naval hero. This book is kind of like reading about a star quarterback complaining about the valedictorian math nerd.

"Ok", you say, "that sounds incredibly boring." But not to me! I love this shit! It's actually kind of funny, though Beach obviously had an axe to grind- although to his credit he does grudgingly acknowledge and praise the contributions Rickover made to the Navy.

As I said, I don't know the whole real story- or Rickover's side- but so far it's good reading. I do know that the rest of the novel is based on Beach's experience commanding the first nuclear sub to circumnavigate the globe completely submerged (Operation Sandblast). The caricature above (l to r: Rickover, Beach) kind of sums up my impression of their relationship so far...

18 July 2010

William Golding, circa 1957

Great NYT review today on a new William Golding biography. (I had no idea he was a school teacher! But, duh- who else could've written a book like "Lord of the Flies"?)

I also didn't know that he had served in the Royal Navy during WWII, and was present for D-Day and the lesser known Battle of Walcheren.

I thought this tidbit was interesting:
“…his war in the navy was profoundly destabilizing for him in various ways (both personally and artistically), and many of the key themes in his work can be traced to these formative and disturbing experiences.”

You can read the whole review here: "Man as an Island"

09 July 2010

Maritime Blogger Portrait Series I: TUGSTER

I'm no great hand at writing profiles, so I'll keep it short...

Will Van Dorp is the champion and chronicler of New York City's "sixth boro" (a phrase I believe he coined)- the vast, twisting and teeming waterways that surround the aforementioned metropolis on his blog "Tugster".

This inspiration for keeping this living document? Primarily it was out of Will's lifelong interest with all things related to the water- and a strong desire to delve into the history of NYC's "working water"- its history and where it stands in a global context. Will also enjoys the sense of community he feels with those kindred spirits who share his passion.

The bulk carrier MV Alice Oldendorff (pictured here, riding high in the water) was the ship that Will chose to be portrayed with...He has a strong affinity for her, and was the subject of his very first blog post.


As for the making this piece it took a lot longer than I thought it would... I was very fortunate to secure a non-Maritime related commission a few weeks ago, and I fear it's going to take the rest of the summer (haha)... at a minimum...But, I'll probably put up the odd sketch or two here and there. I had a whole list of people to do for this project...but I've got to put it on the back burner. I'm determined to keep painting maritime-bloggers (Kim, you're next, I promise...) but I've got a ton of other stuff to clear first...

30 June 2010

Slushing the Topping Wires

I have often been stymied when trying to find photos of Merchant Marines at work. A devoted reader of this blog recommended a bunch of sites including the Seafarers International Union where I pulled the photo-reference for this quickie sketch (thank you CB). I drew this to clear some frustration I was feeling after several attempts at drawing a Spek anchor on a bulk carrier for a more involved piece. Wish I had done this on a larger piece of paper in order to show this guy towering above a gray misty ocean on the Washington Express.

24 June 2010

Kon Tiki! Plastiki!


When I was a kid (it must've been middle school) one of our teachers brought us down to the library and spread out on all the tables were books that hadn't been checked out in years. We had to pick one and do a report on it, I chose "Kon Tiki" by Thor Heyerdahl. The book was a memoir about Heyerdahl proving his theory that South Americans could have traveled to Polynesia on a boat made out of reeds by actually making a boat out of reeds and sailing across the freakin' Pacific.

Now, this book didn't spark my interest in maritime culture/history (and, oddly we had a lot of that for a Midwestern school) but I do remember being fascinated and empathetically terrified for poor Thor as he crossed the Pacific in his boat of reeds...

...anyways, today Kim Carver of Jack Tar Magazine posted a video of some chipper bastard waking up Thor's grandson Olav for his watch on a boat called The Plastiki! Apparently, a new group of stalwart sailors has made a boat out of recylcable plastic and is going on something called the "The Plastiki Pacific Voyage" through the Great Garbage Patch of the Pacific to Oz and back to San Francisco. Think they're trying to make a point?

Wow. Good on ya, mates! Seems like a helluva project. I'm glad they don't have any swag for sale because I'd hate to break my Wife's injunction against the purchase of new t-shirts....

(The above cartoon is taken from an image of Thor on the cover of his book "Fatu-Hiva". I have no idea what he's wearing on his head. Behind him is the Kon-Tiki at dockside.)
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16 June 2010

Brown Water Sailor

This is a Vietnam War US Navy Brown Water Sailor receiving an award.
Dig the relaxed grooming standard...Must've been the Zumwalt era...
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14 June 2010

gCaptain: Maritime Monday

Do you use the site gCaptain? It's an incredibly comprehensive resource for anyone interested in professional maritime issues, and their regular blog feature Maritime Monday is a great weekly compendium of maritime news, art and photography. They've really been on top of all the news relating to the Deepwater Horizon nightmare in the Gulf. Go check it out.

09 June 2010

Sailor Girl Pinup


I'm working on a very involved project right now, but I don't want to let the blog idle while I'm doing it. So here's a very light sketch of something, uhm, "vaguely" nautical.
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04 June 2010

The Cartoon Grill!

Amazing artist Jeff Spangler just started a new blog called "The Cartoon Grill" where he'll be venting his spleen via political cartooning. He's sharp and angry, so keep an eye on his blog!

27 May 2010

ROK Steady



Had a lot of time to kill at work today. Spent a lot of time all over the internets reading about the mounting tension between North Korea, South Korea and us. Pretty nerve wracking, but I'm sure that given our established pattern of dealing with DPRK violence (such as the US soldiers hacked to death in the "Tree Trimming Incident" of '76 and the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 among many others) which generally results in a lot of saber rattling, but no decisive action, this incident will probably end up much the same.

Why? Because we, and the international community are willing to let Kim Il Jong be a loose cannon in order to prevent a limited nuclear war in the region and keep Seoul in one piece. I'm sure in the highest corridors of power, the caluculus is something like, "So what if the North Koreans kill a few ROKs and/or US military personnel here and there- as long as the nukes don't start flying and those big artillery tubes don't turn Seoul into dust." I guess...it's a good trade off...until the North Korean regime (whether it's Kim, or his son "Brilliant Comrade") does something really really nuts, like giving a nuke to a Takfirist organization, or launching one on the South.

The two drawings above show a ROK sailor manning a port-side M-60 during a patrol of the South Korean maritime border. The other drawing is of a US 7th Fleet Aviation Boatswain's mate during helicopter flight operations.

I hope the situation stays stabilized, or that we figure something else out that creates a beneficial long term solution. (Or some mediation occurs...)
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24 May 2010

Friends of the Cruiser Olympia

The bloggers at the Navy Times "Scoop Deck" just did a post on the effort to save the USS Olympia. They provided a link to the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia who are running a grass-roots campaign to save the ship. When I get my next paycheck, I'm definitely sending them $25. I'd send more if I could, believe me.

If the plight of the ship moves you, please contribute (it's tax deductible). This is an amazingly well preserved 19th Century steel battleship and a very important piece of maritime history.

23 May 2010

Old Salt Blog: Olympia May Be Sunk as Artifical Reef

I just learned from The Old Salt Blog that the USS Olympia may be sunk to become an artificial reef because the Independence Seaport Museum can't find anyone to financially support much needed maintenance.

That's sad. That sucks. It's one of my favorite ships and I hope I can get to it before they sink it. Just look at that photo- that's one damn beautiful ship. What a shame.

16 May 2010

USS AD-18: Tender Sailor and Banjo


Even though I'm in the middle of a couple of big projects right now, I needed to do a little sketch tonight to bleed off some of that creative steam and get a quick fix of external validation. ;)

Today, as I was out and about, I saw a license plate that read "USS AD18". So of course I couldn't resist looking it up when I got home. The AD-18 or, USS Sierra was a Destroyer Tender that served from 1943 to 1993. That's a hell of a long time, wouldn't you agree? Being a "freshwater sailor", I don't know that much about the shelf life of Navy ships, but that seems pretty impressive.

As I was looking up photos of the Sierra, I found one with this sailor and a banjo, with a waterfront in the background that reminded me of New Jersey or Brooklyn. So, in lieu of working on my long term projects, I decided to bang this one out. I drew the gentleman next to our banjo player- but he didn't work out so well...(photo was dated 1959 btw).
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14 May 2010

Dirt Sailors: Seabees At Work


I had a couple minutes in a room alone with a computer today at work, so I decided to do some sketching. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time (I didn't want to completely wolf down my sandwich just to draw) so I didn't get as much "information" into this one as I would've liked.

Obviously, I'm still thinking about my Great Uncle (his funeral was well attended, poignant and appropriately funny). Given that he was (happily) surprised to hear that the unit was still active (understandably he didn't pay much attention to military stuff after he was discharged), I wonder what he would have thought if he knew the Seabees went coed...

Regardless, this is a portrait of a Seabee putting in some wiring in, in a new facility at Camp Krutke, the evolving Seabee camp adjacent to Camp Leatherneck. The Seabees are adding a lot of value to the COIN effort with local construction projects, so it's only natural that they're building their own digs in Helmand. (I do think it's interesting that they built the base for the Marines first...but I guess you can't have development if you don't have security first...). If you're interested in the efficacy of COIN in Afghanistan, take a look at this article. Now, I'm a hardcore COINdinista myself, but the leaked memo in that piece gave me a moment of pause. Anyways. It's a conversation for another day.

(Also, there's a great piece on Afghanistan here by a soldier/contractor who spent 6 1/2 years there. Scroll down to the contents and click on "Building Bridges". It will enlighten you as to the difficulty that anyone- especially our Seabees- have doing development/construction work in Afghanistan.)

Stay safe Seabees. Keep up the good work.
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11 May 2010

Our Bed is a Boat

All dialogue guaranteed, 100% REAL. (allegedly).
(click for larger size!)
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10 May 2010

Marine Cafe Blog

Barista Uno at the Marine Cafe Blog gave this site and my work a generous review today. If you're looking for maritime news and analysis with a focus on the Philippines, the Marine Cafe Blog is the place to go...Thanks Barista Uno!

Requiem for a Seabee


My Great-Uncle, spinner of self-effacing, humorous tall tales passed away today after a long fight with the many complications that come with old age. The son of immigrants who (literally) escaped from Tsarist Russia, he was a WWII Seabee and Pacific Theater Vet, yet he was not a very Seabee-like Seabee: he wasn't good with his fists, didn't have a tattoo ("But I thought if I ever got one, it would be that Bee character!") and he avoided strong-drink and loose women.

However, he did have some very sailorly qualities:

He often made it a habit to hide from his Chief in order to find a safe, dry place to take a nap. He traded his beer and cigarette allotment that he didn't want for various and sundry items that he did. He also enthusiastically engaged in the thriving business of decorating combat knives for sailors who wanted to appear a little more salty.

Most importantly though, by crossing the Equator on his way to war he endured a centuries old ritual and was formally initiated into "the Mysteries of the Royal and Ancient Order of the Deep" earning the title of "Shellback". Some men serve for an entire career in the Navy and never earn that honor.

Though he wasn't one of those Seabees that went right in with the first wave, he did have a couple of close shaves (aside from those times where he was sniper-bait while constructing oil and water storage tanks):

Once, a newly minted Ensign "accidentally discharged" his shiny new .45 perilously close to Uncle Art's head. The terrified Ensign offered to do anything for Uncle Art as long as he didn't tell. Uncle Art said "I didn't really need anything, so who was I going to tell? What was he going to do for me, send me home?

Another time he was at the end of a dock made out of floating pontoon sections when he heard the unmistakable sound of a Betty. It quickly appeared and started strafing, making a run towards the ship being unloaded at the end of the dock. As Uncle Art was running for safety he said that he started thinking about a gap somewhere between two of the pontoons. "I couldn't remember where it was and then... I found it." He broke his leg, but fortunately that was the extent of his injuries.

And finally (in transit to somewhere) his C-47 transport plane lost an engine (and for a brief time, both of them- one on fire) and was forced to land on Peleliu. When exiting the plane he looked at the sweat-soaked pilot and said, "Boy, I'm glad I wasn't in your shoes!"...

As I sat with him at his nursing home over the last year or so we chewed the fat, he cracked a lot of "groaner" jokes and I became the recipient of many sea stories and assorted family gossip. He was one hell of a guy and I'll miss him.

Fair winds and following seas, Art.

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