Tag Archives: shipwreck

The printing press saves the day

I should’ve drawn the press closer to the crack.

But, wait!—the Pilgrims had brought a printing press with them, one of those Gutenberg presses with the big screw used to put big-time pressure on a platen. They dragged the press out of the hold and used the press’ screw to push the beam back into position. They unscrewed the press (lefty-loosey) so it pushed out against the keel and the beam. The Mayflower stayed sea-worthy enough to make a landing off Plymouth Rock. Now when you look at those paintings of Pilgrims setting foot on land you see why they look like they’d just cheated Death.

Inspired by a Currier & Ives print

So the printing press came to America. Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s a conversation between some engineers/sailors discussing what the actual problem with the Mayflower may have been. The most plausible scenario (to me) is that the main beam cracked, which compromised the standing rigging that held the mast in place (the mast doesn’t rest on the beam, it’s seated—stepped—into a socket down on the keelson at the bottom of the ship. The beam’s job is to keep the rigging taut. The beam is under hundreds of pounds of pressure). Once they got the beam lifted with a screw, they could put timbers under the beam to hold it there. https://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb/antique-machinery-and-history/0t-saving-mayflower-1620-a-382121/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Thanks for sailing with Mayflower! Please fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the trip

Welp, everything went wrong. Three hundred miles out to sea Speedwell (which had leaked and been patched a couple of times already) sprang a leak so they turned back and everybody piled into the Mayflower. So they got a late start. The voyage would take over two months. They were blown off course, so they’d wind up in chilly no-wheres-ville New England rather than Virginia where the settlements were. The Pilgrims would arrive too late to plant crops so they stood a good chance of starving before spring. They’d completely miss New England’s leaf-peeping season. The Mayflower was old, cranky and her timbers weren’t sound. Then, during a wild storm, the beam that held the mainmast in place cracked! It looked like she’d sink with all hands.


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

The Isles of Scilly

I said it would take an awful catastrophe to motivate sailors to find accurate longitude.

At the southwesternmost tip of England is a place called Cornwall. Along its coast is the harbor of Penzance, the home-port of Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical pirates. Off the southwesternmost tip of Cornwall are the Isles of Scilly—hard, treacherous, unforgiving granite rocks that jut straight up out of the Atlantic Ocean.

During a horrible storm on October 22, 1707, not knowing their position (there were differences of opinion among the captains), four Royal Navy ships were wrecked on these islands. 1550 sailors lost their lives—it was one of the worst disasters in British naval history.

Those sailors thought they were far enough south of the rocks to sail east into the English Channel. They were wrong. They struck the rocks, were shipwrecked and drowned. May God rest their souls.

I’ve been joking around here—presenting the problem of longitude in a light-hearted, smart-alecky way. But you see how deadly serious it is not to know your position when you’re in the middle of the ocean during a storm.

Well, what was going to be done about it?


Sir Cloudesley Shovell and the Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707

While looking for info about Scilly, I found this masterful painted sketch of the rocks by Anna Kirk-Smith. I love its wildness. https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Drawing-Sea-Edge-Rocks-of-Scilly/988141/3626138/view

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Alphabet Trail & Tales 2014

Thank you Le & Nancy of Citiparks for inviting me to perform in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park once again this year—at the wreck of the old Salty Carrot.

We added some panels to the interior of our dear old barky. Here they are in progress as I painted them at the Farmhouse in Highland Park.

Join me this Saturday

Henry & The Buccaneer Bunnies

If you’ll be around Pittsburgh Saturday, September 13, please stop by the old Salty Carrot shipwreck pavilion (the big blue slide) in Frick Park. I’ll be part of Alphabet Trail and Tales from 10:00 – 1:00, reading & painting and telling horrible pirate jokes.

R is for Revenge

Queen Anne’s Revenge, that is. Queen Anne’s Revenge is the name of Blackbeard Teach’s flagship—though I have to admit I don’t know why he chose that name. Queen Anne ruled Great Britain & Ireland while Blackbeard was alive, so maybe he considered himself to be a privateer on behalf of the Crown? Was he not happy with the War of the Spanish Succession? I’d like it if, in the comments, someone could offer a better reason behind Teach’s name for his ship. Writers Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift & pirate aficionado Daniel Defoe flourished under Queen Anne, so maybe her reign really was culture’s balmiest day—but why did she need to be avenged?

Anyway, he only captained Queen Anne’s Revenge for 3 years before she sunk off North Carolina. And so I had the wonderful opportunity to paint a sunken pirate ship for Eve Bunting’s new book, P is for Pirate. It was also a chance to pay tribute to fantastic illustrator Lloyd K. Townsend. When I say ‘pay tribute to’, of course I mean ‘steal shamelessly from’. I’ve admired Townsend since I was a wee lad, seeing his paintings in National Geographic. One in particular, from 1979, shows the sunken Spanish treasure ship Tolosa. This was my—cough—inspiration for R is for Revenge. Hey, at least I turned the ship around to face the other way!

Herewith, work in progress:

The Wreck of the Salty Carrot

These images from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies are up on my website, but they’re kind of small.  I thought you might like to see them here, so you can embiggen simply by clicking on them.

For the shipwreck scene, I wanted to mimic antique oil paintings of storms at sea.  The first three images by masters of the genre represent the kind of nautical art to which I would be tipping my hat.

Following those are my own work.  By now you know the drill: thumbnail sketch, tight sketch, color study, final illustration.

The thumbnail sketches are each about 2″ tall, the tight sketch is maybe 8″ tall, the color study is the size of a postcard, the final is about 20″ x 14″.

Eilian in foul weather, or Foul, Reuben Chappell

Ships in a Storm, Elisha J. Taylor Baker

Agamemnon in Storm