Historic Battleship USS Texas Taking In Water, Leaking Oil


The USS Texas is America’s oldest battleship. Commissioned in 1914, it fought in both World War I and World War II. Since 1948 it’s been utilized as a museum at La Porte, Texas, on the outskirts of Houston.

Now the vessel is in peril. It’s sprung a leak and is taking on water. So much water entered the ship that it started noticeably listing to port. The old oil tanks got flooded. While the tanks had been emptied decades ago, they’d never been cleaned, so oily water spread out into the bay.

The oil is being cleaned and the water pumped out. While problems continue, the ship doesn’t appear to be in danger of sinking. The Houston Chronicle reports the ship is taking less water now, from a high of 850 gallons a minute down to 100. Repairs will hopefully start Monday and the ship will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Despite its current troubles, the future may be bright for this floating bit of history. In 2007 a state bond issue raised $25 million to dry berth the ship. This would help preserve it for future generations. Now it’s estimated the project may cost twice that. Getting the money will be difficult in this economic climate, but the project would create jobs and preserve a major tourist attraction.

Check out the video to learn more about this amazing vessel.

Hiking in Spain: Santoña’s rugged coastline and Napoleonic forts

Santoña, hiking in SpainOne of the great things about hiking in Europe is that many trails pass places of historic interest. Whether you’re hiking along Hadrian’s Wall or to a medieval castle, you can learn about the past while living in the moment amidst beautiful scenery.

Spain offers a lot of these hikes. One is an 11km (7 mile) loop trail near Santoña in Cantabria, northern Spain.

My hiking group and I set out early on Sunday morning after Carnival. Costumed drunks were still staggering home as the sun rose. One guy dressed as prisoner lay passed out in a doorway. At a police checkpoint three men dressed as priests were being arrested for drunken driving. I would have felt morally superior for exercising while all this debauchery was going in, but a bad hangover kept me from passing judgement. Except against the drunk drivers, that just ain’t cool.

Santoña is a port in a bay of the same name. It was an important military post during Napoleon’s occupation of Spain and the seafront is dominated by a large fort. Built in a horseshoe pattern, dozens of cannons once covered the entrance to the bay. The peninsula that forms the western boundary of the bay is studded with several Napoleonic-era forts and artillery batteries and the combined firepower of all these defenses must have made the place all but impregnable to a sea attack. Some of these forts existed before Napoleon’s invasion, of course, and many were modified in later years, making a trip around them a good lesson in the history of military architecture.

Also on the seafront is a monument to a different era of naval history. A soaring monolith flanked by statues with religious themes stands as a memory to local boy Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco. He was one of General Franco’s must trusted men during the dictatorship and was slated to succeed him. Admiral Blanco was assassinated by ETA in 1973. Franco died less than two years later and with those two hardliners gone, the path to liberalization and democracy was open, although far from smooth.

Ignoring the steady drizzle and clammy temperature, we set out to hike around El Buciero, the mountain that shelters the Bay of Santoña. Much of it is reserved as a natural park. Thick woodland is broken only by outcroppings of rock and the occasional farm.

%Gallery-147993%The loop trail took us around the mountain and along some beautiful coastline. A beach to the west was mostly taken up by a large prison. Putting the prisoners within sight of a beach seems like cruel and unusual punishment to me, not to mention a waste of a good beach! Heading around the peninsula we got some fine views of the sea and passed a small lighthouse.

The most impressive sight was the sea cliffs. Along much of the northern coast of the peninsula the land dropped off sheer, plunging a hundred feet or more into emerald water that crashed and foamed against jagged rocks. Even with overcast skies it was captivating. I’m planning on returning on a sunny day to see it again.

The hike ended, as hikes in Spain generally do, at a local bar where we had a few pintxos (the northern version of tapas) and some wine. I skipped the wine even though my head was feeling better.

The hike is low intermediate level although if it’s raining there are a couple of slippery spots where you need to watch yourself. Santoña can be reached via regular bus service from Santander and Bilbao.

Civil War shipwreck will become Florida’s next underwater preserve

Civil War
The wreck of a vessel that served in the Union navy during the Civil War is slated to become Florida’s 12th underwater preserve, Tampa Bay Online reports.

The USS Narcissus was a tugboat armed with two cannons that participated in the important Battle of Mobile Bay. Shortly after the war it sank in a storm in Tampa Bay, Florida. As it went under, its boiler exploded and killed everyone aboard.

The wreckage site was first examined in the 1990s and local archaeologists and history buffs set forth to make it an underwater preserve. This will allow divers to visit the site while granting official protection for it. Other underwater preserves are already popular destinations for scuba divers.

The wreck lies in only 15 feet of water and large sections of the boat remain visible, including the fatal boiler. This should make it an attractive spot for divers with a taste for history. The U.S. Navy owns the site and has asked the state to monitor it for any deterioration.

For more on Florida’s underwater preserves, check out the website Museums in the Sea.

Painting of the Battle of Mobile Bay courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Vasa: an elegant seventeenth-century warship in Stockholm

Stockholm, Vasa
Sweden’s capital Stockholm has a lot to offer-fine dining, good shopping, lovely parks, access to some interesting day trips (the old Viking capital of Uppsala being my favorite) and a unique museum. The Vasa Ship Museum is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions and it’s easy to see why. It houses a beautifully preserved 17th century warship.

The Vasa was meant to be the pride of the Swedish fleet at a time when the nation was one of Europe’s major powers. The galleon was 226 feet long, carried 145 sailors and 300 soldiers, and sported elegant woodwork over much of its exterior. Its 64 cannon could blast out 588 pounds of iron from port or starboard, giving it more firepower than any other ship then in existence. It must have been a major letdown when it sank barely a mile into its maiden voyage in 1628. It turns out the whole thing was top heavy.

While the Vasa was a bad ship, it’s an awesome museum piece. The cold water, silt, and pollution of Stockholm harbor kept it safe from microorganisms that would have eaten it up. When archaeologists raised it from the sea they retrieved thousands of artifacts such as weapons, utensils, coins, clothing, tools, and hemp sails and rigging. Some parts of the ship still had flakes of paint and gold leaf adhering to them, so its once-vivid colors could be reproduced in a scale model in the museum.

This year is the 50th anniversary of its raising from the bottom of the harbor. This was a tricky operation that required 1,300 dives and a great deal of delicate underwater work in low visibility. Divers had to dig six tunnels under the shipwreck in order to run steel cables through them and attach them to pontoons on the surface. After that, the pontoons lifted it to the surface without a hitch.

The next step was to reassemble the ship. All of the nails had rusted away, so the archaeologists were left with a massive jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces missing. Some 32,000 cubic feet of oak timber and more than 26,000 artifacts had to be preserved, cataloged, and archived. To house the restored ship, the Vasa Ship Museum opened in 1990.

Now the Vasa may get some companions. Five other ships dating from the 16th to the 18th century have been discovered during the renovation of one of Stockholm’s quays. This was the site of the old shipyards where the Vasa was built. They’re said to be in good condition and some are as long as 20 meters (66 feet).

If you love the sea, you’ll also want to check out Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum and Madrid’s Naval Museum. And if you’re going to Stockholm, check out our budget Stockholm guide.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Naval Museum in Madrid: an overlooked treasure

MadridAfter six years of living in Madrid, I’ve finally made it to the Naval Museum.

It’s overlooked by most tourists. In fact, it’s overlooked by a lot of madrileños. I’ve met some locals who didn’t even know it exists. Perhaps being so far away from the sea they don’t expect there to be a major naval museum downtown. It also doesn’t help that it’s tucked behind a modest facade that’s easy to miss.

Go inside, though, and you find yourself in a massive collection of paintings, cannons, uniforms, even parts of old ships.

Spain was one of of the leading naval powers in the Golden Age of Sail. It owned much of the New World and scattered colonies around the globe. It protected its interests with a large fleet of warships.

The museum skips lightly over the medieval period and gets really detailed starting at the Age of Exploration. Columbus is given his due, and many other lesser-known explorers are also covered. The maps are fun to study. The most important is that of Juan de la Cosa, made in 1500 and the first known map to show the New World.

The biggest section is for warships from the 16th-18th centuries, when Spain was a superpower. Here you’ll find uniforms, weapons, flags, and a nice collection of figureheads like the one shown here. One of the most interesting exhibits is the wreck of the Nao, which sank in 1600. Archaeologists donned scuba gear and excavated the wreck, bringing up a huge collection of porcelain from China as well as other artifacts.

The 19th and 20th centuries are also covered, although not in as much detail. By then Spain’s power was waning. There are some detailed models and paintings of ships that were making the transition from sail to steam. They had steam engines but kept their masts just in case those early engines broke, which they did regularly! The Spanish Civil War is only covered in passing. I’ve yet to see a Spanish museum that’s come to terms with this bloody conflict. It’s still in living memory, so the old wounds remain open.

The section for the modern navy is worth a look too. While small compared to those of the U.S., Russia, and UK, the Armada still packs a punch. It has two aircraft carriers, ten frigates, four submarines, and a host of smaller ships. This puts Spain way ahead of Morocco, its only potentially hostile neighbor.

The only downside to this museum is that the signage is all in Spanish. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language; most of the exhibits are pretty self-explanatory. The museum is free. Because it’s in a military building, make sure to bring ID to get in.

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