North Korea To Turn Grimy Port City Into Beach Resort

Wonsan Beach, North Korea
(stephan), Flickr

Hot on the heels of the Hermit Kingdom building a ski resort out of spite comes news that North Korea is developing a beach resort in a heavily industrialized and militarized bay on the Sea of Japan.

According to a declassified report obtained by South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, the naval city of Wonsan is being developed into a tourist resort. It current hosts a naval base and numerous heavy industry factories, but has apparently long been a favorite holiday destination of the ruling Kim family.

Viewed in the context of other wacky and nonsensical North Korean projects, building a beach resort in a polluted, industrialized and militarized bay seems about par for the course. But contrary to the perceived isolation of the country, North Korea does welcome several thousand tourists every year, and the Kim regime is certainly aware of the financial incentives of increased tourism. Only a few weeks ago did the country open up a city on the border with China to Western visitors.

But North Korea isn’t going to replace Cancun anytime soon. The development project seems to be stuck while the country seeks $1 million of international investment, which will almost certainly run afoul of current UN sanctions.

A Vintage Submarine And Icebreaker In Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour

Tallinn
Tallinn has been an important port and Estonia’s connection with the world since before recorded history. Because of this, the city has not one, but two museums dedicated to the sea. The Maritime Museum is housed in Fat Margaret, an old cannon tower that once protected the harbor. It has the usual assortment of old photos and gear, along with a very cool exhibit on sunken ships.

The other museum is far more interactive. Housed in an old seaplane hanger dating to World War I, Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour Museum is filled with old ships and other maritime bric-a-brac.

Estonians seem to favor odd lighting in their museums. The Bastion Tunnels have a weird combination of red, yellow, and purple lights. At the Seaplane Harbor museum they seem to favor purple and blue. It gives the place a spooky under-the-sea feel.

Dominating the exhibit is the Lembit, a submarine built in 1936 by the English company Vickers and Armstrongs for the Estonian Navy. When Estonia fell to the Soviet Union in 1940 it was incorporated into the Red Banner Baltic Fleet of the Soviet Navy and saw action against the Axis powers. It managed to sink two ships and damage another.

Climb aboard and you’ll see an almost perfectly preserved submarine that was the cutting edge of technology of its time. You can visit the control room, periscope, radio room, torpedo tubes and cramped crewmen’s bunks all pretty much as they were. It didn’t feel too cramped to me until I read that it housed a crew of 32. Then I decided to enlist in the Army. Check out the gallery for some photos of this fascinating sub.

%Gallery-179305%As you walk around your eyes will be drawn upward by the two giant rotating propellers hanging from the ceiling. They’re so big you might miss the seaplane fitted with skis suspended nearby. A walkway takes you past other historic ships and an extensive collection of mines, presumably defused.

This is a fully interactive museum with touchscreen displays to teach you more about what you’re seeing. You can also man an antiaircraft gun and see how good you’d be defending Tallinn from an enemy air force. Then hop aboard a reproduction Sopwith Camel and try out a flight simulator. While I managed to save Tallinn from the bad guys, my flying skills showed that I should keep my driving on the ground.

Once you’re done with the indoor exhibits, head out back to visit the Suur Tõll, an icebreaker built in 1914 that saw service for several decades, clearing the Baltic Sea lanes during cold winters. Like with the Lembit, it’s well preserved and you can wander all over it. It seemed vast and luxurious compared with the submarine. The officer’s mess looked as big as a ballroom (it wasn’t), the quarters for the crew felt sumptuous (not!) and the engine room was like some Industrial Revolution factory. It takes a pretty tough person to be a sailor, and someone twice as tough to work in a submarine.

If you are at all interested in technology or the sea, don’t miss this place. Your kids will love it too. The museum has an excellent and reasonably priced little restaurant overlooking the hanger in case you get hungry.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Estonia’s Rich Art and Literature Scene!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Tallinn

New Clues To The Sinking Of A Confederate Submarine

Confederate SubmarineThe Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley may have been sunk by its own torpedo, researchers say.

The cause of the Hunley’s sinking has been a mystery since it sank the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, and then the Hunley itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter. This submarine, which had a hand-cranked propeller and a torpedo set at the end of a 16-foot pole, was a desperate attempt by the Confederacy to destroy the Union blockade on Southern harbors that was strangling the economy.

A press release by the Friends of the Hunley, the organization that raised and is conserving the Civil War sub, says that archaeologists have discovered part of the torpedo still attached to the end of the pole. The jagged metal shows that the torpedo exploded its charge of 135 pounds of gunpowder as planned.

Historians used to think the plan was to ram the torpedo into the ship’s side, and then pull away, detaching the torpedo from the pole and then pulling a rope trigger that would explode the torpedo from a safe distance.

Now we can see this didn’t happen. The question remains whether the release mechanism was faulty or if the plan was much cruder – simply ramming the torpedo into the side of the ship and hoping for the best.

It remains unclear if this explosion is what actually sank the Hunley. The submarine’s hull is encased in hardened rock, sand, and silt that the archaeologists are still removing. Only when their job is done will they get a clear idea of how the brave crew of the Hunley met their end.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied; the Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

[Top photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo showing the sub being raised courtesy Barbara Voulgaris, Naval Historical Center]

Confederate Submarine

USS Constitution To Set Sail Again

USS Constitution
The USS Constitution will set sail once again to commemorate the battle that made it famous.

The U.S. Navy says the famous warship will set sail Aug. 19, the 200th anniversary of her victory over the British frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. This victory during the War of 1812 boosted the young nation’s confidence as they fought an empire that had the largest navy in the world at that time.

The USS Constitution will be towed out of Charlestown, Massachusetts, at 10 a.m. Once it reaches deep water at 11:30, the crew will unfurl her sails and go under her own power for a time, weather permitting. The ship is so large that it needs a decent wind to move at all!

The Constitution will be back in Charlestown harbor by 3 p.m. and reopen for its regular tours by 4.

The ship was one of the United States’ six original frigates. Built in Boston, it carried 44 guns and was launched in 1797. The ship saw regular service guarding shipping lanes against pirates and defeated four British ships during the War of 1812. Its thick hull deflected most of the cannonballs shot at it and earned it the nickname “Old Ironsides.” She continued to serve her country until 1855.

[Photo courtesy Journalist 2nd Class Todd Stevens, U.S. Navy]

USS Edson To Become Part Of Future Ship Museum

USS EdsonEarlier this week, the destroyer USS Edson sailed into the harbor of Bay City, Michigan, to the cheers of an expectant crowd. As Art Daily reports, it will become part of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

This museum’s primary purpose will be to showcase the USS Edson, which saw duty from 1958 to 1988. She saw action in the Vietnam War and was shelled by Vietcong land forces.

The USS Edson has been a museum before. From 1989 to 2004, she was part of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. Although she’s been fitted out as a museum and is seaworthy, there’s still much to be done to make her ready for a new set of visitors. The museum is raising funds to get this work done and open this historic ship to the public. There’s no set opening date at this time. Stay tuned.

[Photo courtesy John McCullough]