New Clues To The Sinking Of A Confederate Submarine

The 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]

Not everybody wants a cruise ship in their back yard

When cruise ships come to town it means big business for local merchants. Just ask Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, both on the blacklist of one cruise line or another. Either city would love to have cruise ships calling regularly but concern over the safety of passengers has some lines skipping the ports. Contrast that with Charleston, South Carolina where a group of local residents along with some environmental and historical preservation groups are suing to keep them away.

Opposing forces include National Trust for Historic Preservation who warned Charleston that its growing cruise industry is threatening the city’s historic character, placing it on “watch” status.

“We believe that the past preservation work in Charleston has made this community a national treasure and we are willing to dedicate resources to address questions about the impact of cruise tourism” Stephanie Meeks, the president of the trust told the Associated Press earlier this month.

Also opposing cruise ships is environmental group the Coastal Conservation League, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhoods. They have filed a lawsuit against Carnival Corporation, parent to Carnival Cruise Lines who operates the Carnival Fantasy year-round from Charleston.They allege cruises are a public nuisance, violate the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, amount to illegal hotel operations and that Carnival’s signature red, white and blue funnel violates city sign ordinances.

The concern is not new for the Coastal Conservation League who posted this YouTube video over a year ago in March of 2010.

The Coastal Conservation League has a laundry list of “What Charleston Deserves” on it’s website too. The list includes prohibition of waste discharge within 3 miles of port, limits on the numbers and size of ships calling annually, a code that allows only one ship to dock at a time, a per-passenger fee paid to the city and a requirement to use plug-in power when at berth among other requirements.

“The question isn’t whether the cruise ship industry will operate in Charleston; the question is how,” Blan Holman, with the Southern Environmental Law Center told “The plaintiffs are members of the community who believe the cruise industry should abide by standards just like every other business does.”

On the other side of the issue, business leaders struggling with a recovering economy disagree. They gathered on the pier at Charleston’s Waterfront Park Monday with the Carnival Fantasy as a backdrop to denounce the lawsuit and show support for Charleston’s proposed new passenger terminal. Calling the lawsuit a “frivolous attack on the free enterprise system, the region’s economy and Charleston’s ports” business leaders sounded off.

“This is just the first shot in the attempt to dismantle the Port of Charleston,” said Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bobby Pearce.

“This is ridiculous,” said Steve Carroll, speaking for the Charleston Restaurant Association. “We’re trying to survive.”

Those in support of the new terminal say it will bring much needed money and that the cruise business already adds an estimated $37 million in the region annually.

While Carnival has been silent on the issue and not responded to the lawsuit, they did release this video in May of last year when Carnival Fantasy came to make Charleston it’s home port indicating the then newly-remodeled ship was well-received by business leaders on board the inaugural visit.

Looking forward to sailing from Charleston, Senior Cruise Director John Heald noted of the newly remodeled Carnival Fantasy “This is a ship reborn and what a great place to let it be reborn: Charleston, South Carolina”

While this issue seems far from resolved, Carnival probably doesn’t have much to worry about. A number of other cities including Brownsville, Texas and Savannah, Georgia would love to have a year-round cruise ship…not to mention a number of ports in Mexico.

Confederate submarine set upright for first time since 1864

The H.L. Hunley made history back in 1864 when it became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy ship. Launched by the Confederacy as a way to break the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War, it sank the USS Housatonic on 17 February 1864 and itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter.

Crew members hand cranked the propeller to make the sub move forward and its one weapon was a bomb set at the end of a long pole. The idea was to ram a ship with the bomb, which would then explode and leave a hole below the waterline. That’s what happened when the H.L. Hunley attacked one of the warships blockading Charleston harbor, but the sub never returned from its mission.

The Hunley was later found and brought to the surface. Now after several years of restoration the Confederate submarine has been placed upright for the first time since its sinking. The sub had been found resting at a 45 degree angle in a layer of silt and was kept in the same position until now. Moving it to the upright position has given researchers a look at a side of the ship unseen since 1864.

The researchers have found some holes on that side but are unsure if they are natural erosion or the cause of the Hunley’s sinking. Analysis of the bones of the eight crew members showed they died of a lack of oxygen. Interestingly, they were all at their posts as if nothing was going wrong.

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.

[Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Airport closed so plane can’t land

Yesterday there were two stories out there about rest stop closings. This story is about an airport, an airplane and a more problematic situation than a rest stop being closed when one is desperate to stop. If a rest stop is closed there are options. The side of the road works in a pinch. In the case of the airplane in a decent towards an airport, but the airport turns out to be closed, there’s a bit more involved.

The pilot needs to quit descending asap and head somewhere else, in an ideal case, somewhere close by. Thankfully, that is what happened when US Airways flight 3203 was about to land at the Charleston, South Carolina airport but found the airport closed. The pilot turned the plane around to head back to where it came–Charlotte, North Carolina.

The airport isn’t closed all the time, but just some of the time–after midnight and only until August 9. Usually, it’s open 24-7. Two runways are getting fixed. A lightning strike had delayed the plane from take off after taxing out to the runway and the pilot knew he wouldn’t have enough time to make it to the airport before the witching hour, but thought the tower would stay open a tad longer. Nope.

Once back in Charlotte after state hopping the Carolinas, the passengers were given rooms, meal vouchers and status as being on a flight with an issue that almost never, if ever, happens. [The Post and Courier]

Recession vacations: do more with less

Vacation plans are changing. This isn’t exactly a surprise. With layoffs mounting and a careful eye trained on every expense, long vacations are becoming short, and short trips aren’t straying as far from home. For some destinations, this is actually paying off.

A handful of smaller cities are pulling in visitors that normally would set off for grander locales. Charleston, SC and Fort Meyers, FL, for example sustained double-digit growth rates in January 2009 (relative to January 2008), according to American Express Travel bookings. Tuscon, AZ, Palm Springs, CA, and Portland, OR have also seen surges – 12 percent, 13 percent and 38 percent respectively.

Even Philly is on the upswing, which makes sense when you think about all those New Yorkers who need a quick break from the city.

So, why do these numbers look so good? Well, it’s hard to say. Drops in airfare and room rates are obvious drivers. Or, it could be some sort of marketing savvy. When you look at the data, there’s no common thread.

What is universal, it seems, is that everything is getting smaller. Trips are shorter, people are spending less and the destinations aren’t as far from home as they used to be. With the many bargains that are available, we may be able to do more with less, but overall, we’re still doing a hell of a lot less.

Aside from places like Fort Meyers and Tuscon, there are a few silver linings. “Girlfriend getaways” are still going strong, but the ladies are stretching their dollars. Renting one car instead of several, chipping in for a vacation home and picking a day spa over a destination spa are popular cost-cutting measures.

Home port cruises are on the upswing, as well. Guests can drive to the port (instead of flying), cutting down on the total cost of the trip. Like everyone else, these folks are cutting some deals, too.

Pick your corner of the travel and hospitality business, and you’ll find more than a handful of bargains. The decisions we make come down to what travelers can afford – rather than what they want. But, we’re still getting out on the road.


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