Hogging and Sagging

ZhengHe

July 10th 1405 is the supposed date of departure for the first of the “discovery” voyages of Admiral Zheng He.  There is a lot of hyperbole given out about these voyages and many Chinese compare them to the European voyages of discovery.  There is also a lot of boasting about the size of the ships involved.

Zheng He was a Muslim eunuch, scion of a famous Persian lineage which served the Mongol Empire.

The notion that he “discovered” anything is a little silly.  The Arabs had been sailing the seven seas since Sinbad was a boy in the 9th century and by the 15th Century when Zheng He weighed anchor their trade routes were well documented.  All he did was follow the Arabic trade routes to establish the bona fides of the Chinese Court from Africa to the far East.

The other great claim is that he built the largest wooden ships in the world.  It may be true that they were the largest when they were sailing, but it is debatable if they were as big as claimed.  There are limits to the size of vessels imposed by physics.  The largest documented wooden sailing ship, the Wyoming at 137 metres, was a six masted schooner built in 1909 in Maine, USA.  She suffered horribly from hogging and sagging in heavy seas.

Hogging occurs when a ship is on top of a wave supported by the middle section.  A very long ship can bend down at the fore and aft sections, since they are unsupported.  The opposite, sagging, occurs when the fore and aft are supported on two waves, leaving the mid-ship suspended, causing the vessel to sag in the middle.

The cumulative effect of hogging and sagging over time is to twist the planking in the hull, causing leaky seams.  Wyoming needed constant work at the pumps to keep her from flooding.  She eventually sank in heavy seas in 1924.

The Chinese claim Zheng He’s flagships, his nine masted treasure ships, were even longer and much wider than the Wyoming.  They probably employed a very different type of construction, far bulkier and more rigid.  Also the nine masts were likely far shorter than those of an American Schooner.  Chinese Junk Rigs use shorter masts with fully battened sails.  It would be no surprise that a ship the length of Wyoming would need more, shorter masts to drive it.

The fleet of 317 ships carrying 30,000 men was undoubtedly impressive and you get the sense that these voyages were intended to leave the world in awe of the power of the Ming dynasty.  The intention may have been to exert Chinese control over the Indian Ocean trade.

Ultimately it was not the Chinese who subdued the Indian Ocean.  Vasco da Gama returned to Portugal from India in 1499, just scraping in as the 15th Century voyager who had the most significant impact on world history.  He set out with 4 ships, none longer than 30 metres, and 170 men.  Sometimes size is not everything.

Heard about the Horde Hoard?

Image result for goths city night

In the early 5th Century a horde of barbarians were led by their King, Alaric, to the City of Rome.  These were the Goths.  Just to be clear the Goths did not look exactly like the people in the photograph above, but I looked online for a representation of the Barbarian Goths.  Most of the images of the Sack of Rome are romantic fantasies of the 19th century.  They are about as accurate a depiction of Alaric and his people as the photo above.  So if you can’t be historically accurate then at least be funny.

So you have now heard about the horde, but what of the horde hoard?  When the Goths sacked Rome in 410 AD, it was on August 24th, about 2:30 PM and it was not at all the barbarian rampage that the romantics like to conjure up.  Alaric and his people were largely if not wholly Christian, albeit Arian Christians, who were considered to be heretics by the Niceans.  But let’s not go there.

Anyhow, Alaric told the Romans, and his own folk, that Christian Churches were safe.  Any Romans hiding in a Christian Church were safe.  But private residences and pagan temples were fair game.  So the Goths went methodically through the city and amassed a hoard of treasure worthy of Smaug; the dragon from the Hobbit.

Then Alaric decided to march south to Calabria.  He had the idea to sail his people to Africa and create a Gothic Kingdom there years before the Vandals got the idea.  But he was unlucky with the weather and his fleet of ships was wrecked.  Alaric himself picked up an illness and died shortly afterwards in the town of Cosenza, and here is where the tale of the treaure hoard gets really interesting.

Laden down with treasure the Goths wanted to honour Alaric with a grand tomb.  But they felt that the locals would loot any mausoleum the moment they marched North.  So they hatched a plan.

They enslaved a work gang of local Italians and forced them to change the course of the river Busento.  The riverbed was excavated and a tomb was built into the bed of the river.  Alaric was placed in the tomb with his burial treasures piled high around him.  The tomb was sealed, the river was returned to its course and hey presto the treasure was hidden.

The Goths then slaughtered the slaves to ensure the location of the tomb was never revealed, before marching off to a new home in Southern France.

To this day the tomb of Alaric has not been found.  Where is Indiana Jones when you need him?

Alaric_entering_Athens

Dodgy depiction of Alaric and his Goths

 

Happy Birthday Al Capone

Capone

Capone showing the scars that named him Scarface

Al Capone was a low level criminal born in New York to Italian immigrants on this day in 1899.  Expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a female teacher in the face, he picked up odd jobs and drifted into crime.  He joined an Italian crime gang in the Five Points district of New York, where he was a bouncer in night clubs and brothels.

It was on the door of a nightclub in New York that he insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio who slashed his face.  Capone hated the nickname “Scarface” and pretended to people they were war wounds.

It was as a bouncer in the brothels of Chicago that he contracted Syphilis, the disease that stayed with him for his life, and caused him brain damage.  He died at age 48 of complications arising from tertiary stage syphilis.

What changed Capone from a low level crook to the flamboyant anti-hero of the roaring ’20’s was Prohibition.  100 years ago this week the USA prohibited the manufacture, distribution and retailing of alcohol.  For 13 years the drinks industry was placed in the hands of organised crime, and boy did they have a party.

When his boss in Chicago, Johnny Torio, resigned after being shot in the territorial wars waged between the crime gangs, a 26 year old Capone stepped into the top job in 1925.  Noted for his charisma in the press his real tools were bribery, intimidation and brutality.

After numerous attempts to bring him to justice failed he was famously sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931 for tax evasion and made liable for court costs and back taxes.  His party ended just 2 years before the repeal of the Prohibition laws.

Capone was an early indicator of what happened in the crime gangs when alcohol became legal again.  When he was processed in the prison he was found to be a cocaine addict.  The gangs switched seamlessly from alcohol to drugs as soon as alcohol was legalised.

I wonder what would happen if we decriminalised drugs?

 

 

Missing Treasure

Image result for airline parachute

November 24th, 1971, the man known in the media as D.B. Cooper booked a ticket from Portland Oregon to Seattle Washington.

He told the air hostess he had a bomb (showing her cylinders wired in this briefcase) and demanded that the flight be met in Seattle with €200,000, four parachutes and a refuelling truck.  That money is worth about €1.3 million in todays terms.

When the demands were met he allowed the passengers and cabin crew to depart in Seattle and told the Pilot to fly to Mexico.  He told them to fly as slowly as possible without stalling the aircraft and to leave the undercarriage deployed.  The rear exit door was left open for the flight.

Cooper parachuted from the aircraft somewhere between Seattle and Nevada.

Despite a massive manhunt he was never found.  In 1980 a young boy camping with his family found three stacks of 20 dollar bills that came from the ransom.  The stash amounted to €5,800.

The case remains the only unsolved act of air piracy in commercial aviation history.  Arr me hearties.  X marks the spot!

Image result for treasure map

Since you asked…

Image result for guinness

It tastes of the warmth of a turf fire on a cold winters night.

It tastes like a draught from a deep cold well on a hot summers day.

It tastes like a fair wind in the face in a good running sea.

It tastes like a strong winded stallion leaping a hedge.

It tastes like a fine salmon taking the fly in a stream.

It tastes of the air you breathe when you reach a mountain top.

It tastes like the smell of a peacefully sleeping child.

It tastes of a job well done, a match well won,

a race well run

and of home,

and that special someone.

Ireland’s Battle of Saratoga

Image result for battle of the yellow ford

In the USA the Battles of Saratoga were a vital step for the American cause.  An army of mostly irregular colonists took on the professional British Army and defeated them.  They did this through a combination of British arrogance, knowledge of the terrain and superior marksmanship.  The US frontiersmen with their Kentucky rifles, using natural cover, were more than a match for the British regulars with their smoothbore brown bess muskets.

In Ireland in 1598 the Ulster Irish led by Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell won a similar victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.  The Elizabethan British Army of occupation built a fort on the Blackwater in Armagh to threaten Ulster.  The Ulster forces quickly placed it under siege.

The British led a relief force under Sir Henry Bagenal, an experienced commander of veteran troops.  The British were heavily armed and armoured.  They had better cavalry than the Irish and carried a heavy arquebus or musket, which required a supporting pole to steady it for firing.  The Musketeers supported by pikemen in the tradition of the day.

The Irish were actually better armed.  O’Neill was famous for the tricks he used to circumvent restrictions on his ability to recruit and arm his men.  He was permitted a personal bodyguard of only 600 men.  So he rotated them every 6 months and trained them relentlessly to build an army of over 5,000.  He imported lead to waterproof the roof of his castle, and turned it into shot.  Most importantly he sourced the very latest and lightest arquebuses, called Claviers (a corruption of the word Caliber – because they were of standard bore)

Using terrain features and pre-constructed ditches and banks the Irish harried the British from cover very much as the Americans would do hundreds of years later.  When the British came within sight of the Blackwater fort the defenders cheered and tossed their caps in the air in celebration.  The British infantry moved strongly forward over the Yellow Ford.

Then the Irish struck at the rear of their formations, smashing the British from behind.  The leading regiments were forced to retreat to protect themselves and the retreat turned into a desperate defence.  In the panic that ensued a British Infantryman ran to refill his powder horn from a barrel of gunpowder.   He was holding a lit match in his hand and set off the powder in a massive explosion.

The British were harassed all the way back to the River Callan, and there someone on the British side had made a smart decision to position some artillery pieces in a fallback position.  They were able to hold the Irish and prevent a complete slaughter.

Of 4,000 British Soldiers only 2,000 made it back to the garrison of Armagh.  After some negotionation they were permitted to return south only by leaving behind all their arms and ammunition.

It would be nice to say that the outcome of Yellow Ford was similar to the outcome of Saratoga, but it was not to be.  The Americans had the French to support their revolutionary war.  The Irish had the Spanish, who landed in Kinsale, the furthest possible point away from the Ulster strongholds of O’Neill and O’Donnell.

At the Battle of Kinsale the Irish & Spanish forces were defeated by the British and the result was the “Flight of the Earls” when O’Neill and O’Donnell departed Ireland with their retinue for exile in Spain.  Their departure opened Ulster for Plantation by protestants loyal to the British Crown, a move that is reflected in the politics of the Island of Ireland to this day.

Yellow Ford was fought this day, August 14th 1598.

Sonnet 46; by William Shakespeare

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
how to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
my heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
a closet never pierced with crystal eyes.
But the defendant doth that plea deny
and says in him thy fair appearance lies.

To ‘cide this title is impanneled
a quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
and by their verdict is determined
the clear eye’s moiety and the dear heart’s part:
As thus; mine eye’s due is thy outward part,
and my heart’s right thy inward love of heart.

Happy Birthday Richard Grant Esterhuysen

Izembaro

I’m an actor playing an actor but it’s not inception?

The most famous Swazi actor in the world was born on this day in 1957.  Richard reduced his very Afrikaans last name to a single letter and became Richard E. Grant on his Equity card.

Nobody has ever been luckier in landing their first film role.  Grant was perfect to play the lead in the cult classic Withnail and I in 1987.  He played a tour de force opposite Ian McKellen in Jack and Sarah (1995).

These days he is better known to the world from parts in Dr Who, Downton Abbey and a deliciously hammy part in Season 6 of Game of Thrones in which he plays Izembaro, the impresario, writer and lead actor in the Gate troop of players in the City of Bravos.

Oh we’re all thinkers now, are we? Full to the tits with ideas. You have ideas, I have ideas, he has ideas. Why should my ideas have anymore value than yours, simply because I have been doing this my whole life? Who’s anyone to judge my work? This is my profession, I know what I’m doing! You have no right to an opinion.