Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"You will forever be my hero" Peter's tribute to Dad

by Peter Conk
We brought my Dad home April 1st to live out the last days of his life. Here he is doing 2 of his favorite things; reading N.Y. Times and looking out at the view from his back yard. I was able to help take care of him for the 2.5 weeks. Strong in life and death, he fed himself until his last meal. Last night his body succumbed, giving him the peace he had recently sought and deserved.
He grew up in Gerritsen Beach, a poor Irish immigrant community in Brooklyn. Worked on Brooklyn docks to put himself through Fordham University.  Served as captain of a Sub-chaser in WW II.
He was truly the leader of our family. Providing endless summer days at the beach and ocean, providing us a Catholic education, relocating to beautiful Santa Barbara and mostly being there for each of us during difficult times and moments of triumph. He loved all the family and had endless stories about everyone. In retirement he spent endless hours serving the community: city commissions, staffing homeless shelter, and for more than 20 years, up until 1.5 years ago, being a Eucharistic Minister and visiting the sick.
For all you gave us thank you. You will forever be my hero.
April 21, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saluting Dad at Castle Clinton

In 1862 Thomas Costello, at 12 the youngest of four brothers, walked from a village called Casla (Costello in English) about 12 miles west of Galway near where the ferry leaves for the Aran Islands.  He boarded a ship to join his brothers in Brooklyn.  He entered at Castle Clinton at The Battery.  He married Bridget Slattery and their daughter Teresa married George Washington Conk. 
Their son George, Jr., my father, died five days ago at the age of 96, ten years older than Thomas was when he died in 1940.  A widower, he lived his last years with his daughter,  and son in law. Twenty when Thomas died, Dad was the last person living who knew one of our many Ireland born ancestors.   
Today we celebrated Dad's life at Gigino, at Washington Park, the Battery, a stone's throw from Castle Clinton where Thomas landed.  Surrounding me are my loving wife and kids and their kids.  Thank you Marilyn, Taisy, Tasha, Annabel, Georgia, Muffy, Bradley, Sanaa, and Kyla for helping me to remember and honor my father George, and, of course, my mother Clare.
In front of Castle Clinton where, before Ellis Island was built,
our Irish ancestors entered the United States.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dad - interested in the world til the end

Just a few days before he died, here is Dad in the bed where he passed, reading the Times and enjoying the view of the Santa Ynez mountains from Dad and Mom's house. At tha point he was only intermittently alert and clear headed - but when he was - he wanted to know what is going on in the world - and God forbid the Republicans should win.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sailing with Dad - Father's Day 2013

My brother Peter's beautiful tribute to our father emphasizes his life of service - to family and community.  Like Peter and I he was grateful, proud, and inspired by the Jesuits who educated us to be "men and women for others".  But I want to highlight Dad's love for the sea.  In the photos in the post below, at 93 years of age he took the helm with a glint in his eye as (without glasses) he scanned the sea  with a long practiced eye. 

And it wasn't just sailing.  We also had a lapstrake 23 foot Jersey skiff - the Seven C's.  A classic bass boat built by Zobel in Sea Bright, its deep powerful bow handled the steep southerly chop of the sea outside Jones Inlet on Long Island.  
I remember Dad coming back late at night with his friend Frank Sheridan with the deck covered striped bass and an empty vodka bottle. I remember too when we took our first family vacation away from home: all seven of us on the boat for a ten day voyage to Block Island, R.I.  My parents slept in the V berth forward, Peter and I on  either side of the engine box, Nancy​ and Kathryn on the deck behind the engine box - and Steven  on top of it!

That all worked out OK until the canvas bimini and cockpit cover had to cope with a night of wind driven rain.  

We learned to steer by compass ("I said 210, look at the wake -you're all over the sea"), and to plot a course on a nautical chart with parallel ruler and divider.  And in those pre-GPS days  it was important.  I remember working our way through Plum Gut in pea soup fog, up on the bow to spot the red nun buoy that was our next waypoint on the course from Greenport to Block. 

Thanks, Dad for showing us the way.

Voyages  Sailing with Dad - Father's Day 2013

Inline image 1
A McKenzie Cuttyhunk bass boat almost identical to the Seven C's

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring on the Back River

We had a lovely weekend, lunch with friends at Chase's Daily in Belfast and a stroll through Front Street Shipyard;  wine and appetizers with Kat Logan and her husband boatbuilder Jim Looney - when Kat delivered her painting of our view of the Back River - which we call Heron Bend; and dinner at home with Nancy Armstrong, the new CEO of Jeff's Marine.
And my first chance to row this spring - down river a mile or so to the rocky islet we call James Landing; while Marilyn did yard work preparing the lawn and gardens for the growth season soon to start.
James Landing

Back River bay
home from the sea

the artist Kat Logan with Heron Bend behind her.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Northbound - Antartica to Africa | Issuma

Catching up | Issuma

As can happen when you are busy, Richard Hudson has let his blogging slide.  Issuma departed Ushuaia on February 21, and crossed the 400 mile notorious Drake Passage in light to moderate winds, reaching Deception Island in Antarctica February 23.  Their last post was April 6 from the Argentine research station Carlini Base.

About ten days ago they turned north.  Issuma sailed from Carlini Base, King George Island,  South Shetland Islands, Antarctica (above) to Capetown.  I'm disappointed that they didn't stop at South Georgia Island, the old Norwegian sailing station.  There Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried in Gruytviken - from which in 1917 the doomed Endurance sailed into the ice pack, and to which he returned in the 21 foot lifeboat the James Caird, after a 720 mile open boat voyage from Elephant Island not far from Issuma's Antarctic jumping off point.

Now Issuma has headed north along the west coast of Africa.  They are about to leave Luderitz, Namibia in southwest Africa. At 26 N 15E it is 36 degrees northeast of the Carlini Base (about 2,200 miles).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Mayday on the Carolina Queen - The New York Times

Mayday on the Carolina Queen - The New York Times

by Marc Santora

The seven fishermen aboard the Carolina Queen III, a 76-foot scalloping boat that set out from Norfolk, Va., had been at sea for four days when the skies darkened off the coast of the Rockaways

A powerful storm system that had already lashed the East Coast, bringing tornadoes, thunder, lightning, high winds and heavy rains, was barreling down on them. Homes had been flattened, vehicles had been tossed like Tinkertoys and trees had been ripped from their roots. At least seven people had died. The crew knew they were in for nasty weather, but they were scallopers. Weather comes with the job.

As night fell on Feb. 24, the winds started to blow across New York City. At 8:45 p.m., a large section of a facade collapsed on Fordham Street in the Bronx. At 9:19, a tractor-trailer was blown over on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. By midnight, there were reports of downed trees and power lines around the region. 

Off the coast, winds were gusting up to 69 miles an hour, according to data collected by the National Weather Service.

The men on the Carolina Queen had a decision to make. One successful 11-day scalloping trip can pull in a profit of $500,000. Each fisherman can make $40,000 on a good voyage. The crew was open-sea fishing, about 30 miles off the coast, as the storm approached. The men decided to steer the vessel closer to shore — past a predetermined demarcation line that would stop the clock on their allotted 32-day yearly limit at sea.

The Carolina Queen had only 50 bags of scallops — 60 pounds per bag — on ice in the hold. With the scallop season drawing to a close, this trip was the crew’s last chance for a major haul. When the skies cleared, they expected, they would get back to business.


But shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 25, the vessel, battered by wind and waves, ran aground. Soon, one of its generators failed and the Carolina Queen issued a desperate mayday, setting in motion a harrowing rescue operation.
In the next few hours, a Coast Guard boat capsized and Fire Department vessels were unable to reach the stranded scallop boat because of the weather. Ultimately, the Coast Guard decided to undertake a daring airlift operation by a crew dispatched from Atlantic City.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

America's astounding progress in ending overfishing | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 Fisheries scientists work at sea and in the lab to understand the health and abundance of fish stocks.

America's astounding progress in ending overfishing | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

by Kathryn Sullivan [under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.]
April 13, 2016 In the 1970s, Ted Stevens, a former Army pilot-turned U.S. Senator and avid Alaskan fisherman, was flying above the Bering Sea en route to the remote Pribilof Islands. Along the way, he saw a scene that alarmed him: Japanese trawlers, 90 that he could count, were fishing in Alaskan waters.

At the time, foreign fishing fleets were neither uncommon nor illegal in nearshore waters, and operated year-round with little regulation. This particular sighting, however, prompted a discussion between Stevens and his Senate colleague Warren Magnuson of Washington about the sustainability of our national seafood supply and the competitiveness of America's fishing industry.

Ultimately, these two men opened a dialogue with fishermen and other ocean users across the country. As a result of their feedback, the senators crafted a groundbreaking law which greatly expanded our national maritime boundaries, established national fisheries management standards, and keep local decisions in the hands of regionally-appointed rulemakers who know their waters and their communities' needs best.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—signed 40 years ago today—recognizes that a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn't work for managing the numerous fisheries of our nation’s vast and diverse ocean territories. Both senators saw the necessity of using science from the sea and data from the lab to guide fishing rules and harvesting quotas. They therefore established eight U.S. regional management councils to ensure every fishing interest—commercial, recreational, conservationist, federal and local—has a hand in this process and under a forum open to the public.

In 40 years we have seen some successes and some setbacks, but the Magnuson-Stevens Act has evolved, with some amendments, into landmark legislation that balances economic fishing goals with long term environmental sustainability.

Today, the U.S. is on track to end overfishing for good. The instances of overfishing and the number of overfished stocks are at all-time lows. We have largely ended unsustainable fishing practices and returned many fish stocks to healthy levels that will provide fish and fishing opportunities for generations to come. Just since 2000, 39 fish stocks have returned to sustainable levels. As recently as 2013, our recreational and commercial fisheries provided nearly $200 billion and 1.7 million jobs to our economy.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Heron Bend - Friendship, Maine

When we bought our house on the Back River in east Friendship, Maine Jeff Armstrong said "you've got a million dollar view and your neighbors are paying the taxes."  Beautiful and protected by shore land zoning, it is where we walk, row, and where we scattered ashes of my sister Kathryn. We asked Kat Logan, a talented local painter, to capture in oil the view from our living room seen in the attached photo.  We call it Heron Bend.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Secrets of the Wave Pilots - The New York Times

The Secrets of the Wave Pilots - The New York Times

by Kim Tingley //March 16, 2016

At 0400, three miles above the Pacific seafloor, the searchlight of a power boat swept through a warm June night last year, looking for a second boat, a sailing canoe. The captain of the canoe, Alson Kelen, potentially the world’s last-ever apprentice in the ancient art of wave-piloting, was trying to reach Aur, an atoll in the Marshall Islands, without the aid of a GPS device or any other way-finding instrument. If successful, he would prove that one of the most sophisticated navigational techniques ever developed still existed and, he hoped, inspire efforts to save it from extinction. Monitoring his progress from the power boat were an unlikely trio of Western scientists — an anthropologist, a physicist and an oceanographer — who were hoping his journey might help them explain how wave pilots, in defiance of the dizzying complexities of fluid dynamics, detect direction and proximity to land. More broadly, they wondered if watching him sail, in the context of growing concerns about the neurological effects of navigation-by-smartphone, would yield hints about how our orienteering skills influence our sense of place, our sense of home, even our sense of self.
When the boats set out in the afternoon from Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, Kelen’s plan was to sail through the night and approach Aur at daybreak, to avoid crashing into its reef in the dark. But around sundown, the wind picked up and the waves grew higher and rounder, sorely testing both the scientists’ powers of observation and the structural integrity of the canoe. Through the salt-streaked windshield of the power boat, the anthropologist, Joseph Genz, took mental field notes — the spotlighted whitecaps, the position of Polaris, his grip on the cabin handrail — while he waited for Kelen to radio in his location or, rather, what he thought his location was.
The Marshalls provide a crucible for navigation: 70 square miles of land, total, comprising five islands and 29 atolls, rings of coral islets that grew up around the rims of underwater volcanoes millions of years ago and now encircle gentle lagoons. These green dots and doughnuts make up two parallel north-south chains, separated from their nearest neighbors by a hundred miles on average. Swells generated by distant storms near Alaska, Antarctica, California and Indonesia travel thousands of miles to these low-lying spits of sand. When they hit, part of their energy is reflected back out to sea in arcs, like sound waves emanating from a speaker; another part curls around the atoll or island and creates a confused chop in its lee. Wave-piloting is the art of reading — by feel and by sight — these and other patterns. Detecting the minute differences in what, to an untutored eye, looks no more meaningful than a washing-machine cycle allows a ri-meto, a person of the sea in Marshallese, to determine where the nearest solid ground is — and how far off it lies — long before it is visible.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Workhorse on the Hudson River, Now Retired From Fighting Fires, Chugs Toward a Second Act - The New York Times

A Workhorse on the Hudson River, Now Retired From Fighting Fires, Chugs Toward a Second Act - The New York Times

BY Noah Remnick

ABOARD THE JOHN D. McKEAN, in Tarrytown, N.Y. — On a gleaming Thursday morning in March, a candy red fireboat rattled awake and set forth from its station in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As the ship voyaged north along the Hudson River at nine knots, it left more than half a century of history in its wake.
Since the 129-foot vessel, the John D. McKean, was commissioned into service in 1954, the sight of it on New York City’s waterfront has signaled some variety of peril — a smoldering warehouse, a capsized barge.
It was there to douse the flames when a fire in 1991 swallowed the Manhattan terminal of the Staten Island Ferry. It shuttled hundreds of people to safety in Jersey City after the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and supplied firefighters with water at ground zero for days thereafter. It gave refuge to passengers huddled on the water-lapped wings of US Airways Flight 1549 after it landed in the Hudson River in January 2009.
Even the ship’s name bears the weight of the New York Fire Department’s past: John D. McKean, a marine engineer, was burned to death in 1953 when he stayed at his post on the fireboat George B. McClellan, trying to steady the vessel after a steam explosion. Mr. McKean’s son and grandson both followed him into the department.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Winds and Coastlines | Issuma in Antarctica

Winds and Coastlines | Issuma

Nautical chart Maxwell Bay, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
annotated for wind data by Richard Hudson
Winds and Coastlines | Issuma 

Richard, George and Sarah are the crew aboard Issuma. Richard, with his usual matter of fact style, here recounts a rough spot while anchored in one of the most protected bays around. BTW the centerboard is not like the one on your dinghy.  It carries several hundred liters of diesel fuel - and swings up the better to minimize damage from hitting ice.  Issuma was built for these waters. - gwc
Weather forecasts can be tricky sometimes. We were anchored peacefully where the black arrow is on the picture, with a moderate (20-25 knot) SSW wind forecast for the general area (I get these forecasts from Gridded Binary (GRIB) data from a US National Weather Service computer via email). I figured we would be well protected by the long island south of us (Ardley Island).

What I didn't think about was the possible effect on the wind that the shape of the bay we were in could have. As the wind steadily built, it moved to the ESE, from which we had no protection. While the anchor was holding, it might drag if the wind increased a lot (one always needs to think about what might happen if the wind is stronger than expected), and floating ice would then be blown towards where we were anchored. It was time to leave.

We raised anchor and motored out into a 25 knot headwind and choppy seas. Still surprised by the wind direction and increasing strength, I called up the nearby Chilean base on the VHF radio and asked if they had a forecast for Maxwell Bay.

They said yes, the wind forecast was for ESE to SE 40 knots. That would be a major problem to have stayed anchored where we were. It took several hours of motoring into the wind and seas to reach a bay on the eastern side, where we found a place to anchor near a glacier. At one point, we hit either a growler or an uncharted rock with the centerboard--the centerboard pivoted up and then broke the centerboard cable when it fell back down after passing over the obstruction. We replaced the centerboard cable later at anchor (this is not a big job, but it involves climbing into the narrow centerboard case to thread the new cable, which Sarah--who is thinner than I am--did).

Looking at the chart later, I began to understand why the SSW wind that I expected was actually a SE wind inside Maxwell Bay. The way I've drawn the arrows on the chart picture, it looks obvious, but it wasn't until I looked closely at the chart, and considered the height of the mountains (which deflected the wind, instead of letting it pass over), that I concluded the outside wind probably was a SSW and that it was deflected by the shape of the bay.

The Chilean forecast is probably available to vessels with Inmarsat C, but is not on NAVTEX (which Issuma can receive). I could receive the Chilean Antarctic forecasts via email from the internet, but only after a delay of 24 or more hours (for a 24-hour forecast). Later, I learned of a great Norwegian website ( that collects weather forecasts from various sources and makes them available (in a way that can be retrieved via email). I was then able to get China's forecasts for Maxwell Bay via email.
(if you read the Norwegian Maxwell Bay forecast above remember that is Beaufort Scale, so a `strong breeze' is 21-27 kts gusting to 31 kts with wave height 91/2 to 13 feet.)