Thursday, August 27, 2009

False Colors by Alex Beecroft

It’s very easy to see in Alex Beecroft’s novel “False Colors” the influence of Patrick O’Brien, whom she credits for inspiration in her acknowledgements. Not only does Ms. Beecroft neatly capture O’Brien’s vivid depictions of life aboard an eighteenth century sailing vessel, she also picked up his annoying penchant for peppering his stories with nautical lingo, such as “Set boommain sail and trysail”, “out sweeps” and “She’s a big xebec”. It gives the stories the fantastic realism, but a foreign language to us landlubbers.

But Beecroft’s novel is an easier read than O’Brien with rich prose and with feelings and emotions of well-developed characters. It’s a credit to the author when she creates a set of characters that the reader can relate to and sympathize with. And even dislike.

I did not like Alfie Donwell.

Although there is copious information and documentation about the culture at sea during the eighteenth century, very little has been written about gay sailors. “Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition” by Barry Burg and “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” by Hans Turley are two works that explore this aspect but without much hard (pardon the pun) evidence, gay sex at sea during this period remains enigmatic. If we believe the authors it was inevitable, yet few sailors kept a log and even less wrote about any such encounters at sea.

However, Beecroft makes sexually active sailors a normal part of the social environment albeit barely tolerated and punished by court martial and hanging. It seemed everyone knew they existed but no one cared as long as the money came in, the rum flowed and the order of the Royal Navy was maintained. But were there really gay bars in eighteenth century Jamaica?

If so, the attitudes have changed little in the past three hundred years. That’s why I took a dislike to the petty and shallow Donwell, who had impossibly high standards for lovers. Beecroft made him too real, to the point that he became someone I knew.

Captain Farrant as well.

Gay rights may have progressed but gay men haven’t. Still this is partly what makes “False Colors” such a good read. The author’s talent for telling a story and telling it with style is the rest.

The only drawback to this gay romance was the largest portion of the story the two main characters were estranged. In the first eighty pages, they find each other and then become estranged.

Several episodes pass where reconciliation came close, only to be snatched away by petty and tiresome ideals and suspicions. The reader begins to wonder if John Cavendish and Donwell will ever reconcile or will their egos destroy their chances of love. It isn’t until the last pages of the book when kiss (among other things) and make up.

And what was the purpose of the trip to the Arctic? Whaling? Exploration? Scientific research?

Bottom line, I liked “False Colors” enough for me to recommend it to anyone. Die-hard O’Brien fans may flinch at the gay romance but the love of the sea and its yarns call everyone.

Third day (cont.) - USS Missouri

More pictures from the USS Missouri.

The guns of the USS Missouri looking over the USS Arizona Memorial and downtown Honolulu.

The Captain's Quarters.

The movies "Tora, Tora, Tora," and "Pearl Harbor" would have you think this is a control tower but it is actually a dive tank for practicing scuba dives.

These two buildings survied the attack on December 7, 1941 and still stand to this day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Third Day - USS Oklahoma

I have wanted to visit the USS Oklahoma Memorial since it opened a couple of years ago. It is located on Ford Island just outside the USS Missouri Battleship Museum.

On the list of sailors who were lost on the USS Oklahoma when she capsized, I found Francis E. Dick. This is my grandmother's maiden name so he could be a relative. I'll have to find out.

No one was going to sell her for scrap. She was a typical Oklahoma woman and too proud to end up like that. She rests peacefully at the bottom of the ocean.

Each post stands for a fallen sailor.

The U.S. Flag over the memorial.

Second Day (cont) - USS Arizona

The USS Arizona Memorial as viewed from the USS Bowfin Museum and Park.

It looks like a white chapel sitting on the harbor.

I didn't realize until we were there that the memorial is only accessible by boat.

The flags of the battleships destroyed during the attack on December 7, 1941.

Parts of the ship are still visible above water.

Part of the moor where she sat that day is also still visible.

Note the sunken ship just underneath the surface.

Oil continues to seep out at the rate of a quart a day. It's said that the oil drops are the tears of the sailors who died with her that day.

The room at the far end has a list of all the sailors lost in the attack.

The windows in this room look out onto Ford Island and Pearl Harbor, giving the sense of stained glass in a church.

A solemn yet beautiful memorial.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Second Day - Pearl Harbor

On Sunday, August 16, we visited Pearl Harbor. The area where you board the shuttle boat to the USS Arizona Memorial is the USS Bowfin Museum and Park.

The USS Bowfin is held in place by enormous anchors and chains.

Here you can walk among many items taken from ships or submarines to see what equipment or weaponry was used during WWII.

Frazier looks through a periscope that was part of a conning tower for the USS Parche (SS-384), a sister ship to the Bowfin.

The conning tower is an eight feet diameter cylinder located above the control room of a submarine’s pressure hull. The conning tower contained equipment for steering the submarine and firing torpedoes. It was the command center of a WWII submarine and the battle station for the commanding officer.

A submarine rocket or subroc. An underwater-to-air-to-underwater anti-submarine missile was in use from 1965 to 1990. It was designed to be fired from a submierged nuclear fast attack submarine.

A 40-mm quad gun assembly, used on destroyer escorts and all classes of larger ships, consisted of four recoil-operated, heavy machine guns, designed primarily for anti-aircraft fire. Each gun had a firing rate of 120 rounds/minute and fired a 2 lb projectile at a maximum horizontal range of approximately 33,000 feet and maximum ceiling range of 22,800 feet.

The inside of a kaiten or suicide submarine.

‘Kaiten’ means to make a radical reverse in the course of events. It was an enlarged torpedo with a small cockpit, a periscope and manual controls for steering, speed and depth. It had a pure oxygen-fed kerosene-burning 550 horsepower engine and a huge 3,000 lb explosive warhead which could be detonated on impact or by an electrical switch controlled by the pilot.
Kaiten were transported by submarine to ‘firing position’ which was 3.5 – 4.5 miles from the target. The only kaiten known to have sunk a U.S. Navy ship hit the fleet oiler USS Mississinewa at Uluthi on Nov. 20, 1944.

The propellor of the kaiten.

Submarine Rescue Chamber

These chambers were used by the U.S. Navy for over 50 years to rescue crews of submarines stranded on the ocean floor. It had two chambers inside; the upper held two operators and eight passengers; the lower helped survivors to pass from the submarine’s escape hatch into the rescue chamber.

The first and only operation use of the submarine rescue chamber was in 1939 when the USS Squalus accidentally flooded her aft compartment during a test dive. Divers from the rescue vessel USS Falcon attached a downhaul cable from the chamber and make several trips to the surface until 33 survivors were brought to safety.