1. Fair Wind to Java (Republic, 1953)

    The Dutch East Indies, at the end of the nineteenth century. An adventurous captain of an American merchant vessel is looking for a sunken Dutch vessel containing 10,000 precious diamonds. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one and then there’s also that volcano on the nearby island of Krakatau, waiting to explode…


  2. SS Marama (merchant ship)

     —State Library of New South Wales (image)

    S.S. Marama:
    Union Steamship Company of New Zealand ship Marama. Commissioned in 1907, Marama served on the NZ to San Francisco service. With the onset of WWI she was requisitioned by the NZ government for duties as a hospital ship transporting wounded from the UK to NZ. After the war Marama returned to civilian service until being laid up in 1937

    State Library of South Australia

    • Ex Libris: Lawr. Dinwiddie

    LAWRENCE DINWIDDIE of Germiston Born 1697. Died 1746. Virginia merchant. In 1774 his old firm, then Dinwiddie, Crawford & Co. stood fourth in the list of tobacco importers.

    from The Fuzzy Line between American and English Bookplates

    • A group of the merchants who sustained Lisbon’s power can be seen paddling to port from their ship, docked in the River Tagus.

    Lisbon before the Great Earthquake

    The Great Lisbon Earthquake and Tsunami of 1755 sent reverberations throughout European society. Leveling around 85% of the city’s infastructure, it essentially destroyed the medieval and Renaissance architecture of one of Europe’s greatest capitols and claimed up to 30,000 lives.



    • And here’s one of the wide-bodied trading vessels that routinely made the hazardous, month’s-long voyage to Portugal’s colonies and feitorias (trading posts) in Brazil, Africa’s slave coast and India.


    (click for a much more detailed version)

  3. Plimsoll Line

    Loading mark painted on the hull of merchant ships, first suggested by the 19th-century English politician Samuel Plimsoll. It shows the depth to which a vessel may be safely (and legally) loaded.

    In 1872 he published a work entitled Our Seamen, which made a great impression throughout the country. Accordingly, on Plimsoll’s motion in 1873, a Royal Commission was appointed, and in 1875 a government bill was introduced, which Plimsoll, though regarding it as inadequate, resolved to accept.

    On July 22, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, announced that the bill would be dropped. Plimsoll lost his self-control, applied the term “villains” to members of the House, and shook his fist in the Speaker’s face.

    Disraeli moved that he be reprimanded, but on the suggestion of Lord Hartington agreed to adjourn the matter for a week to allow Plimsoll time for reflection.
    Eventually Plimsoll made an apology. The country, however, shared his view that the bill had been stifled by the pressure of the shipowners, and popular feeling forced the government to pass a bill which in the following year, was amended into the Merchant Shipping Act.

    This gave stringent powers of inspection to the Board of Trade, and the mark that indicates the limit to which a ship may be loaded became generally known as Plimsoll’s mark or line.

  4. Deep Water Writing

    Snakes, oil and the sea - Anchoring off the lofty, rugged, and brown coastline of the Arabian Peninsula in water 90 meters deep requires a substantial amount of anchor chain. A merchant ship typically carries 12 to 14 shots (A shot is 15 fathoms, a fathom 6 feet) of chain in each locker, port and starboard. Safely anchoring in 300 feet of water meant paying out ten shots of chain which still only provided an anchor chain to water depth ratio of 3:1 whereas a scope of 5:1 is preferable. Once the chain was laid out, the flukes set in the bottom and the ship tide rode headed into the current the bunker barge began her tedious approach.

    This approach, which in flat calm seas and light airs should only take 15 to 25 minutes, takes twice that here due to the poor quality of the ship handlers working these barges. Routinely the Captain will hemm and haw his little vessel and controllable pitch propeller creeping up almost parallel to the hull from a hundred yards astern and then try to get just close enough for a heaving line to be thrown in the eastern fashion; by whirling the monkey fist in a massive circle over the side of the boat and then releasing it at our heads…

    keep reading on Deep Water Writing