Aye Candy: Morgan Line Steamship Harlan, 1866


New renders of the Morgan Line steamship Harlan (seen previously here), that ran a coastwise route between New Orleans, Galveston and Indianola, Texas in the late 1860s and 1870s. Harlan was the last of seven ships built to the same design by Harlan & Hollingsworth for the Morgan Line between 1861 and 1866. The first of these ships, St. Mary’s, was purchased new and converted into the Union warship U.S.S. Hatteras. In 1880, Harlan transported former President Grant and his party from Clinton, on Buffalo Bayou near Houston, to New Orleans.

Full-size images available on Flickr.









Two Ships, Two Fates

So I came across this neat old postcard in the online Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs collection at SMU. It’s dated 1911, and shows a small motor excursion boat, Priscilla, well-loaded with both bowler-hatted passengers (all male, it appears) and kegs of — something. Write your own caption for that one.

What particularly caught my eye, though, was the large cargo steamer at right. City of Tampico was a 1,513-ton freighter completed in August 1905 at Bergen, Norway. She was 256 feet (78.1m) long, and 36.7 feet (11.2m) in beam. She was operated by Harloff & Rodseth and, as her name suggests, spent much on her career running between U.S. and Mexican posts in the Gulf of Mexico. City of Tampico appears regularly in local, Galveston papers as calling either there or at nearby Texas City, as shown in the postcard. There’s even a mention of her in March 1911 across the channel at Port Bolivar, loading a cargo of railroad ties, cut and creosoted in East Texas or Louisiana, for use in railroad-building in Mexico.

The photo on the postcard was probably taken in January 1911. The Galveston Daily News of January 11 identifies both City of Tampico and the much larger British steamer Magician in Texas City on that date. Magician was a 5,065-ton steamer operated by the Charente Steamship Company of Liverpool. She’d been launched by Workman Clarke of Belfast in 1896, was 400 feet (121.9m) long with a beam of 47 feet (14.3m).

Both ships met hard ends. Magician was sold to Japanese interests in 1922, becoming in turn Magician Maru and Keigi Maru. In March 1923 she ran aground on Black Rock, Arena Island in the Sulu Sea (extreme southwest Philippines). From the Sydney Morning Herald, April 18, 1923:

The Japanese steamer Keigi Maru, which went ashore on Arena Island, in the Sulu Sea, at the end of last month, is now reported to be a total wreck.

The Keigi Maru left Kobe on March 18 for Sydney, but struck on Arena Island, and both forward jolds and the engine-room were flooded, there being 5ft of water in the forward part of the steamer. It was reported in Sydney last week that the steamer had been refloats, but this was apparently incorrect, for a message received yesterday by the Marine Underwriter’s and Salvage Association stated that salvage was hopeless.

The Keigi Maru is a steel steamer of 5187 tons gross register, and was built at Belfast in 1896 by Workman, Clarke and Co., Ltd., and is owned by the Hinode Kisen Kabushiki Kaisha.

City of Tampico met her end on January 16, 1917 when, carrying coal from the United Kingdom to the French port of Nantes, she was sunk about 5 miles south-southeast of Penmarch, France. There were no fatalities in the sinking, and she settled in about 75m (250 feet) of water. Her attacker, the German coastal mine-laying U-boat UC 18, was herself sunk (with no survivors) just over a month later.


And Now, Texas

Had to happen, sooner or later.

Oil that washed up on the beach in Crystal Beach over the holiday weekend came from the BP oil spill, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Office confirmed. The U.S. Coast Guard and Texas General Land Office have scheduled a press conference for this afternoon in Texas City.

Land office spokesman Jim Suydam said that testing of the oil discovered Saturday on the Bolivar Peninsula was indeed from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well off the coast of Louisiana making it the first confirmed report that oil from the spill had reach the Texas Coastline.

Officials described the finding as a minimal amount of oil and that most of the oil had been cleared from the beaches on the peninsula. No beaches were closed because of the oil.

Officials have not confirmed if large oil sheets that washed up on Galveston’s west end last week were connected to the BP spill.

Texas is fortunate in that the prevailing currents of the Gulf of Mexico tend to move the oil to the east, rather than to the west. Nonetheless, there’s no way were we going to not have to deal with this. Still, what we end up with isn’t going to be anything like Louisiana and points east.

Tropical Storm Alex

Image via Weather Underground. Udated details here.

Tropical Storm Alex — possibly low-level Hurricane Alex next week — is churning away across the Yucatan Peninsula, with (as of now) a likely landfall in northern Mexico early Thursday. Not sure how big the storm will be in expanse, but the Deepwater Horizon slicks will be on the “dirty” side of the storm, and that doesn’t bode well for the Texas coast, even if we avoid much in the way of storm conditions.

Also of note (but entirely unrelated to Alex), this morning I happened to see the best-defined funnel cloud I’ve ever seen, and just so happened to have the camera in my hand at the time. Don’t think it touched the ground.


Full-res closeups after the jump.


Mariner and Magic, Too?

Mariner of the Seas at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Photo by Joe Kafka, Associated Press.

Story updated below.

Royal Caribbean has announced it will replace Voyager of the Seas, which has operated out of Galveston for the last few years, with Mariner of the Seas beginning in November 2011. Mariner is of the same class as Voyager, at about 138,000 gt, but is newer, having entered service in 2003. She is capable of carrying 3,114 passengers. Fun fact: Mariner of the Seas carries FIFA World Cup matches:

You won’t have to miss the World Cup while you’re sailing with us. From the first kick on June 11 to the final whistle on July 11, we’ll be airing all the games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup onboard.

Whether you choose to cheer on your team in the comfort of your stateroom or to gather with other fans in World Cup designated onboard lounges, our programs will bring the excitement of the tournament to sea with themed activities, food and beverages.

It’s also widely rumored Galveston port officials will announce Wednesday that Carnival will bring the brand-new (still under construction, in fact) Carnival Magic to Galveston in late 2011. It’s not clear whether Magic would join the line’s current Galveston-based ships, Ecstasy and Conquest, or (more likely) replace one of those replace the line’s current Galveston-based ship, Conquest, and operate alongside Ecstasy. At 130,000 gt, Magic is larger than either Ecstasy (70,367 gt, entered service 1991; refitted 2009) or Conquest (110,000 grt, entered service 2002).
Obligatory comparison of Carnival Magic (2011) and an Olympic-Class liner (1911). Note that while the length of ships hasn’t increased much, modern ships are massively bulkier, capable of squeezing in a similar number of passengers in much more overall comfort.

U.S.S. Texas Trouble

“Sunrise, San Jacinto Park” by Captain Louis Vest, OneEighteen on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Millions of dollars and major repairs have kept the iconic Battleship Texas afloat over the years, but last weekend it was a pump and a rag that stopped it from sinking into the Houston Ship Channel.

On Thursday [June 10], an employee at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, where the Texas is moored, noticed the 96-year-old ship was sitting lower in the water than usual when he left the park.

“The next morning when he got back, it was noticeably deeper,” said Mike Cox, spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “He and other staff went below deck and found the ship was taking on water — to use nautical speak.”

A combination of a pump failure and leaks — at least one new one — had caused the ship to take on at least 105,000 gallons of water and sink nearly three feet into the channel.

By Saturday, replacement pumps and a rag stuffed into the new leak had righted the ship, and it was stabilized on Sunday, Cox said. Tours of the ship continued throughout the weekend.

“We think it’s a wake-up call as to the importance to getting this vessel stabilized so future generations can appreciate and enjoy it,” he said.

Texas had her last major overhaul in 1988-90, when her hull was extensivelt repaired and she was completely re-decked. She emerged from that refit in her current overall blue, in what the Navy called Measure 21. That was the last scheme she carried during World War II, and the one that matches her current configuration, which is not much changed from 1945.

“This worrisome incident, which we fortunately succeeded in bringing under control, underscores the importance of moving forward rapidly with plans to place the Texas in a dry-berth,” said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. “I’m just glad our folks at the park showed a lot of resourcefulness in preventing the situation from getting out of hand.”

Three years ago, voters approved a bond package that included $25 million to dry-berth the ship, with another $4 million provided by the Battleship Texas Foundation.

TPWD has selected an engineering firm to design the dry berth and is negotiating fees. The dry berth is slated to be completed by 2014, the centennial of the ship’s commissioning.

Viking Poseidon

The mobile offshore drilling unit Q4000 (r.) holds position directly over the damaged Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer as crews work to plug the wellhead using a technique known as “top kill,” May 26, 2010. The procedure is intended to stem the flow of oil and gas and ultimately kill the well by injecting heavy drilling fluids through the blow out preventer on the seabed down into the well. A nearby vessel sprays sea water near the surface of Q4000 to keep oil and fumes from interfering with operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley. From the Deepwater Horizon Response Flickr stream.

The offshore work vessel Viking Poseidon, based at Galveston for the past year, has been (literally) at the center of the Deepwater Horizon effort for a couple of weeks now.

A Critical Perspective

This evening (Wednesday) Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo posted a message from a reader in the offshore oil industry in Houston. It’s an important read, one that really does help put things in perspective. In particular, it calls bullshit on those folks, left and right, shouting for the White House to “kick BP off the site” and “fix it now.”

At BP’s West Houston complex, there’s a command center filled with personnel from around the industry working with BP engineers. Several drill ships are in place. Tons of workboats are on site. There are 5 or more ROVs roaming the wellhead monitoring and cleaning things up. They’re already bumping into each other because they normally work solo while tied to a ship by a mile long umbilical cable. They don’t need more ROVs down there adding to the traffic. All these efforts are reported heavily in the Houston Chronicle and nola.com, but doesn’t seem to get much for national coverage. If you only monitor the national coverage, you’d think BP is going it alone while we all sit by, but the reality is this is an industry-wide effort because we all know what’s at stake.

On having Obama “do more,” WTF is he supposed to do? Everybody seems to be calling for more fire in his belly and scary, threatening speeches. What does that accomplish? It’s like people want him to do a dramatic speech like post-9/11 about bringing the criminals to justice. It does nothing to actually plug the damn well. The government does not have the expertise to do more to stop this gusher. It’s in BPs interest to stop the gusher. All the conspiracy theories about wanting to preserve the well for future production are technically wrong and ignore that NOBODY in the industry benefits from this gusher continuing. BP wants what everybody else wants, though I’ll concede that I suspect dispersants are about killing life where it’s less easily photographed. Dispersants aside, the only conflict of interest is regarding the causes of the blowout, not the capping of the well. Fed investigations are already taking care of that part.

It’s an important contribution. I’ve tried to follow this story closely over the last five weeks, and of all the tens of thousands of words I’ve read so far, this is some of the clearest information yet from someone who actually knows the industry. I would only add that Tom Fowler’s energy business blog at the Houston Chronicle has become a regular read for me.

Alcoa Commander, Good Friday, 1967


A friend passed along this snapshot of Alcoa Commander, taken at Pier 14 in Galveston, March 24, 1967 (Good Friday). Alcoa Commander was a Class C2 freighter, 8,827 GRT, 459 ft (139.9m) long, single-screw steamship. She was launched at Wilmington, North Carolina in 1945 as Courser, and subsequently served as Pioneer Land (1949), American Archer (1956), Alcoa Commander (1963), and Columbia Rose (1969). She was broken up at Kaohsiung, Taiwan in June 1971.

Update: There are several images online of Alcoa Commander in her previous guise as American Archer (1956-63), including a great image on Shipspotting, two on the UK-based Old Ship Picture Galleries here and here and one as Pioneer Land (1949-56) here.