NS Savannah

Decked out for the big day!

I know I say this a lot around here, but last weekend I was finally able to achieve a dream and visit the NS Savannah! Look, I know I in fact already made a big deal about seeing the Savannah just a few weeks ago, but this time I got to actually go on it. And it was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be.

I have known for a few years now that they open up the NS Savannah for tours once a year near National Maritime Day. Since I have known that I have been consistently thwarted in taking advantage of this awesome knowledge by the fact that I have either been like in Zambia or else there has been a pandemic, and then I was nearly thwarted again by not being able to find any details about the open day. But now I am here to save you: go to the Baltimore & Chesapeake Steamship Company website at bayheritage.org. They will have all the info and they are also super responsive on email and extremely nice to boot!

This year’s open house/boat was on Sunday and I arrived right at 10am when everything was kicking off. I walked as quickly as I could to the end of the pier where the gangway for the Savannah was and I was one of the first people onboard after a quick safety brief. I was also quickly one of the first offboard because you had to go back down to the pier to start the guided tour of the reactor compartment and engineroom, which of course are the coolest parts of the ship! Holy crap I love steam power.

Anyways on our tour we were led around by one of the extremely friendly and knowledgeable reactor techs that normally work on the ship. The Savannah is actually well on its way to being a regular museum ship, and the largest chunk of that works seems to be sufficiently dismantling the reactor compartment so that the public can just wander around willy-nilly. In only the last couple of years they have cut a big hole in the side of the reactor compartment so they could more easily extract some of the components. The coolest effect of that is we got to see the cross-section of the secondary shielding, which was primarily composed of several feet of concrete and then several feet of wooden boards.

The primary shielding (where the reactor itself sat) is the red thing, with the refueling hatch above it. The rusty thing to the left is the steam dryer, above a horizontal U-shaped steam generator below the decking. Peaking in from the right of the frame is the pressurizer.

Inside the reactor compartment the primary shielding is half gone and the reactor vessel itself is long gone. I commented (lightheartedly!) that the place could use a paint job, and apparently it will get a paint job in the bright primary colors that turns out characterizes the engineering components of the ship. In addition to the remnants of the primary shielding, also easily visible was the pressurizer and the steam dryer, along with the hatch at the top of the ship that was used for refueling. If you peered down through the grating, you could also glimpse the U-shaped horizontal steam generator, which is pretty wild.

The control panel goes from rod control on the far left, to pumps and steam operations in the middle, to the electrical system far right.

From there we got to go to the control room. The control room was staffed by a man who was actually a reactor operator on the ship back when the reactor needed operating, so he had first-hand knowledge of all the workings of the place (detail I asked about is that it was normally manned by just two reactor operators, a primary and secondary). Reactor control panels are always very fun because they are designed to be the opposite of inscrutable (scrutable if you will), so everything is laid out in very logical orders and you can glean a lot of the reactor and steam plant operation from the layout of the control panel. I spent the whole time admiring rod control switches and coolant pump switches and scram buttons and the like.

Looking down into the engineroom; the control room is behind the woman in the yellow shirt. The red parts are mostly the turbines, and the yellow parts are the reduction gears. You can see the green emergency propulsion motor atop the yellow gears.

Just behind the control room is the engineroom itself, separated by just a window. On the submarine you could sense the engineroom around you from the control room, but you couldn’t actually see it, so this must have been pretty wild. The engineroom is museum-ready with a very colorful paint job. The Savannah only had one screw, so the engineroom only had a single high-pressure turbine and a single low-pressure turbine. We got to admire the emergency propulsion motor and off in a corner were the backup diesel generators. Another very knowledgeable docent pointed these all out to us.

The entry hall into the ship.
An absolute dream of a bar on the promenade deck.
The dining room; look at the atom symbols in the recessed lighting!!!
They need to sell reproduction sets asap!!!!!!

From there we were let loose for the unguided part of the tour. Let me tell ya, the Savannah is a mid-century dream. The ship was meant to distill every hopeful aspect of the atomic age and it absolutely nailed it. Totally perfect, no notes. For the first few years of its life it was a passenger ship in addition to being a cargo ship, so its entry lounge is dominated by a huge orange couch and a magnificent stairway leads you to the various decks. I’ll have to let the pictures speak for themselves, but when I showed her the pictures even my super amazing wife wanted that dining set. It also wasn’t until I was reviewing the photos that I noticed the recessed lights in the dining room were also atomic symbols. Perfect and gorgeous!!!!

I’m always surprised by how sparse merchant ship bridges are; I’m used to tight-packed radar and sonar screens everywhere but these guys really just need a compass, a helm, and a radar screen (and a comfy chair).
She shares a pier with the SS John W. Brown.

Much of the rest of the ship was pretty ship-like (shipshape?). The bridge looked pretty much like a standard bridge and fairly sparse, so much so that I forgot to look for the scram button the bridge crew had up there (not to be trusted with actual reactor operation, the bridge’s scram button only functioned to turn on a light in the reactor control room that said “bridge scram;” the operators could do with that what they thought best I suppose). Topside was, you know, topside. However I couldn’t leave the ship without visiting the other biggest celebrity onboard, the Radarange!

I had been under the impression the Radarange on the Savannah was the first commercial microwave oven ever put into service, but some quick Googling does not seem to back me up on that supposition. It was still an early model and meant to show the true wonders of the future. I mean not only were we splitting the atom here but we could also harness the rotational spectra of O-H bonds to heat up dinner. Truly the embodiment of a world where the promise of clean and abundant energy would solve all humanity’s problems. If only we had kept at it.

I managed to visit the gift shop where I resisted buying a whole lot of swag, but I soon had to  literally run off because it came over the ship’s speaker system that I had illegally (though accidentally) parked my DeLorean and if I didn’t hustle it would get towed (speaking of visions of the future). I am so glad I got to  finally visit the NS Savannah, especially its super cool reactor compartment, engineroom, and microwave oven, and I am very much looking forward to it being finished with its museum ship conversion so the whole world can see it more than once a year!

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival II

For the second year in a row, my super amazing wife and I went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival! Last year the major characteristic of the festival was that it was rainy, with us slipping and sliding in mud as we traversed one yarn tent to the other. This year the weather was much worse, if you are a duck. The morning dawned sunny and springtime warm, excellent for a day of shopping for yarn and looking at sheep.

We tackled the festival a bit differently this year than last. Last year I feel like we were all about the sheep. Don’t worry, sheep were a big chunk of this year too. My super amazing wife’s parents’ sheep are in the midst of having lambs, so after all the photos from home she definitely wanted to pet some sheep. But since this year she actually wanted to buy some yarn, the strategy was to look at all the yarn first and then see some sheep as a breather before making any big decisions. So we started with the yarn.

Except we immediately got distracted by a cool-looking carding machine, above. The festival probably has a preponderance of women but there were plenty of dudes there as well. However, of all the things we looked at during the festival it was the above carding machine that had the most guy-heavy audience. Society trains dudes to enjoy spinny mechanical things, and that came out in full force at this little stall. My super amazing wife was also entranced by the carding machine, so again when I get that shop maybe instead of building a tiny little one I can pull out all the stops and learn to weld and assemble the above industrial-scale one. A boy can dream.

As I discussed last year, the festival is split into a few parts. There is the sheep portion, there is the yarn portion (and a big fair food section), but besides the scourge of capitalism they have other things like competitions for all sorts of fiber-adjacent products. We admired them last year too but the entries this year were really extremely gorgeous. Below I have pictures of the first-place winners in the K10 (Garment knit from more than one commercial colored yarn (colorwork)) and W10 (Miscellaneous woven from commercial yarn), though unfortunately I couldn’t figure out a way to link to their creators. Hopefully the festival will post the winners’ names:

Pretty things made of yarn was of course not the only other yarn-adjacent things to look at. The festival did a good job of intermingling all these different sights and sounds in and amongst the potential yarn purchases. My super amazing wife was interested in buying a few different types of yarns, including yarn gradient sets and single-breed yarns. She also wanted natural-dyed yarns. On the way to purchasing all those we also saw Vikings which had camped out in order to make lunch, and of course we could not miss the 1pm sheep dog demonstration:

Anyways I am having trouble coming up with lead-ins for all the pictures I want to show you, so please see below for some fluffy animals:

Since it was time for our yarn breather, this year more than last year I think we thought about actual sheep breeds a bit more. The bottom picture above of course aren’t sheep at all, but alpacas, which are secretly my super amazing wife’s favorites, don’t tell the sheep (but she won’t let me keep either on the porch, boo). The reason we thought more about sheep is we saw a whole (small) herd of Valais Blacknose sheep getting ready for their show. The Valais Blacknose society, in a brilliant bit of marketing, has declared them to be the “world’s cutest sheep,” which, alright. First I gotta say they have a pretty good claim to it, especially when they are little fluffy lambs. This is undeniable. However they are Swiss so I don’t know how we are supposed to feel about either their politics or their banking regulations. So we could for example favor the sheep in the middle photo above, which are Scottish Blackface. Which, I hear you: given the blackface, their politics are also questionable, but they are Scottish, which feels like a place sheep ought to be from. I think the sheep in the top photo are Merino, which are the breed of my super amazing wife’s parents’ sheep, so there is a family connection there, and I think the answer is that we should keep some alpaca on the patio. This is a perfect plan and I don’t see why I can’t.

But after the sheep breather it was back to shopping. We spent a surprisingly long time at the festival. Given the rain last year there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm to just keep walking around so I feel like after one tour of the place the group was ready to go home. But this year we were worried about bumping up against closing time, so the last portion of our time at the festival was the fun activity of spending a surprising amount of money on fiber products. My super amazing wife wound up getting one of those color gradients I linked to along with some 50th Anniversary Sheep & Wool Festival-exclusive yarn (pinkish), some very cute cat loaf stitch markers, and a sweaters’ worth of natural-dyed yarn. Her yarn shelf is now full and her needles as busy as ever. We are very excited for the next time we get to go!

Mexico! Part VIII: Heading Home

It has taken me weeks and weeks to write up all these blog posts but I am glad we are finally approaching the end of the story of our Mexico vacation. On that day I arose with some stomach troubles which were very unpleasant. I figured this was karma for my atrocious behavior at Xochicalco. I never really recovered throughout the day but I kept it together well enough to attend the wedding.

The wedding was fantastic. It made me feel much better about not putting on a wedding for the marriage of my super amazing wife and myself, because boy howdy we could never have competed. It took place at an extremely professional wedding venue that was set up so you could proceed, over the course of the event, from the wedding itself to a garden cocktail hour to dinner and the dance floor with absolutely no friction. We had plenty of friends there besides the bride and groom so the conversation was lively and flowing. I am a sucker for any declaration of love so if I hadn’t had to excuse myself at an inopportune time I am sure I would have teared up at “I do” (they might have said it in Spanish, not sure, I missed it). Everything was set out so thoughtfully, including free flipflops if your feet started to hurt in your heels and a late-night snack so you could rally if you began to falter halfway through the six or seven hours of scheduled dancing.

And boy did people dance! I eventually got up to dance and kept going until I just couldn’t anymore because I knew once I stopped I would be over for the night. We left at a relatively reasonable hour, i.e. extremely early for a Mexican wedding. The dance floor broke after we left, as a testament to how vigorously people were dancing. The playlist was nothing but hits and it couldn’t have been better. It was great to see our friends married off and to do it in such a fun and beautiful setting was just icing on the cake.

The next day we were much better rested than most of our compatriots, several of whom we ran into on the bus station on the way back to Mexico City. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare before we had to take off and took the opportunity to do some airport souvenir shopping. From there it was an almost perfectly smooth flight back to the States, except our first leg was a bit late so we had to run to catch our connecting flight, but we caught it and it was fine. We arrived back at Dulles to cold and drizzling weather, a jarring change from gorgeous Mexico City, but we also arrived back to our extremely cute cat, so it all worked out in the end. I don’t think this will be our last time in Mexico City.

Mexico! Part VII: Xochicalco

Reading this week:

  • Joseph Thomson: African Explorer by Rev. J.B. Thomson

We were of course not the only people going to our friends’ wedding (it was a huge crowd), but we had arrived in Cuernavaca a day before everyone else because I wanted to go to Xochicalco. Honestly anytime there is ever a hint of a vast ancient city that is not super often visited I dearly want to go.

The problem with Xochicalco is that it is not quite as easy to get to as Teotihuacán. To get to Teotihuacán you simply follow the very easy instructions (including pictures!) that various internet travel bloggers have written out for you and dedicated busses to take you right there. This is not the case for Xochicalco. The travel guide said local busses could take you there, but other websites said it wasn’t so simple. I looked up how much it would be to Uber there, and it was very reasonable, but it wasn’t so clear that we would be able to Uber back. The solution we settled on was to hire a private driver, and I absolutely hated this. It got to me. I was thoroughly repulsed by the idea of taking a private driver there over using a bus or something. I tell myself this was because I felt like by rejecting the bus we were rejecting a sense of adventure, but it was probably also the price (~$100 USD, honestly reasonable) and more probably that I had just decided I didn’t want to do a private driver and was mentally digging in and rejecting all reasonable arguments to the contrary. We did wind up taking a private driver but the upswing of all these mental gymnastics is that I was just a little shit about it the entire time, an absolute man-baby of quiet simmering temper tantrum as we visited. This was extremely unfair to my super amazing wife, and I’m sorry.

The ride there was pleasant enough and interesting. At one point we diverted into this strange dirt road underpass thing that our driver paid an unofficial toll for. I was wondering where we were going but looking at the map he was probably taking a shortcut which must have been very worth it because a lot of other people were too. Along the road I saw fields of sugarcane and maize and several fields of grass that had been burnt off in a way that reminded me of Zambia. I spotted cows and was interested in all the different plant nurseries I saw, from big ones to small ones. As we drove through the town of Xochicalco there were piles of pots and pots stacked on eaves, drying and/or ready for sale. On the road up to the site there was an orchard of baby orange trees and a seemingly out of place boat on a trailer and a saddled horse and papaya trees and a monument or grave on a hill by the side of the road.

Eventually we arrived and since we only had our driver for three hours I was in a mad rush to see everything. I barreled my way through the crowd of students hiking up to the site from the museum and got tickets and darted through the museum and then zoomed up to the site itself, leaving my super amazing wife far back in my wake. She eventually and much more gently than was possibly justified corrected me on this and we hiked through the site together. It was hot and dusty and we probably didn’t bring enough water despite bringing a lot of water, and now that we are through my personal and interpersonal drama, I will tell you: Xochicalco is a fantastic site.

The history of Xochicalco sits neatly between Teotihuacán and Templo Mayor. It was evidently a powerhouse in its day and the city sits perched atop a very high hill overlooking the valleys below. My super amazing wife, who let me reiterate in reflection of how I acted that day is indeed super amazing, has heard me point out many times that whenever there is a dwelling on top of a hill I think it must be a man who put it there because they aren’t the ones who have the haul water to the top. There were reservoirs in the city which stored rainwater which is cool but still during the dry season there must have been a whole lot of women hauling a whole lot of water. The upswing of those women’s work many many years later is that we get to enjoy some really amazing views. The trip to Xochicalco is worth it for the views alone.

The perhaps crown jewel of the Xochicalco site is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, which is just covered with stone decorations which is near the very top of an already high-up site. The city has several other courtyards and pyramids of various sizes and you can wander around what used to be the residences for the ruling elites. They had some nice digs. There is also an observatory at the site which we didn’t get to see because it wasn’t the right time of year, so maybe that is the actual crown jewel, but what we saw was pretty impressive anyways. Like I said I was in a massive hurry to see the site and insisted that we more or less zoomed through, but after we got about halfway it was clear it wasn’t going to take us the full three hours anyways to see the site and I slowed down and even backtracked some. There is also a really good museum on site housing a variety of artifacts from the very life of the city, including some interesting displays on construction techniques and the different crenellations and other features you’d find in different cities and civilizations. Apparently these guys were super into starfish, which is interesting.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent, and me.

After 2.5 hours I had absolutely run out of things we could do at the site, so we drove on back to the hotel. We had some much-needed lunch and lounged the rest of the day by the side of the pool, where in an attempt to order pina coladas I got us instead some wine that tasted like apple juice. Relaxing in the air conditioning we eventually drifted off to sleep.