Aug 032013


On this date in 1958  the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus was directly under the north pole traveling across the Arctic sea beneath the ice cap, the first time that such a feat was achieved, and the first time any waterborne vessel had reached the north pole. In response to the nuclear ICBM threat posed by Sputnik, President Eisenhower ordered the US Navy to attempt a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for the soon-to-come SLBM (submarine launched Ballistic Missile) system.

USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine. Sharing names with the submarine in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and named after another USS Nautilus (SS-168) that served with distinction in World War II, Nautilus was authorized in 1951 and launched in 1954. Because her nuclear propulsion allowed her to remain submerged far longer than diesel-electric submarines, she broke many records in her first years of operation, and traveled to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines. In operation, she revealed a number of limitations in her design and construction. This information was used to improve subsequent submarines.


On 25 April 1958, Nautilus was underway for the West Coast, commanded by Commander William R. Anderson, USN. Stopping at San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, she began her history-making polar transit, Operation Sunshine, as she departed the latter port on 9 June. On 19 June she entered the Chukchi Sea, but was turned back by deep drift ice in those shallow waters. On 28 June she arrived at Pearl Harbor to await better ice conditions. By 23 July her wait was over, and she set a course northward. She submerged in the Barrow Sea Valley on 1 August and on 3 August, at 23.15 (EDT) she became the first watercraft to reach the geographic North Pole.


The ability to navigate at extreme latitudes and without surfacing was enabled by the technology of the North American Aviation N6A-1 Inertial Navigation System, a naval modification of the N6A used in the Navaho cruise missile. (The N6A-1 had been installed on Nautilus and Skate after initial sea trials on the USS Compass Island in 1957.) From the North Pole, she continued on and after 96 hours and 1,590 nmi (2,940 km; 1,830 mi) under the ice, surfaced northeast of Greenland, having completed the first successful submerged voyage around the North Pole. The technical details of this mission were planned by scientists from the Naval Electronics Laboratory including Dr. Waldo Lyon who accompanied Nautilus as chief scientist and ice pilot.


Navigation beneath the arctic ice sheet was difficult. Above 85°N both magnetic compasses and normal gyrocompasses become inaccurate. A special gyrocompass built by Sperry Rand was installed shortly before the journey. There was a risk that the submarine would become disoriented beneath the ice and that the crew would have to play “longitude roulette”. Commander Anderson had considered using torpedoes to blow a hole in the ice if the submarine needed to surface.

The most difficult part of the journey was in the Bering Strait. The ice extended as much as 60 feet (18 m) below sea level. During the initial attempt to go through the Bering Strait, there was insufficient room between the ice and the sea bottom. During the second, successful attempt to pass through the Bering passage, the submarine passed through a known channel close to Alaska (this was not the first choice as the submarine wanted to avoid detection).


The trip beneath the ice cap was an important boost to the U.S. as the Soviets had recently launched Sputnik, but had no nuclear submarine of their own. During the address announcing the journey, the president mentioned that one day nuclear cargo submarines might use that route for trade.

Proceeding from Greenland to the Isle of Portland, England, she received the Presidential Unit Citation, the first ever issued in peace time, from American Ambassador J.H. Whitney, and then crossed the Atlantic reaching New London, Connecticut, USA on 29 October. Captain Anderson would also be awarded the Legion of Merit by Eisenhower. For the remainder of the year Nautilus operated from her home port of New London.

Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. She has been preserved as a museum of submarine history in Groton, Connecticut, where she receives some 250,000 visitors a year.

Naturally a submarine sandwich (aka “sub”) is the perfect way to mark today’s anniversary. The origin of the name is not known but the explanation I prefer suggests the submarine was brought to the US by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York in the early 1900s. He is said to have named it after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called Fenian Ram in the Paterson Museum of New Jersey in 1918. His granddaughter said: “My grandfather came to this country in 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crusty roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer of cheese so the bread would not get soggy.”

nautilus5  nautilus6
Conti’s granddaughter is describing a classic New York deli sub, but you could make any of a thousand variants.  My sub recipe here, which I invented in honor of today, is a version of the New Orleans po’ boy using as a base “Captain Nemo’s clam cakes” (one of many fanciful names for a traditional Southern fried clam cake). Nemo, you will recall, was captain of the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In addition I give you an accompanying drink (not my recipe), Captain Nemo’s Squid Cocktail (celebrating Nemo’s battle with the giant squid).


Captain Nemo’s Submarine Sandwich (components)

Captain Nemo’s Clam Cakes


2 cups minced clams
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup clam juice
1 medium onion chopped fine
fresh pepper
butter and vegetable oil for frying


Sift the flour and baking soda together into a mixing bowl.

Add the milk, eggs, and clam juice and stir to combine.

Add the clams and onions, plus a few grinds of black pepper to taste. Mix well, adding a little more milk if the batter is too thick.  It should be thick but pourable.

Heat equal amounts of butter and oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Drop the batter into the skillet to make cakes that are about 3” across. Cook only 2 or 3 at a time.

Brown on one side and then turn to brown on the other. Keep warm.

Yield: 12 clam cakes.

Spicy Sweet Pepper Slaw


3 cups very finely shredded green cabbage
½ a large green bell pepper, very thinly sliced
6-8 sweet gherkins, very thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper (seeds and ribs removed), very thinly sliced
2 tbsp sweet pickle juice
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 tbsp thinly sliced scallion (green parts only)
salt and black pepper to taste


In a large bowl combine all the ingredients (except salt & pepper) and mix well. Add additional pickle juice and/or vinegar to taste. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Keep at room temperature to make the sandwiches, and refrigerate the leftovers.

Yield: 3 ½ cups

Spicy Mayonnaise


I cup mayonnaise
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder


Mix together the mayonnaise and spices.  Use your own judgment to determine the precise amounts of spices.

Yield: 1 cup


Cut a crusty sub roll open but do not cut all the way through. Lightly brown the open faces under a broiler.

Spread spiced mayonnaise thickly on both faces.

Place 2 or 3 clam cakes on the bottom face (in one layer that covers the bread). Top with spicy slaw. Close up and serve.

Captain Nemo Cocktail

Ingredients :

1 ½ oz vodka
3-4 oz clamato juice
1 tsp horseradish
½  tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼-½  oz fresh lime juice
1 small squid
4 – 8 drops tabasco sauce
½ tsp cracked black pepper
½ tsp celery salt
cracked ice cubes


Combine vodka, clamato juice, horseradish, lime juice, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice cubes. Shake well, and strain into a highball glass half-filled with ice cubes. Top with cracked black pepper. Garnish with a squid and serve.

Jun 012013
James Clark Ross

James Clark Ross


Today we celebrate the anniversary of the first discovery of the North Magnetic Pole in 1831 by James Clark Ross.  He was on an arctic voyage with his uncle Sir John Ross in the side paddle steamer Victory, attempting to find a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their ship was ice bound for four years, and, in the end had to be abandoned.  During their second and third years of entrapment, James Ross made expeditions overland to explore and map the region around where they were trapped.  It was on the second of these that he discovered the North Magnetic Pole on the Boothia peninsula, the northernmost tip of the North American mainland to the northwest of Hudson Bay, surrounded by islands and shallow straits.

The North Magnetic Pole is different from the North Geographic Pole (called sometimes “true north”). The North and South Geographic Poles represent the points on the earth’s surface around which the earth spins (the axis of rotation).  They shift around a tiny bit, but are basically fixed points. There is actually a third North Pole called the Cartographic North Pole which is absolutely fixed, and is the basis for drawing all maps. The North Magnetic Pole is the point that all compasses point to, and is quite different from the Geographic Pole. It’s the place on the surface of the earth where compasses point vertically down, and it moves around – a lot.  James Clark Ross found it at Cape Adelaide on the Boothia Peninsula. Roald Amundsen found it in a slightly different location in 1903. The third observation was by Canadian government scientists Paul Serson and Jack Clark, of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, who found the pole at Allen Lake on Prince of Wales Island in 1947. The Canadian government has made several measurements since, which show that the North Magnetic Pole is moving continually northwestward. During the 20th century it moved 1100 km (683 miles), and since 1970 its rate of motion has accelerated from 9 km/year (5.6 miles/year) to approximately 41 km/year (25.5 miles/year), or 1.3 mm/sec (.05 inches/sec). The map pictured shows its actual position as observed, and its conjectured position since 1600.

I am amused by the quirkiness of the North Magnetic Pole.  First, because it moves AT ALL (due to movements in the earth’s core).  This matters mostly to navigators, orienteers, and anyone else who relies on map and compass to get around places with no obvious landmarks (although GPS has largely replaced such methods, and is more accurate). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the location of the North Magnetic Pole was important for whalers in the region. If you have ever seen an ordnance map you may have noticed in the margin two arrows – one points to geographic north, and the other to magnetic north.  Maps are drawn using cartographic north as the guide, because if you used magnetic north you’d have to redraw them annually.  If all you have is a compass to guide you, you must compensate for the difference between cartographic north and magnetic north.  Second, the needle of a compass is a small magnet with the north pole of the magnet pointing north.  If you know anything about magnetism, a little light bulb will go off in a second.  The poles of magnets attract opposite poles. The north pole of a magnet attracts south poles of other magnets. So if the north pole of your compass needle points towards the North Magnetic Pole, that must mean that the North Magnetic Pole is actually a magnetic SOUTH pole! Cool.

One of the major problems with polar exploration has always been nutrition. Early explorers had precious little understanding of either the calorific needs or the general dietary needs for survival in polar weather.  Working inside a polar station requires about 2,750 kilocalories per day, whereas hauling sleds outside requires 6,500 kilocalories per day (depending on variables such as body mass, temperature, and sex).  Even riding a dog sled requires 5,000 kilocalories per day.  Capt. Scott’s famed 1912 expedition to the South Pole carried 4,500 kilocalories per man per day, which was nowhere near enough when they had to abandon their mechanical transport and ponies, and travel on foot.  Furthermore, the balance of foods was all wrong and they did not compensate for deficiencies such as vitamin C.  As a result several members of the team developed scurvy, including Scott himself. They had too many carbohydrates (almost 50%) and not enough protein and fat. Modern polar workers eat a diet that is 22% carbohydrate, 42% fat, and 36% protein.

Ross’s 4 year ordeal trapped in the arctic would have meant the certain deaths of all the crew of Victory were it not for the fact that the indigenous Netsilik Inuit visited them periodically with food supplies.  Chief of these provisions was pemmican which was about all the Inuit took on long fishing and hunting trips.  It’s a mix of dried and powdered meat, fat, and berries, that was widely used by indigenous hunters in northern and central Canada. Pemmican is actually a Cree word. The Cree are the largest indigenous nation in Canada. I give a modern recipe here which I have modified based on cooking experience, but will confess I have not tried. Closest I’ve come is homemade beef jerky, which is miles better than what you get in stores.  All you need is a rack, a box fan, and a lot of time (several days).  The general consensus is that pemmican is not really yummy, but this recipe seems better than most.  Pemmican is traditionally made with hunted red meat such as deer, moose, or elk, but beef will work. Adjust the fat in the recipe depending on climate, more for colder ones, less for warmer ones.  The simplest way to render suet is to grind it and then heat it on very low heat, stirring occasionally to avoid having the solid bits that remain burn.  Strain the resultant fat through a fine strainer.



4 cups lean meat ground twice
3 cups dried fruit
2 cups rendered suet
½ cup unsalted nuts coarsely chopped
2 tbsps honey


Spread the meat out very thin on a cookie sheet and dry in the oven at 180° F (80°C) for at least 8 hours or until sinewy and crispy. Check periodically to make sure it does not burn (it’s not wise to do this overnight).

Pound the meat into a powdery consistency using a mortar and pestle or food processor.

Grind the dried fruit, but not too fine.

Heat the rendered fat on medium low heat until liquid.

Mix in a bowl the dried meat, dried fruit, and nuts.

Add the fat and honey, and mix everything thoroughly by hand.

Form into balls about the size of large meatballs and let cool.  Store in an airtight tin in a cool place.

Will keep for several years.

Yield: 15 (depending on size)