Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! I recognize that about half of SimanaitisSays readers live elsewhere around the world. Nevertheless, do join us in celebrating the 240th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

Indeed, as one wit recently noted, we didn’t know it would be catching.

Which reminds me of a time-worn joke I persist in telling each year, despite the rolling eyes of loved ones…. “Do they have July 4th in Canada?”

“Of course they do. Do you think they go ‘July 2, 3, 5…?’ ”


Image by Jnn13.

Two memorable July 4 celebrations come to mind, both enhanced by unconventional settings. One was in Japan; the other, when I lived in the Caribbean.

My memorable Japanese July 4th came on a party boat in the Nagara River in Gifu. This city is about 140 miles west of Tokyo, just north of Nagoya. A principal touristic attraction is cormorant fishing, performed at night and using domesticated cormorants to do the work. In fact, it’s kind of a dirty trick: The birds are fitted with collars that prevent them from swallowing their catch.


Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River, Gifu. Image from OAS at the Japanese language Wikipedia.

Fishermen use torches at the bow of their craft to attract the ayu, aka sweetfish. Once retrieved from the cormorant, the fish are cleaned, grilled on-board and served with copious quantities of saké.


The ayu, Plecoglossus altivelis, is a small sweet fish, a relative of the smelt. Image from Irori Sanzoku.

At least there were copious quantities aboard our boat. A contingent of U.S automotive journalists had the enthusiastic company of Dan Gurney, at the time teamed with Toyota. There were other party boats on the Nagara that beautiful summer evening; some had fire crackers too. But I recall we were the only one singing The Star Spangled Banner. And it wasn’t easy standing up.

The Caribbean island of St. Thomas was another venue for a memorable July 4th, this one back in the early 1970s. St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, so in fact I wasn’t on foreign soil. However, in pre-Internet days, STT’s remoteness was keenly felt by “continentals,” as those of us born on the mainland were known.

One July 4th, St. Thomas hosted the British aircraft carrier H.M.S Ark Royal R09. This was the second of three Royal Navy carriers of that name. The first served in World War II; the third, R07, was decommissioned only in 2011. All honored the original Ark Royal, flagship of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1587.


H.M.S. Ark Royal R09 aircraft carrier. Image by Isaac Newton.

H.M.S. Ark Royal R09 was launched in 1950 and decommissioned in 1979. She was the last of the Royal Navy’s carriers to have traditional catapult and arrested-landing of her aircraft.

Having mentioned carriers reminds me of another St. Thomas tale. STT had a single TV station, run by a friend who pretty much single-handed set up its cable network. It had a modicum of local origination, but depended mostly on video tapes flown in from the mainland. For instance, we got NFL games a week late.

For handling contingencies of missed deliveries, the station had a modest tape collection of its own, one of which gained the nickname A Carrier at Sea is a Living Thing. My two daughters saw it so often that they could recite its dialogue: “Every day, 10,000 loaves of bread will be baked on this ship of the line….”

I don’t know how many loaves were baked aboard H.M.S. Ark Royal. But I sure recall its July 4th band concert. Stars and Stripes and Union Jacks fluttered in the breeze. A good time was enjoyed by all. And the band concluded its concert with God Save the Queen and our own Star Spangled Banner.

Among continentals, there wasn’t a dry eye. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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