The sea endures no makeshifts

This week’s reader question is: “Something about the sea”

which I’m going to be obnoxiously meta about. The reader was after bizarre sailor stories because I once wrote an article for Cracked (<– brag) about Crowhurst and his absolutely bonkers attempt to sail around the world.

But instead I’m going to answer “something about the sea”. The something that is about the sea is hubris.

All sea stories of any grandeur and drama are about hubris. The unsinkable Titanic, obviously. The above-mentioned Crowhurst chose a catamaran that was never meant to sail on the open ocean, a problem he planned to solve by designing his own experimental safety devices, which he figured he’d have time to install once his trip was underway (also, he left all his tools and equipment on the dock).

America was drawn into World War I when Germans sunk the (debatably) civilian ship the Lusitania. But it knowingly went through German-occupied waters after Germany had said they didn’t intend to leave it alone.

“The truth is that the Lusitania is the safest boat on the sea,” its makers said. “She is too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her.”

The Wreck of the Hesperus is an incredibly popular poem about a guy who ignores the warnings of his crew:

The skipper he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he
.

and lashes his daughter to the mast. Things do not go well for the Hesperus:

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool;
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

or the daughter:

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

and the captain freezes to death.

James Buchan said “The sea endures no makeshifts. If a thing is not exactly right it will be vastly wrong.” but every shipwreck story you hear will involve some makeshift, either literal or an “oh I know I shouldn’t but just this once, it’ll be okay.”

The sea endures no makeshifts! Tattoo it on your arm.

Ask me a question on any topic except contemporary politics. You can ask by writing to thewhippet@mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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Japanese death poems

Death poems were traditionally written by ageing samurai, monks, clerks and other literate / upper class people. It seems to be a way to die with dignity, although I’m also 100% on board with the “rage, rage against the dying of the light” response.

They often had patriotic overtones. Narushima Chuhachiro:

For eighty years and more, by the grace of my sovereign
and my parents, I have lived
with a tranquil heart
between the flowers and the moon.

This next was written by suicide-torpedoist Kuroki Hiroshi in 1944:

This brave man
so filled with love for his country
that he finds it difficult to die
is calling out to his friends and about to die

but they could be irreverent too. Moriya Sen’an:

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern.
With luck
the cask will leak.

(Painting is not really related: ‘Hanaogi of the Ogiya’ by Chobunsai Eishi, ca. 1794.)

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