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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Setting Records

In the aforementioned chess simultaneous in Tel Aviv, the master had to stay on his feet playing for 19 hours.  "Gruesome" is far too gentle a word to describe that, and in fact such an ordeal is anti-chessic in the extreme.   Chess is an enjoyment for the mind, not a submission to self-inflicted and extended torture.

Aside from breathing and thinking, I can think of almost nothing that I would think would be worth doing for 19 hours straight, though that means that I  am doomed never to break any records whatsoever.  Beautiful!

Those people who in mere minutes stuff their digestive systems (and nearby toilet bowls, too) with dozens of hotdogs and other eatables that are otherwise best consumed at leisure are other great examples of the folly of setting records.

And the other day I read of yet another example of this, that happened the year after the Civil War ended.

One of those gorgeous examples of sailing ships at their height, the Yankee clippers, a boat called the "Hornet," was set on fire by an act of total carelessness on the part of the first mate.   It happened on the Pacific, about a thousand miles west of the Galapagos Islands.   Having gone below deck to get a bucket of varnish, he thought he'd save his men some trouble by drawing off the bucket there instead of lugging the barrel up on deck as they had been ordered to do.  Meanwhile they had brought below an open lamp, and the ship or something lurched, and the lamp fell on some of the varnish that had spilled.   The resulting flames quickly spread to some of the nearby cargo, which happened to be thousands of gallons of kerosene and a huge number of boxes filled with candles.

Before they could do anything the flames leaped out of the hold, and set fire to the sails, and before long the Captain had to order the unthinkable.   "Abandon ship!"

During what must have been a truly awesome if terrifying sight to see, it took a day and a half for that tall, beautiful ship to finish burning before its remnants sank into the sea, leaving 43 men cast away in three small boats with only a 10-day supply of food and water.

Two months later, in only one boat, the survivors, less than half the number that had started out, arrived in Hawaii, the only direction that the wind allowed them to go, though the fire happened much closer to Peru.   They had drifted, sailed, and sometimes paddled 4,000 miles across the open sea, and having been reduced to eating clothes and the wood containers that had once held food, and after having stopped just short of cannibalism, they were all at death's door and when they were brought ashore, they must have resembled the survivors of places like Dachau and Auschwitz.

Yet, after all they had gone through, one of the first things they were told when it was learned how far they had come, was that they had beaten the record set by Captain Bligh and his 18 crew members during the famed "Mutiny on the Bounty" saga.   Years before, in 1792, Bligh and his men had just barely managed a similar voyage in a similar small, open boat, but had navigated a few hundred miles less than American Captain Josiah Mitchell and his crew with two passengers in 1866.
That incredible voyage is admirably described in "The Furnace Afloat," by Joe Jackson, one of the books that I recently bought at Amazon.   The author does not mention any sort of thrill that Mitchell and his crew felt upon hearing of their "record" -- at least in the first days after their salvation.   Maybe later, however, they did take more enjoyment from that,  when they had more time and the ease to indulge themselves in far less urgent matters, which by comparison would have been just about everything.


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