Editorial: Two hundred years beyond the mast

by Andru McCracken, Editor


As a kid I had a dream of sailing on an old fashioned ship. For some reason I thought sailing on a multi-masted ship would be the thing. But that is a type of exploration that can no longer be done. I mean you could do it at great expense and pay for the pleasure, but it’s not like before.

At one time it was an easy thing for an able-bodied person. There are tales of drunken men waking up on deck having signed into service for a year (if the ship got back in a year or at all).

When I read the true adventure story Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. I mourned the fact that I would never get to experience what he did. It’s a memoir of his travels as a seaman. He was a well educated kid, his elementary school was run by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but bad eyesight caused him to leave a good education (at Harvard) and get a job on a common commercial boat. The year was 1834. The method of propulsion was wind.

Dana barely survived. He was alternately frozen and baked, nearly run aground by massive storms and left to bake in the open seas without a hint of wind for days. And the perils were everywhere, including the captain of the boat who had god-like power over the crew and could, and did, have men lashed nearly to death.

Dana met people from across the globe and worked with them to survive.

The stakes were high, but what a trip. They were bound from Boston for the west coast… by sea!

They had to go the long way round through the antarctic.

Like many of his day, his adventures were his. Few before and none after would have the journeys he had. Planes didn’t exist. Steam engines were yet a dream. He adventured in a way we never can.

Thank the lord he wrote it down. If you have a young person in your life get them a copy, because it is a wild look at a crazy time, through the eyes of an earnest, but increasingly worldly young man.

Dana’s time is over. And so is ours. And that’s why it is our responsibility to chronicle the feats that will never happen again. My generation, and likely your generation (if you are reading a paper version of this), also lived in the time before cell phones.

Getting lost in a new city is a thing of the past.

Despite my adventuresome spirit, my travels to a nearby city as a kid, or to Mexico and India as a 20-year-old would have been completely different if I had had any idea where I was going.

Would I have purposely taken taken the road that led to an impassable desert on the Baja Coast? Would I have found that tiny fishing village by the sea, or ended up working at a beach-side resort to gain my bearings? Would I have languished and nearly perished from dehydration in a short stretch of desert just inland from Mumbai?

Likely not.

When we got lost, we were lost. Truly, deeply lost.

Be Dana. Write the stories about the time you didn’t know where you were. Those experiences will be impossible for the next generation to share.

Today’s kids won’t be getting lost.

But like Dana and the generations after, I know adventure lives in the human soul. And even though the next generation will have to be exceedingly stupid to do it, they too will have adventures.

No matter how pampered we are, some of us will find a way to get into trouble.

This is my faith in humanity.

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