I recall an episode of Star Trek where orders had come down from Starfleet Command that the Enterprise was to be fitted with a new tactical computer, the M-5. The proud papa of this technological wonder explains to Captain James T. Kirk that it can assess situations more accurately and make tactical decisions far faster and than any human captain could. Bewildered and visibly annoyed, the hotshot starship captain responds: “There are certain things men must do to remain men”. After a dazzling start, the M-5 eventually malfunctions and Kirk saves everyone’s sterns from an armed starship out of control. Kirk’s job is safe, for now.
I grew up in an academic environment. My father taught history at a private secondary school; we (me and my family) lived in faculty housing. These memories are distant now, but I can distinctly recall some of the WW II veterans teaching there. Though all of them were very kind men, they had a sternness and severity to them that I found a little frightening. But those men were giving way to an increasingly more gregarious, easy-going class of men. These men were still competitive, but not so serious; they still projected some power, but were also more apt clown around, making them popular with students. And feminism was in, and everyone was adapting accordingly. Men who resisted feminism were chauvinist pigs whose time had come.
I was a good student in school, then college, then graduate school. I imbibed the academic atmosphere, which was decidedly Left-leaning in its outlook on politics and culture. Yet almost from the get-go there was part of me waging war with it. I recall on my father’s bookshelf a book called The Great Age of Sail, which had lots of pictures of the majestic windjammers and schooners of the past, and the men who served them. Rounding Cape Horn in hurricane force winds, mountainous seas, and men aloft furling sails–it was as romantic and fantastic as the fable of King Arthur in my mind. Yet it was real, there were pictures, even some videos. And those men were working–trading, creating wealth, doing important things. Most of the men I knew had little interest in the great age of sail. I once recall an English teacher–who proudly proclaimed himself a feminist–telling us that Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” was not a piece of literature worth considering. Men surviving the wilderness, only then to face hungry wolves? Dumb.
There was always this dismissive wave toward the derring-do of men. And for the most part I went along with it and half believed in it–half, I say. While in graduate school studying physics I read the books of Alan Villiers and Sterling Hayden in my free time. I developed an obsession with somehow finding my place as a sailing ship captain. Though I knew that the age of sail was long gone, I remember thinking that I wanted to sail oceans as they did for what I would become as a result.
So after graduate school I landed a job with Arthur Andersen in Chicago, and for five years pretended to be interested in it. Once I had a decent stash of cash and found Ruth Avery –a forlorn little ship no one else wanted (got her for a steal)– I was gone. While she had been sailed, she never had an engine. Nor a 12 volt system. Good. I purchased kerosene navigation lights for her. She was pure. And I began my quixotic odyssey with a day sail down the Chester River to Whitehall Bay, just opposite Annapolis, Maryland. I was sailing as Slocum did, like the great sailing shipmasters did, using only the wind to move and the stars to steer her by. I was on a similar mission as the Don, though not to recreate Knight Errantry, but to become a Master of Sail.
Despite some close calls with disaster, by the time I reached New Zealand I was confident that circumnavigating under sail alone was possible, that I was right to ignore the naysayer’s. Yet I still had one more step to go, as I saw it then. While I practiced religiously with the sextant, I still had a GPS receiver. So on one rainy day in Whangarei, with the boat hauled out at Ray Roberts Marine, I trudged over to a chandlery which also sold used items and sold them my GPS. There, it was done. I was officially an oddball, but one who would see the world as the ancient mariners did.
And while sextant navigation may not have been necessary, should you leave sight of land without electronic navigation, it is. Running before strong trade winds during the nighttime hours, having departed Vanuatu several days before, snatching every astronomical observation I could, I had to find the small ten-mile light on Bramble Cay marking the entrance to the reef strewn, current swept Torres Strait. In the wee hours I stood on deck, watching, hoping my navigation was good. The pale moonlight danced over the wind whipped waves. My ship drove on. Sure enough, just off bowsprit I spotted a flash. I steered for it. I sailed past Bramble Cay by the first rays of the morning sun.
Then there was the run down around South Africa, timing the weather windows which would open up after the passage of a cold front, fronts which typically ushered in gale, even storm force southwesterlies. During the nearly 300-mile run down the Wild Coast, from Durban to East London, I crossed noon sight LOP’s with bearings from whatever I could identify on shore. Cape Agulhas I never saw, but the morning sun LOP’s told me I was about due south of it. I made it around without incident. Looking back on it, there was certainly an element of luck involved. If you do believe in the existence of sea gods, you must know that they favor the brave.
While the difficulties and dangers I faced could have been much mitigated by the available technology, they were nonetheless real. If you cannot find your way to an small island on a large ocean, eventually you run out of water and die. If you cannot navigate with some accuracy; if you cannot read the sea, observe bird life, notice changes in clouds or wave patterns which suggest the proximity of land, you will probably end up shipwrecked. The sea hasn’t changed. By knowing the stresses placed on the seadogs of yore, one also develops their sharpened perceptions.
Yet it was nonetheless quixotic. Whatever the fortitude, intelligence, discipline — virtu — required to carry out such a voyage this way, it was nonetheless unimportant. A hobby, a sport, dilettantism. It is essential that a man labor at something that earns money. By producing sufficient resources to support a woman while she produces the next generation, a man, through his labor, aligns himself with (so far as I can tell) nature’s only purpose: reproduction. Unless a man is considered a genius or exceptional in some way, this is typically the only way that he will be accepted and respected in society. Or at least I do not know of any society which has celebrated its bachelors for being bachelors.
I have a GPS now. I also have a 12volt system, LED nav lights, refrigeration, and an outboard motor for my dinghy. The memories of sailing like Slocum are good enough, no need to continue the experiment. And since I’ve become a YouTuber, I spend quite a bit of time there. I’ve come across some channels, which mostly fall under the rubrics of Red Pill and MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), where I have found some interesting content. There are more than a few other men, it seems, who in various ways are fighting the same war as I in so far as trying to figure out how us men can be productive members of society without emasculating ourselves.
On January 13, 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit rocks during the night, a few miles off the coast of Tuscany. Captain Francesco Schettino abandoned his ship and left the crew and passengers to fend for themselves. In her book Men on Strike, Dr. Helen Smith provides some additional details of the incident: “The Australian mother said of the scene, ‘We just couldn’t believe it-especially the men, they were worse than the women.’ Another woman passenger agreed, ‘There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats.’ ” So the crew followed their captain in the mad rush for the exits, pushing and shoving women and children out of the way to do so. Quite a far cry from the men of the Titanic, from Charles Lightoller, who stoically shepherded women and children into the inadequate lifeboats, to captain Edward Smith, who went down with his ship. Rich Lowry of the National Review provided the following meme for the Costa Concordia men: “Dude, where’s my lifeboat?”
Instead of roundly condemning these men, Dr. Smith goes on to say:
Our society, the media, the government, women, white knights and Uncle Tims have regulated and demanded that any incentives men have for acting like men be taken away and decried masculinity as evil. Now they are seeing the result.
Men have been listening to what society has been saying about them for more than forty years; they are perverts, wimps, cowards, assholes, jerks, good-for-nothing, bumbling deadbeats and expendable. Men got the message; now they are acting accordingly. As you sow, so shall you reap.
So now people are surprised when men are heading for the exits? They shouldn’t be surprised. Men have been pushed there for some time. We should actually be surprised that it has taken so long.
Actually, I am not surprised that it has taken so long. I think there is a Captain Kirk–or Scipio Africanus, or Galileo, or Beethoven, or Abraham Lincoln–pre-programmed into the psyche of every human male, but for most boys and men it can be easily extinguished, and presently is being extinguished for reasons cited above by Dr. Smith.
Some philosophers say that in order to master nature, one must submit to nature. Well any sailor worth his salt knows this for a fact. The sea throws all kinds of varying wind conditions, currents, and sea states at the mariner. Only does his ship progress toward its destination when the sailor applies his skill and perseverance, accepting every situation as it comes, adjusting his course and sail plan accordingly until the ship arrives safely in her next port.
Yet in the bosom of civilization, surrounded by super technology, it is easy to think nature only exists in the background, as an occasional inconvenience, or a source of pleasure, such as a great beach day. The free flow of ideas and capitalism has created a wealth production machine like no other, to the point that we can easily succumb to the illusion that we are now masters of nature.
But nature, I submit, acts like a divine accountant. Any attempt to extract a profit from her will show up as a deduction somewhere else. When that terrifying witch who was your grade school teacher pointed her crooked finger at you and said: “when you cheat, you only cheat yourself”, she was right. I would conjecture that among the men who jeered at or spit on the soldiers returning from Vietnam–even the soldiers who were drafted–few did so out of genuine conviction, but rather as an outward expression of their own self-disgust. That the Vietnam War was a disaster is beside the point. On some level they knew that the free and prosperous society which they enjoy depends on some very dirty work, and that they weren’t doing their fair share of it. Their public show of moral superiority cost them their private sense of honor. By shunning their brothers tasked with doing that dirty work, they deny themselves the possibility of having the dignity and humanity that comes with doing such work. When you think that you are above the dirty jobs, which are just instances of harsh mother nature’s inviolable laws, you deny yourself the full truth of human existence and your life feels “fake”. Well that’s my thinking, anyway.
Incidentally, I think therein lies the appeal of ocean sailing to many inhabitants of the West, particularly those who are rather well off. They want to temporarily transplant themselves into the past, the days when men put to sea to feed their families, or went in search of fortune. In a small sailing craft the power and dangers of the wide ocean are not computer graphics designed to impress but reality itself. This has a way of setting us right inside.
I know some will object to my accusing finger pointing at the feminists. They will cite all the good that has come from feminism, such as giving women the vote, or the opportunity to join the workforce and thereby become financially self-sufficient. I do not contradict this, but will say that, as of 2019, I think feminism is doing more harm than good, is doing more hating on men than helping humanity, and that this has been the case for some time. I think that they were the primary psychological irritant which has led to my rather unique career up to this point. Perhaps it was all for the better, but fighting solitary battles year in year out can lead one to start doubting one’s own sanity. This is where the new Gutenberg printing press–the internet–has been an absolute blessing for me. Information is flowing free once again, free from the fetters and filters of major news corporation editors. Sure, lots of it is garbage, but some of it … life saving.
Hi Kevin, this is the stuff of books… as in your book, perhaps the first of many.
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Brother, there is someone you MUST meet! His name is Timothy Gordon. It is destiny that men such as you meet and exchange ideas. Please, look him up. Putting you two together might just be one of my main reasons for being on this earth….
Unfortunately, as of 2021, it’s only getting worse. A brilliantly written observation of modern man’s woes. When you are done with sailing Kevin, you’re next career as a writer awaits. Fair winds.
Yes I think it has gotten worse. It seems clear that men and women are designed by nature to complement each other, not engage in pointless gender battles. Thanks for stopping by.
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Well written and very well said. I’ll be back to read more, and not just because I’m a frustrated wood boat crank myself (the year before I met my wife and mother of my two sons I was fed up enough I was taking a good long look at a 1954 Stonington motorsailer with the idea of restoring, heading down St. Lawrence and the East Coast, living aboard).
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Well put sir, well thought out piece, and I enjoyed your ramble very much.
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I have shared your observations for many years.
A pedestal is a dangerous perch. Males have occupied that position for centuries.
So the decent has begun.
I still open car doors.
I walk facing the dangerous side of traffic.
I’m wrong when I know I’m right.
I own my failures.
So if we want to be men. Just be men.
The world will do as the world is swayed to do.
The last real man is probably not that far away.
Thank you for sharing you sailing story. It has been helpful for me.
Lines are tossed in November and I really hope to see you out there.
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I too long to test my metal on one of the few remaining tests of manhood remaining, the sea. For some reason I cannot explain I was born a Revolutionary. Revolting against anyone who questioned me, including my parents, supremely confident that being a man in every sense was just who I am. I’m not overly religious, firmly believe in a God and that he put real men on earth for a reason and despite the best efforts of feminist, real men will just be men. Reincarnation maybe, I don’t know. Too many stories exist of people born with the memory of past lifetimes, like the child who named all the Pilots in his WWII Squadron. Are real men born with man skills from past lives? In my opinion, yes. As we enter the Fourth Turning, real men will return to their earthly bodies to usher mankind through, the US in particular, another hard time. Hope to run into you.
Fellow man, liveaboard with a minor in philosophy.
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