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2010 Home


Posting Infrequently This Month As I Work On The Following Books:


Left or Right

Crazy Horse

The Greatest Sports Record


Sampling Theory

Physics in a Couple of Lessons

The Visit

The Dream

A Capital Idea

The Mathematical Elephant

The Commerce Connection

about town


Here's a few of the tentative covers:




Left or Right?


The Donner Party: III


August 4, 2010





We reached Independence, Missouri on May 11, 1846.  Twenty-five days of traveling, averaging 12 miles a day.

Independence was bustling with activity.  Not only were there wagon trains heading west to California, there were the huge wagons heading to Santa Fe.

And the relationship between Mexico and the "Republic of Texas", and the United States, had broken down.

War was declared. 

What else could go wrong?

Our next stop was "Lone Elm", moving into Kansas.  We said good-bye to those heading to Santa Fe with their remarkable Conastoga Wagons.

And we headed west.

Our group grew.  We teamed with other wagons heading west, and we were now a formidable crew, ____ men, women, and children, and ___ wagons, heading west.

Past Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff.  These were all landmarks in Hastings' Book, "The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California".

So was information about the Cutoff.

Not only was Hastings' a man who had written a book about California, but he's been right about all the landmarks!

It would be hard to persuade George Donner and James Reed to believe me and not Lansford Hastings, given the evidence mounting up.

That is:


We moved along the Platte River westwards.  Waterways were good landmarks, plus they provided a secure source of water.

But the trails were not as deeply marked as I was led to believe.  With thousands of wagons heading west, I'd expect these ruts to be deep and compact, making going easy.  These were neither nor compacted.  And this was the main trail!


Why not?

The actual numbers of emigrants moving westward, I found, were as follows:


Looking at this - particularly focusing on the California Trail - a couple of things stand out:  The actual numbers of emigrants moving westward, I found, are as follows:

1. the emigrants heading to California in 1849 and after are huge.  Why?  Gold!

2. the emigrants heading to California in 1847 fell dramatically.  Why?  Because of the horror story of the Donner Party I'm traveling with right now.

3. the number of emigrants heading to California prior to 1846 was unbelievably small.  I was under the impression thousands of people had gone to California and taken a certain route, and now Hastings was proposing a cutoff from the normal trail.  There really was no "normal" trail.

This would be another strike for me in trying to get Donner and Reed not to leave the normal trail!


But there were many things that would go wrong on this trip.  I've got to focus!  I tell myself half of these people - now my friends - will die within a year!

And I'm only really looking to make up one day!  They got caught on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevadas, in what we now call Donner Lake.  Had they made it over the peak --- what if?  One day!

Reed's "Pioneer Palace Car", of course, slows everyone down, but what am I going to do?  Tell him to leave it by the wayside?

When they get to Fort Bridger, Mountain Man Jim Bridger lies, saying the Cutoff is fine.  Of course, he's lying - he's never been on it.  Maybe I can impeach his credibility.  Hardly.  He's a legendary mountain man of the west, for goodness sakes.  Why would anyone dispute his word?

Reed will eventually lose all his oxen crossing the ____________, and then spend five days trying to find them.  If only the Teamsters had kept track of them ... there's definitely ground to be made up here.

George Donner's axle breaks, and in fixing it, he gashes his arm.  This slows him down, and eventually slows everyone down.  It seems there's something here to work with, but I'm not sure what - at the moment.  Accident's happen, after all.

And we march on.

As of yet, I've suggested nothing.  I've tended the oxen, drove the team, and done a lot of thinking. 

But nothing concrete.

But an idea was formulating.  We stopped at Indepedence Rock in Wyoming.  The name itself has origins dating back to this time period.  Emigrants heading west left Missouri in the spring, and if they were to make it to Oregon and California before they got trapped in the mountains, they needed to make it here - to this mountain - by Indepence Day.  July 4. 


Here we were, just a week late, but making good time, and now camped for the night.  I approached James Reed and asked if I could take a look at Hastings' book.



The Greatest Athletic Accomplishment


An Introduction


August 6, 2010






In Search of …

With Alex Rodriguez recently hitting his 600th career home-run, discussion has switched to whether he'll surpass Bonds' career mark of 762.  Will anyone?

Let's graph the age of the top 10 active players to see who might:


A-Rod might, though he's trailed off the last couple of years.  Pujols, being only 30, has a shot, but even as great a player as he is, he needs to average 37 home runs a year in the next decade.  This puts not only '600' in context, but '700' as well.

Let's graph the age of the top 50 active players and their career home run totals to get a better look:


This gives an idea of how remarkable the performances are of Bonds, at 762, Aaron: 755, and Ruth: 714.

They may not be touched again.

"Untouchable" may be "remarkable", but how "remarkable"? 

Bonds' mark, for example, is only 0.9% greater than Aaron.  These two men achieved great things at nearly the same level.  Remarkable, but not "in a class by itself".

That's what I'm looking for:  the remarkable record that IS in a class by itself!

Hits, on the other hand, have a 2% gap between first place (Pete Rose: 4,256), and Ty Cobb (4,189).

Are there any records where the career leader has an extraordinary lead over second place – and the rest of the pack ... in a class by itself?

How does this qualify as a definition of the "Greatest Athletic Accomplishment"?  "First in a career statistic, with a substantial lead over second place"?

I like this definition - at least as a starting point - because it clears away the distortions of eras.  Sam Crawford, for example, holds the career record for triples:  309.  Carl Crawford is the active career-leader in triples with 99.  309 will probably never be approached again.  It was a different era. 

But Ty Cobb is second in career triples with 295, so Crawford (Sam) is only 4.7% ahead of Cobb. 

So while the career triple record is likely untouchable now, it was approached sometime during baseball's history.

Are there records that have not only stood the test of time, but stood the test - at that time?

That's the working theory for "Greatest Achievement".

But, as "era" seems to play a role in the definition, why not capture the performance of players - and the relative statistics - over time?  How does this all play out?


The anomaly on the far right - 23 by Curtis Granderson in 2007 - stands out immediately.  The only player with more than 22 triples since 1950!

The working definition above seems to take into account this "era-anomaly".

Let's use this as a working definition, and see where it leads, not just in baseball, but in football, basketball, and hockey.

But what should be measured?  There's a 1000 statistics for every sport.  What are the best?

Common measurements.  Let's start with that.

And it must be a positive achievement.  Free throws missed, for example, I'm not interested in.  Batters striking out.  Most goals allowed.  Career incompletions.

It must be a good thing.

Here's the metrics I've started with:



Upcoming Conferences


Abstracts Submitted


August 14, 2010





Institute of General Semantics

Fordham University


A Moratorium on Speech

An Exploration into the Meaning of Words









In 1927, Buckminster Fuller tried to understand how his life had reached the point of crisis – of catastrophe.  His explanation:


“I decided that the way I had acquired bad rules and conflicting thoughts was through words – when someone told me these things.  Therefore, I became very suspicions of words.”


Words, absent experience and deep explanation, easily become clichés.


Fuller’s solution?


“I was going to try to hold a moratorium on speech for myself.  So for approximately two years I didn’t allow myself to use words.  I thought I would see if by doing that I could force myself back to the point where I would really understand what it was I was thinking and be sure that when I made a sound that I really meant to make that sound – that it wasn’t something I was parroting and that was just coming off my tongue.”


Fuller went silent to go “beyond clichés”.  Perhaps we don’t need to go that extreme.


This presentation will look at a simple but demanding exercise moving beyond “words as clichés” to “words within the context of a non-contradictory system of identification and integration.”  


Through examples and the introduction of a “research booklet”, unlike Fuller – who went silent – we bring everything out into the open!


But the end result is the same:  Ultimately favorable surprises!


“But, goaded by youth, we older ones are now taking second looks at almost everything. And that promises many ultimately favorable surprises. The oldsters do have vast experience banks not available to the youth. Their memory banks, integrated and reviewed, may readily disclose generalized principles of eminent importance.”








College Colloquium on Digital Humanities and Computer Science

Northwestern University


Annotating Choice

Integrating Literary Conflicts










Annotating, tagging, and analyzing digital text assumes “what’s there” is “what’s tagged”.  How does one annotate “what’s not there”?


Robinson Crusoe sees cannibals about to eat a fellow human:  Intervene or not?


D’Artagnan, finding himself in a dual with the Three Musketeers, quizzes himself:  Be Polite / Defend One’s Honor.


Told of the actual cause of death of his father, Hamlet wonders what to do:  Believe Ghost / Believe Official Report.


And poor Brutus:  Be good to my friend / slay my friend?


The choices / dilemmas / conflicts are endless, not just in literature, but in life?  How might one classify them?


But how would we tag them?  And more importantly, How might we solve them?


How might we use a common characteristic from one to solve another?  In literature?  In one’s own life?


This brief presentation will look at tagging conflicts and choice-situations in literature, the actions and results of the choices made, and an approach to integrating this material into one’s own life.


A tabulation of “choice situations” and a brief booklet for students will be introduced as well.



Left or Right?


The Donner Party: IV


August 15, 2010





The book was remarkable for its detail.  Looking back, it's no wonder Hastings was believable regarding the cutoff, as I turned page after page of descriptions of California, Oregon, and the different routes to get there.

But where was the cutoff?

We marched on across now-Wyoming, heading mostly due-west towards the first short-cut.  We approached what would become the first of two "left-or-right" decisions:  the Greenwood cutoff.

Another day, another 10-12 miles walking, another night.

I lit another candle and started again, this time only re-reading Chapter 14: A DESCRIPTION OF THE DIFFERENT ROUTES:

And there it was ...

The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; thence bearing west southwest, to the Salt lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of St. Francisco, by the route just described.


This was it!  I don't even know how Reed and Donner came upon these few words.  Chapter 14 consists of 5,062 words, and here were 46 mere words that would change the course of history.

But they were important words, and as I said, Hastings had proven to be right thus far!  His credibility was way up!

However ...

he had not been south of the Great Salt Lake, which he references above.  Maybe this is why the details are lacking.

Maybe this was an avenue I could take to convince the Donner Party to stay on the "regular" path.

But let's suppose I failed to convince the Donner Party of what I was saying.  Suppose I found Hastings to be eloquent and convincing, and he was able to persuade the others of the viability of the cutoff.

What then?  I needed a back-up plan.  Fortunately, I had one.

I knew something only one other man did know at this time:  someone was lying.

Jim Bridger.


He had a vested interest in emigrants taking the Hastings' Cutoff. 

The "regular route" normally went to Fort Bridger, and then northwest up to Fort Hall, and then around The Great Salt Lake:

Fort Bridger, as you see, is quite a ways off the beaten path.

It was inevitable a shortcut was found to Fort Hall, and it was: The Greenwood Cutoff.


Fort Bridger was left "out of the loop".

Unless ... Hastings' Cutoff proved successful.


By now, the Greenwood Cutoff was already crowding out the traffic headed through Fort Bridger.  Unless the Hastings Cutoff was viable, Bridger would be out of business.

Why didn't he just move Fort Bridger north of the Great Salt Lake?  Bridger's short-sightedness is remarkable, but that's another story:  lie / tell-truth.

He lied to ensure short-term traffic.

We saw earlier, incidentally, what happened to overland traffic after the horrific story of the Donner Party was printed.  Traffic plummeted, as expected.

But that's another story.

I had to convince the others that Bridger was lying.

So I had two plans of attack.

The first: show, by lack of description, Hastings likely went north of the Great Salt Lake, but unlikely went south.  Get him to admit this.

The second: get Bridger to admit it was a poor route as well.

In my mind, the logical route to get us headed NW to Fort Hall was as follows:


How would I manage this?

We came upon the Greenwood Cutoff / Fort Bridger intersection.  It was the first of two "left-or-right" decisions. 

I knew there was no sense even suggesting "right" to the "regular route".  They were set on getting to Fort Bridger and all I had was circumstantial evidence!

I eagerly anticipated my encounter with both Hastings and Bridger, formulating my plan as we plodded along.

Hastings had promised to be at Fort Bridger to lead us on the "Cutoff".  In front of the others, I would bring up the subject of the difference in the descriptions of the routes.  I would get him to admit he hadn't been south of the Great Salt Lake.  Supposing that didn't work, I was sure I could get Bridger to admit he hadn't either - that his vested interest in the Cutoff was causing him to lie.

I was sure I could get at least one of the two men to admit they were lying.

That's all I needed - for George Donner and James Reed to hear the Cutoff was a sham. 

Fort Bridger was our last hope.  There was no turning back.  Once we made a decision to go south around the Great Salt Lake, we were committed.

We arrived at Fort Bridger.

And Hastings wasn't there!

Where was he?  He was leading 60 other wagons across the cutoff! 

My argument crumbled immediately.  Not only had Hastings written a creditable book, now he was leading another wagon team across the cutoff!  Couple these two facts with the testimony of legendary mountain-man Jim Bridger the Cutoff was a good route, what did I - just a teamster from the east - have?



What a fool I was.  This whole trip, I had been focusing on the Cutoff.  "If only they hadn't taken the Cutoff", I repeatedly told myself.  It was now clear the Cutoff was a reasonable choice!

However, focusing on this one point had obscured the more important issue: had the Donner Party sped up only one day on this whole trip, they would have made it up and across the pass through the Sierra Nevadas, and they would have been on their way to Fort Sutter in "California".

One day.

Forget the Cutoff!  Time was the constraint, and I wasn't managing it.

And now it was a race against time.

Fortunately, I knew where a great deal of time would be wasted in the coming two months.

There was still time!  But I had to start thinking!





Second Part of a Write-Up Regarding Trigonometry


August 17, 2010






Up to this point, we’ve talked about “angles” in terms of “degrees”.  45˚.  30˚.  60˚.  Many problems talk about the angle being “p/2 radians”.  What’s the meaning of this?

Look at the following circle with radius r.  I’ve got three distances labeled r here, two actually are the radius, defined by the distance from the center of the circle to the outside.

The other is that same distance, but this time measured as we move around the circle.


Now, the question is:  how many degrees have I measured when I move the distance r around the circle?

1 radian.

“Radian” is a degree measure.  It’s less than 90˚, but more than 45˚, you can tell just by looking.

But how far exactly?  Let’s see.


So if I move 2p radians around the circle, I’m back where I started.  360˚.

p radians and I’m only halfway around the circle:  180˚

What’s the general method of converting between radians and degrees?

You really don’t have to remember any formulas.  Instead, think of this:  there are two ways of going all the way around the circle:

  1. by radians, and we know there are 2pr radians in the circle.
  2. by degrees, and we know there are 360˚ in a circle.

Since we’re going around the circle, these two must be equal.  Therefore:

2pr radians = 360˚





If you remember the simple relationship about going around the circle, then it’s just a matter of canceling out the units to convert from radians to degrees, or vice versa?  For example:


Convert 45˚ to radians:


Convert p/6 radians to degrees:



Complete the Following Radians & Degrees Table





Left or Right?


The Donner Party: V


August 19, 2010





We left Fort Bridger on August ____.  By August ____, the rest of the Donner Party knew quickly what I already knew.  The Hastings' Cutoff was a sham.

But there we were.

I also knew what they didn't: sham or not, they almost make it.  A single day - maybe two - extra - and they're headed over through the pass and over the Sierra Nevadas.

That was the key: to get through there before snow hit.

And time was the constraint - manage it and we're OK.

On August 6, we found a note left on a stick.  It was from Hastings, telling us the "trail" ahead was very bad.

We should wait for him to come back and show a better route.

Did he know a better route?  Was there a better route? 

The group debated:  Wait for Hastings / Go on by Ourselves ...

I hadn't spoke much the entire trail ride, but interjected:  "Why are these the only options:  to wait or to go on?"

George Donner spoke up:  "What else is there?"

"Go back to Fort Bridger."


There was a collective "gasp" from the group.  It was clear what they were thinking.  Anybody who's already done a job once hates to go back and do it again.  Trail-walkers were no different.

"Here me out ..."

"Wait for Hastings / Go on by ourselves".  "That's the dilemma you say we're facing?  Let's remember Hastings has already lied about this trail.  What makes you think there is a trail?  He doesn't know this land at all!"

Donner started to speak up:  "But the book ..."

I cut him off:  "I know - I know.  The book.  Have you ever wondered why Hastings went into such detail about the trails north of the Great Salt Lake, but so little about the Cutoff south?"

I thrust the page into the open.

"He's never been here.  That's why.  And now he's leading a team of 60 wagons in front of us and they're encountering poor land.  He leaves a note for us saying he's going to come back and help us?  I say he's not coming at all, and if he did, so whatThere's no trail!

"To wait or to go on by ourselves?  You say that's our dilemma?  Either choice dooms us!"

"BUT - if we go back to Fort Bridger, we can wait out the winter.  Sure, it'll be tough going, but tough-going is better than dead-going!"


I thought I had made my point well.

They decided to neither wait for Hastings nor to go on by ourselves, but instead to send a couple of riders out to find Hastings.

Big deal.

Hastings now had no credibility, and yet they rode off to ask his advice.

Catching up with Hastings, he pointed out a different route than the one he was currently on.  That's plenty easy to do!  And back James Reed rode, suspicious yes, but nonetheless compliant. 

Six more days lost waiting in the Weber Canyon.

But we were off, now hacking our way through the Wasatch Mountains.

And I knew it would only get worse.

For the Great Salt Lake Desert lay ahead.


Hastings would play another cruel joke on us.  As we approached the 40-mile desert, we found a note:

2 days - 2 nights - hard driving - cross - desert - reach water.

It was not 2 days, of course.  I knew it would take us six.

I also knew something else that would save us the valuable time I'd been looking for.

Imagine the trade-off our wagons faced.  If you take a lot of water, the wagons become heavier, and are harder to pull.  If you carry less water, the oxen's burden is reduced, but thirst becomes an issue.

And thirst would become an issue.

Particularly the oxen pulling Reed's wagon.

And a careless teamster would, for just one moment, forgot to keep them tied up.  The thirsting oxen, recognizing freedom, would bolt.  They wouldn't be seen again.

Reed's family and possessions would need to be taken in by others.

And if this wasn't enough, once across the desert, Reed would go back looking for his missing oxen, and also retrieve other items from his famed "Pioneer Palace".

All this took time - valuable time.

Two days across, during our evening get-together, I raised the subject simply:  "These oxen are going to get thirsty, and will sense the first instance they're not tied down.  Who knows our fate if they bolt."

Donner and Reed agreed, and a back-up plan was devised to ensure all oxen were tied down at all times.

It was that easy.  Missed opportunities are often that simple.  Sadly, it's also the case we realize they're "simple" after they're missed.

It was hard going, but we got across.

More importantly, we got across in one piece, and did not have to wait while Reed retrieved his missing oxen!

Four days gained! 

We were now guaranteed safe passage across the Sierra Nevadas!

Or so I thought ...



Left or Right?


The Donner Party: VI


August 20, 2010





I was on cloud nine, of course.  I had saved the group 4 days.  FOUR DAYS!  I was looking for 1-2 days.  We had that, plus room to spare.

We would make it!

We followed Hastings around the Ruby Mountains, and ended up taking four days instead of the one it would have taken had we pushed hard to go straight over the mountains.


I was angered, yet simultaneously indifferent, as we made our way back onto the "regular" route.  The "original" Donner Party met up with the route in September 26.  It was now September 22!

Though we were still about a month behind the ideal traveling schedule, that mattered little to me!  We would make it!

So I thought.

To ensure we kept moving, there was plenty of grass to graze on, and more importantly, to increase the hunting opportunities, it was proposed the wagon train be broken into two groups.

I listened to the debate that night with little interest.  My job was done!  I was now just along for the ride!

It was agreed.  Donner would lead half the wagons, Reed the other half. 

Despite being low on provisions, spirits started to rise.  We were back on the regular route, making good time.  Donner was now a day ahead of us.  I was in the second group, talking with Reed about the promises of California, of the United States in general, of the unbounded opportunities of ... when Murphy's Law - what can go wrong will - hit.

In the form of an Indian attack.

Paiute Indians.

My sentence was interrupted by an arrow to the arm.  Reed took one in the chest.  When it was over, six men were dead, including James Reed.  Two wagons were destroyed.  Six oxen missing.

We were in poor shape - and immobile.

Charles Stanton rode ahead to the Donner-led party, informing him of the attack and our condition.  Donner rounded up a team of men to go back to help the trailing team.

"George.  If you send men back to help James' group, won't we be vulnerable to the same type of attack?"

It was his wife, Tamzene Donner.

"Are you suggesting we leave our friends back there?"

"I didn't say that.  I'm just saying we should stop and think."

"Send the men back.  A good idea?  It sounds like it.  Why?  Because we want to help our friends.  On the other hand, if we send them back, then our safety will be jeopardized, which suggests we don't send the men back."


"What can we do to both help our friends and ensure our safety?"

Donner thought for a moment, and knew the solution.  He also knew it would not be received with happiness from some of his group.

He ordered a one-day retreat to get back to us.

Repairing the wagons, treating the injured, and burying the dead took four days.  FOUR DAYS!  We were back where we started!  Yes, circumstances had changed, but the weather remained unchanged.  The Sierra Nevada snows would come - in weeks - and our course was now re-aligned with the actual course.

How could I have been so ignorant?

Why hadn't I foreseen the problems in letting the teams split up?  Unintended consequences for sure, but nonetheless predictable consequences. 

Yes, there was a certain advantage in allowing teams to camp apart, mainly to graze on fresh grass, but additionally to provide more hunting.  But these were insignificant elements in the grand scheme of our travels.  We had traveled for months.  We had weeks to go.

And I had lost site of the goal.  I had become complacent.

And I had let this complacency - mental inertia, if you will - become the constraint.

And now we were in trouble - deep trouble.

Once we had hit the regular route, provisions were already running short.  With the attack and the back-tracking of the Donner-led train, we were really in need.

The "actual" Donner Party had sent Charles Stanton and Mac McCutchen on ahead to Fort Sutter to retrieve provisions.  We followed a similar course, and bade our friends good luck, as we marched on, slowly, but as one unit.

It was a solemn camp that first night after our friends had departed for Fort Sutter, and I took the time to rethink the trip.  We were in deep trouble now, and I knew I was now to blame. 

I took stock of the rest of our trip, and more importantly, the critical aspect of the route to come:  the pass over the Sierra Nevadas.

What were we up against?

What had happened to the "actual" Donner Party?

The Sierra Nevadas.

Loosely translated as "snowy mountain range", more specific it means "snowy saw teeth".  The Sierra's are saw-like in their make-up, and it is this aspect that made them a daunting foe in the movement west.

Now, the Sierra snow-bank is the major source of water for all of California.  In this respect, the Sierra's give life.  But to get caught in them at winter could mean death.

And it did for the actual Donner Party.

The Pass to the Summit


The actual Donner Party lead-team had made it to the Pass on October 31, and camped that night.  November 1st, they made a try for the summit, but found the snow already on the ground had made finding the trail impossible.  They retreated to the lake.

A massive rainstorm fell November 2nd.  The team stayed at the lake, hoping the rain would melt the snow.

Unfortunately, the temperature had fallen during the night, and the rain had turned to snow.  The pass was worse now than it was on November 1st.  They made another run at the pass, but were unsuccessful.  They retreated to the lake.

And hoped.

That night it snowed.

And they were trapped.

Would this trap us as well?  We were now on the same chronologic collision course!

We marched on, anxious miles, hungry miles, weary of travel, leery of Indians, with the ominous thought of the mountains ahead of us, when Stanton arrived - with two Indian guides!


We camped that night, eating well for the first time in weeks.  I spoke up:

"You've come over the Sierra's.  What were they like?"

"Do you remember the time we had south of the Great Salt Lake, in the Wasatch?  That was nothing.  These mountains are brutal.  It's going to be quite a time getting across, but we can."

"I think we should leave first thing in the morning, and don't stop until we get across the range," I said, knowing we were under serious time-constraints.

"I'd agree, too," said Stanton, but as we looked out over our weary group, continued.  "However, I think it best we rest for two days, and then make a push to get over.  Rested oxen will move four times as fast as weary and sick oxen."

And so we camped.  Two days rest.  It was now October 24th.

Time was running out.

Was history inevitable?  It seemed like it.  I knew how things would turn out, yet I seemed helpless to stop them!

We marched on towards the Pass, together as a team, but slowly ...

October 26th.

"Would the snow-covered trail to the Pass doom us, as it had the actual Donner-party?  How would we find the trail over the Pass ..."  My thought was interrupted by Stanton, pulling up next to me.  "Care for some water?"

"Thanks ... I was just thinking about ..."  I cut myself off in mid-sentence.

"How are we going to find the trail over the Pass?" I said to myself.  What a fool I was!  The man standing next to me - and the two Indian guides - had been over the Pass!"

An idea percolated.

We camped that night, and around the campfire, silent talk of nothing in particular dominated the conversation.

"I can't wait to get through the Pass and over the Summit.  Sure, it'll be some work to get across the Sierra's, but I can already taste the good-cooking from Mrs. Sutter."

No one seemed to be listening.

"That is, of course, if we can get through the Pass."

Heads lifted.  Eyebrows were raised.  George Donner spoke:  "What do you mean ... if?  Stanton here says we can do it.  What makes you think we can't?"

"I'm just thinking about the time.  We know we're darn close to it snowing up there.  What if it does?  Just a little?  What's that going to do to the trail?  Mr. Stanton?"

"It was a tough route coming east for sure, and then we could see what we were doing.  If the ground were snow-covered, it might be hard - it might even be impossible - to find the trail."

Confidently - perhaps tipping my hat I knew more than I led on - I continued, "All right: suppose it does snow.  What are we going to do to make sure we can find the trail?"

Stanton spoke up quickly:  "Luis, Salvadore, and me know the trail.  We've been over it!  If we took off first thing in the morning, we could get there by the 28th.  If there's no snow yet, we could mark the trail so it's passable even if it does snow by the time you get there."

I liked my solution!

But my solution went a bit further.  "And where will you three be when we get to the lake at the base of the Pass?"

"Well.  I guess it makes no sense to mark the trail and then camp at the lake.  There's three of us, and the distance we're talking about is about a mile tops.  We could mark the trail, and then spread out along the trail.  I'll be about 1/2 up the Pass, Luis at the top of the Pass, and Salvadore about 1/2 mile towards the Summit."

I had no idea if the distances were fine.  Stanton did, however, and he had been there!

Our plan ...

We broke camp for the night. 

I've never slept better.

We bade our friends good-bye in the morning, and continued on our way.

It was nighttime, on October 31st, when we reached the the lake at the base of the Pass.

It had snowed (of course), and the trail was covered.

"Hello, the wagon train!" came a blast from up the mountain.  It was Stanton.

He came down the mountain.

"It was lucky we did what we did!  I would not have been able to see any part of the trail if I'd ridden along with you!  As it is now, we've got the trail marked all the way to the Summit!"

"And Luis and Salvadore?"

"You're going to have to give Sutter a particular 'thanks' for sending those two along.  Not only do they know these lands, they're expert in trail-marking.  They're up there right now, finishing the job."

"Why don't you all rest for the night, and in the morning, get started.  It'll still be rough-going, but good-going!"

"Where are you going?", I asked.

"You think I'm going to wait down here?  You all rest, and I'm going back up to my campsite to get ready for tomorrow!"

November 1st.  We started up the trail. 

We met Stanton.  It was hard going, but with the trail marked, it was passable.

We reached Luis, atop the Pass.  We were through!

Salvadore was 1/2 mile towards the Summit.  This was easier going.  Stanton was right.  These two really knew how to mark a trail.  We went where it seemed there was no trail, yet there it was.

To the summit!

It was a brutal day of traveling.  We were all exhausted, and slept well that night, the first day of November.

Two days later, moving westward across the Sierra Nevadas towards Fort Sutter, we camped.  It was November 3rd. 


Tamzene noticed the ring around the moon.  "Isn't that beautiful?", she said.  I started to sing:

"When there's a ring around the moon ...

Rain or snow is coming soon."


I went on to explain the cause-effect logic of snowfall and the ring around the moon.

That night, it started to snow.





Around the World


A "Happy Birthday" Tribute to a Remarkable Individual


August 26, 2010





August 31st marks the birthday of a remarkable individual who went around the world.

Any guesses?

As we lead up to that day, let's try a few ourselves. 

How about the first person to fly around the world? 

Wiley Post

His story is a remarkable one.  He didn't like the "around the world" speed record held by a non-fixed-wing aircraft (that record was currently held by a Zeppelin), and decided to do something about it.

He and co-pilot Harold Gatty did just that, in 1931, with a time of 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes.

After this remarkable feet, according to Wikipedia,

Post wanted to open his own aeronautical school, but could not raise enough financial support because of doubts many had about his rural background and limited formal education. Motivated by his detractors, Post decided to attempt a solo flight around the world and to break his previous speed record. Over the next year, Post improved his aircraft by installing an autopilot device and a radio direction finder that were in their final stages of development by the Sperry Gyroscope Company and the United States Army. In 1933, he repeated his flight around the world, this time using the auto-pilot and compass in place of his navigator and becoming the first to accomplish the feat alone.

Fifty thousand people greeted him on his return on July 22 after 7 days, 19 hours - 21 hours less than his previous record, and he was given a second ticker-tape parade in New York.

A remarkable story.

But Post's birthday was November 22, 1898.  He died August 15, 1935.

Let's try again.  I mentioned the Zeppelin above.

The remarkable hydrogen-filled rigid airship LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin started its "around-the-World" flight at Lakehurst Haval Air Station, New Jersey, as requested by one of the flight sponsers: American press tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

The trip itself?  August 8, 1929 - August 29, 1929, the entire voyage taking 21 days, 5 hours and 31 minutes.

The Zeppelin was piloted by Hugo Eckener.


But his birthday was August 10, 1868.  He died August 14, 1954.

It's not the Zeppelin, and it's not Wiley Post.  Maybe it's the first woman to fly solo around the world.

My first thought was Atchison native Amelia Earhart.


Sadly, she was the first to try.  After making it to New Guinea in 1937, she lost contact somewhere over the Pacific.

Incidentally, Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, became missing July 2, 1937, and was declared dead January 5, 1939.  This wasn't who I was thinking about, but this sad instance shows the real danger inherent in these voyaging heros and heroines.

The first woman to actually make it - solo - around the world was Jerrie Mock, whose flight aboard The Spirit of Columbus ended April 17, 1964, and took 29 days.


Ms. Mock, however, was born November 22, 1925.  This brave voyager is still alive!

It's not Post I'm thinking about, it's not the Zeppelin, and it's not the first woman.  One thing these three have in common, however, is they all included stops all along the way.

Maybe I'm thinking of non-stop trips?

Several military flights circumnavigated the globe on a non-stop basis, with aerial refueling

What about solo, non-stop, and non-refueling.

When you think about those conditions, you begin to realize how extraordinary both the pilot and the plane must be.  Approximately 25,000 miles.  Several days without sleep.

Steve Fossett and the Virgin GlobalFlyer were both extraordinary.

Fossett made the first solo non-stop, non-refueling fixed aircraft flight around the world from February 28, 2005 - March 3, 2005 in 67 hours, 1 minute, 10 seconds.  He took off - and landed - from Salina, Kansas.  I was there at the landing of Fossett piloting the Virgin GlobalFlyer!

Here's the model I keep on my desk ...


Fossett, sadly, died in a plane crash on September 3, 2007.

I still have a book in the works about the series of flights he took aboard the Virgin GlobalFlyer.  But that's for another day.

But Fossett's birthday was April 22, 1944.

I'm not thinking of Steve Fossett here, but he was remarkable!


To be continued ...



Around the World


A "Happy Birthday" Tribute to a Remarkable Individual


August 28, 2010





Wiley Post.

Hugo Eckener and the Zeppelin.

Jerry Mock and the Spirit of Columbus.

Steve Fossett and the Virgin GlobalFlyer

All amazing stories about going "around the world".

I've used the words "around the world" as if there is a single definition.  Is there?  What exactly does that mean - "To Go Around the World"?

For example, if I was standing "On top of the world", and took just one step south, I could then moved eastward and legitimately claim I've gone "around the world"!

The idea of going "Around the World" may conjure a route about the equator, but nothing in the words mandates it, does it?

So let's develop a working definition of "Around the World" consistent with the excellence of the navigator we're seeking to honor and celebrate.

To go "Around the World".  What should it mean - for our purposes?

First of all, to go "around the world" means you have to "go around the world".  Operationally, that would mean you must hit all longitude lines.

Even this has some bias - why can't I start in Kansas and fly over the Arctic, the Antarctic, and return to Kansas?  Because it's not even viable, given jet streams.

So the nature of weather is an assumption in our definition.  Fine.

But as we said earlier, you can hit all longitude lines and still not travel far.  There has to be some minimal distance.  What should it be?

The length of the equator makes sense as a starting point, but this is the maximum great circle distance.  Is this plausible, given the nature of weather and the practicalities of the challenge?

OK - suppose the length of the equator is not reasonable.  If we require you at least cross the equator, this seems to rule out the "artic dash" in the example above.  If you cross all longitude lines, and if you cross the equator, then you have gone "around the world".

Maybe.  Let's actually look at the northern-hemisphere jet streams:


Is "crossing the equator" a reality for aerial circumnavigation?  Not really.  Fossett and the GlobalFlyer route, in fact, stayed entirely in the southern hemisphere!

How about just a minimum distance, then?  Since there now is no "official" distance we're talking about, rather than simply make up a number, let's use a distance that at least has name recognition.  Two come to mind:  The Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Therefore, our working definition of "Around the World" is:


Working with these views of earth brings to mind another famous adventure "around the world", literally.

The first orbit.

Yuri Gagarin.

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first person to orbit earth, aboard Vostok I:


Gagarin's birthday, however, was March 9.  Born in 1934, he died March 27, 1968.

Ferdinand Magellen comes to mind as another first - the first maritime circumnavigation.


The first circumnavigation of the globe began in 1519 was a purely political trip.  It was all about spices.

For centuries, Venice, Italy held a monopoly on the spices from these islands in the western pacific.

A route to the west - from Europe - to these islands was the goal.  Columbus wanted this, and landed in the "Americas".

Magellan also wanted to "go west" and got funding from King Charles of Spain. Magellan convinced the king that this voyage would be useful to show the Spice Islands were Spanish property, not Portuguese.

The dispute over these islands was significant because the possession of these islands would bring vast wealth to the owner. King Charles I saw this as an opportunity to gain status and wealth for his country and gave Magellan his funding.

Magellan left Seville, Spain set sail on September 20, 1519 with five ships and 237 men.  Across the Atlantic, around the tip of South America, and across the Pacific to the east coast of Asia.

Proselytizing Christianity in the Philippines, Magellan attempted to convert a Mactan-Island chief, who became upset.  Magellan pushed.  The chief order his warriors to attack.

Magellan thought his body armor was sufficient protection from the native's weaponry.  He found out differently, and was killed - April 27, 1521.

So it's not even true to say Magellan made the first maritime circumnavigation.  He died - as many others have - trying.

Incidentally, Juan Sebastian Del Cano took over.

Across the Indian Ocean.

Around southern tip of Africa.

Up the west coast of Africa, and onwards to Seville, Spain.  September 8th, 1522.

They had left with Magellan leading, 5 ships, and 237 crew.  They returned with Magellan dead, one ship, and 18 survivors.

We don't have birthdays for either Magellan or Del Cano, but my tribute is to neither anyways.

Remarkable stories, though!  Gagarin.  Magellan.  Del-Cano.

As I've ventured here into circumnavigation by water, in the next installment, I'll continue that thought ...

To be continued ...





A "Happy Birthday" Tribute to a Remarkable Individual



August 29, 2010





We started with flight - sub-orbital.  We looked at Gagarin and orbital.  We moved to maritime and Magellan (and Del-Cano).

The first trip "around the world" on a ship.

Let's continue along this path today in search of remarkable achievements.  Magellan (and Del-Cano) had crews.  Since it's not them, the obvious place to start is where we started with sub-orbital searches:  solo missions:

The first solo-nautical-circumnavigation?

Joshua Slocum

His seems the story of a person groomed to become the first, as he eventually became.  As Wikipedia tells us:

"His earliest ventures on the water were made on coastal schooners operating out of the small ports such as Port George and Cottage Cove near Mount Hanley along the Bay of Fundy."


When he was eight years old, he moved to the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, where his maternal grandfather was the keeper of the lighthouse at Southwest Point there.

His father, a stern man and strict disciplinarian, took up making leather boots for the local fishermen, and Joshua helped in the shop. However, the boy found the scent of salt air much more alluring than the smell of shoe leather. He yearned for a life of adventure at sea, away from his demanding father and his increasingly chaotic life at home among so many brothers and sisters.

He made several attempts to run away from home, finally succeeding, at age fourteen, by hiring on as a cabin boy and cook on a fishing schooner, but he soon returned home. In 1860, after the birth of the eleventh Slocum child and the subsequent death of his kindly mother, Joshua, then sixteen, left home for good. He and a friend signed on at Halifax as ordinary seamen on a merchant ship bound for Dublin, Ireland."

He became an ordinary seaman on the British merchant ship Tangier (also recorded as Tanjore), bound for China, and during the next two years, rounded Cape Horn twice, landed at Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies, and visited the Moluccas, Manila, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, and San Francisco.

While at sea, he studied for the Board of Trade examination, and, at the age of eighteen, he received his certificate as a fully qualified Second Mate.

AT AGE 18!  And this is only 1862!

He quickly rose through the ranks to become a Chief Mate on British ships transporting coal and grain between the British Isles and San Francisco.

In 1865, he settled in San Francisco, became an American citizen, and, after a period of salmon fishing and fur trading in the Oregon Territory of the northwest, he returned to the sea to pilot a schooner in the coastal trade between San Francisco and Seattle. His first blue-water command, in 1869, was the barque Washington, which he took across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Australia, and home via Alaska.

He sailed for thirteen years out of the port of San Francisco, transporting mixed cargo to China, Australia, the Spice Islands, and Japan. Between 1869 and 1889, he was the master of eight vessels, the first four of which (the Washington, the Constitution, the Benjamin Aymar and the Amethyst) he commanded in the employ of others. Later, there would be four others that he himself owned, in whole or in part.

Slocum married in 1870, and his wife, Virginia, loved the sea.  Over the next thirteen years, they had seven children all at sea or foreign ports.

In Alaska, the Washington was wrecked when she dragged her anchor during a gale, ran ashore, and broke up. Slocum, however, at considerable risk to himself, managed to save his wife, the crew, and much of the cargo, bringing all back to port safely in the ship's open boats. The owners of the shipping company that had employed Slocum were so impressed by this feat of ingenuity and leadership, they gave him the command of the Constitution which he sailed to Hawaii and the west coast of Mexico.

His next command was the Benjamin Aymar, a merchant vessel in the South Seas trade. However, the owner, strapped for cash, sold the vessel out from under Slocum, and he and Virginia found themselves stranded in the Philippines without a ship. There, in 1874, under a commission from a British architect, Slocum organized native workers to build a 150-ton steamer in the shipyard at Subic Bay. In partial payment for the work, he was given the ninety-ton schooner, Pato, the first ship he could call his own.

Ownership of the Pato afforded Slocum the kind of freedom and autonomy he had never experienced before. Hiring a crew, he contracted to deliver a cargo to Vancouver in British Columbia. Thereafter, he used the Pato as a general freight carrier along the west coast of North America and in voyages back and forth between San Francisco and Hawaii. During this period, Slocum also fulfilled a long-held ambition to become a writer; he became a temporary correspondent for the San Francisco Bee.

The Slocum family continued on their next ship, the 326-ton Aquidneck. In 1884, Virginia became ill aboard the Aquidneck in Buenos Aires and died. After sailing to Massachusetts, Slocum left his three youngest children, Benjamin Aymar, Jessie, and Garfield in the care of his sisters; his oldest son Victor continued as his first mate.

In 1886, Slocum married his 24-year-old cousin, Henrietta "Hettie" Elliott. The Slocum family, with the exception of Jessie and Benjamin Aymar, again took to the sea aboard the Aquidneck, bound for Montevideo, Uruguay. Slocum's second wife would find life at sea much less appealing than his first. A few days into Henrietta's first voyage, the Aquidneck sailed through a hurricane. By the end of this first year, the crew had contracted cholera, and they were quarantined for six months Later, Slocum was forced to defend his ship from pirates, one of whom he shot and killed; he was tried and acquitted of murder. Next, the Aquidneck was infected with smallpox, leading to the death of three of the crew. Disinfecting of the ship was performed at considerable cost. Shortly afterward, near the end of 1887, the unlucky Aquidneck was wrecked in southern Brazil.

After being stranded in Brazil with his wife and sons Garfield and Victor, he started building a boat that could sail them home. He used local materials, saved materials from the Aquidneck and local workforce. The boat was launched on May 13, 1888, the very day slavery was abolished in Brazil, and therefore the ship was given the Portuguese name Liberdade. It was an unusual 35-foot (11 m) junk-rigged design which he described as "half Cape Ann dory and half Japanese [sic] sampan".[3] He and his family began their voyage back to the United States, his son Victor being the mate. After fifty-five days at sea and 5510 miles, the Slocums reached Cape Roman, South Carolina and continued inland to Washington D.C. for winter and finally reaching Boston via New York in 1889.  This was the last time Henrietta sailed with the family. In 1890, Slocum published the accounts of these adventures in Voyage of the Liberdade.


Something happened here, for it was in Boston he decided to "Sail Alone Around the World".

In Fairhaven, Massachusetts, he rebuilt the 36′ 9″ (11.2 m) gaff rigged sloop oyster boat named Spray.


On April 24, 1895, at age 41, he set sail from Boston, Massachusetts. In his famous book, Sailing Alone Around the World, now considered a classic of travel literature, he described his departure in the following manner:

"I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston, where the Spray had been moored snugly all winter. The twelve o'clock whistles were blowing just as the sloop shot ahead under full sail. A short board was made up the harbor on the port tack, then coming about she stood to seaward, with her boom well off to port, and swung past the ferries with lively heels. A photographer on the outer pier of East Boston got a picture of her as she swept by, her flag at the peak throwing her folds clear. A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood."

He navigated without a chronometer, instead relying on the traditional method of dead reckoning for longitude, which required only a cheap tin clock for approximate time, and noon-sun sights for latitude. On one long passage in the Pacific, Slocum also famously shot a lunar distance observation, decades after these observations had ceased to be commonly employed, which allowed him to check his longitude independently. However, Slocum's primary method for finding longitude was still dead reckoning; he made only one lunar observation during the entire circumnavigation.

Slocum normally sailed the Spray without touching the helm. Due to the length of the sail plan relative to the hull, and the long keel, the Spray was capable of self-steering (unlike faster modern craft), and balanced stably on any course relative to the wind by adjusting or reefing the sails and by lashing the helm fast. He sailed 2,000 miles (3,200 km) west across the Pacific without once touching the helm.

More than three years later, on June 27, 1898, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island, having circumnavigated the world, a distance of more than 46,000 miles (74,000 km). Slocum's return went almost unnoticed. The Spanish-American War which had begun two months earlier dominated the headlines. After the end of major hostilities, many American newspapers published articles describing Slocum's amazing adventure.


Seemingly born to the sea.  Run away from home to be on the sea.  By 18 - while at sea - study and receive a certificate as a fully qualified second-mate.

Trips around the world.  Stranded in foreign countries.  Battling pirates.  Disease.  Accidents.

And always searching for a way to solve the problem!

Can you imagine a more remarkable story? 


Slocum's birthday was February 20, 1844.  He did - mysteriously - at sea November 14, 1909.

It's not Slocum I'm talking about?

What about other candidates?

The first solo - non-stop was by Robin Knox-Johnson, in 1968.  He was 29 at the time.

He did this again in 2007, at age 67, becoming the oldest! 

Robin Knox-Johnson:  born March 17, 1939.  Definitely some research here, though this is not the individual I'm thinking of.

The first woman?

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, born July 15, 1939, she accomplished this in 1978.

She beat Naomi James, who also sailed around the world in 1978.  Her achievement was notable as she was the first woman to single-handedly sail the clipper route, eastabout and south of the three great capes; and she completed a fast (although not without outside assistance) circumnavigation in just 272 days.

Naomi James: born March 2, 1949, in New Zealand.

In 1988, Kay Cottee became the first female sailor to perform a single-handed, non-stop circumnavigation of the world. She performed this feat in 1988 in her 11 metre sloop First Lady, taking 189 days.

Born in Australia in 1954, I don't know Ms. Cottee's birthday, but it wasn't her I was thinking about.

Not the first, not male, not the oldest, not female - maybe the youngest?

This has been in the news lately for the failed attempt of Abby Sutherland, the 16-year-old from California, who ran into trouble in the Indian Ocean after traveling more than 12,000 nautical miles.

Her emergency beacon alerted authorities, and a French fishing boat picked her up.  Her parents have come under intense criticism for being so wreckless as to let their child do something as dangerous as this at an age when she didn't even have her drivers license.


But when you read the stories of these remarkable young men and women, you wonder what our children are capable of!

What are all of us capable of?

As far as I know, none of the young men and women above have a birthday of August 31st.

You may notice, by now, the search to explain why I thought the story that will follow the 31st is a remarkable one - and it is - has led me on an intellectual journey of immense excitement!

I can count - but only with two hands - how many books I've now ordered to read about the adventures I've talked about!  Here are several of them ...


But our search continues!



Around the World


A "Happy Birthday" Tribute to a Remarkable Individual



August 30, 2010





Wikipedia lists many notable "firsts" regarding "around-the-world" sea voyages:  let's take a quick look at some of these.  The names may or may not sound familiar.  Either way, all suggest further study!

Francis Drake, 1577-1580, led the first English expedition to circumnavigate the world.

Martín Ignacio de Loyola, 1580–1584 and 1585-1589. First person to circumnavigate the world twice, and first one doing so in each of both directions (westwards and eastwards).

Olivier Van Noort, 1598-1601. First Dutchman to circumnavigate the world.

William Dampier, 1679–1691; 1703–1707; and 1708–1711. First person to circumnavigate the world three times.

John Byron in HMS Dolphin, June 1764-May 1766. First circumnavigation in less than 2 years.

James Cook, between 1768 and 1779, made two circumnavigations and completed most of a third, though he died before the third could actually be completed.

Yes --- "Captain" Cook!


HMS Driver, first steamship to circumnavigate the world, in 1847.


Argo, first steamship to intentionally circumnavigate the world, in 1853.

Corvette Zaragoza 1896-1897 First circumnavigation by a Mexican vessel and crew.

USS Triton, 1960, first submerged circumnavigation:


Other questions arise naturally - first steamship, and then "first steamship to intentionally"?  Does that mean the HMS Driver was unintentional?

As any "Random Research" project undertaken - honestly - one ends up with a multitude of additional things to research!

Let's save those for another day.

To this point, we've looked at orbital, sub-orbital, sailing, steam, beneath-the-surface, group, solo, solo non-stop, first, youngest, male, female ... you name it, and we've taken a look at it. 

Yet, we've not hit upon the individual to whom the August 31st tribute is paid.

That's because this person is none of these.  This person wasn't the first, nor was this person the fastest.  Nonetheless, the story is remarkable.

Before going forward, however, a word needs to be said about these brave voyagers through the years.

We've talked about "Circumnavigation", up to this point, seemingly from the point of view of "we can do it", "they have a dream", etc.

Yes, that's a requirement to go around-the-world:  you really have to want it.

But desire absent skill, knowledge, and the right vehicle only leads to disaster.

What is the "right" vehicle?  Is there a "right" vehicle? 

Our around-the-world search has shown a characteristic of these voyages is the unbelievable creativity called into play to "build a better ship".

Consider the Virgin GlobalFlyer.  Fossett's goal was to be the first to fly around the world, solo, non-stop, and non-refueling.

What constraints!

In order to go around-the-world, non-stop, non-refueling, you obviously have to get great gas mileage.  In order to get great gas mileage, you need a light plane.

On the other hand ...

In order to go around-the-world, non-stop, non-refueling, you need to carry all the gas.  In carrying all the gas, what type of plane are you left with?  A heavy plane!


Did they compromise?  Did they say, "How about we just hope you hit some faster-than-usual air currents?"  Or did they say, "Let's re-think the whole idea of what an airplane is, and how it can be made?"

The latter, of course, and the result was the GlobalFlyer, a light plane capable of carrying a lot of gas!


The GlobalFlyer was as much an accomplishment of the human spirit of adventure as it was an engineering marvel!  It was the result of "a new type of thinking".

And when I look at the variety of other planes designed by Burt Rutan, I am astonished, and inspired!


The same is true of nautical design!

Yes, a "new type of design" often is required to stretch the boundaries of what has been done to achieve what hasn't.  But that's not all. 

Knowledge of currents.  Of jet streams.  Of navigation. 

A remarkable confluence of ingenuity and knowledge, coming together for a successful voyage.

Of course, ingenuity and knowledge by themselves means little unless, as Arthur Jones - inventor of the Nautilus system said, you "strap it on your ass, run down the runway, and see if it will fly".

There's got to be that desire.

I think these three elements are the key:  you want to do something new, you've got to have the desire, the knowledge, and the ingenuity.  With these three, anything's possible.  Missing any one of the three?  It's joker's wild what the result will be!


In the course of this investigation, another observation comes to mind:  where does the desire to go around-the-world come from? 

With navigation, for example, one finds a love-of-the-sea mentality from an early age, as the youth are exposed to the sea, of sailing, of how to operate a ship, navigation, etc.

Isn't this true of most endeavors?

One is exposed to something at an early age?

We'll see ...



Around the World


A "Happy Birthday" Tribute to a Remarkable Individual



August 31, 2010





If ever a man were born to circumnavigate the sea, it was not him.

"My love of the sea did not come from early association, for I was born on a farm in Iowa and did not see salt water until I went to California, when I was eighteen years of age," he wrote in Around the World Single-handed.

Unlike other stories you've read about, this gentleman had no relatives to drive the passion to sail the seas. 

"So far as I know, none of my ancestors ever followed the sea."

He built a canoe, moved to Alaska, stuck some planks together from a spruce tree, and built a boat.  Inexperienced, he and a friend paddled out onto the lake and shot the rapids to the Yukon River!

Eventually, they caught a freighter back to California.

"I did not find it easy to settle down again after that wonderful summer on the Yukon, and I returned to Alaska, where I had many thrilling adventures on the rivers and lakes of the north.  At one time I owned a small vessel, and sailed it among the islands of southeastern Alaska, but I never went out upon blue water, and most of my time was spent hunting and making photographs along rivers and in the mountains of that great land.  The experience that I gained while building small river-boats from materials growing in the woods serve me well when I came to build the sea-going vessel that carried me around the world, and life in the wilds was a good school for developing resourcefulness."


He moved back to Iowa and fulfilled one of his boyhood ambitions - to float down the Mississippi River to the sea.  He moved to Minneapolis, built a small flat-boat, and for a year was afloat on the river!

Afterwards, he resolved

"to see more distant lands in a vessel of my own.  From that time I began to take an interest in sailing-craft and to contemplate voyages."

"But it takes more than wishes to acquire a suitable craft and go on long voyages, so eventually I returned to California and became a photographer amount the great trees of the Sierras.  After a few years of this work, pleasant though it was, I longed for new scenes."

"About this time I came across the plan of a boat that seemed to be very seaworthy and, in addition, was not too large for one man to hande.  Moreover, the construction of it did not seem too difficult for my limited knowledge of shipbuilding."

Having earned sufficient money to go forward,

"I decided to build my long-dreamed-of ship and go on a voyage to the isles of the sea.  From the mountains I went down to the shore of Los Angeles Harbour, located on a vacant lot, and began the actual work of construction."

He build his own ship from plans?

Not exactly ...

"Three safe and handy cruising-boats were brought out and the plans published in the Rudder [Magazine] ... I used ideas from each of these boats and added some ideas of my own as suggested by the material at hand and my limited resources."

He used the plans of three boats, borrowed from each, and used his own ideas - to go around the world?

How did he start?  With the frame, of course.

"Working alone, as I did, the planking was a long, hard job, and the thick, heavy boards were bent into place without the aid of a steam box." 

In talking things over with a carpenter, he added,

"It was the most difficult piece of work about the construction, but when it comes to b locking up and driving wedges they could not have beat me in the boat shop.  Those planks had to come to place or break.  That they would break was what I feared, but they did not break.  Gradually something like a boat began to appear." 


"When the planking was on, the deck was laid and covered with canvas, and then the house was added ... The cockpit was built water-tight, and self-bailing through lead scuppers carried straight down through the hull."


How proud was he of his dry boat?  

"When it came to the caulking, I was advised to get a professional to do it.  However, remembering the success I had had in making small boats water-tight, I approached this job with more confidence than almost any other about my own vessel, and few boats are so dry as mine."

You may infer from these pictures this happened a long time ago.  It did.

And as such, you can imagine GPS was not available then.  How did this midwesterner now building a boat navigate?

"My method of navigation was simple, and consisted of determining the latitude and longitude by observation of the sun - two simple problems that require no special ability to master.

"For the purposes of navigation, the earth is laid on in imaginary lines, called meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude, which may be likened to the streets and avenues of a city.  The position of a ship at sea, and out of sight of land, on these meridians and parallels can be solved only by astronomical observation.  When one can solve these problems he can find his way about as readily as he finds the numbers along avenues and streets of a well-laid-out city.  Dead reckoning I kept only mentally, and that merely to keep track of my position between observations of the sun.

He read a book: Navigation, by Harold Jacoby.

And he continues ...

"While the theory of navigation is simple and easy to learn, seamanship - the ability to care for and handle a vessel under all conditions and stresses of weather - is acquired only by experience and long practice.  When I felt myself competent I set about preparations for an overseas voyage."

Why did he do it?

"There is also a great satisfaction in accomplishing something by one's own effort."

And when he completed his 4-YEAR voyage in 1925 - at age FIFTY-SIX - he added:

"I am often asked about how the Islander compares with other types of vessels.  I have not had experience with other types, but I am of the opinion that I could have made the voyage in any well-found boat of the same size, but in none would it have been easier.

"My voyage was not undertaken for the joy of sailing alone.  It was my way of seeing some interesting parts of the world."

"Seeing some interesting parts of the world", coupled with being a professional photographer, makes one wonder if National Geographic would be interested.

They were.

In February, 1928, they published a SIXTY-FIVE PAGE ARTICLE on the journey!


He was not the first, though he was the first to do this twice!  Yes, he did it again, starting at age 63, this time taking 5 years!

The book, reprinted here, is a remarkable human story of what's possible.  It is one of the more inspiring books I have ever read in my life:


So I conclude (for now) my series of brief articles on Circumnavigation by wishing a very Happy Birthday to Harry Pidgeon, born on this date - in EIGHTEEN SIXTY-NINE!