A Dramatic Lesson in Leadership – Part 2

Last month we traced the course of the ill-fated Donner Party as their wagon train attempted to cross the Sierra-Nevada mountains and reach a place they considered to be paradise: it was California. After being stuck for three months in cabins near Lake Truckee, 44 of the 89 emigrants did reach “paradise”—but it wasn’t the one they expected. Those poor souls died of disease and starvation in spite of the fact that they had some supplies including a few horses and cattle, endless firewood, and a trout-filled lake. They were on a well-known trail and had to do little more than “shelter in place” for four months until they would be rescued. But, because of the indecisive leadership and mistakes of George Donner, half of the party died. Contrast that with the trans-Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Their ship, the Endurance, was caught in the ice on January
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A Dramatic Lesson in Leadership

On February 19, 1847, the first members of the Donner Party were rescued from their snowbound prison in the icy Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Their story is one of mismanagement and indecisiveness. It vividly contrasts with the story of the Shackleton Expedition and provides a dramatic lesson in leadership. George Donner and his family were part of a wagon train of settlers headed for California. George was elected leader of that train, not because of his experience or his ability to inspire, but because he was the richest man. The settlers set out from the usual jumping-off place of Springfield, Illinois, in April, 1846. Their pace was slow because every time an important decision had to be made, George would order the wagons circled, hold a meeting and determine the wishes of the majority. In spite of the constant delays, by that summer the emigrants reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming. While there they
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Freezing the Balls off a Brass Monkey

The story goes that cannon balls on British ships were stored on deck in pyramidal-shaped brass stands called “monkeys.” They say that in cold weather, the brass would expand faster than the iron balls, causing the balls to fall off and roll around the deck creating havoc for the crew. Thus came the expression, “Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls Off a Brass Monkey.” A moment or two of rational thought proves the story cannot be true. Deck space on sailing ships is very limited; no captain in his right mind would allow cannon balls to take up valuable space because they made an attractive display. And what kind of fool would store iron cannon balls on brass stands? Cannon balls are heavy objects weighing anywhere from 4 to 42 pounds; they had to be tightly secured so as not break loose in heavy weather. In fact, cannon balls were
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Jolly Old Saint Nick – the Sailor’s Friend

Every December we’re swamped with images of America’s greatest salesman – Santa Claus – hawking everything from fast food to automobiles. In the deluge of media hype, there are always a few stories reminding us that the idea of “Santa Claus” evolved from St. Nicholas, and one or two of those stories might go so far as to explain the real Nicholas was a kindly bishop of Myra (today known as Demre and located in modern-day Turkey). But how many people know that St. Nicholas is also the patron of sailors and ships, offering safe voyage and protection from storms? The Legend of St. Nicholas begins with a poor family of Myra who could not provide dowries for three daughters. Since the girls were unable to marry, they would have to be sold into slavery. It is said that Nicholas saved the day by riding past the house late at
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What is the correct arrangement of flags on the Yacht Club masthead?

A Reader writes:  “I’m so mad I want to quit our club!  Our Commodore insists on flying our country’s flag lower than the club burgee. It looks bad and it’s wrong, but he says the gaff is the “place of honor.”  He says he learned it at “the Academy.” What is the place of honor?  And what “Academy” is he talking about?” The flag display at all maritime locations—naval installations, Coast Guard bases, ports, yacht clubs, and even the United States Naval Academy—all have one thing in common: a gaff extending upwards off the “back” of the flagpole at about a 45% angle.  The top of the gaff is the “place of honor.” Here’s why:  The maritime flag display represents a sailing ship “standing out to sea.”  In other words, when you see that display with the yardarm and the gaff, you’re looking at a sailing ship about to leave
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Ida Lewis Yacht Club

Many clubs have unique stories that explain how they got their names, but none of them is more unique than the story of Ida Lewis Yacht Club. In 1853, Congress authorized the construction of a lighthouse on Lime Rock in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. Ida’s father, Hosea Lewis, was appointed keeper, but he suffered a stroke four months into his assignment.  To support the family, Hosea’s wife and daughter Ida took over the job. Later, after her mother died, Ida Lewis was officially appointed keeper in her own right, and she held that job from 1879 to 1911. Ida was a strong swimmer and knew how to handle a rowboat.  She became a legend during her 39 years on Lime Rock by rowing out into the face of Newport’s fiercest storms to save victims of shipwrecks and capsizings. In 1924 the Rhode Island legislature officially changed the name of Lime
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