Some old, insightful articles on boats

The Atlantic has been publishing since 1857. As a subscriber, I can access their archive, which is full of interesting tidbits. To focus my “plunge into the past,” I queried articles that mentioned sailing or sail boats, and found some really interesting stuff. The links on years go to PDFs.

1860: Boats turn from sidewheels to screw propellers, amid much skepticism.

1875: Mark Twain’s recollections on his time as a steamboat pilot (the basis for his 1883 book, Life on the  Mississippi) in parts: one, two, three, four, five, six and seven. One good excerpt:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oölitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

1895: Much more historical fact on the week of battles between the English and “Spanish Armada” that took place before storms sank so many Spanish ships (=saved by the Atlantic) in 1588.

1897: The US Constitution is now America’s longest serving (active duty) ship, but it was already a legend in 1897. Read how it got its reputation.

1899: Why America needs a bigger merchant marine. Contrast the promises in this pre-Jones Act (1920) perspective to the actual harm resulting from Jones.

1904: The story of a skipper who set sailing records with a clipper ship and then was killed in the Civil War.

1909: Another call to rebuild the US merchant marine (see 1899 above), with some useful and useless “logic.”

1910: How railroads replaced canals for inland shipping, everywhere.

1922: Ferries in the SF Bay Area — before the bridges.

1950: A poseur yachtsman is forced to actually buy a yacht 🙂

1965: Two boating guys go crazy when they form a “Yacht Club.”

2011: Plastiki: Sailing Across the Ocean on a Ship Made of Plastic Bottles

2020: Four Dutch teens on a “study aboard” cruise in the Caribbean are forced to sail home across the Atlantic. It went well.

2015: The Dutch try to help New Orleans reconnect with its delta geography,  which was altered in many detrimental ways since Twain’s 1875 reflections.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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