The Delusion of Grandeur
I’m departing Sandwich, Illinois today for points West, and will likely take just over a week to get to northwest Utah. Unlike previous trips, I won’t be posting day-by-day travelogs since I intend to route my trip along stopping points I’ve used earlier. So, I will post only if I find something uniquely notable along the way.
The departure itself will be as the opportunity presents itself: thunderstorms and frequent rains will hopefully present me with a window of opportunity for one last commune with the dump station a little later. Travel is limited to empty waste tanks only, as the Innsbruck’s frame rails are already bent quite enough from travel with full tanks, apparently. If I can’t dump those tanks, I won’t travel. Since Wunderground Weather at the moment says I’m enjoying clear skies and 3 MPH breezes, it may be entirely up to me to seize any opportunity, since actually it’s pouring both heavy rain and hail in a wind stiff enough that the trailer is bobbing about. That wouldn’t be notable except that the wind is coming in straight from the nose of the trailer. This patch of turf gets pretty soggy with rain, so I may use the Mighty Furd’s 4WD to ease out, just to avoid unnecessarily tearing up the grass.
Having always been a homebody, I’ve found it surprising that I’ve recently felt a growing impatience to get back out west. The quiet urge is not to get back on the road per se, since the peculiar limitations of the Defiant make overnight travel stops more restrictive of onboard amusements than many RVs. It’s also not the lure of Wendover, Utah itself, which is relatively expensive and mediocre at best as far as resources to support a long-term camp stay. Between the flies and mice in the canal camping area that supports the salt flats, the Defiant’s new defensive systems should be put to the test. But there are other places out West that have more of a beckoning call, both the familiar and the unfamiliar. It is those ports that prod my impatience.
Not completely unrelated, I was watching the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World the other evening, and was struck by the disparity of our common view of old sailing ships, and the reality of what they actually were. We tend to filter them through romantic lenses, or see them as platforms to enable roguish but lovable pirates to ply their trade. But seagoing sailing ships have actually been in continual technological development since ancient times, often being pushed hard by a combination of meeting hazardous weather, the need to carry more trade items more economically, and the need to dominate in warfare. They could make nations rich, and were a less theoretical projection of power even then. Any error in design approach meant lost wealth or lost battles, yet the failure to search for the cutting edge of what was possible posed the same risks.
The movie presented this well, as the British HMS Surprise was revealed in the movie to be a proven warship design that had been obsoleted in speed, invulnerability and firepower by newer French designs during the Napoleonic wars. Sailing ships are nothing if not a conglomeration of different systems incorporated into a whole, and the needs that each of those systems addresses tends to conflict directly with others, so advancing the state of the art has always been problematic. Fix one problem, create another. Hit a circumstance where you’ve compromised one ability in order to improve another, and you’ve got an expensive resource now at the bottom of the sea.
Shipbuilding itself quickly became more science than art. We tend to think of them as simply a bunch of wooden boards clapped together, with two or three masts stuck on to hold the sails. How tough could it be? Bigger is always better, right? Just make the boards longer. More space for cannons or cargo! Yet if you try to hold a handkerchief open out the window of a car doing just 30 MPH, you’ll quickly find that there are impressive forces to be reckoned with. And bigger means inherently weaker or less stiff. What impressed me about the movie was it giving a brief glimpse into the necessary complexity of sailing ships, the considerable manpower needed to operate them, the provisions that had to be made to get men up into the hazardous areas where the massive sails live, and the various provisions that had to be made to accommodate that many men for months at a time. Land or get stuck in a place where you can’t fully replenish your stores, and you stand a good chance of never making it to the next.
What made me think of all this is a single-spaced, one-sheet checklist I keep on the wall near the TV screen, for when the Defiant must be prepped for each little voyage, long or short. Properly disconnect and stow the solar panels, turn off this, turn on that, stow loose items securely, attach this, adjust that, etc. It’s a conglomeration of functional systems that must be attended to and accounted for to ensure a safe and mishap-free trip. Miss an item, encounter a circumstance, and reap the results. Much like the HMS Surprise, the Defiant is a fine old vessel that is now obsolete, and its limitations now stand out on both highway and rough trail, compared to newer travel trailers. Her mass of design compromises is sturdy in some ways and lacking in others, and her structure is weakened by time and miles traveled. But onward she goes through the weather that comes, at the speed she can muster, to new ports and new places. A weekend boulevard camper at the start, she’s been refitted for boondocking as well as is practicable, and sent on her way. She is now a Projection of Power, and I am her Master and Commander – not! But it is fun, and although the risks surface now and then, the voyages are enjoyable. So begins another one, weather permitting. Byarrr! Belay this musing, fortify the crew, break the shore connections, empty her hold, and hoist the sails! We’ve a port to reach a’for nightfall, ye scurvy dogs!