The Maintenance Race by Stewart Brand

“‘My rule is, a new boat every day’. His years at sea had taught him that if you don’t fix something when you first see it beginning to fail, it is very likely to finish failing just when it is the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with, such as in the midst of a storm.

He loved doing routine maintenance. He wrote:

‘I work calmly at the odd jobs that make up my universe, without haste: I glue the sextant leg back on with epoxy, adjust the mirrors, replace five worn slide lashings on the mainsail and three on the mizzen, splice the staysail and mizzen halyards to freshen the nip on the sheaves.’

His reward for a boat functioning like new every day was this: ‘I spend my time reading, sleeping, eating. The good, quiet life, with nothing to do.’  That was in fair weather. Storms were as arduous for him as ever, but he was unafflicted with worry that his gear might fail.

-Stewart Brand, “The Maintenance Race.” worksinprogress.co. July 2022.

Bernard Moitessier’s book, “The Long Way,” has quite a few gems in it. A few examples:

“Each of us has the boat he likes best, the one that lets him live aboard as he sees fit.”

He’s talking about the competitors in the race, but it is true of life too.

“Yet it is a hard card to play, this need I feel to reassure family and friends, to give them news, pictures, life–to bestow that infinitely precious thing, the little invisible plant called hope. Logic shouts at me to play the game alone, without burdening myself with the others. Logic would have me run SE, far from land, far from ships, back to the realm of the westerlies where everything s simple if not easy, leaving well to the north the dangerous area of convergence.

But for many days another voice has been insisting ‘You are alone, yet not alone.’ The others need you, and you need them. Without them you would not get anywhere, and nothing would be true.”

I think what I like about this passage is that he knows just sailing into the Roaring 40s, away from Cape Horn, is safer, but he chances the dangerous area around Cape Horn to send a message, to let people know he is alright. Then, there’s this bit.

“So one forgets oneself, one forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat and the sea, the play of the sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to that game in the immediate present. One has to be careful though, not to go further than necessary to the depths of the game. And that is the hard part…not going too far.”

So, he eventually goes too far, abandons the race and keeps going, taking his boat further.

It’s such a great story. It’s such a great thing for someone to have done.

TEU: Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit

“It is the physical equivalent of the internet, the other industry which makes globalisation possible. The internet abolishes national boundaries for information, news, data; shipping abolishes these boundaries for physical goods. The main way it does this is by being almost incomprehensibly efficient and cheap. As George points out, if you’re having a sweater shipped from the other side of the planet, the cost of shipping adds just a cent to the price. Another way of putting it would be to say that shipping is, in practice, free. This has had the effect of abolishing geography and location as an economic factor: moving stuff from A to B is so cheap that, for most goods, there is no advantage in siting manufacturing anywhere near your customers. Instead, you make whatever it is where it’s cheapest, and ship it to them instead. As Marc Levinson wrote in The Box (2006), his unexpectedly thrilling book about the container industry, shipping is so cheap it has ‘changed the shape of the world economy’.

John Lanchester, “Gargantuanisation.” The London Review of Books. April 22,2021

A technology that underpins the modern world and is important as the Internet that few of us think about at all, the shipping container.