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October 21st, 2018
In the early 1830’s when Lucilius was learning the ropes of being a sailor on a merchant ship ferrying goods round the horn to California and beyond, he found a lot of his work catering more and more to the maintenance and reconstruction of the ship as they sailed. As the weeks at sea went on and he learned how to splice and lash, serve line and repair sail, the Boatswain gave him more and more work, presumably because he was doing a good job.
He was high up in the rigging repairing some sail and noticed how the sails were attached to their spars. The line used was untarred, it was weaker line. Lucilius had noticed such line in a few places around the ship and figured that it was slipshod work. Someone lazy had been unwilling to go get more of the correct line and do it properly.
Lucilius took a moment after finishing his patch with the sail and looked out at the long expanse stretching out over the world and into the offing. The wind was steady from the west and held taught the sails like cleaved pillows, weighing the ship forward. The sea toward the morning sun wore a gash of white spotted light, like a single calm candle flame reaching from the horizon to the ship. It was a beautiful morning and Lucilius decided to do the extra work and start replacing the untarred line with extra he had in his bag. He cut lose the first untarred lashing, put an eye splice in fresh line, cow-hitched it and began to make turns to secure that part of the sail.
The Boatswain had been higher up in the rigging and paused in other work to watch Lucilius. He left his perch and climbed down to where Lucilius sat straddling one of the spars.
“Replacing one of those lashings?”
“Yeh, figured I would.”
“Ye can’t use tarred line for that.”
“Reason I decided to replace it is because none of these are tarred.”
“For good reason.”
“But they won’t last as long.”
“Rather replace them more often than have them be too strong.”
“How do you figure?”
“Think about it Lucy, something is gonna break. Something always breaks. Whether from age, or chafe, or during a storm, or what have you.”
“I know, so wouldn’t you want it to be stronger so it doesn’t break?”
“Doesn’t matter how strong you make a thing, something’s still always gonna break.”
“I don’t understand,” Lucilius said, looking at all the untarred lashings along the length of the spar.
“Look what that sail is attached to.”
“And what’s that attached to?”
“And being a young’un here who seems to like fixing things, which of those three would you rather repair when something breaks.”
Lucilius kept looking at the equation.
“Think of it this way.” The boatswain grabbed a hold of a rope band that Lucilius had fashioned around his own wrist. “Let’s say I attached a hundred pound weight to this here Turk’s head and threw it over board. Which would you pray snaps off first, the rope right here, or your arm?”
“The rope of course.” Lucilius said and then looked back at the rigging.
“Same with the ship. Things are gonna break. An sailors have been dealin’ with it for long enough to know that we can control how things break when they do break. Would much rather have to deal with a limp sail draggin’ at the end of a line than have the sail take the spar with it, or worse, take down the whole damn mast.”
Lucilius smiled, thinking about the genius behind such foresight as the Boatswain started to climb back up to his work.
“A weak link can be a very very good thing, if only you know where to place it so that it’ll be an advantage to yeh.”
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