Friday, December 22, 2006

Bad press

Found, in a corner of my favourite used bookstore, The Mutiny on Board H.M.S.Bounty, by none other than William Bligh himself. What a great page-turner!

Bligh had to get his story out before the mutineers reappeared and aired their side of things. Naturally he presents himself as an able and concerned skipper whose mens' heads got turned by the lovelies of Tahiti (and who could blame them?). Not at all the ogre he was reputed to be, more like Santa Claus.

Know what? This was an experienced sailor in love with the sea, whose aim was to keep his 90-foot ship intact, and his crew alive and well (no small feat when thousands died of scurvy on long voyages). The Bounty survived a month in terrifying storms trying to round Cape Horn, and failing. Quit? No, Bligh simply turned the ship around and sailed clear across the south Atlantic to South Africa, reaching Tahiti by almost circumnavigating the globe.

After the mutiny Bligh and eighteen others (mostly the "idlers", tradesmen who happened to work on a seagoing ship) were cut adrift in a small open boat with five days' rations. So overloaded was it that the sea came to within seven inches of the gunn'ls. And this in open, uncharted ocean, with storms, sharks, hostile natives on every islet--and the Great Barrier Reef.

Forty-one days later, after subsisting on a cup of water and half a slice of bread a day each, plus whatever seabirds they could capture, Bligh brought all but one of these castaways alive (one man having been killed by natives) to Timor, 3,600 miles to the west.

This is the kind of leader I'd pick to run the USA right now. Foul tempered, abusive and violent, maybe. People skills? None. But a committed man who'd not lose a single seaman under his command if he could help it. Determined, skilful and courageous to boot. Where are these men when we need them? Compare that with the needless waste of soldiers' lives in Iraq today.

Cuddly, no--but the man had a wife and six, count 'em, six, daughters. Go figure.

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