While I was in Palm Beach, I took a short jot over to the Society of the Four Arts for the opening of a new exhibit called "Recapturing the Real West - The Collections of William I. Koch". The collection is absolutely stunning, containing amazing art and artifacts, from larger than life figures like Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer and Sitting Bull to the common 'cowboy' and the people who made the push westward. I also caught the collector's personal presentation where he discussed his affinity for the subject but also made some interesting remarks about sailors. Why sailors in a presentation on the Old West? If you know a Sailor, you might well guess.
One of the great legacies of American sailors is their toughness, resourcefulness and astonishing intrepidity. From very early times, sailors in general have been known for these traits, but 'Yankee sailors' took this to a whole new level, pushing the envelope of speed, the boundaries of exploration. One of the historians interviewed in the PBS documentary Into the Deep - America, Whaling and the World (click on the link - you can watch the whole thing) pointed out that as Europeans ventured farther and farther into unknown or uncharted waters, as they reached the most remote areas, they'd always find Americans there. Accounts of long voyages describe incredible acts of endurance and self-sufficiency. And even in home waters, they were constantly innovating, experimenting and advancing the knowledge of the maritime professions.
|Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?|
The same traits exist today in sailors, possibly more abundantly than in any other modern profession - I have seen this first hand, aboard public and private vessels. That same toughness, resourcefulness and astonishing intrepidity - it's in many of them, particularly the old salts.
So the next time you're on the lookout for your naval heritage, be sure to look in on the old west, and remember that cowboy might have started out as a sailor.