May 25, 2010

Paying the boatman

AUSTRALIAN READER OZTAYLS, who is building a Goat Island Skiff, wants to know what sort of coin he should put under the mast. “Will the gods object if it’s just a penny?” he asks.

Well frankly, I don’t think the gods are in much of a position to argue right now. They’re skint, too. They’re Greek, you see. Been living beyond their means for too long.

The ancient Greeks believed that when you died you were ferried across the River Styx to the underworld by a boatman named Charon. When people died, coins were placed under their tongues to pay Charon’s fee. If they didn’t get across the Styx they were doomed to drift forever and never find peace.

Shipbuilders adopted the principle by placing a coin under the mainmast, a ritual carried on to this very day, even by the U.S. Navy. This presumably is pre-payment in anticipation of the ship sinking. You may well wonder how fair it is for Charon to have to ferry a whole crew across the Styx for one coin under the mast, but that’s the system.

Anyway, OZTayls you might like to know that in the days of wooden ships, when even skilled artisans earned comparatively little, it was regarded as imprudent to use gold under the mast. I mean, how would Charon make change? And how would you be able to spend it if he did?

My suggestion is that you select a modest coin that means something to you, one that was minted in the year the boat was launched, perhaps, or one from the year you were born. That’s plenty good enough for who it’s for, as they say.

Today’s Thought
Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.
— Francis Bacon, Essays: Of Seditions

Boater’s Rules of Thumb, #56
Liveaboard cruisers on extended voyages usually find that an inflatable dinghy has a lifespan of four or five years. Sailors who use inflatables only during weekends and holidays should get 10 to 15 years of good service.

Tailpiece
“What time does the day nurse go off?”
“She goes off at six and the night nurse takes over.”
“What does the night nurse do?”
“She wakes you up to ask if the day nurse gave you your sleeping pill.”

1 comment:

OZTayls said...

Well then, that's a great big load off my mind John, and I suppose such a provision for Charon would also count as a Black Box deposit.

A nice, shiny, new 2010 Aussie Dollar (sadly, not worth as much as last week) will be most suitable I think.