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In the paper this morning I read the story of a painted ostrich egg thought to be the oldest known globe of the Earth.  It is believed to have been made in 1504, about a half-century before Magellan’s crew became the first to circle the world and some eleven years after Columbus returned to Europe.  On the globe in the area of the Indian Ocean are the words, “Hic Sunt Dracones,” which in Latin means, “There Be Dragons Here.”

Indeed.  According to the report, North America is depicted on the globe as a scattered group of small islands.  These errors of cartography and fears of the unknown are reminders not only of how little man once knew of the world around him, but also of how our confidence in what we think we know so often proves to be unfounded, even today.  I am pretty sure about the proximity of North America, though I have to confess that on some dark nights at sea I have been less sure of the non-existence of dragons.  In a thick fog, a wariness of each seems to be the best course.

Speaking of fear, I was delighted to receive an email this morning from a reader of Once Upon A Gypsy Moon.  Despite his unfamiliarity with sailing and terror of the sea, he said, he felt as though he had stowed aboard the Gypsy Moon while reading the book and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  A writer of sea stories can hope for no finer compliment.   As for the reader’s fears, I can think of no more important qualification for a seaman nor a surer mark of the best ones than a healthy terror of the sea.  Despite the dread of dragons, our forbearers “put out into the deep.”  Without their courage amid that terrifying uncertainty, none of us would be here to tell the tale.  We would all be living in a group of small islands scattered north of the West Indies.

Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring. Thus with seamen: he who goes the oftenest round Cape Horn goes the most circumspectly.” —Herman Melville, White Jacket