Time-the new paradigm

In the days before quartz crystal clocks one of my jobs as third mate of an ocean-going tramp was time officer. Whenever the old man decided to flog the clocks for a new time zone I had to go around and alter the hands of every clock in the ship except the chronometer. The chronometer was my responsibility. It was kept in a locked cabinet on the bridge and only the captain and I had a key. I had to wind it every day after receiving a radio time signal at noon Greenwich mean time. I recorded any divergence from GMT in a book and  analysed the rate of change . The rate could change depending on variations in temperature as the ship steamed northwards or southwards.

The chronometer was the most important instrument on board. Without the chronometer shipwreck was a real possibility. It was the only means of determining the ship’s longitude. For many centuries sailors had been wrecked because they didn’t know where they were, with only Sun, Moon and stars to guide them.  The problem came to a climax in 1707 when four British warships were wrecked on the west coast of England with the loss of about 2000 men; one of the worst maritime disasters in history.

The British government were so enlivened by this event that they offered a huge prize for anyone who could solve the problem of longitude at sea. An amateur clock-maker named John Harrison won the prize but he had to fight to actually collect the money, and then only got part of it. Dava Sobell’s  book Longitude tells the story.

The mystery of time has occupied the rest of my life. Saint Augustine in the Middle Ages asked himself “What is time? If nobody asks me I understand time but if someone asks  I cannot explain it to he who asks.”



Ferdinand Magellan and me(35)

Pigafetta's map of Timor

Pigafetta’s map of Timor

Pigafetta’s gift to the world.

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The most serious casualty of our shipwreck at Nishtun was my facsimile edition of Antonio Pigafetta’s journal of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage. It had turned to sludge along with several charts in the panic of trying to refloat Wathara.

Pigafetta’s memoir deserves to be classified a world heritage treasure: unique in its time, shrewd in its observations and even entertaining. Pigafetta can be regarded as the world’s first anthropologist. At a time when the Spanish empire was invading South America, trashing local culture and enslaving or murdering the natives, Pigafetta showed a genuine interest in the appearance, the customs and above all the language of the people he encountered along the way.

I am very fond of Pigafetta. I have a vision of him sitting cross-legged interviewing the alleged cannibals of Brazil or the giants of Patagonia, transcribing their words to a wax tablet. Later he would collect these words into the first lexicons of their native languages. He took a particular interest in one native of Patagonia whom he named Paul. Magellan had captured this man by trickery and clapped him in chains, planning to convert him to Christianity and take him back to Spain like a zoo specimen. Pigafetta protected him as best he could and cared for him until he eventually died of starvation or scurvy. Paul gave the first Patagonian word, Setebos to the English language via Pigafetta’s journal and Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Upon his return to Spain Pigafetta presented a copy of his journal to the king, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. His aim was, as he said to the king, that the fame of so noble a captain shall not perish in our time. He wrote versions of his tale for the king of Portugal and the Regent of France. His work was plagiarised by Maximilian of Transylvania, bastard son of the Cardinal Archbishop of Salzburg who had the document published and promoted throughout Europe and eventually Britain.

Returning to Italy, Pigafetta met Philippe de Villiers l’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the order of the Knights of St John. They apparently hit it off together and Pigafetta was initiated into the order. He wrote another manuscript of his story and presented it to the Grand Master. He also obtained permission from the Doge of Venice to publish his book. Over the years, a number of these manuscripts have emerged and fetch high prices at antiquarian book stores. Pigafetta’s memoir of the first circumnavigation of the world has been published several times from different sources. Many books have been based upon it but the original, illustrated with water colour sketches, is the only reliable one.

Pigafetta joined the Knights of St John in Malta and died there in 1534.

Pigafetta’s journal of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage


Whisky Tango Foxtrot

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Whisky Tango Foxtrot

Sea story, love story, war story; Whisky Tango Foxtrot is  based on true events. Eighty two men died in a collision between HMAS Voyager and aircraft carrier Melbourne in 1964. Jim Price was saved from certain death by his mate Charlie, but Charlie didn’t make it. Jim blames the disaster on Voyager’s singular captain, known in the Navy as Drunken Duncan. He vows to obtain justice for his mate but finds formidable obstacles placed in the path of justice. To complicate matters, he has fallen in love with Jenny, whose brother is a draft dodger and whose mother leads anti-Vietnam war demonstrations against a deceitful government.

Review by: Malcolm Torres on July 22, 2016 :
This book is part adventure thriller, part memoir, part history. It was fun to read because I love sea stories and my life intersects with some of the locations and scenes in this story. My favorite parts are when the author describes nautical technology like how systems and gear aboard ships works. I also like the pace of the action, with disasters at sea, love affairs, being shipped off suddenly to exotic and dangerous locations.

Review by: Jonathan Lee on July 22, 2016 : (no rating)
I was captivated by the breadth of this novel from navy cadet to politics to civil rights demonstrators to government corruption to CIA conspiracies, all seen through the eyes of a bizarre accident-capsize-at-sea survivor. This is the first novel I have read set in Australia and I found the Australian manner of speech and relationships fascinating. After enjoying the novel so much, I found the ending somewhat sudden and shocking. I wish the ending could have more tension, more build-up and more drama so that I can reach a satisfying conclusion to what was a fantastic read.

Review by: Boris Seaweed <https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Seaweed71> on June 19, 2016 :

Thought-provoking and captivating book, written in smooth English and interspersed with Australian everyday spoken language, idioms and slang. Describing different sides of Australian life (the Navy, business, university life, Sydney city life, fashions, etc.) the author also delves into the recent history (Vietnam war and antiwar movement, politics, etc.). He also dares to weave into the plot and connect with the main character his version of mysterious disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt on December 17, 1967. And it is also a charming love and family story. Personally I have read the book in one breath.

Official Review: Whisky tango foxtrot…copy by John regan
Post Number:#1 by Katherine Smith » 19 Apr 2017, 18:16
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Whisky tango foxtrot…copy” by John regan.]

4 out of 4 stars
Review by Katherine Smith
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Whisky Tango Foxtrot written by John Regan is a historical fiction novel set in Eastern Australia. The novel begins in the summer of 1964 with the main character, petty officer Jim Price and his best friend petty officer Charlie Krantz of the Royal Australian Navy. Both men work as engineers in the Engine Room Artifices Fourth Class on the destroyer HMAS Voyager. Alongside the HMAS Voyager is the aircraft carrier Melbourne, who accompanies the ship during training exercises. Jim’s world is shattered after a collision between the two ships leads to the deaths of eight-two men including Charlie.

As Jim heals from the broken leg he suffered in the explosion, he begins to grapple with his purpose in life. During this time, he meets Jenny who is a nurse at Royal North Shore Hospital. As their romance blossoms, Jim enters into the naval college to become an officer also known as a “pig”. Despite his quick advancements, Jim becomes disillusioned with the Navy and its traditions. His breaking point comes during his service in the Vietnam War where he repeatedly witnesses death and destruction. He finally quits the service only to realize that his life feels even emptier than before. As violent protests sweep the country, Jim becomes increasingly more agitated and suspicious. His final act against those he feels have wronged him fulfills the beginning quote that “revenge is a dish best served cold”.

The main character of this book is a realistic representation of not only Vietnam veterans, but all veterans. His struggles with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in Vietnam are a lesson on the horrors of war. His awkwardness at trying to navigate the war time society of Australia as a civilian without the support of social services furthers the believability. The author uses this book as a psychological study of the military and the politics of war.

The author’s use of the anti-Vietnam War protests gives the book authenticity, especially with the chants of “No, no, we won’t go”. The protests and the various organizations that arose from this anti-war sentiment show the high level of detail. When I was reading this novel, I could picture the hot steamy jungles of Vietnam and the guerrilla tactics used by the North Vietnamese against the allies. I also could picture all of the protests at the Navy yards including one in which protesters laid down in the street. The descriptions of the country’s volatility and the references to Bob Dylan songs made the novel seem more like an autobiography than a historical fiction piece.

I rate Whisky Tango Foxtrot 4 out of 4 stars because of the novel’s realistic depictions of the hippie counterculture and the mental scars that are inflicted when someone goes to war. I would recommend this book to any members of the military, former protesters and anyone who is interested in historical fiction.