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What’s your most impossible dream for the maritime industry?
by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) We have built billion-dollar ships, we have shared two world records with shipmates, we wrote a bestselling book, and we once had the world’s wealthiest man point a 3-inch gun at our heads and threaten to shoot. We have built gCaptain from a tiny blog to the world’s most-read maritime periodical. Who is “we”? We are teams I have worked with during my career so far.
It’s been a great life but I want more.
Once when I was outlining an idea at a meeting an industry big-whig cut me short. He told the group that I wasn’t a real Captain. He informed them that I had less than a year of sea-time on my license and most of that was in the shipyard. “This man is not a captain,” he said. “He’s just a gCaptain“. He said the remark to hurt me but, looking back, it was one of the proudest moments of my career. It’s the day I knew gCaptain had arrived.
This weekend it happened again. I was attending the gala dinner of the US Merchant Marine Veterans Association and was speaking about the need to recognize merchant mariners of Korea, Vietnam, and both Gulf Wars as veterans. One industry big whig smirked and said “The Navy will never let the Gulf War mariners get veteran status. John is a dreamer. Just ask him how much of his own time and money he spent on gShips before it failed miserably ?” then he waved dismissively. “Now he’s just one of the thousands of dead bodies washed up on the shores of short sea shipping. He’s not a captain, he’s El Capitan Quixote, the dreamer.”
Everyone laughed, even me, but then a strange coincidence happened. Later that night my friend Dave Yoho – a WWII Merchant Mariner, five-time bestselling author, and the first motivational speaker in the world to get a gold record – spoke about his time in the merchant marine. He spoke about the 250,000 World War II veterans like him waiting for full recognition as veterans. They have been waiting for three-quarters of a century and most are long dead. It was a rousing speech and the audience was glued to his every word. Then the lights dimmed, the spotlight fixed on his 94 year young face with several scars, he pulled the American Flag over his shoulder and said:
“To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
And to run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
And to love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are to weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
Ooh, no matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march, march into hell
For that heavenly cause
And I know
If I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart
Will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
Oh, that one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strong with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable, the unreachable
The unreachable star
Yeah, and I’ll always dream
The impossible dream
Yes, and I’ll reach
The unreachable star
By the last word not one of the over four hundred eyes in attendance was dry.
Then my good friend Dave announced they had won. After a three-quarter-century fight they won the Congressional Gold Medal. He pointed to the pedestal next to him at the Congressional Gold Medal design maritime administrator Luucinda Lessley unveiled an hour before.
The fight against the US Congress for full veteran status was a true David and Goliath battle… and DAVID WON.
What I didn’t realize until today was the song my friend Dave Yoho sang last week was not a patriotic military song. It was the song from the Broadway musical Man Of La Mancha, the musical about Don Quixote, the dreamer.
“Why not focus fully on gCaptain, why do you keep taking on these impossible challenges?” a friend recently asked me. “Why pour six figures of your own money and time into gShips when every short sea company before you failed?” To which I always reply in a bad Boston accent “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And on cue, she shakes her head and laughs.
But the real answer is this…. because I will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest… knowing I fought some impossible fights. And while my friends and I have failed at many, we have won more than our share and despite the deep scars we have to prove it, the victories make us happy.
We have lots of failures too and those do not make us happy but they do give us peace. We find peace because we did not fight thinking we would win… we fought knowing the battle is hard.
“You’re just a gCaptain” yes proudly I am. When I launched gCaptain the mear idea of providing the news to every sailor aboard every ship for FREE, seemed an impossible goal. Subscriptions to maritime news cost thousands and arrived aboard ships, weeks late. Now free high-quality maritime news is so ubiquitous we have competition and nobody believes us when we tell them THIS was once an IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. Everyone laughs at the countless Captain Konrad MEME’s IMMO has produced (including us) but nobody sees the many scars.
And when David Yoho’s great-grandchildren learn about his impossible gold medal victory they will probably say “what’s the big deal, of COURSE, he deserves veteran status. Of course, we defeated the Nazi’s. Of course the good guys won.”
While I seem to get the brunt of the memes, the truth is I’m not the only dreamer. Captain Robert Cook of the Organization of Black Maritime Graduates has dreamed of full equality for black men and women in our industry for decades. Frank Coles dreams of a day when all seafarers are treated like humans. Ally Cedeno Women Offshore and all the WISTA members dream of the day when half the ship owners, captains, and engineers are women. Sal Mercogliano and Mark Buzby dream of a strong US Merchant Fleet. Antoon Van Coillie dreams of a day when cities won’t be choked with nasty emissions. Mark Huang, Alissa Peterson, and Jason Kelly dream that young startups with an impossible dream get funded. Jack Buono dreams he can help spark those dreams in our youth with new research facilities.
I could go on but the list would be long because we are an industry of dreamers. Why? Because once you fall to your knees after getting the shit kicked out of you for days in the winter North Atlantic aboard a fourty-year-old US flagged rustbucket (as so many of us have)and survive you know – you KNOW – for certain that the impossible is possible… if you can just keep your bow into the wind a little longer.
If you want to die peacefully and calm join us, as the Stoic Philosophers (my friend Ryan Holiday writes about) suggest. If you hope to one day look as scarred, and as battle worn, and weary (and happy) as David Yoho or Peter O’toole… Here are links to information on just a few of the unwinnable battles we at gCaptain fight a little every single day.
Veteran Status For ALL US Merchant Mariners (AMMV)
Full Equity For Women (Women Offshore, WISTA)
Full Equity For Minorities (OBMG, ANSO)
Basic Human Rights For ALL Seafarers (Frank Coles, Change.Org)
Ending Sexual Harassment At Sea
US Navy Reform
Rebuilding The US Merchant Marine (Sal Mercogliano)
Short Sea Shipping (Zulu Associates)
Oceans, Environment, Climate Change (Billion Oyster Project)
Research & Development $ for Maritime Education (USMMA)
Startups with the impossible dream to do all of the above (Sea-Ahead)
But this is just a small list of my impossible passion projects. Please visit our forum and tell us the unwinnable fights you are battling and how we can help because I love standing behind those getting their a$$ kicked in a fight we can’t possibly win (until we do).
Signed, El Capitan Quixote (aka John)
P.S.2 If you think a 3-inch gun is small then you’ve never been in the Navy. :)
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