Where would we be without the loonies?

June, 2001

By Dodge Morgan
The lunatic fringe, and we’re talking about people here, can be found along the full range of human endeavor and in all age categories. There are wacky athletes, intellectuals, life-stylers, adventurers, sailors, activists, comics, plumbers and editors and the wackier they are the more endearing they are. (I just threw in editors because this last-minute column became necessary only because the Points East editorial monarch, Sandy, callously turned down an outstanding column I wrote in advance several months ago on the bizarre theory that readers would be infuriated by images of frozen seawater in springtime.)

I have a highly philosophical theory about the screwballs amongst us. Think about the subject holistically. Consider the full range of human action from fringe to fringe, from those who do frigging nothing to those who do something categorically stupid. Now, if you lopped off those acting at the loony extreme of this continuum, you would move the center of action for all of us (we can call this the “normal” median) towards the do-nothing edge, and what a horrid shame that would be. Those on the lunatic fringe are, in fact, the loony yea-sayers among us. They are the ones who, by their wackiness, teach the rest of us the vital lesson that “it can be done and I can do it!”

So the next time you encounter a really active nutcase, you don’t have to buy him a drink or invite him home for supper, but you damned well should toss him a silent salute for keeping the world from becoming a very dull place indeed and for keeping “normal” normal.

Some of my favorite loony yea-sayers are sailors (am still looking for an editor in this category.) Here’s a random selection of some.

There is an Englishman who intends to circumnavigate the world solo under sail eating nothing but dog food. He has named his boat Happydog. He hopes to get free provisions from a pet food maker nearby.

Maine sailor Bill Dunlop determined to sail solo around the world in a 9-foot boat. He was a big man, and when in his boat looked like he was wearing it. Dunlop, a trucker by trade, made two Atlantic crossings in his tiny vessel. I understand the sail from Portland to Boston took him six days. He miraculously sailed all the way to the South Pacific Melanesian Islands before contact with him was lost.

• While sailing my old schooner Coaster through the Bahamas, I met a solo sailor who had severe narcolepsy; he would fall sound asleep in an instant without notice and once did so for me, head “plop” into a bowl of soup he was eating. His boat was named Dreamer.

• I watched the eminent naval architect Fenwick Williams seriously try to sail a punt up wind using only a kite on a long string as propulsion.

• I witnessed a tiny schooner sailed by a couple arrive in Hawaii after an 86-day crossing from Los Angeles (20 days is considered normal.) After watching the female crewmember crawl off the boat on all fours to slowly disappear into the streets of Honolulu without uttering one word, I heard the skipper’s story. His was a home-built boat and sure looked it. She was painted black all over. He had sailed on the port tack all the distance to the vicinity of Hawaiian Islands with the sun, declined south of him, beating on the windward side. When he needed to come about to fetch Oahu, he discovered that she had opened up quarter-inch gaps in the portside planks. He said it took him a week of very short tacks and frantic pumping to swell her enough to prevail on a starboard tack.

Now, it is fortunate for a number of Points East wacky readers that I have run out of space. That unforgiving editor there as well.

The pathologically ordinary editor understands the writer’s frustration and thanks him for a last-minute scramble to assemble this fine column. However, he continues to insist that the only ice readers want to hear about in June is that which is being dropped into a glass. Begging the writer’s indulgence, the editor looks forward to an icebreaking column next winter. Oh, by the way, Dodge Morgan is an entrepreneur and famous circumnavigator who lives on a sometimes (though never in June) iced-in island in Harpswell, Maine.