Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Carry On Mr. Bowditch - Reading Notes

Ben Meeker - Detractor, Demotivator, Uninspiring, Paid Hand (hireling), resents Nat's education and success - Leads to the path of Mediocrity
Sam Smith - Mentor, Motivator, Inspiring, Unpaid - teaches for the love of it (shepherd).  Leads to the path to greatness.  Introduces the term and major theme "sailing by ash breeze"
- Other mentors include Dr. Bentley, Dr. Prince, Nathan Read

Sailing by ash breeze - a shipping term that referred to using the oars for power when there was no wind to move the ship. "So--when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get--that's when you sail by ash breeze'."

Anchor to windward -

During a storm, if a ship is being blown toward a hazard, the crew can drop the anchors on the windward side of the ship (the side facing the wind) in order to stop the ship from running aground or wrecking. Such an "anchor to windward" is a final effort, when the hope of foward progress has been abandoned, and danger or disaster is at hand. Ships commonly have more than one anchor, so the use of the plural "anchors to windward," the indefinite article, or like constructions is also correct.
The phrase "anchor to windward" is also commonly used as a metaphor for a "last hope," with the ship understood to represent the protagonist, or subject. Often, the metaphor is extended to "losing an anchor to windward," or "losing one's anchor to windward," as a reference to the loss of a/the last hope, and the presence of an impending catastrophe.

Read more:

The men who sail before the mast -
"Before the mast" refers to the portion of a sailing ship where the low-level crewmembers lived. They lived in the "forecastle," which is the part underneath the deck at the bow (very front) of the ship. The mid-level officers lived on the mid-deck area, and the captain (and paying passengers, if any) lived in the aft section of the ship.

Commonplace Books - 
Nat Bowditch keeps commonplace books, writes down everything he leans, then returns and studies his notes.  He studies the classics like Newton's Principia, which gave him a reason to study Latin.  He learned Latin by translating Principia, and reading the New Testament (his Core book), using only a Latin grammar, a dictionary.  Model for language learning (as missionaries learn their mission language and gain fluency).

Where surveying starts -
I've read a lot about how a Thomas Jefferson education views the learning of subjects as extensions of something the child is interested in.  As a Love of Learner, Nat is asked to find out where surveying starts and he interprets the simple request as the foundations of surveying, meaning things like trigonometry, astronomy, and theodolites. (p. 56)  It is the context that makes these topics exciting, for there is a reason to study them that makes sense to the learner.  If the child doesn't see the purpose for learning something other than that they are being told to learn it, they will not retain it.  (John Holt talks a lot about this in his book "How Children Fail."

Winter is a time of learning -
p. 82 For three days, Nat sat and studied undisturbed.  See Phases of Learning - Ingredient #13: Winters

Freedom and Bondage -
Minna's brother John was a little lost at first after gaining his freedom from indenture.  Nat envisioned himself having a "one-man parade," but instead experienced the same feeling of being lost when his period of servitude was over.  What does bondage do to the soul of a man?  When his life is not his own, does he lose the ability to be free?

Happiness - 
"Being happy takes a lot of practice, don't you think?" p. 73
Yes, it does.  More often than not, happiness is a choice and can be achieved even when external circumstances are less than optimal.

Our children aren't chairs, are they? -
"I'm like the chair you stumble over in the dark.  It isn't the chair's fault, but you kick it anyhow. -- Your brain.  It's too fast.  So you stumble on other people's dumbness.  And--you want to kick something.  Even if people are dumb, they aren't chairs, are they?"  p. 82
How often do we get frustrated and even angry at our children for acting like children and thinking like children instead of thinking and acting like miniature adults?  Nat had to learn patience and humility to see that he couldn't treat people poorly when they didn't "get it."  All people, whatever their age, intelligence or station in life are human beings and children of God who we must treat with dignity and respect.  Oliver DeMille often talks about how true statesmanship requires the ability to communicate with and connect with people of all ages, stations, and walks of life.

The responsibility of the mentor:
p.110  "When he got back to the cabin, he would write down the explanation that had finally made sense to a man.  Just so I won't forget it, if I ever have to explain that again! he told himself.  After three weeks, he had quite a stack of notes.  He was making a new notebook, he realized; a very different sort of notebook.  All his other notebooks just said enough to explain things to him.  But this notebook said everything he had to say to explain things to other men--to the men who sailed before the mast."  
 If a person doesn't understand, it is the fault of the teacher, not of the student.  It is the responsibility of the teacher to meet the student where he is in order to help him progress.  This often requires repeated attempts at teaching a single concept in many different ways, as well as detective work to find out where the student really is.  This is a concept that John Holt hammers home in his book, "How Children Fail."
p. 111-112
"But, Mr. Bowditch, why are you doing it?"
Nat was silent for a moment.  "Maybe, sir, it's because I want to pay a debt I own tot he men who helped me; men like Sam Smith and Dr. Bentley and Dr. Prince and Nathan Read.  Maybe that's why.  Or maybe it's just because of the men.  We have good men before the mast, Captain Prince.  Every man of them could be a first mate--if he knew navigation."
Captain Prince muttered something under his breath.  "An odd business! he said.  "But I've never had less trouble with a crew.  Carry on, Mr. Bowditch."
"Aye, aye, sir."
p. 143
"Between his watches, Nat worked over his notes to figure how to teach the men."
 I remember reading in one of the TJed books about how a true mentor almost works harder than the student.  This was certainly the case with Nathaniel Bowditch.

When it seems like everyone else has it together - p. 146-147
The fourth day, when the Astrea lay at anchor, her sails limp, another ship passed them, moving steadily against the current.
Johnny was so angry he almost wept.  "Look at that sir!  Look!  What's the matter with us?  How can that one pass us?"
"She's in ballast and riding high," Nat explained wearily.  "Her topsails and royals are catching a breeze that's too high for us."
A ship "in ballast" is carrying only ballast, and of course will move much faster than one weighed down into the water with heavy cargo.  How often do we look at other homeschooling moms and families and compare our progress to theirs and feel like weeping because they seem to be moving so much more effectively and effortlessly?  We often give ourselves no leeway to slow down for the heavy burdens we may be carrying at the time.  It's hard to watch another woman or family riding high and catching breezes that are too high for us. However, most likely, they have gone through their own times when they were slowed down in their progress or they will.  These times come to everyone.

Transformation -
So much of the learning of new truths in this life is a result of failure and tragedy, which in turn create necessity.  Nat lost so many friends and family members to the sea, that his book became his life's passion.  He wouldn't have been driven to write it were it not for the many tragedies he was personally acquainted with.

The Phases of Learning -
It's interesting to trace throughout the book Nat's phases of learning.

  1. Core Phase - Innocence, wanting to work a spell to turn around the luck of the family
  2. Love of Learning - School, Asking the teacher for bigger problems to figure, discovery of his talent for mathematics
  3. Scholar - Period of Indenture, Studying the Classics (Latin, Newton's Principia, French, etc.)
  4. Depth - Sailing under Captain Prince (mentor), in depth study of navigation, discovery of new way to work lunars, preparation for the test ahead
  5. Mission - Writing the Book, 
  6. Impact -  Becoming Captain of the Putnam, working with his own protegees (like Lupe, "a good man, a good crew"), feels the full weight of leadership (understands why Captain Prince didn't smile).
Hindsight gives us a view of the wind beneath our wings - 
Nat's arm tightened around her.  Somewhere out of the past a voice whispered, "A long time to sail by ask breeze."
"Was it awfully hard?" Polly asked.
"Not too bad," Nat told her.  "Rough weather sometimes.  But I'll say this for it--I was never becalmed!"

Often in life we have really tough spots where we feel stuck and abandoned.  Prayers seem to go on and on unanswered and you almost feel like God has forsaken you.  In times like these, your only recourse is to sail by ash breeze.  The last few months have felt that way for me.  There were at least a couple of moments where I felt totally broken by the trials and I wept and cried out to God, "Where are you??"

But as I look back, I see his hand moving in my behalf.  The answers eventually came in due time.  He was always there.  I was never becalmed.


  1. What does sailing by ash breeze mean??????? If you could get back to me, sometime this morning.

    Thank you:)

  2. Olivia, read the book! You won't regret it. The oars were made of ash wood. It's a metaphor. If you ever "becalmed" - stopped with no wind in your sails - you'll need to get the oars out and row yourself to where you need to be. It means hard work will get you through tough times. But really. Read the book! The story has a lot to teach

  3. This is great information! I am looking for a list of nautical terms in Carry On, but you have answered my biggest questions!