“Salvage” does not mean “Finders Keepers”

Last month I left a lot of readers hanging when I mentioned that the intricacies of the Law of Salvage were brought home to me during my tenure as an Assistant Attorney General.  A local denizen of the community (no doubt one of the “flotsam and jetsam of humanity” from last month) had been convicted of stealing a boat and sent off to prison from which he launched an appeal. He represented himself and wrote a brief in which he argued the State of Florida could not prosecute him because by taking the boat he was acting under the “federal law of salvage.” Since his brief contained the word “boat,” and everybody knew I was a “past commodore,” the case was assigned to me. I quickly headed to our law library to do some research. I learned that “salvage” does not mean “finder’s keepers.” In fact, the Law of Salvage is pretty
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What is a club?

What is a “club,” anyway? As far back as the first paperback edition of Yachting Customs and Courtesies (20 years ago!) we’ve repeated the same mantra: “A club is first and foremost a group of people. Compatibility comes first; the name is secondary.” The lesson could not have been plainer than it was earlier this month when the Palm Beach Sailing Club provided the venue for the Jack Swenson Memorial race which was hosted by the Royal Turkey Yacht Club. The regatta was part of the international laser masters series and attracted 68 competitors from 8 countries. A few people (fewer every year, thank goodness) become red in the face and argue that a “sailing” club cannot, by its very nature, be a “yacht” club, ignoring some very fine old institutions like the Buffalo Canoe Club whose clubhouse is not located in Buffalo, and whose only canoes are two on
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Preserving your good name to the very end

The first Cadet Chapel was constructed on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, in 1836. Its unadorned windows, severe Gothic design and plain white walls accentuate both its ecumenical use and its military heritage. Fittingly, the only decoration other than the “Peace and War” mural by Robert W. Weir, an Academy professor from 1833 to 1876, consists of black marble tablets, mounted around the walls; each tablet bearing in gold the name, rank, and dates of birth and death of a general officer of the Revolutionary War. High up in a rear corner of one wall, almost out of sight near the railing of the choir loft–and, in fact, cut off by the railing–is a solitary plaque which carries only the rank and date of birth of a general officer of that war. The name and date of death have been conspicuously removed. It
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The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge

January: A time to look forward — and back. Whether you call it a “Change of Watch” or “Change of Command” or “Passing the Gavel,” January is the month of rebirth in the world of clubs and associations. The name of the month is taken from the Roman god Janus, the protector of gates and doors, as well as beginnings and endings.  Romans believed that in return for his hospitality to the great god Saturn, Janus was given the ability to see both the future and the past; and so he was depicted in their culture with two faces, one looking back and the other looking forward.  Since ancient times, the month of January has been seen as a bridge between the old and the new. It may be only a coincidence, but construction of the greatest icon of all American bridges began on January 3, 1870.  Although it would take another 13
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The Friendliest of Enemies

In an era of all-out-give-‘em-hell war, it’s nice to think about the days of yore when armed disputes between nations were put in the hands of gentlemen—mostly “second sons”—who, after they had done their duty and covered themselves in glory, were eligible to marry gracious young women with titles like “Lady,” and set about raising a brood of children for the next generation. Well, maybe it didn’t happen that way exactly, but it’s nice at least to contemplate such legends. One of those legends involves the battle between the hurriedly-constructed Fort George located on the Canadian side of the Niagara River and Fort Niagara, a stone fortress begun by the French in 1687, captured by the British in 1759, and lost to the Americans in the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. The story goes that British and American military officers had much more in common with each other than
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Trophies

A club’s trophies serve two important functions: in addition to being awards for current contests, they are a daily link with the club’s history. Yacht club trophies may come in many shapes and sizes, but the one thing they should not be is a mass-produced, multi-columned, wedding-cake-top affair with the ubiquitous figure of a small human being holding a torch, a globe, a golf club or anything else. Yacht club trophies have been fashioned from glass or ceramic objects of art, and some clubs have trophies that were custom-made from binnacles or cannons. St. Petersburg Yacht Club (Florida) has a trophy that is awarded annually to the winner of the Royal Gaboon Race. The trophy is made from a silver cuspidor said to have been “liberated” in 1948 from a notorious New Orleans “establishment.” The club will not reveal the exact nature of the es-tablishment, but explains that “gaboon” is
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Folding the Flag

Just in time for Flag Day and the Glorious Fourth! Many traditions surround the American flag; among them is the proper method of folding the flag before storing it or presenting it at a ceremony. Regardless of size, it takes thirteen folds to properly fold our Nation’s flag: two lengthwise folds and eleven triangular folds. Some people have found significance in that fact, linking the number 13 with the thirteen original colonies, and they have attempted to attach a special meaning to each fold. In fact, the flag is folded thirteen times in order to achieve a compact and pleasing result; the number 13 is coincidental. Several people have written “Thirteen Folds” ceremonies meant to be read while the folding process is taking place. Lt. Col. Samuel Hudspath, Chief of Protocol of the United States Air Force, who has researched the subject, has written: There is no shortage of scripts
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The Problem with Mixed Signals

Mixing signals in your club, your business, or—for that matter—your marriage, does not work. To be successful at anything you have to choose one course and stay on it. History is full of examples of tragedies that resulted from mixed signals, but few are more horrific than that which befell the City of Halifax, Nova Scotia, when the entire city was obliterated in the blink of an eye. On December 6, 1917, the French ship Mont-Blanc was entering Halifax harbor loaded with 62 tons of gun cotton, 150 tons of TNT, 2,366 tons of picric acid (which was even more unstable and powerful than TNT), and, finally, 246 tons of benzol that was packed in steel drums stacked four high. In all, the ship was loaded with six million pounds of high explosives that the French government purchased from its New York agents and which were being shipped to France
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A Dramatic Lesson in Leadership – Part 2

Last month we traced the course of the ill-fated Donner Party as their wagon train attempted to cross the Sierra-Nevada mountains and reach a place they considered to be paradise: it was California. After being stuck for three months in cabins near Lake Truckee, 44 of the 89 emigrants did reach “paradise”—but it wasn’t the one they expected. Those poor souls died of disease and starvation in spite of the fact that they had some supplies including a few horses and cattle, endless firewood, and a trout-filled lake. They were on a well-known trail and had to do little more than “shelter in place” for four months until they would be rescued. But, because of the indecisive leadership and mistakes of George Donner, half of the party died. Contrast that with the trans-Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Their ship, the Endurance, was caught in the ice on January
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A Dramatic Lesson in Leadership

On February 19, 1847, the first members of the Donner Party were rescued from their snowbound prison in the icy Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Their story is one of mismanagement and indecisiveness. It vividly contrasts with the story of the Shackleton Expedition and provides a dramatic lesson in leadership. George Donner and his family were part of a wagon train of settlers headed for California. George was elected leader of that train, not because of his experience or his ability to inspire, but because he was the richest man. The settlers set out from the usual jumping-off place of Springfield, Illinois, in April, 1846. Their pace was slow because every time an important decision had to be made, George would order the wagons circled, hold a meeting and determine the wishes of the majority. In spite of the constant delays, by that summer the emigrants reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming. While there they
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