The word adventurer was initially synonymous with gambling. The gambler would yell out “Adventure!” for help at the roulette table much as a modern gambler might yell “Come on, Seven!” at craps.
To be an adventurer was to be without responsibility or care. Quite often ‘adventurer’ was hurled as an insult.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) spun adventure on its head, using the word to imply bravery and daring. Captain James Cook, sailing 40 years later, would become synonymous with the word, now often meaning one imbued with courage and class.
*Gleaned from Martin Dugard’s Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook.
Martin Dugard’s book chronicles the three circumnavigations captained by James Cook in 1769-1780. On the first of these adventures, he is credited with circumnavigating New Zealand, mapping the eastern coast of Australia and discovering the Great Barrier Reef.
Endeavour slammed hard into a coral reef and ground to a violent halt. A mighty surf pounded against the beleaguered ship, wedging her wooden hull tightly onto the reef. All hands were immediately summoned on deck by a mate’s frantic cry of “Up every soul nimbly, for God’s sake, or we all perish.”
The crew took their cue from Cook and remained calm throughout, pumping the hold in fifteen-minute shifts. Cook ordered everything expendable of great heft heaved overboard. Six of the twelve cannons were dumped, twenty-five tons of fresh water, tons of rocks and ballast. “Casks, hoops, staves, oil jars, decayed stores,” wrote Cook of other items surrendered to the Pacific. And still she stuck fast.
This was an alarming and terrible circumstance. However when high tide arrived, “At 20 minutes past ten we hove her into deep water”. Soon Endeavour was out of danger and heading for land. Cook and the People removed their personal belongings from the ship and prepared to camp on shore. They were startled to find a large chuck of coral had pierced the hull but held fast without pressing all the way through. If that had happened, the ship most surely would have sunk.
For two months, the crew got a taste of what life would have been like marooned in this hostile land. They seined fish, ate kangaroo and sea turtle, marveled at flying fox. They fought the local Aborigines, who set fire to the brush surrounding Endeavour‘s campsite in one memorable skirmish. Cook himself shot an Aborigine for trying to steal sea turtle meat.
Finally, it is interesting note that James Cook is considered the inspiration for both Captain Hook (J.M. Barre’s Peter Pan) and James Kirk (Gene Roddenbury’s Star Trek.
Gordon Gibson was a pioneer of large-scale logging in British Columbia and writes of his life with bravado and wit. This extract relates days of old, when tipping was a sign of manhood.
One day I telephoned Louise from Powell River. I told her that I could have three days in San Francisco and asked her to go out with me. When she agreed, I chartered a plane and flew to Vancouver, then caught the flight south.
I met an interesting character on the plane. He asked me to give him two tens for a twenty-dollar bill and then offered one of the tens to the air hostess as a tip. When she turned it down, he put it in the envelope and left it on the seat ahead.
By chance we took the same bus from the air airport to the St. Francis Hotel. After we haad registered he asked me to join him in the bar. When I excused myself to phone to Louise, he suggested thaat she get a friend and thaat all of us join him for the evening. I thought he was a little forward but he seemed like a nice enough fellow.
It turned out to be a very embarrassing evening for me because we went to the very first nightclub that I had ever been in. It was private club having a fancy brass elevator. I saw him give the elevator operator a ten-dollar bill. I began to feel uneasy.
We went to the bar and he ordered a special bottle of champagne. I threw a ten-dollar bill out to pay for the next one. I thought that was big money. he insisted that we were his guests and told me to give the money to the bartender as a tip. I said, “I’ll take the goddamned money back. If you’re going to do the paying, you can damned well do the tipping too.” Later in the men’s room, I demanded, “Have you counterfeit money? How in the hell did you get so much?”
“That’s none of your damn business, Gibson,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of money left to me by my dad and I’m going down to Santa Anita to run my racehorses. I imposed on you by inviting myself for the evening, so Ii would like to pay the bill.” That was the first and last time I was ever impressed by a big spender.
Louise thought that I was a cheapskate because I let another man pay for all of the drinks and then took back my tip. She told me that evening almost ruined our relationship.
Don Starkell documents his two-year canoeing odyssey from Winnipeg, Canada to Belem, Brazil in the book Paddle to the Amazon. This remarkable journey is full of fascinating details of the climate, water, people and animals along the way.
Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 17, 1982 A couple of days ago, west of Puerto Ordaz, we were trailed for over an hour by five dolphins, or toninas, whose silvery skin was blotched with pink patches and whose dorsal fins were small and soft-looking, unlike the more prominent fins we are used to. From time to time, one of them would rocket towards us on the surface and then veer away sharply as it got to the canoe, doing its playful best to give us a good splash.
Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 22 A while ago several of our friendly toninas gathered around our campsite, poking their noses and eyes above water to see what we were up to. We realize now some of them have been following us for three or four days. Many of them have distinctive pink blotches, so that we’ve come to recognize them as individuals. The day before,we were surprised to see one that was entirely pink.
Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 27 We had a magical experience as we left camp this morning. Several big toninas were swimming along in front of us, half watching us as we stroked. Every so often, one of them would break from the rest and power in toward us, jumping into the air a few feet from the canoe and doing a somersault, sending a high spray of water over us. We’ve begun to suspect that they don’t follow our canoe merely for friendship but because we tend to scare the smaller fish out from along the banks.
I’m giving up on Existential Thursdays. Got tired of pushing that rock up the hill! Instead, let’s try Travel Thursday because it’s always nice to go somewhere, especially when you can’t.
In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of territories we have conquered and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them. There is a sense of emptiness that comes over us at evening.
Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and never will have.*