Do you know how difficult it is to captain a ship? No, reader, you probably don’t. We bet you think it’s all fun and games. Who even comes to your mind when you think of famous captains? Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October? Captain Kirk in Star Trek? Kermit the Frog in Muppet Treasure Island? Let us let you in on a little secret: these guys had no idea what they were doing. Listen. It’s easy to grab a fake eye patch from wardrobe and start barking out fake orders from behind a fake helm to fake sailors who will likely never engage in fake mutinous activity. But you know what’s hard? Doing all of that for real.
So it’s no wonder so many of our real life captains were bat-shit insane. Between sailing unknown waters, risking crew member mutiny, and keeping track of which side is port and which is starboard, things get complicated. You’d be a little loopy too. Thankfully there’s something we can learn from each of these heroes and their adventures at sea. Pay attention. You need to hear this.
7. Ferdinand Magellan
Who’s this guy? Ferdinand Magellan was a fifteenth-century Portuguese man with big dreams. Not only did he want to be the first person to lead an expedition across the Pacific Ocean, but he wanted to be the first damn guy to circumnavigate the Earth. Things went well at first. There was a small mutiny, but after a few highly publicized crew executions (the bones of the crew members killed were found later by Sir Francis Drake, more on that nutjob below), everything went swimmingly.
Those stars are his dreams. And in his right hand you’ll see tongs. He was making a salad.
Why he was insane: He believed everyone needs to be Christian, even really dangerous people with spears. On Cebu, an island in the Philippines, Magellan got it in his head that he’d be able to spread the word of the Lord to Chief Datu Lapu-Lapu, but the Cheif wasn’t having any of it. Lapu-Lapu firmly believed if there was really a god, he never would have ended up with such a horrible name. These conflicts caused The Battle of Mactan and Magellan soon met his maker. Bible thumpin’ was a real bad idea back in the day.
What we can learn from him: Never force your politics and religion down the throat of strangers. It’s offensive, uncouth, and can result in you being shot with a poisonous arrow and then finished off with spears and other various weapons wielded by natives. No, seriously. Magellan was pierced a comically large number of times. And he never finished his circumnavigation.
“We were just wondering if you had a few moments to hear about our Lord and savior Jesus Christ?”
6. Christopher Columbus
Who’s this guy? Do you know what it’s like to discover an entirely new continent? To be the first from your world to set foot on a completely foreign land? No? Well, actually, neither did Christopher Columbus when he landed on the Americas. Leif Ericson kind of beat him to the punch 500 years earlier. But do you know what it’s like to be mistakenly given the credit for discovering an entirely new continent? It’s fucking tough.
He was just as good looking as you always imagined.
Why he was insane: He was a Christian nutjob. Christopher, in later years, became deeply, deeply, religious, which by itself isn’t so bad. But then he decided to wear priests’ clothing everywhere. And then he started hearing some voices in his head. And then he tried to gather support on his idea of recapturing Jerusalem. And then he claimed the new lands he discovered were paradise, and that it was part of God’s plan to visit there, because the end of the world was coming. Religion is such a slippery slope for some people.
What we can learn from him: Don’t assume too much in life. Columbus died in 1506 never knowing what he had actually (sort of) discovered. He was still convinced that he had simply sailed completely around the world and was docking in east Asia. Now once a year on Columbus Day America celebrates just how totally incorrect he was. That’s America for ya.
5. Edward J. Smith
Who’s this guy? Edward J. Smith was the flamboyant and affluent captain of the RMS Titanic. He was widely respected and later in life became known as the “Millionaire’s Captain” because of the fact that so many rich families would only board ships with Smith in charge. In retrospect, shopping around for some different captains might have been a good idea.
His heart will go on.
Why he was insane: He lacked common sense. Smith set sail from England to New York City fully aware that if there were any sort of an incident while in the middle of the Atlantic, there would not be enough lifeboats for the entire occupancy. He believed nothing could go wrong on its maiden voyage. Sure, back then the maritime laws said you didn’t always need to have enough safety vessels for everyone – at the same time, though, there’s no law stating we can’t uppercut wild grizzly bear in the nuts, but we still all know better.
What we can learn from him: Always prepare for the worst! You never know when things might go wrong. And how could you live with yourself knowing that you sent Leonardo DiCaprio to an early, icy grave? Smith could not live with himself, which is exactly why he went down with the Titanic after it struck an iceberg on April 14th, 1912.
“Hey… could you maybe… mention… the lifeboat issue… to someone… for next time?”
4. Sir Francis Drake
Who’s this guy? Remember how Ferdinand Magellan wasn’t able to circumnavigate the earth because of some issues involving Christianity and angry natives? Well Sir Francis Drake didn’t have those types of problems. By 1580 Drake had already sailed around the world become kind of the golden boy of exploration, which isn’t as great as it sounds. You get like a statue or something.
Okay, it’s a pretty good looking statue.
Why he was insane: Co-commander Thomas Doughty would be happy to tell you why Sir Francis Drake was insane. You see Doughty caught Drake’s brother stealing from their ship and quickly spread the word. Drake, being a ridiculously over protective brother then accused Doughty of witchcraft. He convinced everyone… from the deck swabber to the magistrates and soon Doughty was executed. The co-commander, of course, was not practicing witchcraft…Drake was just a power abusing yet loving brother.
What we can learn from him: What goes around comes around. After accusing Doughty of witchcraft, Drake went on his way, confident in the fact that he was untouchable. And for almost twenty years, he was. But in 1596, after an unsuccessful attack on San Juan, Drake was stuck off shore of Panama. He came down with dysentery and died. Do you know what dysentery is? You pretty much poop yourself to death. Was this a final act of witchcraft from Doughty? We hope so.
3. James Cook
Who’s this guy? James Cook was a British navigator and cartographer and a damned fine one at that. He was the first to map Newfoundland (although he didn’t come up with the incredibly creative name) along with several islands and coastlines. People really loved this guy’s maps. He often autographed his famous maps for fans, writing, “Don’t forget to map out your dreams! J. Cook, xoxo.”
“Come on in, girls. You ever seen a cartographer at work?”
Why he was insane: Cook thought he could get away with pretending to be an ancient diety – twice. He arrived in Hawaii at the same time the festival for the Polynesian god Lono (not to be confused with the Irish god, Bono) was taking place, and surely enough, those kooky Hawaiians were just sure that Cook was Lono himself. Cook thought it would be a good idea to entertain the tribe and pretend he actually was the big guy. Bad idea #1. After a fun stay, the festival ended and Cook left. As he was leaving, though, a mast on the ship broke and he decided to turn back. Bad idea #2.
What we can learn from him: Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Cook returned to unwelcoming glares from the Hawaiians, because they apparently only have patience for Lono during the Lono festival. This led to tensions, and after a little dispute and the attempted kidnapping of the Hawaiian king, Cook’s body was circumnavigated with a native’s knife. Yes, that’s the fourth time circumnavigate has been used in this column.
Hopefully the second coming of Christ goes better than the second coming of Lono.
2. Edward Teach AKA Blackbeard
Who’s this guy? If you were alive around the early 1700’s, you knew Blackbeard. “Oh, I don’t follow the news,” you say. “I don’t keep up with the current captains of my time,” you continue. Well hey, it doesn’t matter. Blackbeard was a pirate and notorious killer. He had fourteen wives. He battled British war ships regularly. Word got around.
Kind of a dainty pose such a maniacal killer, right?
Why he was insane: During battles, the dude put lit matches into his beard to intimidate enemies. That’s not enough? Okay. One tale says Blackbeard shot his own first mate and then explained “if he didn’t shoot one or two crewmen now and then, they’d forget who he was.” Oh, and then there was that time that he thought it’d be fun to make an actual hell on the ship. Blackbeard shut all the hatches in the ship’s hold, filled pots with brimstone, and then set them on fire. Sulfuric acid filled the air. He was the last one to leave the personal hell, and basically called all his men pussies for not sticking around longer.
What we can learn from him: Being a hardass doesn’t always pay off. Eventually Blackbeard and his merry men were caught up with by a British lieutenant who had had just about enough of Blackbeard’s tomfoolery. A battle erupted that ended with Blackbeard having been shot five times, stabbed twenty, and decapitated once. They hung his head on the bow of the ship as a warning to all those considering acting like total douches.
Who’s this guy? You won’t hear this from many people, but Noah, honestly, was kind of a kiss-ass. A family man and devout follower of the Lord, Noah stood out among his heathen peers. So much so, actually, that the Lord gave him an extra-credit assignment. The Lord sent Noah a message one night. Translated from unreadable tongues to current day text message, it said: “hi noah, its god, no shit lol. listen i no its short notice but i need a favor. im floodin the earth next week i gotta kill everyone but you and your family will be ok can you round up 2 of evry animal and put on a big ship? K thx ttyl.”
Why he was insane: Hearing voices in your head is one thing. Following their directions is taking it to another damn level. In modern times if an individual does that they either run a reality show or are put in a straitjacket. Noah not only built the ship (which, by the way, would have had to have been 3-4 miles wide in order to fit everything), but he also gathered the animals. That is correct. A male and female. Of every animal. On the Earth. Except for the frogs whose poop cured cancer. He accidentally forgot those.
Do you know how hard it is to pose for a group photo under these circumstances?
What we can learn from him: Sometimes being a kiss-ass isn’t so bad. Like when it directly results in you being the only survivor of an apocalyptic disaster carried out by the wrath of a vengeful god. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the story of Noah is unequivocally, no doubt about it, 100% true. Ask the Dinosaurs.