Theo Johnson '23
A Note from the Editor: Here’s an objective fact: Theo Johnson wrote this article. It may or may not be true, but consider the following: the very nature of truth is a fabricated idea, and we can know nothing beyond our own existence (thanks, Descartes). Also, go ahead and look up the S.S. Atlantus — it has a Wikipedia page.
July 25th, 1927, 4:30am. The ships have taken to the starting line 500 meters off the coast of Cape Spear, Newfoundland. In a few minutes, these 50 captains, some of the bravest and most adventurous in the civilized world, will be the first people on the American continent to see the July sun rise, yellow from the depths of the Atlantic. But in just three days’ time - and 2,260 miles’ distance - one among this most exemplary class of mariners will be the first to cross the finish line in Key West, Florida.
The task: Traverse the Atlantic coast down the Eastern Seaboard in any sort of naval vessel manufactured in the captain’s home nation.
The challenge: Gusts of wind over 60 miles per hour, seasickness, persevering currents that test even the world’s most magnificent machines, storms whose crashing thunder cause even Poseidon to tremble, waves the size of the Empire State Building, starvation, mutiny, and madness.
The reward: A ship and her crew etched in eternity as the greatest in human history—forever champion of the Race to Key West!
Which captain will win the race? Which ship will find her place next to the great Roman and British vessels of days past?
The cannon blows off the dock at Cape Spear, and, quickly, the order of ships begins to take form. The Cuban Schooner Club’s Morning Star and the Empire State Boating Company’s Liberty Bell come in 4th and 5th place, trailing just 30 seconds behind The Troubadour, registered under the Lone Star Corporation. Just a few boat lengths ahead, the Eagle, registered by Ino Engineering, trails the Imperial, the only British ship in the race. As the top five plow ahead, the rest of the field has come together in a large gruppone. As the boats pass out of view and around the southern tip of Newfoundland, only one boat - the S.S. Atlantus - finds itself clearly at the back of the race. Elsewise, the race is closer than predicted. Signing off.
The S.S. Atlantus sits quietly off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey. At low tide, you can see its stern nod up and down over the waves.
It’s a concrete ship.
A relic, not of the past or of any time at all. Just a relic. One that you find at low tide when you're looking off the beach at the southern tip of New Jersey. There’s not much of a story within it, to be frank. It’s a concrete ship, after all. But, at one point, there was a crew of 75 men and a captain who dreamed of, by taking a shortcut through the shallowest waters of the Delaware Bay, becoming the greatest crew in the history of mankind.
But there is no glory. Or story.
There is only a concrete ship.
And there are only the sons and daughters of that dream that never came true, that shored up beside the Jersey shore.
Actually, there is no dream here, those left with the frantic crew members and weeping captain. There is no dream here, there is a relic.
And a concrete ship.
Look out and you’ll find it, peaking out of the water. Look out and you’ll find it, an empty shell. A dream hatched out of this shell, prematurely and dispersed, leaving only a relic. Leaving only the S.S. Atlantus, out of the coast of Cape May.
Leaving the replacement propeller. The stamp left by the moss of a junkyard in Virginia. The shoe of a sailor. The broken glass which fractured the cape Spear sun into a million glowing stars. And the concrete.
“Don’t you wonder what’s there?”
“Of course not, it’s a relic.”