Stay on Course

In 1707, Cloudsley Shovel was a seasoned Fleet commander for Great Britain.

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By Matt Forck

In 1707, Cloudsley Shovel was a seasoned Fleet commander for Great Britain. Numerous times, he had bravely led his fleet of four ships in battle. The position of Admiral was a prestigious one in a country such as the United Kingdom; a country which depended on the success of their ships for their country’s safety and security.

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But late on one dark and densely foggy night in October of 1707, Shovel lost his entire fleet and his own life as four ships sank and two-thousand men died. The ships weren’t lost in a fierce battle or a surprise attack; instead Admiral Shovel misled them aground on a string of small islands near the southwest tip of Britain.

How can a well trained, respected and knowledgeable Fleet Admiral from a sea-going country like Great Britain possibly lose four war ships and crew by running them on shore? Well, in the early 1700s, it wasn’t that surprising. The concepts that enabled commanders to navigate, latitude and longitude, had been around since the first century B.C. but they were not perfected by the early 18th century. In fact, in the day of Cloudsley Shovel, an Admiral never knew for sure how far east or west the ship had traveled. The only two methods at the discretion of the Captain to gauge the ship’s progress and position at sea were by either estimating the ship’s average speed or dropping a log over the side of the boat and timing how long it took to float from bow to stern.

With such rudimentary tools, we are able to understand how a seasoned seaman such as the Admiral Cloudsley Shovel could make such an error. That was in 1707, some three hundred years ago. Today, we don’t have to rely on rudimentary measures or logs floating alongside to give us ‘best guess’ types of information. Instead, today, we have the capability of knowing, of learning from the experiences, disasters and losses of those that came before us. In safety, stay on course. Rely on measures of success such as job briefings, safety rules, safe work practices… and in so doing, arrive home at the end of the voyage.

About the Author:
Matt Forck, JLW & CSP, delivers proven and engaging safety keynote messages throughout the United States. Join the growing list of clients calling on Matt to bring their organization to safety’s next level and check out Matt’s website to take advantage of many FREE safety tools;

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