Citizens often refer to their country as the ship of state. In like manner, investors picture big corporations as sleek cruise liners or enormous freighters. The thinking goes like this: The bigger the hull, the more seaworthy the ship and the more stable the ride. And that’s true—most of the time.
While embarking on a pleasure cruise, my guests feel cozy and safe until I sing something that feels appropriate to the occasion, like The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – yes, the classic by Gordon Lightfoot. I often belt that out when afloat with friends. It never fails to elicit loud whining, often accompanied by hands clasped to ears.
I like that song. For reasons I fail to understand, this particular ballad gets under people’s skin.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
Seems a good mariner’s tune to me, but every time I sing it, I’m assailed by impassioned shouts of, “Stop it—stop it!” What’s wrong with these people? Can it be that folks don’t want to face the inherent risks of investment?
Maybe that question deserves an explanation:
The Luxury Liner
Those that can afford it, invest in a voyage on a luxury liner. These vessels usually give a pretty smooth ride—in protected waters. The destination is fixed and there’s a very good likelihood that you’ll get there. The cruise director plies everybody with food, booze, and showgirls to break the monotony. Passage on such a ship is like buying a TRIPLE A BOND. You pay a premium. You receive a teensy-weensy coupon. It’s nice and safe. And a lousy investment.
You may choose to invest fewer resources and board a freighter. Such ships usually accept 6 to 12 passengers in relative comfort.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
Some of these hulks venture out to the deep with deplorable maintenance records. Picture an overloaded tub, rusting around the hatches and wallowing in high waves. In various waters, piracy enters the picture—something worthy of consideration. A trip on a freighter is like buying a JUNK BOND. Low price, outsized coupon, plenty of risk.
A small startup venture feels more like my 15 ft. canoe. It can bring you to incredibly beautiful wilderness locations inaccessible to the big tubs. A canoe is simple and elegant. No promenade deck. No staterooms. No galley. Limited cargo hold. An excursion in a canoe is like making a small PRIVATE EQUITY DEAL. You set out and there’s no telling where you’ll end up. I like the canoe.
Big Ships these days are equipped with high-tech wizardry for navigation, communication, even water purification.
My canoe carries its share of technology, too. I’m talking a hull made from modern composite materials, a powerful little electric trolling motor, a depth finder, an ice chest. And my smartphone, which provides GPS navigation, weather reports, and emergency communication!
It seems to me that those big ships use an awful lot of fuel. Such monstrosities require large, well-trained crews to operate safely too. That’s overhead. That costs money. I don’t like that kind of risk.
I can handle my canoe all by myself, or with a couple friends who bring no prior experience aboard. I’ll motor around all day without depleting my battery. I re-charge it for pennies. That’s efficiency! Like lean manufacturing or just in time delivery! And it’s green!
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
I go out in November, too. Along with my fishing gear, I carry a cozy Gore Tex parka, and an insulated hoodie. No problem. I laugh at the weather! Laugh I say!
Another thing—these big ships are very, very hard to stop or turn. They sometimes run aground with disastrous results.
I prefer my canoe. Like a startup venture, it pivots quickly. I can run it up on shore—no harm done—and explore an island, then launch it back in the water.
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Small stocks always fluctuate, but bonds can sometimes default. DEFAULT IS DEATH. I’ve had only one near-death experience in my canoe. It happened this November and yes, the water was plenty cold.
Did I mention that I fish out of my canoe? With a 10-weight fly rod, I cast 12 inch weighted streamers for Northern Pike and Musky. And I bait-cast huge bucktails and other hardware in the teeth of the November chill.
People make slurs about the faithful canoe. They claim that it’s too tippy. Rot, I say! Phooey! One day last week at about 4 pm, with my knees cramping from a day of hard fishing, I stand up to cast. No problem. I routinely stand in my canoe to cast for pike. It’s just a matter of balance.
Without warning, I’m two fathoms underwater. I remain strangely calm. Stunned may be a more accurate word because this has never happened to me before. Naturally I take the opportunity to scan around. I note a peculiar absence of fish. Then I become aware that my high tech automated inflatable life preserver has not self-deployed as advertized. In my perplexed state of mind, it doesn’t occur to me to pull the ripcord.
In due time the CO2 cartridge releases and I bob to the surface. In retrospect, the process actually takes only a few seconds. I know because I never gasp for air. Time always seems to stand still during such incidents.
I see my canoe, floating high, upright, and noble. I attempt to swim toward her. It is amazing how difficult it is to make headway in the water fully clothed and shod while tightly grasping an expensive 7-1/2 ft. musky rod between greedy fingers. But no matter. I finally reach the boat.
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
With a canoe, it’s easy to grasp the gunwale, reach for the trolling motor, point the bow at an island and with my body making wake, head for shore. Once in the shallows, it isn’t difficult to re-board the craft. I slip my smartphone out of its high tech ziplock bag and find it operating perfectly. I do not make an emergency call. No sir! This is no emergency! It’s an inconvenience! A big ship would make the news. A canoe is more manageable. I simply retrieve my beloved fishing hat and motor back to the launch site, hoping nobody saw what just happened.
I feel that a dunking is a small price to pay for such a fine day on the water, and I’m soon warm by the fire, reading a good book, with the mariner’s song playing in the back of my head.
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
The sinking of a ship is a huge tragedy. But why do people fear canoe-sized business ventures? My canoe has yet to default!
Graphics by John Jonelis, MS Office
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