"It's too goddamn windy out there," Wolter Huisman shouted, to no one in particular. "It is wedder to test people, not boats." He shot Allan a meaningful look, who shot it right back to him. They both knew that the weather was the least of their problems.
When Hyperion left the seawall behind, it put itself at the mercy of a furious North Sea. Instantly, the boat was seized by forces far greater than itself; its magnificence was trivialized. A furious partial corkscrewing motion pulled us up to the right and then down to the left. We'd dip into a trough, experience a brief, false moment of calm, and then be picked up and twisted again. The German television soundman dropped to his knees, crawled over the side of the boat, and vomited. There was no question of his suppressing the urge; it was as if someone had pushed a button on the computer that instructed the man to be sick. There, prone and puking on the violent deck, he lifted his microphone into the air to capture the ambient noise. Room tone. A young Dutch friend of Clark's along for the ride chuckled and said, "The Germans. They will always do the job they are given no matter what."
But the German soundman was a trend setter. It took about a minute and a half before the first Dutch boatyard worker leaned over the safety ropes and vomited the Saint Nick's cake he'd been served an hour before. A minute later he was joined by two poor colleagues who had been down below monitoring the engines. A few minutes after that the three fellows working on the foredeck came back to join the party. Then came the rest of the German television crew. Hyperion rose and twisted and plunged and settled, then rose and twisted and plunged and settled all over again. Within twenty minutes eight men had gone as lifeless as if they had been unplugged from their sockets. Those who weren't sick pretended to be amused. They clustered around the captain and clung to the rails and smiled crazily at each other.
Eventually, Allan reduced the engine speed and hoisted the sail. He did this by pushing a button, which told the computer to hoist the sail, which the computer, for once, did. The mast was hatched with crossbars, called spreaders. The sail rose with a great flapping sound past them one by one until at length it reached the second-to-last spreader. Just when you thought there could be no more sail, more sail appeared. The mainsail alone was 5,600 square feet, a bit more than a quarter of a football field. The world's largest sail, as it happened. It was expected to handle up to eleven tons of wind. That is, the force on its ropes was the equivalent of dangling from their ends an eleven ton steel block. Already the ropes were being tested. "The wind is too strong to let it all out," Allan shouted to Wolter. Wolter nodded solemnly.
Not until you have hoisted a sail and turned off the engine can you fully appreciate the euphoria that accompanied the invention of the steam engine. The boat, now engineless, was subjected to a grosser, more primal force. The waves crashed and the spray came in sheets and the partial corkscrewing motion became a full corkscrewing motion. The eight men in Puker's Alley retched all over again. This time it wasn't so funny to the others. A wave washed over the deck and knocked two of the Dutch shipyard workers on the bow off their feet; they were saved from the sea by their safety ropes, which they alone wore. The three technogeeks clung to the rails and tried not to remember that they didn't belong here. They knew without being told that anyone who went overboard was as good as gone. A person tossed into the North Sea in December would last only a few minutes before freezing to death; and in these conditions it might take an hour to pick up a man overboard, if you could find him. Maybe for this reason no one bothered to don a life jacket.
It was then I noticed Wolter, his arm wrapped tightly around a rail, trying not to look at everything at once. It was Wolter whose ass was really on the line out here. If a Huisman mast snapped, or a Huisman hull leaked, and a Huisman yacht sank, a long and glorious family tradition bubbled to the bottom of the North Sea floor. That is why Wolter and his three hundred stout and sturdy craftsmen back in their tiny village in the north of Holland resisted change. They did not cling to the past mindlessly. But they were as immune as people can be to the allure of a new way of doing things. Traditional, in a word.
Excerpted from The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis. © October 20, 1999 , Michael Lewis used by permission of the publisher W.W. Norton & Company.
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