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Dec 17
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The Mother Wave

Before the days of GPS, sailors navigated using the feel of the waves. On a mission to learn the ocean’s secret rhythms, a researcher discovers a coded message in a ship logbook.

In the Shetland Museum and Archive’s study room I flip through the logbooks of a long-dead sailor, Andrew Cheyne. These are logbooks of various ships Cheyne rented from investors from about 1840 to 1860. Back then, the captaining of a commercial vessel was more like a life-or-death Kickstarter campaign than a romantic independent undertaking. He raised the money to sail and trade sea cucumber and sandalwood from often-shady ship-owners and generally ended up in debt. Each logbook is meticulously filled with a looping, slanting, barely comprehensible cursive script. In one of these logbooks I found a mysterious passage. It is the only place in the logbooks where Cheyne concealed his message with a code:

Cheyne wrote openly about taking hostages in Chuuk, about murders on Pohnpei, and betrayals in Hong Kong and Sydney. But on this page he decided he must obscure his message for the ages. This code had most likely gone undeciphered for over a century, and I, suddenly a scholar of the Nicolas Cage school, would be the one to crack it. Perhaps it would be the key to understanding the man, what this one life meant to the world.

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Today’s Headlines

Dec 17
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