Ship of Theseus

Philosophers have been mulling over the metaphysics of identity and the Ship of Theseus thought experiment since at least 400-500 BC. The story goes that an adventurer named Theseus retired from voyaging and requested his ship be returned to its former glory. Each wooden plank was replaced, and in doing so sparked a debate – is an object the same object if each piece has been changed? At what point does it become something new?

Philosophy of...: The Ship of Theseus
Image and some thoughts sparked by this blog post.

This idea is less puzzling on fiberglass boats without all those wooden planks ready to rot in the salty air. I did some hunting around online to see how long it takes for fiberglass to decompose, and the best I can say is…it doesn’t. The ~12 million fiberglass boats registered in the US are headed for the dump whenever they lose their seaworthiness or until these recycling options come through.

On Azimuth, the cabinetry, engine, and mast are some of the only original items remaining aside from the fiberglass hull. We added electronics invented since the building of our ship and swapped rigging, sails, thruhulls, plumbing, wiring, and other bits and bobs with a shorter lifespan. Heck, we even replaced the kitchen sink!

The updated equipment list has all the details.

After replacing many parts of a ship, here’s my spin on the Ship of Theseus debate – perhaps it stopped being the ship “of Theseus” once the new caregivers took up the task of keeping it seaworthy. Our boat is a decade older than us and has gone through seasons as the ship of Mike and the ship of Dan. Sometime between the signing of paperwork and now it became Azimuth, the ship of Ash and Scott.

We have a few more items on the to-do list and three days until we hoist anchor for Mexico. We stored the specialty tools, fasteners, chemicals, and spare parts acquired during this effort at the bottom of the lazerettes and look forward to reaching for snorkels, books, and fishing poles with greater frequency.

If you’d like to spot us on the 700-mile sail to Cabo San Lucas, click here.

Published by Ash

Knitter, sailor, and sewist on the move from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay aboard a 36' sailboat named Azimuth.

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