He was perhaps the most celebrated naval historian of his era, an influential promoter of United
States naval and commercial expansion during America's rise to world power in the late
nineteenth century. As the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark
Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783
, Alfred Thayer Mahan was widely regarded as
a brilliant naval theorist. From his writings, readers would never have guessed, however, that the
renowned champion of the United States Navy hated the sea, and while an active-duty naval
officer, lived in constant fear of ocean storms and colliding ships.
Mahan's fear of accidents at
sea was not unfounded. During a forty-year naval career that began as a midshipman at the U.S.
Naval Academy in 1856, he was involved in numerous maritime mishaps.
In 1874, Mahan ran the USS
into a barge at the ship's anchorage in Montevideo,
Uruguay. He also was responsible for 'doing slight damage' to an Argentinean warship during a
storm off Buenos Aires on November 3, 1874. More embarrassing than these accidents,
however, was the time that Mahan clumsily wedged the
into a dry dock caisson at
Montevideo, where it remained stuck for ten days. This absurd episode prompted Mahan-
biographer Robert Seager II to comment that 'Alfred Thayer Mahan may be the only
commanding officer in the history of the U.S. Navy rendered hors de combat by a dry dock.'
On May 27, 1893, Mahan's fears were once again realized. In a minor accident, the
Mahan on the bridge, had a brush with the USS
, a Naval Academy training ship, at the New
York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn. Neither vessel was seriously damaged, but this latest mishap unnerved
Mahan and kept intact his record of having 'grounded, collided, or otherwise embarrassed every ship