Tall Ships and Dangerous Cargo

The Puzzler

RAY: This is from my shipping and commerce series. Tommy, do you remember when you were a boy? Back when the tall ships sailed the seven seas, those good old days when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel?

And those ships sailed from every American seaport to the four corners of the globe and in their cargo holds, and sometimes lashed to their decks, those ships carried, to Europe, for example, raw materials, finished goods, livestock, grains. From the Orient they brought things like exotic spices and fine silks. To South America these wooden ships transported ice -- ice cut from frozen lakes in New England -- and insulated with sawdust.

Now the greatest danger for these ships was, as you might expect, storms. High winds and powerful waves could sink any ship and no man-made ship, even with sailors made of steel, was any match for the unrelenting fury of the sea. But in addition to that omnipresent danger, there was something else. There was a certain cargo, a very ordinary cargo, which if not stowed properly, could sink a ship in minutes and without warning. What was that cargo?

Now before you start conjuring up smoldering gun powder or steaming whale oil or some esoteric substance from that bygone era, I'll give a hint, maybe two or three hints. It's something that's still transported by ship today. It's something that each and every one of us knows, and it's likely that you have some of it right now in your house. The question is, what is it?

Think you know? Drop Ray a note!

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