A wealthy merchant, seeing his business and wealth expanding, realized that soon he was going to have to take a lengthy sea voyage in order to go to a country which he had never had to visit before. To make this voyage he knew that he would need a good ship and a stout crew. He therefore went down to the wharves and looked over ships that were for sale there, and he spent time at the shipyards where ships were under construction.© 1998 Richard Packham
He was admiring a particularly impressive new ship in the construction drydock of one of the shipyards, when the shipbuilder approached him.
"This is the finest ship you can buy," said the builder.
"It is beautiful indeed," said the merchant. "But the voyage I must take is long and hard. Is this a sturdy ship?"
"Oh, yes," said the builder. "Would I lie to you? I myself have personally spent many hours and days in this ship, and I have inspected it thoroughly."
"Have you tested it on the ocean?" asked the merchant.
"No, but that is not necessary: it has been constructed by the most experienced master shipbuilders, according to the soundest plans."
The merchant stood beneath the great hull and ran his hand along the smooth side. Without thinking, he thumped his hand at one point on the hull, and his fist went through as though the hull were made of paper. "What's this?!" the merchant asked, startled.
"Oh, that appears to be a weak place in the hull. It really isn't, of course, but if you would feel better, I can have that fixed very quickly." And he immediately got a crew of his shipbuilders to bring tools and wood, and while the merchant watched, the hole was patched and repainted, and no sign of the hole was left.
Somewhat wary now, the merchant stepped a little further along the hull, and struck it again. Again his fist went right through. The builder was obviously annoyed. "If you wouldn't pound on the hull, it wouldn't break like that!" And he called the crew again, who fixed the hole.
By now the merchant was somewhat suspicious, and within a few minutes had punched six more holes in the hull. The builder now was angry. "What are you? A ship-destroyer? Have you no respect for beautiful ships? Why are you punching holes in this hull? I tell you now, that it will do you no good, because every hole that you punch, my expert shipbuilders can patch!"
At that, the merchant ran back and forth along the hull, punching holes. But as quickly as he made a hole, it was patched by the builder's crew.
At last, the builder said, "Now, you see, I can patch every hole you may make. You cannot destroy this ship. For every hole, we have a plug. You are morally obligated now to buy this ship for your voyage."
The merchant could not think of any response to refute the builder, so he bought the ship, and brought his people and his goods aboard for the voyage. With great fanfare the ship was launched and it put out to sea.
The second day at sea, one tiny place in the hull - a place which the man had by chance not punched - gave way under the pressure of the waves, and the ship filled with water and sank, with loss of all hands.
Moral: It takes only one hole to sink even a great ship.
- Richard Packham