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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Derelict Projects

The mythology of the sea is ripe with mysterious and scary stuff. Why was the Mary Celeste discovered cruising along, relatively undamaged but totally without captain and crew? Is the Flying Dutchman really still fulfilling his vow to battle Antarctic gales in a ghost ship until doomsday?

The Mary Celeste case was examined by a court of inquiry at Gibraltar, but the provable facts were too skimpy to settle it, and the rich flow of supposition and speculation has kept the story rolling vigorously since the 1870s. No, there was not a half-eaten meal on the table, nor was there a cat asleep on a berth when the ship was boarded.

The Flying Dutchman tale is even more fun, since no one is quite sure what, if any, actual event in the 1600s seeded the endless versions of the cursed shipmaster’s challenge to God (or maybe the Devil) that condemned him to suffer the worst of every subsequent storm off the tip of Africa. To this day, or at least to the last reported sighting of the ghost ship in 1959.

For sure, there really were, and are, derelicts – abandoned ships and boats – in the modern world, plenty of them. Mysterious disappearances from vessels, too. In April 2007, a good-sized vessel was discovered off Australia with its engines running, an open laptop computer on board and – yes – food on the table. There was no sign of the three men who were supposed to be there.

For the big-tragedy-oriented, the Bermuda Triangle provides updated mythology that includes the unexplained vanishing of jet planes as well as ships. Scary.

There is a bottomless human appetite for mystery, and we have no problem finding it in the most unromantic places. Project Management, for instance.

Derelict projects loom in the workplace, drifting aimlessly, sometimes for years, their hopeless crew members staring out at the passing world from haunted eyes. Actual disappearance of projects occurs, too, but ghostly reappearances are thankfully rare.

The word “abandonment” shows up often in definitions of “derelict,” and there’s a lot of that in the world of projects.

The reasons generally are neither romantic nor mysterious.

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