November 18, 2008

Non-essential essentials

I HAVE JUST edited an article for a magazine, and I feel deprived. The author and his wife have sailed almost halfway around the world in a 42-foot ketch, and the purpose of the article was to tell other amateur sailors how they, too, can do it.

The bit that stopped me in my tracks was a sentence that said a laptop computer is “essential equipment” on the author’s boat and most other voyaging boats for communications, the Internet, and electronic charting.

Now, as one who advocates smallness and utter simplicity in cruising boats, I found that statement very disturbing. In the course of my editing, I could, of course, have cut that sentence out. I bet nobody would have missed it; even if they did I could have invented a good technical excuse. I’ve had a lot of practice at that. But as it happens I didn’t delete it, despite the great temptation. My ethical record remains unblemished.

So a laptop is “essential” equipment, is it? Baloney. As far as I’m concerned, to cross an ocean you need a boat with a deep keel or a centerboard, a rudder, a pole from which to hang the sails, and a bucket to bail out the bilges. A little stove would be nice to make some hot coffee or a meal now and then, but you can eat cold canned food if you have to. I have.

Let me list a few essentials that the aforementioned author has on his boat, compared with what Captain Joshua Slocum had on his boat when he became the first man to sail singlehanded around the world.

Diesel engine (Slocum, no engine); radar (none); autopilot (none); wind vane (none); Dutchman sail-flaking system (none); watermaker (none); two alternators producing 150 amps (none); refrigerator (none); single-sideband radio (none); Pactor e-mail system (none); towed generator (none); battery monitor (none); 2,000-watt inverter (none); fuel polishing system (none); WiFi (none); laptop computer (none).

I myself am not a greatly experienced voyager, but I have twice crossed the Atlantic in boats of 33 feet and under that lacked the “essential” laptop computer, not to mention radar, autopilot, electronic charts, fridge, single-sideband radio, and a whole lot of other things from that author’s list. I didn’t even have an electric bilge pump.

The strange thing is, now that I know what’s essential, thanks to this experienced author, I suddenly feel deprived. It’s like not having taken advantage of hallucogenic drugs when I was still young enough to recover and save myself. It’s just too late for me to start on the essentials now. And besides, most of the boats I sail don’t have anywhere on board that would be dry enough for a laptop.

I am astonished that I managed to cross the Atlantic twice without all the goodies I really needed. To tell the truth, I’m really rather ashamed of myself. I shall try to do better in future, honest. Pray for me, willya?

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Today’s Thought

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand … Simplify, simplify. --H. D. Thoreau

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“That’s an unusual vase.”
“Yes — my husband’s ashes.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. How long has he been gone?”
“He hasn’t gone. He’s just too lazy to find the ashtray.”

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1 comment:

Oded Kishony said...

A note to warn...I mean inform you that we ARE reading your blog regularly.

Is sailing all about escapism? Has it always been about escapism? It's much cheaper to escape inside my head! What does that say about sailors?

I suspect that in the next few years there will be great interest on how to do with less.

I'm already thinking about how to lower my boat expenses. I already do as much of the maintenance work as I can. Any ideas? Especially marina expenses.

Keep it up!
Oded Kishony