January 6, 2009

The Shame of Secret Racing

OLD WOTSISNAME, who moors just down the row from me, doesn’t look like a racing type. But in fact he was quite a hotshot racer in one-design keelboats in his middle age. After winning a cupboard full of silver mugs and trophies he gave up racing one day when he realized it was obsessing him.

“We used to race on Saturday afternoons,” he told me. “By Friday afternoon my guts was in a knot. I never slept a wink on the night before a race. And by the time we started racing I was a wreck. I survived on adrenaline. It wasn’t worth it.”

OW didn’t lose his love of sailing. He became a cruiser instead, unconcerned about speed, wind angles, and velocity made good. In fact he became a cruiser with a vengeance. He bought himself an old ferro-concrete boat that has deteriorated along with him over the years. It must weigh as much as a minor pyramid, and it possesses similar sailing qualities.

I, too, have a cruising boat for much the same reason. Like OW, I am a recovering racer. But the urge to race is still very strong in me. I always regard it as a sign of maturity, mental stability, and even true wisdom, when I can let another boat go past me without feeling the urge to race it.
But most of the time I’m too weak to resist. Most of the time I will sneakily adjust the jib, tweak the main, and send someone below to make sure the propeller shaft is correctly fixed in the position that makes the boat go faster. All this, while casually looking the other way and pretending not to have noticed the other boat.

It’s a disease. I still suffer from it and I’m not proud of it because I recognize that I’m seeking the self-gratification of winning a race without facing the risk of losing it in public. If, despite my clandestine efforts, the other boat overtakes me, they’ll never have the satisfaction of jeering at me and making rude remarks about my helmsmanship, like the real racers do, because they’ll never know they were racing me.

I admit it: to pursue glory without the risk of failure is morally indefensible. It’s contemptible to believe a hollow victory under sail is better than none at all. It’s a shameful vice, and I’d like to conquer it, but I tell you frankly I’m not hopeful.

OW is not very helpful. He says I should buy a concrete boat because nothing is slower than a concrete boat so there’s no point in your trying to pass anything. But I can’t do that. He is farther along the road to recovery than I am. I fear I shall just have to suffer and be ashamed of myself for a few years more, and then I’ll stop racing. Truly. Honestly I will.

Today’s Thought
Rivalry is good for mortals. —Hesiod, Works and Days.

A baby sardine off the Californian coast was badly frightened yesterday by its first sight of a submarine.

But its mother calmed the little fellow down. "Don’t be alarmed, dear," she said, "it’s just a can of people."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what position would that be,John? (for your propeller, that is)