July 16, 2009

Where are the risk-takers?

A new Mainly About Boats column by John Vigor appears here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

EVERY NOW AND THEN I have to ask myself: Are we becoming a nation of wimps? I ask this question because just about every single cruising sailboat I come across has a roller-furling jib.

There are a few diehards, admittedly, who have hanked-on jibs, but we refer to them scathingly as “Larry Pardy-type purists.” When our inefficient roller-reefed jibs won’t get us home against the wind, we switch on the good old diesel engine. We’re scared to get out of the cockpit. We’re too frightened to go to the mast or, heaven forbid, the foredeck, to handle the sails. We lead all our sheets and halyards and reefing lines back aft, where they form miles of tangled spaghetti and block the cockpit.

All this while we peer myopically out of the comfort of the dodger (to protect us from those nasty elements), with the EPIRB ready for action, the VHF radio set to Channel 16 at our fingertips, three sets of automatic bilge pumps raring to go, and the six-man liferaft ready for launching from the cabintop.

Are we getting soft because of the kind of vehicles we drive these days? Our cars have moon roofs, heated seats, and twin-level air conditioning. Finger-light steering. Safety belts and air bags in the front and sides. GPS ladies with lovely voices to tell you when to turn. Crumpling front ends so we can crash into each other with impunity. There’s no choice any more. You can’t buy a new car without seat belts or dozens of other safety features mandated for you by a caring society. Your safety has become public business, and you’d better comply or face prosecution. Now it’s carried over into boats, the last refuge of freedom and individualism.

Sailors like Knox-Johnston and Moitessier didn’t even have lifelines around their decks, let alone furling jibs. They didn’t tie themselves to the boat with tethers. They recognized the dangers and judged themselves able to deal with them; which they were.

Is cruising attracting the wrong kind of people? Where are the adventurous risk-takers? Why are cruisers so different from the racers with hanked-on jibs who dominate the foredeck with cat-like tread and hurl themselves at breakneck speed through the Southern Ocean in boats they know will stay upside down if they capsize? Such racers are few, of course, and the cautious cruisers are many. There is a growing gulf between the adventurous devil-may-cares and the roller-reefing wimps, and I’m not sure it’s a healthy development for sailing or for the human race for that matter.

Today’s Thought
There are periods when the principles of experience need to be modified.... when in truth to dare is the highest wisdom.
—William Ellery Channing, Works, p.641

“I see your husband has given up smoking.”
“That’s right.”
“Must have taken an awful lot of willpower.”
“I have an awful lot of willpower.”

No comments: