A READER IN SAN DIEGO called Sally M. says her boyfriend is about to set sail on a singlehanded voyage around the world in his Westsail 32. “I know him about as well as anybody,” she writes, “but I can’t figure out why he wants to do this. What is that compels an otherwise sane and reasonable man to set off alone across an ocean?”
You might well ask, Sally. People are strange. There could be a host of reasons motivating your boyfriend, and if I were you I wouldn’t take any of them too personally.
In my book, The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge, I list 10 reasons that were originally compiled by Richard Henderson, a sailor and author with a profound knowledge of the singlehanded psyche. Here they are:
1. Practical purposes: To test a theory or to gather research material for a book. To earn money. To win a race. (Sometimes the practical reason is that the boat isn’t big enough for two, but that doesn’t apply in your boyfriend’s case, Sally.)
2. Self-significance: To find one’s place in the pecking order and acquire a sense of belonging.
3. Curiosity and fulfillment: A desire to see and experience things for oneself.
4. Recognition: Allied to self-significance, this takes things a stage further and involves a desire for fame.
5. Independence: The need for the greatest possible freedom and control over one’s destiny.
6. Escapism: Closely allied to independence. A rebellion against routine and flight from personal and societal problems.
7. Adventurousness: Pandering to the restless spirit, the desire for novelty, travel, and excitement.
8. Competitiveness: This takes many forms, including personal competition with the ocean and one’s inner fears as well as the desire to win races and set records.
9. Solitude: Some people are natural introverts. They like being alone. Others experience a spiritual cleansing that makes them more appreciative of subsequent human contact.
10. The Mother Sea: All life came from the sea. Some deep instinct, some unsummoned fascination, draws many people back.
Well, there you are, Sally. Choose your number, or maybe a combination of numbers. And don’t neglect the fact that he might be doing this for a much simpler reason, i.e., he just likes sailing alone for long distances. Duh.
So wish him well, give him your full support, and be prepared to welcome him warmly when he comes back a better man, which I’m sure he will.
There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there, that stirs the yearning for solitary voyage.
— Barbara Lazear Ascher, Playing after Dark
“Is there someone in the class who can tell me what steps you would take to determine the height of a ship’s mast using only an aneroid barometer?”
“Yes, sir. I would lower the barometer on a piece of string and then measure the string.”