MY FRIEND MIKE REED recently suggested that I apply for a sailing instructor position going at the local community boating center. I told him I wasn’t interested because it’s a paid position. I only teach on a volunteer basis. That way, I can choose my pupils. I can hand-pick them, and they can’t blame me when they end up just as landlubberish as when they started.
But I have to admit that my choice of pupils is not always without flaws. Many years ago I agreed to teach a soldier to sail, a rather highly placed army officer, as a matter of fact.
I took him out in a small dinghy and explained that we were going to learn to beat. Anyone can sail a boat downwind but it takes a modicum of skill to sail upwind.
I trimmed and cleated the jib and told him to steer the boat according to the wind. Let her come up, up, up, slowly, slowly until the jib luff just starts to lift, and then pull off just a little. Up, up, up, lift, full and bye. Up, up, up. Follow the wind as it wavers back and forth. Concentrate on the jib luff, that little rippling bubble lifting right next to the forestay. Concentrate.
We were at it for about an hour, just beating to windward, and he did very well. By the time the hour was up he was doing it instinctively, as a good sailor always does. He didn’t have to think about it any more. His eyes just told his muscles what to do, bypassing the brain. He was pretty much a natural and I said so.
He told me afterward (and I say this with a blush) that I was the best instructor he’d ever had. Of course, all his other instructors had been instructing him on soldierly affairs. He’d never come across a sailing instructor before. So I take no credit for my role.
But anyway, two weeks later he committed suicide. Shot himself through the head with his service revolver.
I don’t know what part if any I played in that decision. I said to my wife: “I didn’t notice any suicidal tendencies.”
She said: “He went sailing with you, didn’t he?”
She’s a great one for irony, my wife. Or sarcasm. Or whatever you call it. Anyway, for some reason I found it a great relief that I hadn’t charged him for his lesson. And I’ve never charged anybody since.
Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.
— Jacques Barzun, Dean of Graduate School, Columbia University
Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #51
Diesel exhausts (1). Black smoke. The gases should normally be quite clear. Black smoke is an indication that the engine is overloaded, or that the air supply is insufficient, or that an injector is malfunctioning. Improperly burned particles of excess fuel are being blown out of the exhaust.
Definition of the word edible:
Something nice to eat. For example, a worm to a frog; or a frog to a snake; or a snake to a pig; or a pig to a man; or a man to a worm.