July 4, 2010

Cruising in perspective

THOSE OF YOU who have read the latest issue of Good Old Boat magazine to the very last page will know that I have just returned from a voyage to Alaska in a cruise ship.

I have to admit that it is something I swore I would never do. I have often looked up from the cockpit of my small sailboat at some passing cruise ship and scoffed at how the passengers are insulated from the sights and sounds of nature in the raw. I have noted with scorn how the occupants of these vast floating castles peer out from behind their facades of glass, cocktails in hand, in air conditioned comfort while we, mere specks down below, experience the full and glorious effects upon our bodies and souls of the winds and waves. And the rain, of course. And the cold. But as I’ve always maintained, a little suffering undoubtedly adds keenness to the experience.

However, all that changed when my sister came to visit us from South Africa and wanted to see Alaska. A cruise ship seemed to be the easy way to do it, and I buckled. By way of compromise, I chose the cheapest cabin on the boat, way down in steerage just clear of the bilge water and next to the steering gear, the propellers, and the noisy stern thruster. I reckoned that seven nights of sleepless hell would provide the suffering so necessary to enjoy fully nature in the raw in the form of icebergs, glaciers, and grand coastal mountain ranges.

It occurred to me early one morning then the stern thruster was grinding away that there is a distinct difference between modern cruise ships and the old ocean liners I have traveled on in the past. The liners were lean, graceful, purposeful ships. Those greyhounds of the sea earned their stature because they had an important job to do, transporting passengers, mail, and goods swiftly across the seven seas.

Cruise ships are mere frivolities. They’re floating Disneylands. If they all sank tomorrow, the world would be no worse off without them. They have no purpose beyond entertainment, over-eating, and many of the excesses that doomed the Roman Empire.

Their patrons remind me of the landlubbers who decide to buy yachts and go cruising around the world, only to find their dreams shattered after a month or two. It’s just not realistic to expect to find happiness by sailing off into the sunset, cocktail in hand.

A successful cruise in a small sailboat is the result of having a purpose, a goal, and a plan to achieve it. The yacht is merely a tool in this great enterprise, and happiness comes as a result of not seeking it directly, but of doing a good honest job of working toward your goal. Happiness is the child of serendipity, and it creeps up on you and ambushes you when your attention is healthily occupied with the working of you boat.

Nevertheless ... I grudgingly admit that the cruise to Alaska was enjoyable, even for those of us down in steerage. Perhaps the glaciers weren’t as impressive as they would have been from the cockpit of my own boat, and perhaps the humpbacks looked a lot less intimidating from a height of 90 feet, but there is a certain amount of consolation in knowing that the steward hovering nearby will bring you a cold beer at the flick of a finger, and that a mountain of fine food awaits you in the dining room down the passage. And best of all, you know that you don’t have to do the washing up in a bucket of that cold, cold Alaskan water while sitting in the rain in the cockpit.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #64
Auxiliary engine. Surprisingly little power is needed to move a boat at a reasonable speed. The problem is that the power needs to be delivered by a large, slow-turning screw. On auxiliary sailboats, a large screw creates too much drag, so a compromise has to be made. The old rule of thumb is that enough power is needed to give at least 2 knots against a Force 5 wind with the weather shore up to 2 miles distant. Three or four horsepower per ton of displacement will do it.

“I hear that hussy in the tiny thong got badly sunburned yesterday.”
“Good, I’m glad. She got what she was basking for.”


Anonymous said...

Found your blog sometime ago, good stuff you write... translated some jokes to finnish for the family (boat stuff not in their radar somuch...)...

somewhat OT: boat diesels vs propellers etc, interesting discussion in this...

Seppo from Finland.

John Vigor said...

Thanks, Seppo, for pointing us to a very interesting article on the Sailboat Owners' forum, and the need to keep your diesel engine working really hard if you want it to last a long time.


John V.