July 25, 2010

My purpose on Earth

(See this space every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for another Mainly about Boats column by John Vigor)

BEING OF A HUMBLE NATURE I don’t mention this often, but some people think I’m perfect.

Yes, they do. Perfect. Some. I didn’t say all. Ivor Tungin-Cheaque is one for a start. He’s chairman of Vigor’s Silent Fan Club and he’s my biggest fan.

But sad to say, I’m not perfect. Sorry Ivor. There is one minor flaw in my character that I recognize as an imperfection. I confess that I like to sail rings around other yachts. And “like” might be a small understatement. Take a great delight in, actually.

I did it again yesterday. Took the little Mirror for a singlehanded spin, the first time in years. Beautiful warm 10-knot breeze, cloudless sky, snow-capped Mt. Baker hovering in the background.

Bellingham Bay is six miles across and crossing it in a small dinghy can get boring, so the kayaks and speed rowers and small centerboard sailboats mostly stick reasonably close to shore where they can shout rude things at landlubbers but still be out of range of thrown stones. But I felt the need to get away from everything so I headed offshore, perched on the gunwale and bashing along beautifully.

And then, when I was about two miles out, I spied a sailboat of about 26 feet sailing under full main and a 150 genoa. And something came over me. The old thing. The bad thing.

I watched him for a minute or two and it seemed I was gaining on him. That’s very important. I’m not in this for fun. I have to be faster, or it’s no contest. I’m not stupid, thank you very much.

So I trimmed the jib for a best beat and started concentrating on the telltales. The bottom two were fine, alternately lifting and lying flat in unison like a well disciplined pair of twins. But the top one was a little off. The head wasn’t twisting enough. Well, we know what to do. We have to move the jib fairlead aft to cure that. But you can’t do that on a Mirror. The fairlead is fixed. On a Mirror you cure that by moving the whole jib up or down the forestay. But it’s so long since I raced a Mirror I couldn’t remember whether I should move it up or down, and in any case I could only move it up because it was already down as far as it could get, and changing it would mean heaving to and losing time so I thought to myself “Bugger it,” I thought, “Bugger it, I will still sail rings around him even though I am handicapped.”

Now all this thinking took some time and when I looked up again I could see that we were much closer to the quarry, and not only closer but pointing higher, to boot. I don’t know what kind of boat it was, but it was a plastic sloop, with a big V on the mainsail with one man in the cockpit, looking back at me with what I imagined to be a mild form of alarm on his face.

I ignored him of course. I always do that. It’s not nice to jeer. Not out loud, anyway. I zipped past him well to windward and then gradually fell off onto a broad reach, making lots of foam. I crossed his bow, jibed, and headed back the way I’d come. Then I hardened up and crossed his wake. It’s always hard not to look at the victim at this stage. I always imagine he’s jumping up and down and shaking his fist and mouthing obscenities. But I was brave and didn’t look. I bit my lip and stared straight ahead at the jib telltales.

“Aha!” I thought to myself. “Another notch in my belt. And with a bad jib, too.”

And total peace descended over me. A great contentment flooded my soul. “How often,” I thought, “do we humans question why we were put on Earth? I don’t question. I know. I was put on Earth to sail rings around other boats. It doesn’t make me perfect. But believe me, it’s wonderful, just wonderful.

Today’s Thought
So who’s perfect? ... Washington had false teeth. Franklin was nearsighted. Mussolini had syphilis. Unpleasant things have been said about Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. Tchaikovsky had his problems, too. And Lincoln was constipated.
— John O’Hara, Carte Blanche, Fall 65

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #74
Figureheads. The old rule of thumb was that a real human head should be placed on the bowsprit of a vessel starting her first voyage. Often, the head was that of a beautiful maiden. Hence, the term maiden voyage. The head was supposed to provide the ship with a soul.

Today, in the age of female emancipation, mariners no longer dare use live maidens for figureheads, which may explain the glut of soulless look-alike vessels that fill our marinas today.

“Do you really believe kissing is unhealthy?”
“Definitely. Your husband is watching.”

No comments: