March 15, 2011

Enough is enough already

EVERY NOW AND THEN I glance through Bowditch and think, “Grief, I really MUST learn more about navigation.”

This particular copy of The American Practical Navigator was sent to me by my California publisher, who obviously thought I needed a little help. It’s an enormous book, large in format and hefty in size: 879 pages to be exact, enough to instill fear into any potential navigator’s heart.

But then, when my nerves have calmed down, I think to myself: “Sailing is knowing a little about a whole slew of different disciplines, from cooking, through aerodynamics, to engineering and helmsmanship. So what I really need from Bowditch, and everything else, is just sufficient to get me by. There simply isn’t enough time in anyone’s life to be a complete expert on every single aspect of sailing.

I often think about ships’ captains or airline pilots. They never have to do research into what kind of antifouling paint is best in their area. They never have to cook a meal in a storm when you can’t even put a pot down on a work surface. They don’t have to know how to change the oil in the engine or find a place to empty the Porta Potti.

So I comfort myself with the thought that I can rule a course on a chart and keep an account of the dead reckoning. I can take and plot a bearing and I can read a tide table. For the kind of sailing I’m likely to do, it seems enough. I used to be able to find my position at sea with a sextant, and I guess that if I tried really hard it would all come back to me again.

So when Bowditch tells me that “an oblique spherical triangle can be solved by dropping a perpendicular from one of the apexes to the opposite side, subtended if necessary,” I smile a little smile and say, “Bowditch is Bowditch but enough is enough.”

Today’s Thought
It is better not to know so much than to know so many things that ain’t so.
— Josh Billings

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #172
The traditional recipe for Caribbean rum punch is “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.” It’s not for the faint of heart. Planter’s Punch comprises the juice of one lime or lemon, two heaped teaspoons of sugar, three ounces of best Jamaica rum, and four ounces of dry gin. (Why is the gin described as “weak?” Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger.)

Experience is the wonderful knowledge that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Totally agree, if we really needed to know all Bowditch, Chapman, or Nigel Calder says we "need" to know to cruise, we'd never leave the dock! If these types keep it up, before long the feds will save us from ourselves and require strict inspection of all boats and skills.

Dave said...

Hi John,
Just a quick note on your rum punches. I've never seen gin as the weak but what do I know. You also missed the all important bitters and grating of nutmeg. The recipe I learned at my Grampas knee is this(quoted from wikipedia):
Bajan (Barbadian) Rum Punch is one of the oldest rum punches and has a simple recipe enshrined in a national rhyme: "One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak." That is: one part lime juice, two parts sweetener, three parts rum (preferably Barbados), and four parts water. It is served with a dash or two of Angostura bitters and Nutmeg.
As a good Bajan(now Victoria,BC)I'll happily make you a proper punch next time you are up my way.

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Great post! We're new to this and have so much to learn, including not learning too much!