May 26, 2011

The benefit of books

OLD WOTSISNAME was holding forth the other day, to anyone who would stop and listen, on the subject of learning to sail. His theory is that you can’t learn sailing from books; that the only worthwhile teacher is experience, often bitter experience.

I don’t think this is entirely true, but I didn’t waste my time arguing with OW, who has never been known to change his opinion as the result of a reasoned conversation. I have always placed OW in the “electric fence” category of sailing pundits.

It was the irrepressible Will Rogers who opined: “There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.”

I believe that books provide the knowledge you need to experiment with your boat in all kinds of weather conditions. Books tell you what your options are, and how certain arrangements of sails and rudder worked for other people in light air and heavy. Without books, our knowledge of sailing would be limited to conversations with a few close associates such as OW, and we would never be able to break free from their near-sighted biased experience.

In any case, as an author myself, I’m very much in favor of people buying books to increase their knowledge of sailing and widen their skills. Reading is not a waste of time, despite what OW might tell you. Remembering something you once read may make life easier for you one day. It might even save your life. So go ahead, read a book, and let some other silly bugger pee on the fence.

Today’s Thought
You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.
— Theodore Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”)

Negative impact
SOME TIME AGO I was bewailing the fact that owners of small boats get a raw deal from marinas because slips are billed by length, not displacement.

Now a reader called Matt Marsh has weighed in on the subject:

“Unfortunately, the negative impact of billing purely by length extends beyond simply making small-craft folk mad,” he says. “It forces designers and manufacturers to use much shorter, deeper, and beamier hulls than would be ideal. There are a lot of 10-ton, 35-foot powerboats that really should be 10 tons and 46 feet, but are crammed into a smaller, less efficient, and far less seaworthy package so they can fit in a 35-foot slip.

“The logic behind length-based billing is hard to deny — the marina has to build and maintain X feet of dock to handle an X-foot boat, however wide or heavy she may be — catamarans excepted of course, since you can double-bill them — but it leads to so many bad side-effects ...”

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #204
If you ever need a tow in an emergency you may find that few skippers of larger boats know how dangerous it is to tow your boat faster than her normal hull speed. If you think there’s a chance they might ignore your pleas to keep the speed down, the rule is to make fast the towline at your end so that it can be cast off at a moment’s notice from your position at the helm.

“Where did you get that black eye?”
“At a night club. I was struck by the beauty of the place.”

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


Aaron Headly said...

You left out a couple of things I really like about books: They're portable, and you can enjoy them during the winter while the boat sits on stands.

They one place I'd like to see more sailing/racing/cruising content is on my TV. They have weekly shows about almost every other hobby or pursuit; why not sailboats?

Micky-T said...

I like books, they stretch my imagination to acomplish things.

Deb said...

And your books and your blog have already been a tremendous help to me on our journey!

S/V Kintala