August 11, 2011

Defining the cruising sailor

EVERY NOW AND THEN someone will ask me what it is that defines a cruising sailor. And I will say:

Stand on a beach in Baja California at sunset and you'll observe human beings arriving in small craft, attracted like moths to a large fire of driftwood. These are examples of Homo sapiens, hairless vertebrates, mammals walking upright on two legs, engaging in a ritual of bonding and feeding on meat burned over glowing embers and drinking the fermented juice of mashed barley and rye.

These are not the hunter/gatherers of bygone years. These are the wanderer/spenders. A few are wanderer/spongers, but mostly they use what is called money — a way of storing work done in the past. These are, in short, cruising sailors.

The younger ones, when the flames of the fire grow low, will pair off and disappear into the bush where they will eagerly divest themselves and copulate. The older ones, particularly the males, will continue to drink from containers of glass or metal, talking all the while and rhythmically rocking on their heels until they fall over sideways in the sand, whereupon their grumbling females will drag them off, tumble them into their small boats and transport them back to the mobile floating shelters they call yachts.

This scene repeats itself on popular beaches in tropical regions all over the world — the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, the West Indies, the islands of the South Pacific, the lagoons of Madagascar and South Africa; wherever there is warm water deep enough to float a yacht.

This peripatetic subspecies of Homo sapiens is known to naturalists as "yachtsmen" and "yachtswomen" or "pleasure boaters."

They are an ingenious race. Like the Portuguese man-of-war and other lowly invertebrates, they have evolved a way to travel away from trouble, toward a more favorable environment, by using the wind. Over aeons they have developed a crude wing akin to a bird's, although neither as cunningly engineered nor as effective. It is, however, unique in the world of natural science in that it is held vertically rather than horizontally, conveying advantages unknown to the man-of-war, which is destined forever to drift downwind.

The yachtsman's wing, like a bird's, develops what aeronautical engineers call "lift" — a partial vacuum that sucks the boat forward and allows it even to sail against the wind. Thus, wherever the wind blows, and the water is warm, and sufficiently deep, cruising sailors abound.

And the thing that defines them, the thing that sets them apart from all other sailors, is simply that they don’t have to go back to the marina at the end of the day. They are where they are. And they don’t have to go to work tomorrow. Tomorrow they will be right where they want to be, waiting for someone to light the fire on the beach.

Today’s Thought
Perfect freedom is reserved for the man who lives by his own work and in that work does what he wants to do.
— R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #234
How big should a yacht’s storm sails be? The famous naval architect Olin Stephens, writing in Heavy Weather Sailing, says:

“The storm sails should not be too large. No more than one third of the mainsail area is suggested for the storm trysail and about five percent of the forestay height (squared) for the storm jib.”

Courtship is when a girl refuses to show her hand until you ask for it.

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


K Holmes said...

Contrary to popular opinion, Portugese-men-of-war are not doomed forever to downwind sailing. The drag of their tenticles and the shape of their "sail" allows them to broad-reach, presumably on either tack. Whether they have some way of deciding which tack or just settling for a straight run, would be preferable is not a subject I would consider worthy of pusuit.

Nikolay said...

Morning John,
In referencing your blog entry for "When it just goes “click”" and the associated comments; I have recently read Wind and Tide: An Introduction to Cruising in Pure Sailing Craft and I was wondering if you have suggestions for exercises that can be done in more open water that would prepare one for a possibility of an engine-less pass through a crowded anchorage or marina.


Lynn I. said...

Two experiences seared into my memory is a beach packed with deflated Portuguese men-of-war in Florida, and on another occasion a female hairless vertebrate who decided to lie in front of me on a California beach and remove her ample bikini top thus allowing gravity's forces to work. I'm still not sure which scene was most frightening.