August 18, 2011

That addictive feeling

ONCE IN A WHILE someone asks me if sailing at sea is boring. That’s a reasonable question because it might seem to the uninitiated that the ocean beyond the horizon is dull and featureless, not to mention very, very same-ish. But to tell the truth I have never found it so.
Like many amateur sailors (who, in the true sense of the word, go sailing for the love of it) I used to become totally absorbed and fascinated by the business of guiding a small ship across an ever-changing ocean.

There was never a time, when I was lying in my bunk below or propped up in a corner of the cockpit, when I couldn’t feel the hull surging and slipping through the water. I knew instinctively how she would react to a strong puff of wind. I could sense when a sail was not pulling properly and needed to be trimmed. I didn’t need to look at a wind gauge to know when to reef.

Anyone who has been sailing at sea for a while will feel this oneness with the boat, particularly if she is a reasonably small boat — say 40 feet or less in length. It’s like riding a bicycle. After a while, you don’t have to think about what you need to do, your muscles just do it automatically.

It’s a wonderful feeling, and highly addictive. When your little ship is heeled over, and rising and falling among the breaking crests and rolling swells of the open sea, your mind experiences nothing but deep pleasure. Many sailors succumb so entirely to the lure of blue water that having to close with the land and enter port becomes an irritating interruption to the real business of sailing. That is what happened, very famously, to Bernard Moitessier.

Beware. It could happen to you, too.

Today’s Thought
Description is always a bore, both to the describer and the describee.
— Benjamin Disreali, Home Letters

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #237
Today marks the end of the Rules of Thumb series. There are probably many more, but 236 of them seems quite enough, and No. 237 might quite appropriately be: Shut up while the going’s good.

“Blanche, were you faithful to me while I was away in Iraq?”
“Of course, Bert — lots of times.”

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


Steve said...

Surprised there are no comments yet regarding the dissolution of BRoTs. They were informative and interesting and will be missed.

I'll be honest, most of them were beyond my scope anyway. If your other readers are anything like me, perhaps that would account for their silence? Speaking of scope:

Vigor’s Readers’ BRoT #1:

Scope defines the length of rope that connects a vessel to her anchor. It also defines the degree of capability of the ship’s master when attempting the anchoring procedure. There is a direct relationship between the two, to wit:

4:1 = Sufficient chain to hold a vessel fast to the bottom overnight in settled weather.
4:1 = The ratio of times the skipper has failed to properly set his anchor.

7:1 = Minimum scope required for heavy weather.
7:1 = Chances that the gesticulating bowman tried to blame the helmsman, his wife, for piling chain on top of the anchor.

10:1 = Amount of chain deployed in a storm by a prudent master.
10:1 = Odds that, even though there are breaking seas inside the anchorage and the vessel is dragging, the captain will still have to row ashore so that his two little yip yaps can relieve themselves.

John Vigor said...

Well, Steve, for a while there you had me wondering what the heck BRoTs are. But my mighty brain figured it out in the end. Boaters' Rules of Thumb, of course.
However, if anybody's interested, they're still available in book form as The Practical Mariner's Book of Knowledge (International Marine.)
Nice thoughts about Scope, incidentally. I can never veer enough cable because of the idiots who come and anchor all around me and restrict my swinging room. Isn't it incredible how the neophytes tend to make a beeline for the already-anchored yacht, no matter how much room is available in the anchorage?


John V.

Michael Berman said...

I’ve often been asked the same isn’t it boring question but like most sailors I’ve never found long voyages boring. On a transatlantic trip a few years ago I made a series of photographs that show that the the ocean may be featureless but it is never dull and is always changing.

Those photos will be shown at Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats this fall. Hope you’ll have an opportunity to see the show.

I enjoy your blog.

Best regards,

Michael Berman