February 7, 2012

Of sails and widows' weeds

LAST WEEKEND, on one of those rare winter days in the Pacific Northwest when the sun blazes from a cloudless sky, I happened to find myself in the San Juan Islands.  Here and there, tall white sails moved briskly against a backdrop of calm blue waters.  It was a sight to bring joy to a winter-weary heart,  a sign of a coming spring filled with hope and cheer.  Above all, it was a refreshing change from the black blanket that has smothered this country of ours.

Everywhere you look these days, people are dressed in black.  The somber mood of widows' weeds seems to have pervaded the national psyche, perhaps reflecting the deep gloom and anxiety connected with a misfiring economy.  Even Madonna, at what was supposed to be the joyous occasion of the Superbowl, was in black, for goodness' sake.

I find few things more uplifting than the cheerful sight of sails pulling taut in a brisk breeze.  White ones, red ones, tan ones, and spinnakers like Joseph's coat of many colors — there's something proud and upright and inherently happy about sails scudding over blue water.

I don't doubt there are others, but the only yacht with black sails that I ever knew belonged to my boyhood hero, Henry Wakelam, and he was making a deliberate statement, rebelling against organized society.  He built himself a 24-foot Thuella-class sloop designed by T. Harrison Butler from plans he found in a municipal library book.  His black sails, constructed of heavy canvas that had "fallen off" a railroad car, combined with his solid telegraph-pole mast, made his little Wanda top-heavy and she rolled downwind in deep staggers like a sailor coming off shore leave. Nevertheless, Henry crossed the oceans singlehanded and showed the yacht-club toffs what could be done on a budget that wouldn't feed a parakeet.

In any case, the fashion moguls need to be shaken out of their gloomy rut.  This black national uniform must go.  We've had enough of women in black. We need lighter colors and lighter hearts to lead a recovery, not only an economic recovery but a recovery of spirit, too.  What this country needs is more bright jaunty sails to lead the way. Perhaps somebody with influence could mention this to Mr. Obama.

Today's Thought
The world must be getting old, I think; it dresses so very soberly now.
— Jerome K. Jerome

"I hear Susan is off tranquillizers now."
"Yeah, she asked to be taken off."
"She found she was being friendly to people she wouldn't normally even speak to."

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


Bill said...

Good one John

Anonymous said...

Hey John recently bought a wooden Collin Archer 1977 built in Bundaberg Queensland by Bruce McKay. Her dimensions are LOD 25'6" Beam 8'4" Draft 4'. She looks just like a stretched Thuella plus some extra beam. We have developed a close bond and I am presently getting her ready to sail to Hobart 2015 and then on to NZ. Have you ever heard of a redesigned Thuella in Australia or abroad. Cheers Tom

John Vigor said...

Hi Tom:

No, I've never heard of any stretched Thuellas anywhere. She must be a little gem. Happy, safe sailing and take good care of her.


John V.