April 25, 2012

No thrill without danger?

HAVE WE MADE our boats so safe that we have deprived ourselves of the tinge of danger that is an essential component of adventure? In fact, is it possible to have a real adventure under sail if there is no possibility whatsoever of danger?
Thomas Fleming Day, author, editor and boat designer, used to think that an auxiliary engine in a yacht was not so much a safety feature as a distraction from adventure. "Its chief drawback," he said, "is that its use tends to make cruising less toilsome and hazardous."
 The effect of the engine, he believed was to discount skill and pluck and to remove from voyaging the uncertainty that is the chief charm of the cruiser's existence. "The fact that you leave port with a certainty of getting to your destination on time, barring accidents, makes somewhat monotonous an event that otherwise containing a large element of chance induces a corresponding degree of excitement."
Day also believed that there was probably no pastime so tiresome to an active man as powerboating, especially in familiar waters. A steam yacht, he said, was "a lazy man's palace and an active man's prison. Except when there is a race or a difficult bit of navigation, I would as soon run a trolley car as a power boat."
He found his pleasure in physical exertion, he added, and in "opposing what skill and knowledge I may possess to the task of getting the better of the elements."
And yet, despite all this brave talk, Day, like most of us, eventually allowed that an engine, just a small one, mind you, might be a handy thing to have, especially when it didn't actually interfere with any adventures. "As age and rheumatism tighten their grip, my heart is gradually weaned from the sail," he confessed, "and I find myself thinking seriously if, after all, it will not be better to have a little power under the deck to fall back on at certain times."
What Day failed to appreciate, perhaps, is that it is not only danger and uncertainty that generate the thrill of adventure. It has long been my contention that inexperience and poor preparation are the true parents of adventure.
And as for auxiliary engines guaranteeing arrival in port on time, I can personally testify to the fallacy of that argument. In fact the yachting literature is replete with accounts of engines that, failing at the wrong moment, actually contributed to adventures filled with more than enough danger, uncertainty, and heart-racing excitement to satisfy the average sailor.
Today's Thought
Without danger the game grows cold.
— Chapman, All Fools.
"Doc I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home.'"
"That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome."
"Is it common?"
"It's not unusual."

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

1 comment:

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

"We"? Speak for yourself! My (home-built) Core Sound 20 cat ketch, which I typically sail for a few days at a time, has no motor. I can't afford it. Therefore I have as much adventure as I can handle. If the wind dies, I have a good book. If the anchor drags, I have prayer (and occasionally some helpful folk with the local yacht club launch). if the anchor drags in a stiff breeze on a lee shore with a falling tide, I have an additional 12 hours to progress in my good book. In addition, I am rather proud of what whatever boat handling skills my engineless state has engendered. Nevertheless, I believe I agree with Mr. Day--in both his later and earlier opinions. So that, if fate should someday bestow on me a working 3hp ob motor, I won't say no.