October 9, 2012

Farewell to simplicity

WE SAILORS are a strange lot. We love bright and shiny things, especially bright and shiny things with batteries (and digital cameras built in).

We trust stainless steel, fiberglass, and chrome. We mistrust rope and wood. We love electronics. We love fridges, microwaves, hot showers, ovens, and even electric heads that save us the effort of waggling the handle for a few moments. In short, we took one of the simplest forms of transport in the world and made it complicated.

Many of the fittings and systems aboard our boats are there purely for our creature comfort and have nothing to do with their suitability for sailing, especially long-distance cruising.

We don’t need mainsail flaking systems, full-length battens, and batten cars. We don’t need fancy, expensive air blocks that offer no great advantage, except to the manufacturer’s profits. We don’t need self-tailing winches if we’re prepared to luff up for a couple of moments, and there’s no need for many of the complicated chrome and stainless fittings we dote on, if there’s a piece of line handy. But we buy all these things anyway.

Either we are losing the ability to think simply or we have been brainwashed by the makers and vendors of shiny trinkets and digital doo-dahs. Or perhaps we have fallen in love with gadgets in order impress other people whom we’d like to admire us. Whatever the cause, it’s a pity, and it takes a brave person these days to buck the fashionable trend.

Today’s Thought
Fashion, leader of a chattering train,
Whom man, for his own hurt, permits to reign.
— Cowper, Conversation

Happiness is that temporary feeling of pleasantness you have when you are so agreeably occupied that you forget how miserable you really are.

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


Latitude 43 said...

I agree, to some extent about the over use of shiny boat stuff. For us older sailors, some items such as self tailing winches, and lazy jacks are a big help, and keep us safe as well.


John Almberg said...

John, you've struck on one of my pet peeves — over-dependancy on store-bought gadgets.

When I bought my Tom Gilmer designed "Blue Moon Yawl", someone had replaced all the traditional 'hardware' (like rope grommets) with cheap chrome fittings. This turned a safe, heavy-displacement seaboat into a brittle day-sailer. Whenever the wind picked up, I always worried something would give way, and it often did, like when the cheekblock, screwed into the top of my mizzen pulled out in 20 knots, on an offshore night passage.

That was the final straw for me. I spent a winter ripping off all the fancy fittings and making replacements out of not much more than rope, timbles, and small bits of wood (mainly for the occasional thumb cleat).

While I was at it, I replaced the plastic cleats that someone had installed on the rails with oak jam cleats. Not only do these look better, they are far more functional and make my 5-sail beauty easier to sail single handed.

BTW, I don't have a single winch on the boat. Where I need a bit of extra oomph, like on my jib tack line, a tackle does the job nicely.

My yacht club mates think I'm mad, but they do admit my little boat 'looks nice'.