June 19, 2014

Ideas change with age

THE OFT-REPEATED ADVICE about world cruising under sail is: Go young; go small; go now. It seems to be an established fact that the younger you are when you set out, the smaller your boat can be without causing you too much discomfort. It’s also a fact that most people demand bigger boats and more comfort as they grow older.

It was therefore interesting to learn what John Guzzwell had to say about the matter. He once held the record for circumnavigating alone in the smallest boat, a 20-foot 6-inch light-displacement yawl called Trekka that he built himself in Victoria, British Columbia.

He was in his early 20s at the time, and found Trekka to be an excellent sea-boat, fast  under sail and easy on her crew. In his book Trekka Round the World (Fine Edge) he points out that Trekka’s chief disadvantage was a lack of space down below. “This was most apparent in port and never noticed at sea,” he said. “In port the lack of space became a nuisance largely because of shore-side customs. Getting into a jacket and trousers required me to become something of a contortionist, and the toilet arrangements were hardly as easy as when at sea.”

Trekka lacked standing headroom, of course, but the main disadvantage was that Guzzwell was unable to return the hospitality so freely accorded him during his  record-breaking voyage around the world.  “Had I been able to invite some of these people into a more spacious saloon, I would have done so,” he said, “but two persons down below in Trekka was about the limit.”

So the question now arises, more than 50 years after that epic voyage: What boat would John Guzzwell choose if he had to do it again singlehanded? Well, hardly surprisingly, she would be a little bigger, a light-displacement 30-footer, in fact. She would have a small inboard diesel engine instead of an outboard. She would have standing headroom, and she would be cutter- rigged instead of yawl-rigged.  She would also have a self-steering wind vane. (In the 1950s, when he built Trekka, not a lot was known about wind-vane self-steering, so she was designed with a small mizzen to help her sail herself on most courses.)

“One’s ideas tend to change with the passing years,” he notes, “but I see a lot of people missing out on much of the enjoyment of boating by attempting to take their shore-side conveniences with them. Most seem to want maintenance-free boats, yet load up on somewhat unnecessary equipment that needs constant attention to keep it working.”

So we can add one more recommendation to the old advice: Go young; go small; go now; go simple. And if the years have intervened and foiled your best intentions, until you suddenly find yourself middle-aged or more, then take John Guzzwell’s short cut. Make it a 30-foot cutter with a modest diesel and a sturdy wind vane, and leave the fancy stuff ashore. That man knows what he’s talking about.

Today’s Thought
Luxury is an enticing pleasure, a bastard mirth, which hath honey in her mouth, gall in her heart, and a sting in her tail.
— Francis Quarles, Emblems: Bk. i, Hugo

There was a young woman called Hall
Who wore a newspaper dress to a ball.
The dress caught on fire
And burned her entire
Front page, sports section, and all.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Just got through February 2013, a couple of thoughts. Thoreau, or more likely his editor, left out a not. Read the sentence again with a not before indispensable makes way more sense.

And, on the art of sailing, if you can find a copy read Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Sailing which is more in my line,