August 12, 2014

What's going on down below?

I OFTEN SENSE a feeling of guilt when people explain why they aren’t using their boats as much as they (perhaps) should be. Indeed, there are a good number of boats that seem never to move from their marina slips. And, just as often, the pundits will seize upon this fact to proclaim the merits of small boats, compared with big boats.
A few years ago I mentioned in this column that Don Casey, the well-known sailor and author, had some profound words on this topic: "When you have a modest, simple boat, you can sail at the drop of a hat, no small advantage for  a pastime entirely dependent on the vagaries of wind.... Smaller sails and lower stresses make smaller boats easier to sail and arguably safer for a small crew.... Small boats are handy, tacking easily through narrow waters. They can also traverse thin water. In fact, given seaworthiness, a small boat can take you everywhere its  larger sibling can go and lots of places beyond the big boat's reach. Small boats are also more economical to own, operate and maintain.... The ploy I favor is to own a boat substantially smaller than what you can afford."

This is all true, of course, and as a lover of small boats myself I have no quibble with it, on the understanding that “small boats” are boats of 35 feet or less. But it does overlook one important point.

When I look at a full marina, especially on a cold and miserable winter afternoon, I wonder how many unseen people there are aboard those boats. Are the boats really as deserted as they look?

Just because the boats are not out sailing doesn't mean they're not being used. I have spent many happy hours down below on docked boats. Some of them were bigger than I could really afford, but they offered comforts that smaller boats could not match.

Nothing feels more cozy than the cabin of yacht when the wind is howling from the southeast and cold rain is drumming on the skylights. What better way is there for the harried city worker to relax than to stretch out on a bunk with a favorite book or good music on the stereo?

To go below into the womb-like confines of a cabin smelling of teak and lemon oil is to shut out the worries of the weekday world. And alone, or with a loving companion, there is a satisfaction approaching bliss in doing nothing in peculiar, in simply relaxing in a snug little vessel floating on a highway that — if you wanted to — would lead you to all the exciting, exotic places in the world.

Even in summer, an afternoon spent in the sunny cockpit, happily tying a Turk's Head on the tiller, or lazily re-varnishing the little spot where the jib sheet rubs on the teak coaming, revitalizes the spirit and feeds the soul.

You may sometimes feel the pressure to go sailing when you don't particularly want to, simply to fall in with the popular notion that you have to leave your slip to prove that you're a proper sailor and not a veranda yachtsman.

But you don't have to fall for that. How you enjoy your boat is up to you. You don’t need to feel guilty for not sailing it every waking moment. And if you can afford a “big boat,” that is, something of 27 feet or more, in which you can goof off standing upright, why should you make yourself miserable in one with no more than sitting headroom?   

Today's Thought
The bow that's always bent will quickly break;
But if unstrung will serve you at your need.
So let the mind some relaxation take
To come back to its task with fresher need.
— Phaedrus, Fables                                                   

Confucius say: "If man think by the inch and talk by the yard, he will be kicked by the foot."

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

1 comment:

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I have just decided that my 38-ft Laser is too much of a boat for a man my age, and I am thinking of a 30-footer. This post covers all the points roiling around in my head.