LAST WEEKEND I watched the golf on television, and I got to wondering why people love their heroes so much. Almost every move made by Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson brought the crowd to ecstasy. The gallery exploded with applause and whistles when one of them actually sank a putt. It occurred to me, however, that if I were a golfer I wouldn’t want to watch the masters at work.
It’s the same with yachting. When I read about how John Guzzwell heroically saved Tzu Hang or Marcel Bardiaux dived to move a heavy anchor along the sea bottom to save his boat, I don’t feel exultant. I don’t cheer or whistle or stomp on the ground. I simply feel inadequate.
I know I’ll never be able to emulate the feats of the sailing greats. They’re not normal. They’re supermen. They have talents I can never possess and it makes me feel jealous and resentful. How can I love and respect and adore people who make me feel deficient and incompetent?
The sailing heroes I worship are the unsung ones, the ones who make their way from port to port, and across oceans, using a minimum of talent and drama. I like the skipper who loses an anchor now and then, or who forgets to compensate for the current and ends up where he didn’t want to be. Such sailors make me feel good. They make me feel it’s only normal to have to go back to rescue the dinghy because I didn’t cleat the painter properly. They make me feel it’s not a crime to run out of fuel because I left the damned spare cans in the trunk of the car again.
I like them because they’re not capable of anything heroic. And most of all I like them because they’re not better than me. I realize what that says about my character. And I don’t care.
The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.
—Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyper Reality
"How's your glassblower friend?"
"Not so good. He inhaled by mistake and had to go to the doctor with a pane in his stomach."(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)