October 2, 2014

Earning style points

I FIRST LEARNED ABOUT STYLE POINTS in one of Eric Hiscock’s books. He said that when he and Susan were rowing their tender in a crowded anchorage, with Eric at the oars and Susan on the stern thwart, she would guide him so that he didn’t have to pause and look over his shoulder now and then to see if he was going astray. Susan would do this by surreptitiously holding one hand low in her lap and pointing it like a weather vane toward their destination.
I thought that was a wonderful idea, and became an enthusiastic seeker of style points. Perhaps too enthusiastic at one stage, for my wife June still occasionally reminds me of an occasion when she and my son Kevin were waiting for me in the dinghy alongside our 30-foot sloop. I was tidying up some rope ends in the cockpit, which was within sight of a large yacht club.

There was a minor gale raging, and the dinghy was bouncing up and down quite frenziedly. As I stepped down into the dinghy I barked: “You’re clinging on like a couple of paralyzed leeches! Smarten up, f’goodness’ sake!”

I would have forgotten about this years ago, but for some reason it seems to have stuck in June’s mind. My intention, of course, was to make it seem to any onlooker in the yacht club that everything was calm and under control; that there was no panic or distress, despite the obvious difficulties we were experiencing. That is what style points are all about.

And that is why I could have bitten June one day many years later in a crowded anchorage in the West Indies when I discovered that our 39-foot catamaran was about to impale a large anchored schooner. We were motoring at 5 knots when the steering seized up. “Oh shit,” I muttered quietly, “we’ve lost steering.”

June reacted with alarm.  “Lost steering?” she yelled, causing heads to pop up in boats all around us. “OMIGOD, HAVE WE LOST STEERING?”

People began scrambling for fenders and running along decks. I idled the engines, but we were still heading toward the big schooner. Then I remembered that I had just engaged the autopilot. I quickly disengaged it and steered around the schooner’s stern with a few feet to spare. June and I didn’t speak for quite a while.

I have since discovered that people either naturally pursue style points or they know nothing at all about them, and don’t care. I guess it’s in the genes. Maybe you have to inherit style. One thing is for certain — you can always spot boats loaded with style points. They stand out in the crowd, like royalty among the hoi polloi. They don’t have to be fancy or big or expensive. They just have to possess that je ne sais quoi that separates them from the common herd.

If you’d like to learn more about the quoi that je ne sais pas, tune in to my next column and I’ll give you a few tips on how to score style points that will drive your boating acquaintances crazy with envy.

Today’s Thought
Style has no fixed laws; it is changed by the usage of the people, never the same for any length of time.
— Seneca, Ad Lucilium

A blonde driving down the road  noticed another blonde sitting in a nearby field. She was in a boat, rowing, with no water in sight.
The first blonde angrily pulled her car over and yelled at the rowing blonde, "Hey, what do you think you're doing? It's people like you that give us blondes a bad name. If I could swim, I'd come out there and kick your butt!"

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

No comments: