December 21, 2014

Here's to singlehanders

ONCE AGAIN we seem somehow to have halted the sun’s flight to the south. Yesterday he came to the end of his tether and we in the north can now start dragging him back to our hemisphere.

It means we can start looking forward to summer. Oh, I know that this is actually the beginning of the northern winter, but it also means the days will be getting longer and, eventually, warmer. It gives us hope that another summer of blue skies and warm winds will come our way — and prompt another crop of amateur sailors to set off across oceans.

Some  of those footloose adventurers will be singlehanders. Not many, but some. There are always a few every year, and they choose to sail alone for a host of different reasons.

In my book, The Practical Mariner’s Book of Knowledge, I list 10 reasons that motivate people to disappear over the horizon on their own. The list was originally compiled by Richard Henderson, a sailor and author with a profound knowledge of the singlehanded psyche. Here it is:
1. Practical purposes: To test a theory or to gather research material for a book. To earn money. To win a race. (Sometimes the practical reason is that the boat isn’t big enough for two.)
2. Self-significance: To find one’s place in the pecking order and acquire a sense of belonging.
3. Curiosity and fulfillment: A desire to see and experience things for oneself.
4. Recognition: Allied to self-significance, this takes things a stage further and involves a desire for fame.
5. Independence: The need for the greatest possible freedom and control over one’s destiny.
6. Escapism: Closely allied to independence. A rebellion against routine and flight from personal and societal problems.
7. Adventurousness: Pandering to the restless spirit, the desire for novelty, travel, and excitement.
8. Competitiveness: This takes many forms, including personal competition with the ocean and one’s inner fears as well as the desire to win races and set records.
9. Solitude: Some people are natural introverts. They like being alone. Others experience a spiritual cleansing that makes them more appreciative of subsequent human contact.
10. The Mother Sea: All life came from the sea. Some deep instinct, some unsummoned fascination, draws many people back.
Ø Well, there you are. I’m sure a great many of us have felt that inner urge to set sail alone, free of all the problems that most crews present, and free of the need to take anybody else’s feelings (or their safety) into account before making decisions, big or small.

But most of us would never dare to rely entirely on ourselves to cross an ocean. It takes a lot of guts to do that. We will say we can’t find the find the time or the opportunity; but if we examine our consciences we will find that we could, in fact, make the time and the opportunity, if only we were prepared to change our lives completely.

Meanwhile, I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing the best to all those sailors who are preparing for long solo voyages in 2015.  Good luck to you, guys and gals. May you enjoy fair winds and good landfalls.

 Today’s Thought There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there, that stirs the yearning for solitary voyage. — Barbara Lazear Ascher, Playing after Dark

“Is there someone in the class who can tell me what steps you would take to determine the height of a ship’s mast using only an aneroid barometer?”
“Yes, sir. I would lower the barometer on a piece of string and then measure the string.”

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


James Eaton said...

I think as well, there is a special exhilaration to single handed sailing. It's something I've just started and while I enjoy sailing with a crew, there is a unique sense of fulfillment even to a day sail on your own.

CNH said...

“Is there someone in the class who can tell me what steps you would take to determine the height of a ship’s mast using only an aneroid barometer?”
"Yes, sir. Take it to the top of the mast, drop it, and measure the time it takes to hit the desk. If we take the acceleration due to gravity as ..."