I WAS ONCE ASKED by someone who had spent a long time in the sub-tropics: “What do northern sailors do in winter?”
Well, some go skiing. Some flee south in RVs. Some go away on cruise ships. These are the dilettantes, the dabblers, the amateurs, the superficial tire-kickers.
And before you accuse me of using big words you can’t understand, let me explain that a dilettante is someone (especially someone French) who follows sailing for an amusement, a diversion. Someone who doesn’t take sailing half seriously enough.
The real sailors are reading books of ocean adventures. They’re studying boat plans and looking at ads for Herreshoff 28 ketches. They’re making plans to get time off from their partners, and continue their clandestine affairs with their boats.
They’re poking holes in the shrink-wrap so they can get inside and sit on the saloon couch for a bit, maybe making a cup of coffee on the stove and searching for the half-bottle of rum they hid in the cabinet for medical emergencies.
They check the bilges for water and crank the motor over half a turn by hand, so the impeller doesn’t take a fatal set. They check that there’s air circulating through the cabin, to deter mold. They switch on the VHF, listen to forecasts of raging storms, and grin to themselves, snug in their winter refuge.
They read with delight the logs of their past year’s cruising, and dream of those lovely lazy breezes and warm seas. They play back in their minds, time and time again, the peaceful nights at anchor, the early-morning call of the loon, and the shrill cry of a kingfisher carrying breakfast back to a forest of open beaks.
The thing about serious sailors, as opposed to those dilettantes, is that they are in love with their boats. They can hardly bear to be parted from them. They tend and care for them. They talk to them as if they were flesh and blood. They nurture them. They praise their good qualities and pardon their faults.
And in that definitive demonstration of ardor, they look back, long and hard, when they part. That’s what real sailors do in winter.
A man nearly always loves for other reasons than he thinks. A lover is apt to be as full of secrets from himself as is the object of his love from him.
— Ben Hecht
“What’s the special today?”
“Ve got fine zoop today, sir. You like some zoop, mebbe?”
“Zoop? What’s zoop?”
“You don’t know what is zoop? You know what is stew, yes? Vell, zoop is same ting, only looser.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)