I SUPPOSE YOU CAN make a sailboat as complicated as you want, but in essence it is one of the simplest forms of transport. Sailors from hundreds of years ago would feel at home on the majority of today’s small yachts. The essentials haven’t changed: sails, masts, rudders, keels, and tillers. They all do the same jobs they’ve done for centuries.
So much of the rest of the world has changed dramatically in the last few hundred years. The old sailors who would feel at home on today’s simple sailboats would have had no concept of radio or television. Cars, trains, planes, computers and a host of modern inventions have come, and constantly changed, over the years. But simple sailboats go on and on, constant and unwavering.
One of my simplest sailboats was a sweet little Santana 22 fin keeler, one of Gary Mull’s first designs and rumored to have been designed on a paper napkin in the diningroom of a San Francisco yacht club. At least, that’s where they say he sketched out the basic lines.
She sailed like a witch, but as far as accommodation went, she was more like a floating fiberglass pup-tent. Nevertheless, June and I sailed her all over Puget Sound and deep into the Gulf Islands of British Columbia.
In Bedwell Harbour, on South Pender Island, we took Tagati around to the fuel dock on the northern side of the marina and bought 5 gallons of gas for the outboard. We asked for fresh water, too, but the attendant was reluctant to give us any. “We’re having a drought,” he explained.
“We only need 2 gallons,” I said. “It’s all we have room for.” He nearly fell down laughing. “Help yourself!” he cried. “Go ahead.”
We headed over to little Portland Island, a beautiful marine park donated to British Columbia by Princess Margaret of Great Britain and anchored with a line to the shore. We were delighted to find a toilet ashore and we eagerly took every advantage of the luxury of a long-drop. On board, we used a bucket.
In the middle of the island, in a beautiful deserted clearing of dried grass, we came across an old hand pump that brought ice-cold water up from a well. We returned to it the next day, armed with a bucket, shampoo, and towels, and washed our hair. It felt wonderful after a week without showers, but the ice-water was a little numbing.
Somehow, we managed to create a small lake of shampoo foam. Bits of white foam were swirling around in the wind, and we were standing there in its midst with towels piled up on our heads, when a small group of people, obviously from one of the smart yachts in the southern cove, came upon us. They didn’t say anything. They just stopped and stared, as if they had just stumbled upon a gypsy encampment.
After a few moments of wondering whether to acknowledge us or not, they moved on, murmuring among themselves, and June and I burst out laughing. We dried our hair, stamped out as many bubbles of foam as we could, and ambled back to our sweet little boat. There we lay back in the sun in the cockpit, smelling like our babies used to smell after their nightly baths, and thinking how lucky we were to find such contentment in such simplicity.
Often ornateness goes with greatness;
Oftener felicity comes of simplicity.
— William Watson, Art Maxims
Did you hear about the sailor who nearly drowned in a bowl of muesli? A strong currant pulled him in.
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