ONCE UPON A TIME in the West Indies I met an ex-airline pilot who was also a sailor. He insisted that cruising in a sailboat was far more complicated than flying a passenger jet.
“As a cruiser, you have to know so much more in so many different areas,” he said. “A pilot doesn’t have to fix the engines or make sure there’s enough food on board. A pilot doesn’t have to know how to repair or maintain anything. A pilot doesn’t have to worry about finding the right bottom paint. He need know nothing about electrolytic corrosion or the difference between deep-cycle batteries and starter batteries. He doesn’t have to worry about the anchor dragging.”
I dare say he was right. One of the many charms of cruising is the way you find yourself learning all the different skills you need to be self-sufficient. It’s a feeling that takes modern men and women right back to the days of the great explorers under sail. Nothing daunted them.
When they were shipwrecked on a foreign shore they felled trees, built boats on the beach, somehow fashioned the thousand-and-one things they needed, and then carried on exploring. They went ashore for months at a time. They cleared land and sowed their seeds. When the crops were ready, they carried on exploring.
The world has changed, and modern cruising won’t make a whole Renaissance man or woman out of you — but it might get pretty close. For that reason I always advise young people to go cruising, even before they settle down in college. I tell them to cruise as far as they can for as long as they can and I assure them they’ll never regret it.
They need to do some homework first, of course, and they need to decide on a definite cruising objective: something we’ve talked about before. Then they should sail away. They’ll find help and friendly people everywhere. They’ll travel vast watery areas of our pretty planet where the voice of mankind has never been heard before, and maybe never will be again.
“Go cruising,” I tell them. “Nothing is more fascinating than cruising. Maybe nothing’s more important.”
I been a wanderin’
Early and late
New York City
To the Golden Gate
An’ it looks like
I’m never gonna cease my
— Carl Sandburg, folk-music lyrics recalled on his death 22 Jul 67
“What are you specializing in at medical school?”
“You’re nuts. By the time you graduate some other doctor will have found the cure for them.”
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