December 26, 2010

Small boats, simple voyages

SAILING, FOR MANY GOOD REASONS, tends to be regarded by many as a complicated and expensive pastime. But it needn’t be. Small simple boats can afford pleasure and gratification out of all proportion to their cost. And small gentle voyages can generate as much joy and satisfaction as long adventurous ones.

The man or woman who gingerly sails a dinghy along a friendly shore is no less worthy of our respect than the sailor who braves the mighty ocean. We all have our own areas of anxiety and doubt in our own abilities, and when we conquer our fears it is just as much a triumph to cross the bay as it is for someone of sterner nature to cross an ocean. And yet, human nature being what it is, we tend to judge other sailors by the size of their boats and how far they’ve traveled: their most distant ports, and the length of their voyages.

Now it is true that sailors who cross oceans in small boats perform prodigious feats of seamanship because they sail the same seas as big ships that have large crews specializing in the various skills needed to move people and cargoes across oceans. Sailboat sailors are their own cooks and navigators. They are their own engineers and riggers. They handle the sails and anchors and electrical circuits. And they face exactly the same hazards as large ships, including the storms, the rocks, and even pirates.

Yet, at the same time, to take a small boat across a body of water of any size is no small feat. To each his own goals and ambitions. We all set our own limits, and who can gainsay our individual achievements? What we all seek deep down is a feeling of ability, of achievement, of confidence. And sailing a small boat on a small voyage often does generate the confidence we need to deal with the greater troubles the world constantly throws at us.

Seamanship is as much a set of the mind as anything else. You are the only judge of your seamanship. We challenge ourselves, we feel fear, and sometimes we get more fear than we bargained for, but we learn and we gain confidence, and are not as frightened quite as much the next time. And there always is a next time for those who challenge themselves.

Today’s Thought
Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage.
— R. L. Stevenson

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #138
Oars for a yacht tender often benefit from being a little shorter than those designed for serious long-distance rowing in a special, light craft. The simple rule of thumb for tenders is that the overall length of each oar should be about 1 1/2 times the distance between the oarlocks. Thus, for a tender with a 4-foot beam, the oars should be 6 feet long.

Mary had a little lamb
That leaped around in hops
It hopped into the road one day
And ended up as chops.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi John Nice site I am the maker of West Wight Potters and will be in the Show in Seattle
my email is
I enjoyed reading "A speck in the sea" great adventures and historical voyages Stanley Smiths Potters are included in the voyages I would like to speak further.
Ken Lange