A New Breed
Not until the Second World War came to its panting halt was it possible for any but the most remarkable of folk to approach sailing as a source of gratification. The racing of boats, which supplies its own bizarre gratifications rarely having to do with taking pleasure of the sea, has been around a bit longer. The origin of ocean racing lies in commercial competition; who could get to the fish 'fustest with the mostest' and never mind the misery for the crew. The tea clippers, in their epic, competing passages to and from the Indies, and their sister ships which rounded the Horn, or land marched across the Isthmus, all had to do with the incestuous equation that time and money are related. The faster...the more profit to owners. The faster...the more agony and danger to crew.
With the advent of fiberglass, reasonably reliable electronics, dacron sails and sheets, nylon rode and stainless steel, the sailing world changed and people could, for the first time in history, make the argument that sailing can be fun. Those of us who go to sea in small boats know better. Venturing into wind and wave is scary, cold, wet, nauseating and even a little dangerous now and then. But we all do it, and keep doing it, so sailors must have found some pleasure that lay beyond all that pain.
The human psyche is such that what is reasonably possible becomes compulsively doable and what is doable with risk and pain, to many, becomes a paradoxical source of pleasure. It was the search for pleasure that drove hundreds of thousands to sell the ranch, learn port from starboard and venture out to the sea. These folk knew that they just had to get into a boat. Fantasy, image and reality came together like an orgasm the first time that their sailboat took a bone in her teeth and her tiller came alive with a mind of its own.
I think all this is a pretty good thing. It pleases me when large numbers of folk involve themselves in any activity in which, if there is any risk it is only to themselves and not to the fragile ecosphere we live in. It is also rare that any gratification activity is as unlikely to impose on the rights and freedoms of our neighbors as is sailing. Sailing is a private matter between you and the sea or, if you are still so inclined, between you and your God. It is an activity which costs the Earth nanonic resources compared to the milliard return of delights. Sailors use up nothing, they pass the natural world along to the next generation as they found it...a pretty thought that I would not mind carved in the stone above me.
Being full of years I am selfishly fond of the fact that sailing has almost no upper age limit. Nothing has to be done quickly on a sailboat and rarely is great strength needed. Should immoderate muscle be required, it is usually in circumstances where the sea would overcome the strongest of us. Old farts and deck apes are, compared to the physics of the sea, reduced to essential equality. And how nice to have a physical activity in which you are a hero in the eyes of your grandchildren.
We are taking pleasure and giving no pain in an activity which becomes, as the decades progress, less and less dangerous. "Full fathom five my father lies" is heard now only from salty and bearded guitarists and rarely from breaved children. Sailing is no longer a sentence...nay, it is, instead, a welcome reprieve from the confines and importunate clamors of land.
This new species of sailors-for-pleasure, so recently aborning, already are dividing in two breeds. Which side of the line you fall upon depends on the subtle question of how you take your pleasure. That you take it has already been settled by the simnple fact that you are reading this.
If you take your delights in achieving goals, getting to places at which you directed your vessel and getting there in quick time and high eclat, then you are the direct descendent of all those iron men who sailed the seas for profit and glory. The game is the getting there. The new delights of a new land are your attraction and getting there smartly on your own bottom is your reward.
But if you hunger not after the port just ahead, and miss not the port just abandoned, then you are heir to no steely antecedents. You are, my friend, an entirely new breed who revels not in the getting to, but in the pure doing. You are a passagemaker, a sailor to whom the glory is in being out there and in unhampered commune with nature and self. You are a process sailor to whom the act of passing across a hundred miles of water is sufficient for the day. You never say 'to' anywhere rather, you always say 'toward' somewhere. You never have a time you must be at a place....your place to be is the open sea itself.
You will likely make long passages, never having planned to sail further than Bimini and you will, as I did, sail around the world...quite by accident.
I applaud those driven folk who must make this port or that in this time or that, since I applaud all sailors.
But I choose the wanderers, the aimless ones, the Moitessiers, as my friends.