Darkness at Noon

Cutsie anchors and nippleless mermaids are the measure of the creative wasteland in which we live below decks. Almost every boat I board has one or the other of these inanities stitched, printed, painted or tattooed on stuff which deserves a better fate. Where is it written that boats should be limited to the motif marine?

If, in our belowdecks life, we must be constantly reminded that we are at sea, then we are either missing the point of sailoring, or what is more likely, we have not untied from dock and are unlikely to do so.

We buy these dumb images because the pinhead folk who develop products for sailors think that we are as intellectually bankrupt as are they. Can't you see the process? "Ah...this is for a boat, so let's decorate it with something nautical...but non objectional." So off come the nipples and rather than adding to our lives at sea, they diminish them.

The below decks milieu of a passaging sailboat should be a reminder of those few, but poignant, pleasures of what we have left behind. A mountain we have loved or a valley that, almost, matches the seclusion of the sea. Certainly prints of the great, landbound painters (none of whom made much sense, as we know it, of the sea) of field and forest. A view of St Marks in Venice or of a print of a noble ruin of an English Cistercian Abbey might add to our contrasting pleasure of the sea rather than diluting it. In the final analysis, anything, even the absence of all decoration, is better than the jejune namby-pambyisms of 'nautical' goods. "Less is More" as Mr. van der Rohe liked to say.

Going from surface to substance, the insistence, against everything that sailors know is correct, of designers to force us to accept such as curved and cutsie banquettes in the place of tight and limiting sea berths, is a development to be seriously resisted. Somehow the folk who design boats have become convinced that the banquette, as awkward as its name and impractical even in a living room at home, is the perfect solution for an environment that is known to stand on its (and your) head more often than not. Even when in use for dining the banquette is a terrible solution. A couple of folk on the ends are mildly comfortable while the sardines in the middle grapple with each other for hip and knee space. And when everybody is seated side by side, the all important eye contact of intimate and revealing conversation is precluded. Banishment is too good a fate for banquettes. They should be piled up in a ritual bonfire around which sailors could dance in joy, occasionally tossing in a 'marine' interior designer.

But the major sin of the designers is in their lack of understanding of the nature of sunlight on the eyes and the psyches of sailors. Most of us spend our cruising lives in tropical waters where the sun is our worst enemy. Its actinics reduce our retinas to tissue paper (along with our tempers) and fry and addle through hat and awning as if they did not exist, what is left of our brains. A deep fried brain will fluster, muddle and fuddle its way through a passage. Not the best way to go. We are at the not so tender mercies of a blazing foe who need only to rise each morning and throw darts of fire, to vanquish the bravest sailor. We must be on constant guard against the Sun when above decks. And, something that the marine designers have never been able to figure out, we must have a place of blessed darkness below to which to escape now and then.

Their idiot solution to our need for escape from abusive glare is to make belowdecks 'bright and cheerful'. They accomplish this by using lots of brilliant whites and further encourage blindness by widening windows and ports to let more sunlight in. If you have ever sailed the Bahamas or the Red Sea or the southern coast of Turkey or, by God, anywhere, you know that the last thing in the world you want after four hours blinded and eyeless on deck, is to find yourself the target of that unerring shaft of contumelious sunlight that pierces your tight closed lids no matter where or how you squirm.

You want to be happy in a tropical sea? Banish all sunlight below. Cover up all your ports in daytime (better to bake than burn), design your boat so that you have ever deeper and ever darker domains to escape into and paint everything black or a dark, dark forest green. Now isn't that better?

On a larger screen this is pretty much how the world works . . . if you let it. Blacks got rhythm, Jews are smart, the Spanish are passionate and sailors all like salty motifs. If you accept these limitations impressed upon you by folk whose thinking is cookie cuts, they will cut your corners as they cut theirs.