To Sail, With Love

I find sailing to be wonderfully meditative.

At least I think I’m supposed to say things like that.  The truth is I don’t know how I feel about it. Actually, that’s not really the truth either. The truth is I have many contradictory feelings about it, so I don’t feel like I can cleanly register myself into any particular well-defined school, as it pertains to the boating arts.

We all, as individuals, elect how to spend our time and money. And my not-so-perspicacious observation is that in most every election, participants tend to flock towards easily-identifiable parties, which supposedly can be used as shorthand for that individual’s identity and priorities (a system which, of course, ignores the often shocking extent of the overlap between groupings in deference to good old fashioned blind competition). Boater voters, it seems, are no different. 

I’ve heard the divide described many different ways. Power boaters tend to be more conservative than those who sail. Power boaters are fishermen while sailors are outdoorsmen (I ask your forgiveness for the masculine emphasis: these were the literal terms used in my interactions). Power boaters want to dominate their environment while sailors want to integrate with it. Can you tell I’ve been talking mostly to sailors? At best there is a tacit competition between the two camps and at worst… Well, you know how bad humans can be.

So therefore, as a de-facto sailor, I feel pressure to succumb to this mentality and disparage my engine. Honestly, in casual conversation it feels like many sailors consider an engine to be the cheater’s way out. The refuge of a flip-flopper, if you will. Ergo, I feel like using the engine is cheating. Except I don’t. But I do feel like I should, which may just be a convoluted way of saying that, yes, I actually do. Confused? Me too.

I really do enjoy the peaceful–and yes, sometimes, meditative–aspects of sailing. Minimal noise and vibrations of a different sort entirely. A good day of sailing is nearly impossible to top. But at the same time I find myself drawn to the engine, thinking of it–though this is a vast oversimplification of the reality–as a predictable constant in a world of unpredictabilities. I can make passages at night (when conditions are generally more benign) and not worry about too little wind to make progress. I have a vehicle and a motor–just like driving a car! A very, very slow car. And, yes, I do find the intrusive noise of the old diesel engine to wear me down over time, but part of me loves that fatigue much in the same way I used to love to make road trips in my ‘73 CJ5. The greater the discomfort the more glittering the badge of honor.

A big honkin’ power boat… being towed.

Logistical arguments are at odds with each other: no, I don’t like to pay for fuel but yes, I do prefer to make my destination sometime before the sun has risen and set again. No, I don’t like the noise, but yes, I do love that auditory association of wielding a powerful machine. And the truth is, at night, even when the wind is blowing, I do feel strangely more comfortable when I’m motoring. Is this because I am an unworthy traitor to my sailor’s kind? Or perhaps just because those are the moments when the vessel slips incrementally further into my long-tended comfort zone of driving old and tenuously-reliable vehicles? Both ring true. I do observe that in my downtime I have decidedly gravitated towards performing engine maintenance rather than meddling with my rigging. Though the recitations I utter may have more in common with blasphemy than prayers, I find immense gratification in these greasy ablutions.

filters, fluids, additives, oils. Oh the fun that can be had.

So for now I may capitulate and bear the shame suggested by my congregation’s gospel, but I refuse to prosthelytize, myself, on my tiny soapbox pulpit. Already–with far more boat than I could ever want in my life–I browse boat classifieds religiously. I love to peruse the offerings and picture life in all the respective flavors and shades. Even putting aside delusions of grandeur and a sticky attraction to luxury tugs, I covet the idea of someday living on an old single-diesel CHB trawler (not so unlike this). But, shhhhh! My sailing compatriots might well crucify me on a mast at such heresy.

2 thoughts on “To Sail, With Love

  1. Life isn’t so much about binary choices, it’s about that wide gray range of degrees between them. I love your ability to express the gray. Binary choices are the lazy way to a feeling of self righteousness. Keep on sailing and motoring.


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