Editorial June 2008 Issue

The Art of Defying Gravity

It is easy to dismiss singlehanded ocean sailing as sheer madness. It is challenge enough to meet the sea in a small boatówhy would anyone choose to do it alone?

During our liveaboard years, my wife Theresa and I always seemed to connect with the singlehanders in the anchorage. Often, we ended up sailing in their company for weeks or months. Perhaps we were touched by a bit of madness ourselves. In retrospect, though, I think it was a mixture of sympathy and fascination that drew us toward singlehanded sailors. Theresa couldnít bear to watch a handsome sailor

Sailing Safety Harnesses
Photo by Sherry McKillop

Noted single-handed sailor Skip Allan tests safety harnesses for our December 2006 article.
survive on rice and beansómost of them were young men with little money. And their spirit of adventure, if not sheer recklessness, intrigued me.

As one would imagine, some of the singlehanded cruisers we met didnít start out that way. A few were fulfilling a dream they shared with their wife or husband before their partner passed away. These were typically retired men, and most of them eventually found another partner and continued sailing. Others sailed alone because they and their partner could no longer get along. Although the cruising life can test a couple, I suspect these relationships would not have lasted much longer ashore.

While the single sailorís inspiration might be attributed to a touch of madness, his survival requires an extreme clarity of purpose. As with any offshore sailing endeavor, success hinges greatly on preparation. But the physical preparation of the boat and its skipper is only part of the equation.

Beginning on page 7, noted singlehanded cruising sailor and racer Skip Allan walks us through the gear and techniques he has adopted through his long sailing career. What struck me in talking with Skip is that very few pieces of equipment that he carries on his 28-foot sloop Wildflower have not been modified in some way. From self-steering gear to cooking at sea, the topics Skip covers are relevant to every sailor, whether he sails alone or with crew. But, in my view, what he does not cover is just as important.

Almost all the singlehanders Iíve met agree that one of the most precious assets at sea is a sense of humor. Yes, taking on the ocean in a small boat is serious business, but the sailor who gravely meets each storm with a scowl and a curse is only adding to the ordeal.

From Joshua Slocum, whose dogged determination helped make him the first man to circumnavigate the world alone, to Bernard Moitissier, the legendary singlehander whose stories inspired a generation of French sailors, a sense of humor is what helped keep them afloat.

Singlehanded sailors may not be mad, but the best of them find a way to defy gravity.

-Darrell Nicholson

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Practical Sailor?
Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In