Posted by at 01:32PM - Comments: (6)
I recently read an essay that compared sailing to tennis, two sports that I enjoy, but are as different as they come. The writer implied that both sports are infected with a clubby sense of elitism, and while I’m not so blind as to dismiss this as absolute nonsense, the comment irked me to no end. Some sailors might argue that there’s a difference between racers and cruisers, but that would only perpetuate unfair stereotypes and misses the point. The distinction is much simpler: The sea is not a tennis court.
In this era when the Athos of the world glide by on gilded hulls and the America’s Cup is a hobby for billionaires and a billboard for fashion houses, it is easy to forget that some of the most inspiring voyages were launched on shoestring budgets, in small boats, and at great risk. Often they were acts of desperation carried out by men (and women) down on their luck, without a sense of purpose or place. The fallout from two world wars delivered these individuals in droves. Many wrote of their adventures— Vito Dumas, John Caldwell, Bernard Moitissier, Sir Francis Chichester—but many others simply went, keeping their inevitable transformation to themselves.
What prompted my reflection on all of this was the recent arrival of 31-year-old Matt Rutherford to the Chesapeake Bay in what has to be the most battered Albin Vega on the planet. Rutherford spent 309 days at sea in a record-setting nonstop circumnavigation of the Americas via the Northwest Passage. Hailed by some as a great adventure, the voyage was as inadvisable as they come. I’ll just call it sheer madness—and leave it at that. Survival depended greatly on Rutherford’s exceptional fitness for the task, and his good fortune.
However foolhardy Rutherford’s folly may have been, I admire his spirit of adventure, his endurance, and perseverance. We also share the same cause: Both Practical Sailor and Rutherford support the Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating program for handicapped sailors. He hopes to raise $250,000 ($10 per mile) for the group.
In the July issue, Practical Sailor will take a close look at Rutherford’s boat and the gear that accompanied him on the voyage. Personally, I’m curious to see how well his gear and electronics—or, what’s left of it—held up. It will be particularly fun to compare his 27-foot St. Brendan to the Eco 60s we profiled last year, or better yet, to the storm-withered fleet of Volvo Open 70s that are pulling into Miami this week.
A good example of what you can accomplish if you put your fears behind you, Rutherford’s adventure calls to mind one of my favorite quotes, by Robert L. Stevenson in an “An Inland Voyage,” a travelogue of his canoe trip through France and Belgium in 1876.
“I wish sincerely, for it would have saved me much trouble, there had been someone to put me in good heart about life when I was younger, to tell me how dangers are most portentous on a distant sight; and how the good in a man’s spirit will not suffer itself to be overlaid, and rarely or never deserts him in the hour of need.”
As much as I enjoy tennis, I can’t see anyone experiencing the same sort of epiphany after a few hours on the courts.