Rhumb Lines: Focusing on the Essentials


I truly believe that the experience of a long ocean passage on a small boat can change one’s view of the world and inspire a person to reassess their life’s goals. In fact, some historians have theorized that the long trans-Atlantic passages back and forth to Europe were a source of inspiration to the men and women who articulated the ideals upon which the United States were founded.

Just about every armchair sailor familiar with pioneering cruising sailors of the 1940s and 1950s would see this message repeated again and again:

The captain and crew are responsible for safely reaching the next destination – not the boat or the gadgets aboard.

Contemporary sailors have crossed oceans in dugout canoes. They’ve voyaged and returned safely from distant islands aboard indigenous boats using no more than the wisdom passed down from the previous generations. There are still a few rare sailors who rely solely on a sextant to fix their position (and some have foregone even that).

The scourge of this pandemic disrupted our test cycle this year. Although most of our work is done in splendid isolation, it often requires travel. With our staff creeping into the sunset years and the shadows of pre-existing conditions, we hesitated to risk too much exposure.

As a result, we’ve once again been poring over previous research in areas that we feel have been under-reported, and we have focused mostly on laboratory testing. We doubled down on our questioning of long-held assumptions that may no longer hold true today.

Although we feel obliged to track the innovations of companies that have built their business around meeting the needs of sailors (how few still remain!), we also have begun a concerted effort to explore beyond the boundaries of the marine industry for solutions to our everyday problems.

The end result is a magazine that looks more like the one that Belvoir first published 45 years ago, one that questions the status quo rather than churns out repeated of tests of the same essential products every three to five years.

That doesn’t mean we’ve lost interest in evaluating new equipment that has revolutionized sailing—global positioning system, automatic identification systems, satellite communication, sustainable energy solutions, etc. This equipment has allowed us to stay connected with our tribe, to become more fully independent, and to feel safe even as we expand our horizons.

Nor do we plan to ignore the small and simple “gadgets” that are truly revolutionary. But to dedicate pages to every little upgrade to equipment that has effectively remained unchanged for decades would be doing you a disservice. And serving you, the reader, is our only mission. That much has never changed.

For those who have not yet reached out to me directly, don’t hesitate. If you do, you’ll see my signature line in my response, one that I take quite seriously.

“What would you like to see tested?”

At the end of the day, this has always, and will always be your magazine. Tell me what you’d like to have us report on in 2021 at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.