Rhumb Lines: Is Sailing Essential?

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Let’s take away all the boats. Not the ships engaged in essential commerce, not the barges hauling goods, not the net boats catching fish. Keep those. And the Navy, of course, keep that. But all the rest can go.

Now, imagine as we look out over the waterfront we see no skiffs on the bay, no dinghies along the shore, no sloops or schooners on a sunset sail. This arrangement, if it persists, could have dire consequences—at least if you believe French philosopher Michel Foucault:

“In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure and the police take the place of pirates.”

Some, like Pompey the Great (as quoted by Plutarch), put sailing above even life itself:

“To sail is necessary; to live is not.”

As for me, always pining for another long passage on the Pacific, I can easily see the value of sending all willing sailors out to a seaborne isolation. Perhaps this could be a future pandemic strategy?

As summer fast approaches and COVID-19 persists as a threat, coastal communities, sailing clubs, schools, and camps around the country are asking the same question: Must our boating activities be curtailed, and if they are to continue, what measures are necessary to ensure public health?

The concern about even solo outings is that the boat and boater don’t exist in a bubble. A simple afternoon on the water can involve a great deal of bustling about. Whether in commerce (buying fuel, hardware, etc.) or in congregation (socializing on the dock), contact with others is almost inevitable. In most regards, however, sailing not only complies with the requirements of safe distancing – it embraces it.

Not that we’re a bunch of hermits, but the fact remains that a great number of sailors took up sailing precisely because it took us away from land and all its problems. (Okay, maybe some of us are seagoing hermits—or at least we inspire hermits.)

As for me, I’m in no rush to get on the water. There will be time for that. The lull in waterfront activity has allowed me to catch up on some long-delayed work projects with my younger son Jake.

At present we’re on a brightwork binge, with hatchboards and tillers lined up in the garage (doors wide open, and well-ventilated with fans, of course) awaiting another coat. For the time being we’re buoyed by another quote to carry us through these days. Something Kenneth Graham said about “messing about with boats.”

If you are a sailor in search of a project, you’ll find many on our website. A good start is to plug “DIY” into the search box. If you already have a specific project in mind, just enter in the relevant key words. Doing a Google search with the “inurl command”  (for example, entering the search site:Practical-Sailor.com varnish yields the varnish articles on our site.

And if you’re still looking for something to do, I’m sure we can come up with something. Feel free to reach out at practicalsailor@belvoir.com if you’re stumped.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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