Sailing Wimps

Aug28 1

A while back I mentioned that I had a dock neighbor in La Paz who had been working on his engine without much success. He was an Australian who had just moved aboard his new-to-him Morgan 43 five weeks earlier and intended to leave any day for Indonesia with his wife and son. I also pointed out that he and his wife circumnavigated a few years back. This was a can-do guy with plenty of bluewater miles under his keels.

Anyway, he’d done a bunch of engine work, mostly related to the injectors, but whenever he fired up the engine a cloud of white exhaust still erupted from the boat. He’d been telling me they were heading out any day now, so when he fired it up the last time and the same cloud blew out I asked him, “So what are you going to do?” As in, are you still heading across the Pacific?

He gave me a sideways smile and said in his thickest Aussie brogue, “We’re gonna go, mate.”

On my blog I mentioned that I loved that attitude. He didn’t know what was wrong with his engine—he suspected a blown head gasket—but he wasn’t about to let that stop him from sailing his boat a few thousand miles.

The next morning they were gone—an adventure underway.

Within ten minutes of me posting that short story a comment came through:

Yeah right. Like “I’ll just enter (engineless) the narrowish (upwind) entrance to Papeete harbor and make it over under sail in my crabcrusher to the quay, or perhaps continue down past the airport to Mavea beach”.

Oh and it’s not like I depend on an alternator (powered by the motor) for charging the batteries that run darn near everything.

That’s one reason I don’t monitor VHF16. Why put oneself at risk to help out those who assume “she’ll be right mate.”

The guy has abundant and reasonably priced resources available to him in LaPaz yet seems intent on eschewing that for immediate gratification. Kool …. yeah, go for it Dude.

I replied:

Pretty much proves my point. There are those that do, and are willing to accept some amount of risk, and there are those that don’t, who will not accept any risk.

This guy and his wife are already circumnavigators. Now they’ve got a new boat, a 43′ Morgan with a huge solar array, negating any need for an alternator to charge his batteries. He’s also got a home built “tow charger” made out of a length of pipe, an old outboard prop, and who knows what else. He was quite proud of it as it had been their sole means of alternative battery charging on their first trip around.

He’s not so stupid that he’d attempt to sail into Tahiti without a motor, unless conditions were right. Remember, there are other islands in the South Pacific. Moorea rings a bell, just a few miles from Tahiti.

Not to mention a smokey engine is not the end of the world. He’d done a bunch of work to the engine but didn’t want to get into a blown head gasket repair right now. I’m sure the boat will handle getting into and out of a few anchorages just fine.

Anyway, I liked the guy and I liked his attitude. He was far more a sailor than I’ll ever be, and I’m certain that he won’t be calling out on Ch. 16, “Help me, help me, I can’t charge my iPad because my engine won’t start.”

But now I realize that wasn’t the right reply. The right reply would have been a much simpler, “When did we sailors all turn into such pussies?” For lack of a better word.

There was a time, I suspect, not so many years ago, when sailors sailed their boats. They sailed them from point A to point B. They sailed them into their slips. They sailed them to their bay for the night and dropped the anchor before they dropped the main.

This was before my time. I’ve only been around boats ten years—but what—forty, fifty years ago, sailors still did this didn’t they? Not all of them, but enough that everybody in the marina didn’t come running outside when a boat still flying its main came whispering down the fairway.

In forty-thousand miles and hundreds of anchorages I can count on one hand—ah hell—I can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve witnessed somebody sail into a bay and drop their anchor, then furl their sails. And I’m pretty sure even I could do that. I emphasize that because anybody who knows me knows I’m not much of a sailor—but yes, I could anchor under sail if I wanted to. Yet I don’t. Why? Because I’m conditioned to be a sailing wimp like the rest of you.

Why is it that somebody sailing to the South Pacific with an engine that may or may not be running when they get there is such an anachronism? It really shouldn’t be that big a deal should it? It certainly shouldn’t warrant a comment suggesting that that person is going to be calling for help. It’s a sailboat for crying out loud. Why do we assume that a sailboat with no engine is going to need help? The answer: Because if we didn’t have an engine we would call for help—that’s why. We’re wimps. We can sail, but we can’t really sail. We won’t even try, we just automatically reach for the VHF or cell phone. Of course there are exceptions, but they are few and far between, and becoming even more so.

I think it’s important to remind myself—and other cruisers—that yes, you can sail to far off lands without a perfectly new, perfectly functioning diesel. You can also do it without radar, AIS, and a myriad of other gonks and gadgets. Hell, I even heard that you can go sailing without GPS, though I doubt the veracity of those claims. I mean, come on, there’s no way to determine your position on the earth without GPS—we all know that.

Really the only thing you can’t sail to far-off lands without these days is the peanut gallery telling you that you can’t.