Saturday, November 6, 2010


There is a saying among sailors, "If there are two sailboats within sight of one another and headed in the same general direction, at least one of them is racing." I'm a pretty leisurely sailor but even I have trimmed sail to gain a little speed when it seemed possible to outdistance a nearby vessel - it's a sailor's nature, I guess. But more often than not I would be the one not racing. To me just being on the water with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair is reason enough to sail; I don't need to be going faster than the other boat (usually).

Sailing is like any other activity - everyone participates for their own reasons and with varying degrees of passion and enthusiasm. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who are sailors and I've observed over the years that they can generally be divided into a few categories based solely on their approach to sailing, and that their sailing category pretty much translates into how they approach life in general.

First, there are the voyagers. To them, sailing is a way of life, their raison d'etre. They sail the oceans from port to port, country to country, just for the adventure. Their life is sailing and sailing is their life. If they were not sailors they would be explorers venturing into the unknown or mountain climbers seeking new heights. Voyagers, on the seas or on the shore, need to extend their horizons, seek new experiences and ,you know, "boldly go where no man has gone before." True voyagers are a rare breed but occasionally you will encounter one in a local anchorage. The late Dodge Morgan was a voyager who spent his later years living and cruising on the Maine coast and many local sailors were privileged to meet him.

The next category I call "cruisers". Cruisers get on the water as often as they can, and they usually have a destination and a deadline to get there and back. They have jobs and responsibilities that demand most of their time and attention and sailing is their "escape" from the pressures of every day life. Cruisers may spend as much, or more, time in the planning and preparations for their journey as on the actual trip. The trip may encompass a weekend or a month, it may be a short sail to a nearby anchorage or a cruise downeast, but invariably there is a set departure date and a set return date and if the weather sucks the whole time, well that's too bad. Cruisers, like most of the rest of us, are subject to the whims of nature. And then they go back to their "real" lives.

Racers need almost no explanation. They want to go faster then everybody else - on the water, anyway. Everything they do is intended to gain a competitive edge. Equipment, tuning, tactics - these all factor into the racer's approach to sailing. They want to get the most speed out of themselves, the boat and the crew. For the racer every outing is a competition - against a fleet of boats in a regatta, against the unsuspecting cruiser off the port bow, or against his own fastest time on the same course. Racers love to sail and they love to compete. And maybe, from time to time, every sailor is a racer, because, "I'll bet if I trim the sails a little, I can beat that boat to the next buoy..."

There's another category that I almost hesitate to mention because it seems, well , unkind - but they are part of the sailing community so I guess I have to include them. Let's call them, for lack of a better term, "Dockers". Dockers tend to have large, expensive boats that never seem to leave the dock. The owners (I hesitate to call them sailors) if they are on the boat at all are usually seated in the cockpit, relaxing with a beverage; they are often not apparent on the vessel at all, and I suspect they spend most of their "sailing" time at the yacht club bar, relaxing with a beverage. Sometimes I wonder why "dockers" have boats at all, but I'm sure they have their reasons; I'm also sure that it's none of my business.

And finally, there are the "day sailors". I'm a day sailor. We get out on the water at every opportunity in any kind of vessel that floats. Being on the water, sailing - that's our objective. Where we go or how long it takes to get there is not important. We may set out with a destination in mind, but if time and tide keep us from getting there, no problem - we'll make it another day. You may say day sailors have no goals - I say we're flexible. If I am on the water, I am happy; if I can get to a new destination it may add to my enjoyment but if I don't make it, it won't ruin my day. Some days, most days, when I drop my mooring I don't even know in what direction I'll head - it depends on the wind, and my mood, and maybe who I have for a crew. Some of my fondest memories are of sailing to places that had not even occurred to me when I set out, or sailing to no particular place at all - just going where the prevailing winds dictated on that particular day. It's being on the water - sailing - that is our passion; not adventure, not destinations, not speed, and certainly not staying dockside! It doesn't matter if the outing lasts an hour, a day, or a month, day sailors are happy for the ride, wherever it takes them - even it that's nowhere at all!

Is sailing just a metaphor for life? I don't know, maybe. But I do know that how a person approaches sailing tells you a lot about how she or he approaches life. So if someone invites you to go for a sail (metaphorically speaking), ask yourself, "What kind of sailor is this?"

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