A Complicated Way to Go Slow
Published: Friday, October 3, 2014
When non-sailors ask me about our sport, my quick one-line response is; "there is no more complicated way to go slow." Although this is meant to be a bit of a tongue-in-cheek answer, it is also true. Granted some boats, like the last America's Cup catamarans, can hit highway speeds, but most of us are thrilled to get our sailboats going just 8 or 9 knots. Which is really no more than a casual bike ride pace.
Since speed is obviously not the main reason to sail, it must be the complication that attracts us to the sport. Most sailors revel in the fact that it's not easy. If it were, it just wouldn't be as interesting. From the points-of-sail, to sail trim, to boat prep, and crew organization and everything else that goes with it, sailing takes time to learn. For this reason alone, most people will never become sailors. In this fast paced world, it's a just lot easier to hit a throttle and go instead of take the time to learn the nuances of sailing.
I often challenge people to name a more complex sport than sailing. Inevitably they bring up car racing, citing the pit crews and technical aspects of the vehicles. Yet there is still one huge difference. In car racing only the driver has control of the car as it moves. It doesn't take a crew to pull numerous lines in concert just to turn a corner. So as far as I can tell, sailing is the most complicated sport.
This complication leads me to my favorite reason why I like sailing; the people. Sailors tend to be fun, curious, and willing to learn, which means they are pretty interesting people by nature. They have a necessary attraction to difficult things and avoid the common paths. They are not seeking quick speed thrills, instead are much more satisfied by figuring out something complicated and making it work. To them, their life-long sailing quest becomes a lifestyle more than a sport.
Sailors also seem to have a better grasp on the powers of nature and find deep personal satisfaction in carefully testing its force. To them, sailing presents un-planned adventures not offered by other traditional recreational pursuits that are bound by lines, walls, and rigid rules. As Captain Ron said, “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”
Despite common belief, sailors are an eclectic bunch and come from all walks of life. You do not have to be rich or even own a boat to be a sailor. All you have to do is know how to sail. And this common bond instantly unites them with other sailors no matter the color of their politics or what type of car they drive. A sailor is a sailor and as long as you can talk the talk and walk the walk, you're in the club. An open club where membership is only gained through knowledge and experience.
Next time you’re talking to someone about sailing, ask them to name a more complicated sport. If they bring up car racing, my guess is they are not in the club because they don’t understand that there is not a more interesting way to go slow than sailing.