Sailing…sailing…with a little help from your Friends.
Remember the episode of Friends where Joey “wins” the sailboat, and Rachel takes him sailing? The one where Joey isn’t listening and can’t remember any of the sailing terms? Rachel yells at him, “If you do not know what you are doing out at sea, you will die at sea! Am I getting through to you sailor? This isn’t a game. You could really get hurt out here. So do you want to pay attention or do you want to die?”
That pretty much sums up what sailing is all about.
Sailing is not so much a sport as an exercise in constant vigilance. There are ropes to pull, sails to lift, wind speed directions to monitor. Consequently, there is a lot of yelling. “Hoist the Sails!” “Head to wind!” “Swab the decks!” These are phrases the Captain will yell repeatedly on any excursion. The most important phrase to listen for is “Duck!” This command will keep the boom from cracking you in the skull when you’re “coming about.”
You know those commercials with the loving couple sailing into the sunset on a beautiful sailboat? Because they’ve won the lottery? They are lounging, enjoying cocktails, holding hands even. I love that analogy, because the chances of having such a peaceful excursion on a sailboat are about as likely as winning the lottery.
Most days you are white knuckled as the wind picks up or a torrential downpour starts mid-way through your journey. Alternatively, there is no wind, and you are left floating, aimlessly. This state when you have no wind, is called being “in irons.” I find that very apropos, since being stranded off shore, on a sailboat going nowhere can feel like being incarcerated. Any sport entirely dependent on an act of God leaves far too much margin for error.
There’s a saying, “We cannot change the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” Let’s be clear. The people who use this as their email signature have clearly never been on a sailboat. In theory, yes, you can adjust the sails. But in practice, there are mainsheets and spinnakers, and numerous lines with names like Cunningham and Halyard that need to be pulled and cranked. This all while trying not to lose your balance, or your lunch, on a moving vessel being tossed on angry seas.
Not surprisingly, sailors are a different breed of people. They like to tie knots and wear Sperry Topsiders. They are also very insular. There are no large public arenas or fields on which the sport is played. The action starts at the Yacht Club. For the uninitiated, the first rule of Yacht Club is: You are not invited to Yacht Club.
Have you ever noticed the sign at the entrance to these places? Members Only.
Sailors also have their own language. They use terms like Stern and Bow. Or Port and Starboard. What is wrong with front and back, or left and right? Nothing, of course, unless you are a sailor. To most landlubbers, common sense dictates that when you are flying across open water, with 30 knot winds blowing at your back—I mean stern— it’s much easier to understand “Man overboard on the left!”
Even the most popular fictional accounts of sailing excursions are all cautionary tales. Ahab, Robinson Crusoe, Skipper and Gilligan: these outings did not end well.
And yet, countless people continue to don the Bermuda shorts and weather the choppy seas to set sail. So there must be some redeeming aspect. Even Rachel, at the end of that Friends episode, finds there are certain ways to enjoy sailing.
“I hate to admit it Joey. Your way of sailing is way more fun.”
Photo Credit: YouTube