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Sailing with Charlie: Vive La Difference

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Charlie’s just started re-reading the 1970s classic: Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance. Among other things it describes the difference between riding a motorbike on long trips and doing the same thing sitting in a car. The former experience has the riders enjoying the wind in their faces, smelling the scents of the world as it goes by, being close to nature and watching the road disappear underfoot. Sitting in a car gets you from A to B but looking out of the window … well, you might as well be watching TV.

The similarities between the above and either sailing or power boating are supremely evident. Sailing and, more importantly, passage making under sail has a crew preparing their chariot for nature’s forces, equipping the vessel with all the necessities for a long voyage, eventually harnessing the wind. Voyaging under sail encompasses so many facets of life it becomes an ‘education for life’.

Celestial navigation involves math and science. Practical skills like the art of sail, storm management and maneuvering under power are obviously necessary as are basic mechanics, electrical and plumbing skills, sail stitching ability, splicing rope, tying knots, woodcraft, welding, fishing, safety … the list goes on.

On the modern power boat a colorful screen points your direction, gives you all the data you need, even names and destinations of nearby vessels. As long as all systems are running skill levels are minimal.

Psychological skills are important on any vessel – the days of the cat o’ nine tails to discipline the crew are gone, and so would your crew be if you utilized it today. Domestic chores and cooking ability are mandatory: a clean boat and a well-fed crew make for a happy team. Charlie sets the tone by always cooking the first day’s meals on a long passage. Lead from the front not from the poop deck – it’s what Britain’s greatest naval hero, Nelson, did.

You are out there in the wind and the waves, rail down, salt spray flying – exhilarating stuff. Then you see a power boat and you say to yourself – well, he can’t go around the world on a single tank of gas. Then you feel sorry for him because, unless it’s flat water, he’s either pounding or wallowing and the smoke from his exhaust tells you he’s not only polluting the atmosphere but also using fossil fuel, excessive use of which accounts for many of the world’s woes.

For Charlie, the wind calls the tune. Being out there in nature is not only therapeutic but often entices crew to gay abandon. In the warm Caribbean, clothes come off, the sun warms the body, wind blows the hair and salt spray elicits screams of delight.

On the mega yacht or power boat guests are served by uniformed servants, often behind tinted windows – for various reasons many owners and their invitees do not want to be recognized.

Seldom does the wind die in the trade wind belt of the Caribbean but when it does the power boat comes into its own and, as it goes roaring past, sailors mutter something about ‘stink pots’ and their wake. Charlie imagines the response from that gilded bridge and thinks he hears “useless rag boats.”

At journey’s end at the local watering hole Charlie will drink a beer with almost anyone but if someone tries to argue the merits of power over sail it may well be a very brief conversation.

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