Why do you sail?
June 5, 2013 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I have started to go sailing with a friend. A small 16 foot hobie cat. I would love to like it, but I'm not really sure I get it. My friend wants to eventually sail around the world (on a different boat!). I'm not so sure and struggling to get past the learning stage. So why do you sail? Any tips for getting the most of it? I particularly enjoyed Pirsig's essay Cruising Blues and Their Cure which covers some of my ambivalence.
posted by molloy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Where else in today's world are you both so totally your own master, and so totally dependent on your own competence? It's not for everyone, but these two live-aboard blogs may give a sense of the rewards some people get from the sailing life: Windtraveler, Turf to Surf.
posted by nicwolff at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2013

I sailed a Windrider 16 for years and years, which was a blast. Quick, pretty dry, connected with the wind and waves. You may want to try a boat that is quick and easy to sail to start with. Reading a few how-to books might help you get into the groove as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:46 AM on June 5, 2013

I guess it depends on whether the inactive time makes you anxious or relaxed. My brother used to get antsy on a bigger sailboat, but loves windsurfing because it's more active. I love both, but can definitely get in to a flow state while watching the wind and waves and sails that is a lot more like meditating than anything else.

So maybe try to pay a lot of attention to the moment and see where your mind is the next time you sail?

(All that said, I would never want to sail around the world - that's a big jump!)
posted by ldthomps at 11:55 AM on June 5, 2013

I raced Lasers, then sailed big offshore cruisers.

I love sailing because it pits my wits and skill against the world. I love sailing because I love the idea of being untethered from the earth. I love sailing because the challenge never stops: every minute, every moment brings a new set of circumstances that have to be responded to and, hopefully, planned for in advance.

I love the singing of the wind in the rigging. I love the rush of water under the hull. I love the pitch and sway of the pulpit, and how I can feel utterly alone staring out over blue water.

I love the snap of a jib, the deep whump of the chute, the steady thrum of the main. I love speed, hanging my ass two inches from the sea while I slip over at 20 knots, and I love the stately cruise of the returning voyager.

My best suggestion is to become good at the basics. Tacking, gybing, raising and lowering and trimming the sails. Get good at doing them on your own. Then, once you have enough skill, go for a voyage. A beach camping trip, or a race around a familiar island.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I suggest checking out Deep Water, a documentary about the men who took part in a contest to sail around the world, especially the tragic Donald Crowhurst. It's on IFC here in the US now and again pretty frequently. The commentaries by the men who took part and their film footage of their voyages give a good glimpse into what it is that draws people take to the sea by sail.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:13 PM on June 5, 2013

I love that I get to go fast for free (i.e. without spinning my legs, burning hydrocarbons, etc.). In small boats I love that it feels fast because you're so close to the water, like the aquatic equivalent of a go-kart. I love the rough-and-tumble of it, the danger of capsizing or getting walloped by the boom. I love that it's a bit technical but, in the non-competitive way I've done it, not overly technical. Perhaps more than anything I love it as a way to hang out with friends: you have time to talk to each other, but there's enough activity that you don't have to be conversing continually; and co-operating in a shared task is always good for friendship.

Honestly though I'm a sucker for punishment. On some perverse level I even like capsizing and having to empty the boat and make it back home before contracting hypothermia.
posted by pont at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2013

I really think you need to absolutely love being on the water, first and foremost.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2013

I grew up in a family that raced the most unglamorous boat ever, the SF Bay Pelican. Racing was fun and the community of sailors was really awesome (and sadly, those guys and gals are dying off.) There were camping regattas with s'mores and sing-alongs, bonfires, and volleyball game against drunken Enterprise sailors.

I once took my friends out and it got windy and it was scary but also pretty exhilarating! But also, those light wind days with lots of sun are pretty awesome too. Lack of wind forces you to take it easy (or fire up the outboard motor if you've got one.)
posted by vespabelle at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2013

I love a lot of things about sailing. It's always been magical to me that it even works at all: you put a boat in the water, adjust its shape just right, and it can literally take you anywhere in the world with no energy input on your part. I love that it's an anachronism. There's no particularly practical reason to be on a sailboat in 2013, so it makes me feel a bit like I'm living 200 years in the past every time I go out. I love at it's a challenge and that there are always new things to learn. Lately I've been getting into racing and the attention to detail required is so much higher than on a cruising boat. I like that there's a real penalty for failure. Sailing is an activity of consequence. So many hobbies we go have today are basically failure-proof. Sure, you can lose a video game, but you can't get knocked overboard or be dismasted no matter what you do in Call of Duty. Sailing is so much more exciting because there is so much more at stake. I love the sense of possibility. Every time I leave the harbor I look out at the open ocean and think, "there's nothing stopping me from going absolutely anywhere right now".

Sailing can be any or all of these this to anyone who does it, and that's a great thing about it, too. Also, I don't sail hobie cats. I own an Express 27 and also race on an Olson 40 a bit, and it's a completely different sort of experience than a beach cat. A boat like that is almost more like a windsurf board than it is like a keelboat. You may or may not like it more in a different boat.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2013

the man of twists and turns has it right on. I'll add: I love the feeling of working with these mighty forces (wind, water) to travel. It makes me conscious of my humanity and vulnerability in a way that feels good to me, even when it's scary. When I'm actively sailing, maneuvering lines and watching the wind and the water, my brain gets quiet in a way it doesn't otherwise. I am completely at peace: all I can think about is the boat, and problems seem to get sorted in the back of my mind. When I'm not actively sailing but I'm on the boat, I get a similar sense of peace and relaxation, taking my joy from the feel of the water and the sounds and smells of the boat. I love the way it feels to sleep on a sailboat, with the water close by and the boat rocking.

That said, I strongly dislike sailing in Hobie Cats; there's little of the joy in it for me, and I can't exactly explain way -- something about being directly on the water instead of off it a bit. I first sailed alone on a Laser, and find that as satisfying as larger boats. So maybe a little experience on a different boat would do it for you.

My parents are currently on a long sailing trip; it's been my dad's lifelong dream. Whenever I tell my partner about bits of it, he says, "You're making this less appealing." To him, the idea of being with another person in a small, confined space 24 hours a day with no breaks and no showers is tremendously unpleasant, made worse by the small and large indignities of the whole thing. My parents got to their anchorage the other night to discover that all their bedding was wet. To them and to me, that's the kind of problem where you shrug and say, "That's dispiriting, but there are other bunks. At least we spent all day sailing!" To people like my partner, that's enough to make him go, "No, thanks."
posted by linettasky at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I sailed Hobie 16s in college, had one for a few years after I graduated, and lived on a Gemini cat for a year and a half (until she was destroyed by Hurricane Ike, so sad).

Sailing fast on a cat is a feeling of speed I haven't felt any other way, and I've sailed monohulls, trimarans, driven cars, ridden motorcycles, and flown airplanes. There's just something about the wind giving you the boot that is just unreal. 16 knots trapped out on a Hobie feels faster than 80 on my old Ninja. The Gemini was built pretty heavy (I had the 1986 model) but made up for it by the acceleration.

Sailing slow, enh, still better than most activities but nothing super.

I have often said that there needs to be a word for when you finish a perfect tack, rock the boat back down, and roar off on your new coarse. That's the one thing I prefer small monohulls for, cats aren't as exciting to tack. Whooo, you just got me excited again over my kids getting old enough to start sailing Optis.
posted by BeeDo at 2:07 PM on June 5, 2013

I sailed a bit in college, but didn't keep it up, for various reasons, but the sailing itself was great fun. All my sailing was on a river, but what I liked about it was the experience: Being on the water, close to the surface, the feel of the wind, the sound of small waves smacking on the hull, the creak of the boom, the snap of the sail, the hum of the keel when we were really moving. The rhythm, the teamwork (with the right sailing partner), watching the water, looking up at things on the shore from an unusual vantage, all of that. Even being becalmed had its pleasures (in moderation).

Given the time and money, I'd love to start doing it again. Sailing around the world, I'm less sure about. The independence and the history are appealing. Being cooped up on a boat with other people for weeks at a time, I'm less sure about.
posted by Good Brain at 5:50 PM on June 5, 2013

I love small boat sailing - I've sailed various dinghies over the years, but I especially love catamarans. There are a few reasons for me.

1. Experiential - I love the feeling of the wind, sun, water on my face, arms, and body. I love the adrenaline from a big gust of wind that lifts you up on one hull, the hum of the daggerboards in the water, the flap of the leech in the wind, the hull/trampoline under my bare feet. I even love the raw hands (if you keep forgetting to buy sailing gloves), and the little bumps and bruises you get. I feel very alive in a sailboat.

2. Emotional/Intellectual - Sailing is difficult. Being at the helm (or even just at the lines) of a boat, large or small, requires significant practice and skill, and furthermore it is a lifelong skill - you can always get sail better, faster, more efficiently. It gives me enormous satisfaction to be able to control the boat, to make it move and go where I want to go. This effect is never greater than when I'm single-handing a small boat - being alone in the middle of the water with nothing but the boat, the wind, and the waves is a wonderful experience of self-reliance that I rarely experience elsewhere. Additionally, sailing is a complex and interesting physics problem which I enjoy trying to figure out (probably helps that I'm a physicist).

3. Philosophical - When you sail, you are moving (at a good clip, if you're in a catamaran!) under a free, infinitely available and renewable energy source, a source that has always been here, and will always be here as long as there is an atmosphere. You don't need gasoline (or the attendant massive fuel distribution network, or wide-ranging armed forces to protect the supply), or any other fuel - just the wild wind. This gives me a profound sense of peace and freedom that I don't get from anything else.

4. Social - I have friends who sail, and I find that sailing alone with someone is a great way to get to know them better, and have a lot of fun with them. It's a great way to have experiences together and strengthen bonds.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2013

I haven't sailed in years, but when I did, there was only one reason why I did: It was the beauty of the marriage of the wind and the water. I've never experienced anything else quite like it.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:55 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing that the thrill and aesthetic enjoyment of dinghy sailing is very different from the experience on a larger boat.

Larger boats are fun and a great group activity, and a way to be outdoors on the water, and like going on a road trip in a big van with your group. Fun, nice, etc.

But sailing a small boat is just a blast. The feeling of balancing all the elements, the sail trim, the tiller position, your own weight etc - and watching for signs of coming puffs, crossing boats, etc - the focus - is completely absorbing, and the immediacy of contact with the water and wind, of your body being a bridge between the elements that allows this little simple craft to squirt forward or ride up on one edge... it's just exhilarating and satisfying in a way a larger boat doesn't match.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:05 AM on June 6, 2013

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