In my last post of 2018 i was trying to say why i don’t particularly like the high-end yachts such as the ‘J’ class and superyachts although i did at an earlier stage in my own sailing life. I was reminded again of that today by 2 things : one a strong positive and one an equally strong negative.
My main series of posts for the spring will be the Liberty refit and experiments posts but this post isn’t one of that series. This post rather is a bit of a one-off but kind-of stems from trying my hand with video work. I can tell that i am trying to get at something with the more ‘arty’ video work, as opposed to when i am just being a ‘talking head’, and i think that what i am trying to get at is the simplicity of a basic boat and small adventures in surprisingly beautiful places right on my own doorstep.
Regular readers will know that i write quite often about small boats having bigger adventures and feature sailors like Roger Taylor and Capucine Trochet. This post will be one of several new ones in which i try, once again, to get to the heart of DIY style, small boat sailing and shoestring budget adventures.
In the video series i am working on getting more film so that i can continue with the ‘down to the river’ series with a longer look at my home river. To do that i actually need to do some hiking to and bush-work to show you the river upsteam and i could really do with something like a river-running dory to play around in the rapids upstream of the tidal weirs. Iv’e mentioned a few times that i used to do a lot of hiking and bushcraft and in years past i had a lot of fun in this part of the world following my then home rivers : the Plym and Dart, all the way back to their many springs up on the moor. One great pleasure in those days was to walk and wild-swim my way down the rivers.
Anyway….back to the point.
The ‘J’ post was, i admit, a somewhat negative way to end the blog last year and as i start this post (January) i note that another high end racing super-maxi has just taken line honours in the Sydney-Hobart race only to be immediately protested by another mean and small-minded racing lawyer because of some small ‘rule’ infraction. To me that is almost always the thing that typifies and spoils the sport, and it has always been thus from the America’s cup down to the evening dinghy race.
After writing the ‘J’ post i was really frustrated with myself as i didn’t feel that i had covered the subject well enough. I do admit that i wrote that post in the way that i used to write a couple of years ago : fast, dirty and not well edited. Today i realise that there is so much that i could have said that would have improved the post but the moment has passed and the post is now the virtual equivalent of wrapping for your fish and chip supper !. I did have another go at the same kind of subject when i was reading L. Francis Herreshoff’s books and was really struggling to get a sense of the period he was writing about. I may be completely wrong but i have a deep worry, based on a thin knowledge of history, that when societies move towards extreme separation of wealth as they are doing now, then something has gone badly wrong and is going to get a lot worse….perhaps catastrophically worse.
After scheduling the ‘J’post though i realised that i had one half decent analogy that i had been thinking about at the time and didn’t include in the post , so here goes.
One thing that i never write about is the world of professional football, the reasons being that i have zero knowledge and less than zero interest in the subject. In fact if i had to write a piece it would be about how much i detest the braying, obnoxious tribalism of so-called ‘supporters, and the sight of vastly over paid prima-donna’s prancing and preening in front of a crowd on a Saturday afternoon.
But here’s a thing, as a kid i loved to kick a ball around with my mates and that continued until i moved to a school where football was somehow ‘serious’ and for me all the physical pleasure was taken out of it. Not so many years later and i did everything i could not to take part to the point where i was simply walking out of school on a Friday afternoon (games day) and going home. A few years after that i got the worst job i ever had and that was selling snacks from a trolley in the local ‘professional’ football ground. One evening as i walked home tired, cold and fed-up i was jumped by a car load of rival fans….i wasn’t even a fan but got roughed up pretty badly.
That of course was just one bad experience among many of football in the UK , low end thuggery and tribal violence and so you can completely fuck off with your ‘beautiful game’. (In my opinion !)
Even football ‘supporters’ so called often feel completely ripped-off by the higher end clubs with their extortionate ticket prices and cynical changes of expensive club strip which the fans seem to feel they must have the latest of .
Did you know, for example, that there is a greater amount of domestic violence, in relation to football ‘fans’ and their spouses after ‘their’ team has won a match then when it has lost ?
One experience though changed my mind to some extent and it was in the years when i was first a student nurse, sailing when i could, but where my own ‘game’ was rock climbing which is a completely arcane game if ever there was one. One time i was having a fitness run around the local park with one of the girls from my group. She was struggling on the run so we stopped and continued our route with a walk.
That day on the park there was a very enthusiastic football game being played between 2 completely amateur teams : i found out later it was 2 teams from local pubs. It was anything but professional , there were a few ‘serious’ players on each side but for the main part everyone was enthusiastically running around, taking part and having a whole load of fun. There was a lot of laughter and even the small crowd of supporters were having a good time with each other rather than baying at each other like so many dogs on the leash behind barbed wire fences. I asked one of the supporters what was happening and apparently it was a friendly ‘challenge’ match between 2 pub teams and everyone was going back to a big barbecue and party afterwards.
The analogy should be an obvious one : would you rather go out in a cheap J24 with a bunch of your mates on a Saturday afternoon race, hoon around the course and have fun…..or would you rather be a spectator of high-end professional (so called) J class crews and their wealthy owners ?. If you change wealthy football club owner for wealthy J class yacht owner and professional footballer for professional sailor, so called, i think you will start to get the picture .
The opposite, positive, side this week was a complete surprise in that a very ordinary photograph of mine seemed to hit gold with a large number of sailors in the same Facebook page, the same class of boat as my own at the top end of a muddy creek just like the place i keep my boat and for me a good memory of buying that boat and first sailing it.
As sailing photographs go it’s hardly exciting, not exactly a high-end super-maxi heeling under a huge reacher…..just a small unpretentious boat in a shallow drying creek but clearly ship-shape, well looked after and maybe ‘loved’ a bit. I think somehow that i just know that this little boat’s owner likes pottering about in the creeks of Chichester harbour and that maybe it’s a big adventure for him, or her, to get as far afield as the Solent or Poole.
In the ‘J’ post i briefly outlined my Satori moment : the moment when i realised that i had to pack my sea bag and leave behind the world of big boats. As it happens it might have been a first ‘moment’ of that sort for me although it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In fact for a while i left boats behind completely while i got on with other things that seemed more essential and only came back to boats several years later via a completely different route.
The intervening years i now think of as my bushcraft and ‘woodcraft’ years. Do remember that boats and sailing weren’t my first outdoors obsession, in fact i only came to boats and sailing at the age of 20. My first real outdoor passion was mountains and rock climbing with a sprinkle of hardcore camping and ultralight hiking thrown in.
In the years after i left sailing and started studying general outdoor skills i formalised a lot of what i thought i knew, mainly learnt a lot about the huge areas of knowledge that i didn’t have and expanded my skillset into much smaller craft such as canoes and sea-kayaks. Not only that but i also looked to mountains and moorland, rivers and lakes, and ultimately harsh desert for different experiences of nature. Some of the best experiences i had in those years had nothing to do with boats at all but just a rucksack, some food and a good pair of boots. When i did come back to boats it was in the smallest ‘proper’ boats known : the open canoe and the sea kayak.
As i went down in size, of boat, i went up in simplicity . I also went up again in the sense of the adventure i was having and i found that the more basic and simpler i could do things the more enjoyment i would have. Whether that was making a difficult crossing of a sea-loch in Scotland….or a similar difficult sea kayak trip in NZ…..or tramping across the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada with minimal lightweight kit, i found that i was not only having ‘fun’ (crap word) i was actually enjoying myself even if i was a bit wet, cold, tired and hungry.
There is an important secondary concept here. Sailing a maxi yacht around the world is a big old adventure especially when that boat is alone and there isn’t the support structure of a race and other boats. Sailing the same boat in the Solent or even the English channel is no adventure whatsoever : but traversing the Solent in a sea kayak or crossing the channel in a sailing dinghy might well be high adventure indeed.
I happen to think that most sailors over-boat themselves with bigger boats than they actually need. Furthermore i now think that many are too swayed by whatever is currently fashionable and even when they have a boat tend to want to insulate themselves from the actual raw experience of being on or in the water.
Today there is a neat little concept called ‘micro-adventures’ which is all about maximising the fun from doing ‘small’ things. Go out into the local woods for an overnight camp with just a tarp, a blanket and a knife and you will get the idea. Go for a hundred mile walk or paddle in a sea-kayak or canoe and that could well be high adventure.
A simple camp under an open tarp, basic food and the comfort of an open fire against the cold night all amplified and completed those great experiences. I did often wonder if i could find similar experiences with sailing boats and it became clear that other people had done exactly that. Recently i have started a series of reviewing sailing literature beginning with L Francis Herreshoff . In the first review i found that he was a great fan of one of the smallest and simplest cruising boats imaginable…the sailing canoe. I have already talked about his direct influence on my outdoors life and there is more to come from that one source.
Capucine Trochet and Tara-tari. Ultra basic, home made boat and high adventure.
So….this post is kind-of an introduction to my aims and intentions with the blog this year which is why i am going to keep this post nice and short but that i am also going to shoot a video specifically for the post.
As i slowly learn more about the process of writing i gradually move towards expressing myself more clearly and sometimes i find now that i need to refer back to something i have worked on myself where the result has been useful. It often still takes me several posts to get anywhere near what i am trying to express though so bear with me on this one.
In this series of posts, which will be spread out over the year, i intend to use the same process again but with the aim of getting inside the experience of sailing and which things make the experience better or worse. It’s not obvious to me , for example, that a big boat anchored somewhere in the Caribbean is somehow a better or more desirable experience than being anchored or beached in a Norfolk creek say.
When i started this post today i thought i was going to write a completely different although related post about the value and advantage of a small boat over a large one. I was even working towards a kind of tongue-i-cheek set of rules based on JBP’s recent ’12 Rules for Life’ book. Regular readers will know that i completely re-wrote a series of posts recently and the new post was to be a summary of the advantages of the small boats previously featured with perhaps rule number one being to downsize your boat and maximise your sense of adventure.
At the same time i also wanted to start a whole new series of posts in the video logs as i am only just getting to grips with what i am going to do with video. I do know that i want to run a regular series about sailing literature for example. That might seem a bit odd….using video to talk about books but i read a lot and would like to try and persuade more sailors to read more.
A great pleasure of mine is to settle to an anchor, get the ball up and the kettle on and then get down to some serious, or lightweight reading. Thus Terry Pratchett lives alongside Francis Herreshoff and Ian Kershaw on my boat bookshelf and i usually have several books on the go at home, one open right now on my desk and one at work !. I find now that the written word is even more important to me than it ever was. I was lucky to read very early in my life, had one great teacher of English (and several bad ones) and find today that many older works are even more relevant today than when they were written : 1984 being just one example.
Kettle on , feet up, book open !