Consider the sailboat plying the waters off Waikiki.
With its billowy sails unfurling in the wind, a bow pointed toward the wide-open oceanic spaces of points unknown, the sailboat evokes a certain set of feelings and passions and desires. There are few images as iconic.
For some, the sailboat represents romance—locales of tropical and forbidden places.
For some, the sailboat represents a quest—a big adventure on the high seas.
For others, the sailboat represents freedom—getting away from everyday responsibilities and obligations that are, somehow, only land-based.
For still others, the departing sailboat represents arrival—in the sense that you’ve “made it.”
For some, like my friend, author Patricia Wood, the sailboat is her home. And people respond, “Oh, how lucky!” “How dreamy.” “Oh, the life.” “I wish.”
But why and how did the sailboat come to evoke such images?
In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton pays homage to the many forms of transportation. He quotes the French poet Baudelaire, “Carriage, take me with you! Ship, steal me away from here! Take me far, far away. Here the mud is made of our tears!”
In this, he’s saying the ship and train and airplane all represent the thing that will lead a person to another, happier life. The sailboat, in essence, is the key to happiness.
Baudelaire asks, “Those large and beautiful ships, invisibly balanced (hovering) on tranquil waters, those hardy ships that look dreamy and idle, don’t they seem to whisper to us in silent tongues: ‘When shall we set sail for happiness?’”
Last week, Pat invited me to sail with her, and I was happy to do so. It was time for Orion’s annual buoy run—a requirement by the Ala Moana harbormaster to prove that the ship was seaworthy, a requirement for all the boats in the harbor.
To prepare, we freed the sails from their canvas covers. We removed the bonnets from teak railings. Removed canvas awnings from the cockpit. Checked gauges. Secured the coffeemaker and microwave oven with bungee cords. Located life-jackets and life-saving rings. Topped off the gas tank. Water tank. Snuggled cats in kitty carriers and stowed them away in the forward cabin. Unplugged a fat snake of a cord—land-based electricity. Un-tied and coiled lines. Pulled in bumpers.
There sure was a lot of work to do to go sailing, I suggested. That’s not all, Pat informed me. Even when you’re not sailing, there’s the daily pumping of the bilge. Weekly scrub-down of teak. A 250-gallon water tank that needs filling. Engine that needs periodic running. Gen-set inspections. Monthly bottom cleaning to scrape off barnacles and tickle the tentacles of squid to discourage them from making a home in a boat’s many through hulls. And, of course, there is the incessant and obsessive search for leaks.
Maybe it’s the exotic that makes sailboats such an alluring image. The language might as well be foreign. Starboard. Port. Fo’c’sle. Bowsprit. Mizzen. Jib.
We motored out of the harbor aboard the 48-foot Celestial Ketch, past the harbormaster, yelling and waving our arms, “Look, we’re sailing.”
We passed the buoy. Check.
We sailed upwind—tacking, I guess that’s called—and the anemometer clocked wind speeds of up to 26 knots. We watched wedge-tailed shearwaters skim the ocean’s surface, chasing flying fish. We looked for spinner dolphins—none. We saw red-footed boobies and brown boobies and white terns. All the while clouds drizzled over the valleys behind Waikiki like icing trickling down a pound cake. But, for us, we sailed under generally clear skies. We hit a pretty good wind line at Diamond Head, heard the cats howling their protest below, and turned around.
There were six of us on board, not counting the cats, and I can say with surety that all six—again, not counting the cats—were quite pleased to be there. We were, simply, happy.
There would be work to put the boat back together when we got back to the dock. We’d have to hose her down. Lower the sails. Re-cover the railings and cockpit. Hose out the kitty carrier. And, basically, re-assemble the house.
It’s not that sailing is easy, I learned, but for thousands of years, we have set sail to faraway lands in search of riches, adventure, discoveries, romance and freedom, and I have no doubt we will continue to do so. Some experiences are worth the effort.