My colleague, Lenny Rudow, recently put forth a compelling argument on why everyone should own a boat. Among his points were boaters as failed mathematicians, family togetherness, saving the environment by capturing toxic chemicals and shaping them into a boat hull, the trickle-down effect of fame from boating celebrities, and finally, the amount of enjoyment (read obsession) boaters get from their pastime. Although Lenny’s discourse is persuasive, I think it’s only part of the story. To take it a step further, I’d like to present reasons why anyone should own not just a boat, but specifically a sailboat, thus becoming a member of the arcane brotherhood of sailors like Humphrey Bogart, Richard Branson, Steve Fossett, Stephen Colbert, Morgan Freeman, and Ted Turner.
1. Sailboats are Sexy
Many boats can be pretty but sailboats have an extra something that makes them sexy—and isn't that the kind of boat you want to be seen on? Long swoopy overhangs, a round tumblehome, gleaming varnish, and a curvy sheerline is why sailboats are the subject of quite a few artistic efforts. When was the last time you saw a painting of a bunch of powerboats? Instead, you see hazy watercolors depicting a summer harbor with shimmering water, on which a sailboat rests at anchor, tall mast raised majestically to the sky. If you’re going to try to attract the opposite sex, why not give yourself a head start and lounge on the deck of a curvaceous sailboat, rather than some smoke-billowing, rattling stinkpot?
2. Right of Way
Sailboats have the right of way – sometimes. But if you’re lucky and the other guy is uniformed, you can get away with taking the right of way in many, if not most, situations. The right of way rules are complicated and few people remember all of them. Sure, sailboats under sail have the right of way over powerboats. But there are all sorts of exceptions including coming up on a vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver, being the overtaking vessel, and actually having the engine on while your sails are raised, thereby only pretending you’re a vessel under sail. But again, what most people don’t remember will work in your favor. In extreme cases you can adopt one of two expressions – complete confusion (which generally leads to the powerboater maneuvering away from you), or a determined stare that lets the other guy know that it doesn't matter if you’re right or wrong (you have big flappy white things up and you’re going for it no matter what). In case of an actual collision, try not to use this argument with the Coast Guard.
A powerboater wouldn’t dream of spending an afternoon rounding a triangular course of buoys only to end up in the same place he started. That is an activity best savored by racing sailors who will spend endless hours and countless dollars on practice and equipment to squeeze out a victory over their yacht club friends. Racing provides a measuring stick by which sailors like to gauge their skill, which in turn, will be discussed in the bar at great length and with much false memory. Some speculate that racing was really invented by clever chandleries that understood the value of a performance-obsessed racer with a fat wallet, who will spare no expense in gaining a fraction-of-a-second advantage to get his name engraved on a plaque that will sit in a dusty vitrine, ogled by other wanna-be racers. Besides, racing gives us something to do other than going out for a bob and drinking beer all afternoon.
4. Economy & Environmental Consciousness
Despite Lenny’s convoluted take on how the environment is benefitted by the compilation of toxic chemicals into a beautiful, non-toxic boat hull, the fact of the matter is that powerboats burn lots of fossil fuels and leave a pretty large carbon footprint. Sailboats on the other hand, use the wind to move effortlessly to their destination, at one with the environment, and easy on the wallet since most sailors fuel up about once a year. Of course you’ll need a good suit of sails, lots of rigging, a few extra winches to manage the spinnaker, and oh yeah, probably more sails as there never seem to be enough for whatever intended purpose. Yes, it takes a lot of chemicals to produce these things and they are expensive, but think of all the money you’re saving not buying fuel.
-Editor’s note from Lenny: Yes, but you’re not accounting for all the hot air expelled by those endlessly expounding blow-boaters, which contributes significantly to the greenhouse effect.
5. Family Togetherness
Here, I must echo some of Lenny’s thoughts on jamming a family into close quarters with no ready escape route, thereby creating an enhanced sense of togetherness. The problem is that there is often very little to do on a powerboat once under way. After dad has started the engine, slipped the docklines with the help of an unwilling teenager, set a course, and engaged the autopilot, uncooperative family members find ways of slipping away to inventory the treats in the galley, watch a movie on the big flatscreen or sneak in an hour with the Game Boy. This is hardly the quality time most men envision as they sell their spouse on the familial benefits of buying a boat. On a sailboat, there’s always much to do including grinding winches, tailing lines, tweaking the sails ad nauseum, and recovering whatever went flying down below on the latest accidental jibe. Good crew communication and coordination is essential, and how better to learn to trust one another and work together, than to listen to the captain bellow commands? In cases of particularly loud skippers, one family outing may be enough togetherness for a lifetime.
Not convinced yet that the boat for you should include a mast and sails? I suggest you get down to your local sailing center or yacht club and wait around for someone to ask you to crew, because there’s always someone looking. One afternoon on the water with a perfect breeze and you’ll be hooked, because powerboaters may be obsessed with their boats, but sailors are downright crazy about them.