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The cure for time poverty is the Slow Boat Movement

2009 April 1
Many years ago, I was test-sailing a brand-new Westsail 28 for a magazine and quickly discovered that it was one of the slowest boats ever created on God's oceans. Thor Heyerdahl and his raft Kon Tiki would have reached the Tuamotus light years ahead of a Westsail 28. Jellyfish passed us, and went to windward better too.

It was probably to be expected from a rather tubby double-ender that weighed seven tons, including two tons of ballast, but when I mentioned to the builder that it seemed … ummm … glacial, he had a snappy comeback.

"Who cares?"

Well, that stopped me. Furthering the discussion, he pointed out that a 2,000-mile voyage would take 16 days at five knots or 12 days at 7 knots. Moving in for the kill, he said, "If you're committing a month or a year to cruising, what does it matter how fast you get there? If it's only about the destination, get on a plane and fly there."

This conversation came back to me when I recently discovered The Slow Movement, an international group which has coined a wonderful new term that it intends to battle: time poverty. It's not exactly a new idea: William Wordsworth's 1807 sonnet "The World Is Too Much With Us" also decried a fast-paced overly acquisitive world, and philosophers from ancient times onwards have tsk-tsked material girls and boys.

The Slow Movement got its start with Slow Food in Italy, when demonstrators carrying bowls of pasta protested (and prevented) the construction of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome. From there, it expanded to Slow Cities, Slow Schools, Slow Books, Slow Money (I'm a charter member!) and Slow Living.
The Slow Food movement, for example, wants people to connect with their family and friends while savoring a leisurely meal. In the small village in Italy where my sister-in-law lives, all (and I mean ALL!) the children are expected to have dinner with the family every (and I mean EVERY!) evening, and woe betide a youngster who wants to ditch the meal for a date or to meet friends. It's a tradition that reaches back eons, and it has managed to help keep the disintegrating family unit together.

In this high-tech world, we've devised endless "time-saving" devices that range from power lawnmowers to vacuum cleaners. These really do reduce our chore time, but how do we spend those saved hours? We dribble them away on the phone or texting our friends with inane updates.

Cell phones were seen by many as the biggest time-waster until texting came along, and now that seems to consume every moment. A study recently showed that one teenager was averaging 6,000 text messages a month, or 14 during every waking hour. Even worse, they were one-liners like "Having a Starbucks mocha … yum!" Who cares? Are we so insecure that we need to tell our 200 closest friends everything we do?

There is a Slow Travel movement that advocates renting homes in foreign countries rather than staying for a day or two in a hotel. It counters the "if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium" concept of travel, suggesting that people spend the time to settle in, truly explore an area, and meet the people.

There's no question that the stress of modern life is causing an unprecedented number of health problems, but much of that stress is self-inflicted. We're just trying to do too much, trying to fill every waking moment with "stuff," and it's killing us. We have time poverty.

And so, Dear Reader, I'd like to propose a Slow Boats Movement. Sailing is, by its very nature, a Slow Movement. Whether you're going out for a couple of hours or a couple of years, it's a fine way to defuse the stress of our everyday lives.

Cruising sailors anchored in a harbor and savoring their surroundings are much like Slow Travelers who rent a vacation home, but there is so much more to sailing than just the destination.

On a sailboat, you can't have anything less than Slow Food unless you're scarfing down a sandwich between races. For most sailors, meals are when everyone gathers in the cockpit to enjoy breakfast or to char steaks at dusk.

During a long passage, Slow Books are prized and you actually have the time to enjoy several chapters at one sitting. Slow Living allows you to sit back and enjoy the sunrise and the sunset, without feeling that you need to be accomplishing something else.

When you're offshore, there are no video games or cell phones or other distractions to erode what my parents used to call "family time." You work together to make the boat go … you have to crank winches and trim sails and set courses and steer the boat. It's not as easy as just putting the key in the ignition and going for a drive, but it's far, far better.

In these trying economic conditions, we need to rethink our priorities and return to the values of a simpler time. When it comes to taking your mind off your worries, or giving yourself a fresh perspective on life, or simply allowing you to chill without cell or Blackberry, nothing provides fast-acting relief like sailing.
Let's start a Slow Boats Movement, but let's do it slowly.

One final word to the Editors of SAILING: Yes, I do understand that my new Slow Life does not apply to my next deadline.