A popular one-design dinghy class association recently announced that its rules committee had approved new class-legal digital compasses. I was curious to learn more about the breakthrough, wondering if the committee had finally given in to data. Cruisers and handicap racers find that data can simplify sailing: inexpensive computers tie routing to actual weather, a start can be precisely timed with clocks that account for speed and distance, and tactics can be determined based on actual fleet and global positioning. Instead, I learned that the committee had barely budged: Finally allowing its sailors to pick from two 20-year-old digital compass designs, in addition to the analog kind, but only “provided that the devices do not have the capacity for information other than heading.”
America’s Cup foiling ranks among the top technical feats of this young century, on par with the booster rocket that lands itself or the pictures sent from the surface of a comet. Well-funded teams of great engineers make miracles.
These three facts may surprise you: 1. Today, there are more learn-to-sail programs than ever in U.S. history.2. There are more kids in those programs than ever.3. There are more adults trying sailing for the first time.
Back when parents sent kids away to weeks-long all-outdoor excursion camps, one could choose to go to a sailing camp; if you could call it that. A half dozen kids between 10 and 15 years old would join a counselor (usually a college kid on break) to cruise from port-to-port aboard a sailboat just large enough to sleep them all. They would carry their own cash, watch their own weather, pick their own destinations, cook their own food, and generally care for themselves. They’d leave on a prescribed date and return in time for the fall semester, but in between, they were on their own.
A viral video of solo sailors in the Southern Ocean shot by a French warship and helicopter has landed on my Facebook page a hundred times. Sailor friends and friends who know I sail are sharing it. Parents and grandparents have texted dire warnings: “You’re not going to try this are you?” No, mom, I promise I won’t.
At the port I call home on the shores of Lake Michigan many local sailors opt for a night crossing, since the conditions are predominantly light. Weather systems around here usually relax when the sun sets and the temperatures settle. Schedule
A sailor will often tell you that they sail to clear the mind.They don’t worry or fret, think about work, traffic or trouble when they are on the water. They just focus, like a laser, on sailing. How does it happen that a person who was road-raging minutes before can be a contributing member of a high-performing team as soon as he or she steps aboard?
Alas, what is to come of the symmetrical spinnaker and all its accoutrements: the pole, pole-cars, twings and guys? The venerable kite, our pennant, our moniker and the centerpiece of sailing’s visual attraction may be poised to go the way of the blooper. Gosh, I hope not. While the blooper was an unwieldy beast, rightly ridiculed into extinction, the spinnaker is an aesthetic, functional and team-creating masterpiece.
I'll admit to obsessing about why we sail. What drives us to be cold, wet and often bored, and yet still go sailing? Is it the camaraderie? The challenge? The adventure? The competition? Promoters and advocates will often boil it down to the premise that sailors sail because it is fun, and, by inference, don’t sail when it’s not.
I’m going to tell you how cheap sailing can be. No mixed messages here. If you happen to have the wealth of a monarch (but lack self-control), you could easily spend your net worth on the sport of sailing. A valid counterpoint: Smart, eager and creative paupers also go sailing, and they spend almost nothing for the privilege.