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The list for why it’s great to be a sailor seems endless

2010 October 1

I have a number of bad habits other than sailing, one of which is flying. I'm a fallen-away pilot and I don't really miss powered flight. What I do miss, though, is soaring, which shares much in common with sailing: quiet and wind and being in command of your own fate and beauty and more.

A good friend and pilot, Bo Fielding, has so many hours in his logbook that he is verging on legendary, and he's a member of the elite Quiet Birdmen group that includes the likes of Lindbergh, Rickenbacker and Doolittle.

Bo recently forwarded a long e-mail called "Why it was great being a pilot" that has been making the aviation rounds. It was full of evocative snippets, like "Flying over lightning storms at night in the Midwest" or "The quietly turning paddle fans in the lobby of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore."

As I read it, I realized there is a place for "Why it's great being a sailor" as well, so I'm starting a list for sailors.

Here goes:
The smell of coffee after a long night watch.
Dolphins frolicking in the curl of the bow wave.
The taste of salt spray caked on your face.
Tucking into a cozy cabin as rain patters on the deck.
The first faint glow of sunrise on a mid-ocean passage.
Searching for the first cat's paw while drifting in a flat calm.
The unmistakable aroma of fresh varnish.
Seeing the outer buoy appear in the fog, right where it should be.
Standing barefoot on a warm teak deck early in the morning.
Owning the pin end of the starting line and hitting the line on time.
Savoring a golden sunset from the lagoon at Bora Bora.
Lounging in the cockpit after a race and telling stories.
The crackle of your foul weather gear as you walk to the club bar.
Watching the color of the sea change with depth while sailing across the Caribbean.
Feeling your anchor bite firmly on the first try.
The soft glow of the instruments in the cockpit on an overnight race.
The taste of an icy beer in a waterfront pub after a long cruise.
The early morning scent of tropical blooms wafting through a Caribbean anchorage.
Prowling the aisles at boat shows looking for gear you never knew you always wanted.
Watching your penciled tick marks creep across an ocean chart.
The exhilaration of rounding the first mark ahead of the fleet.
Docking perfectly in wind and current with a crowd of spectators.
Watching a pelican skim effortlessly just inches above the water while searching for fish.
The majesty and grandeur of towering summer cumulus.
The camaraderie of a good racing crew riding the rail.
The scary-exciting trip up a mast riding in a bo'sun's chair for the first time.
Crunching through old barnacles in a boatyard in deck shoes that are spattered with fresh bottom paint.
Palm trees glittering with silver after a tropical rainstorm.
The hearty warmth of the club bar after a bracing sail.
Rainbow-colored tropical fish surrounding your swim mask.
The shushing noise of wavelets on shore pebbles.
Freeing the mainsheet a milli-second before you capsize.
The sizzle of steaks on the cockpit barbecue.
The red and green glow of your bow wave on a dark night.
The first smudge of landfall after days at sea.
Gentle tugs of the tiller as your boat reaches in a breeze.
The heavy-eyed pleasure of your bunk after a night watch.
Watching the sunlight from a porthole move around the cabin.
The satisfying "whump" of the spinnaker filling with breeze moments after the mark.
Living the tingly anticipation on Fridays with a weekend of sailing ahead.
Seeing the full arc of a rainbow stretch across the horizon.
Watching the joy of a child at the tiller for the first time.
Tropical beaches with sand like sugar and no footprints.
The sparkle of sunlight on the water late on a summer day.
Wind howling in the rigging on days you won't be sailing.
The eerie wetness and muffled sounds of dense fog.
Jibing the spinnaker perfectly in a breeze.
Watching, ever-hopeful, of seeing a green flash at sunset.
A good paperback mystery and a comfortably padded cockpit.
The incredible dome of stars far from the lights of land.
Watching the lee rail bury in foam as the boat heels in a puff.
The blessed silence when the engine is shut off and the sails fill.
Crossing the finish line and hearing the first place gun.
Sailing with friends on lazy, laughter-filled summer days that seem to last forever.
Buying croissants in a shop on a French quay.
The satisfaction of taking a friend sailing for the first time.
The good-natured banter between watches on an ocean race.
Hearing Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger" for the millionth time while in paradise.
The tingle of cool spray on a sun-warmed face.
The cheery gurgle of the water as you slip along on a gentle breeze.
And, of course, the wonderful feeling of wind on your face.
Those are some of the things that have brought me pleasure over decades as a sailor.
What about you?