I’ve gone sailing (on an actual sailboat) about the same number of times that I have played golf. Golf and sailing are similar in that they are both expensive hobbies. The difference for me is that I didn’t enjoy golf, but I love to sail.
The first time I went sailing was when I was 10 or 11 years old. A friend’s father had a sailboat and they took me sailing. (The first attempt was aborted when, before I left to go sailing, I got nailed in the head with a rock when my brother and I were tossing clumps of dirt and one another, and I ended up in the emergency room with 3 stitches in my skull.) I was living in Warwick, Rhode Island at the time and we went sailing somewhere off Narragansett.
Since then, my cousin in Maine has taken me sailing several times in the Penobscot Bay. It was on these sails that I learned the basics of actually sailing. I loved it. But it was a hobby far beyond my means.
These says, I sail vicariously through a sub-sub-genre of literature: books by people who sail alone. I read the first of these books in 2009, Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan. I think I’d seen him interviewed on a morning talk show and that is how I discovered the book.
A decade later, I read Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World on the recommendation of my sailing cousin. (He is always good for recommendations. He also recommended Cannibal Queen by Steven Coonts, a kind of cousin to the sub-genre, a memoir of Coonts visiting all lower 48 states in his biplane.) I loved Slocum’s book. It sets a high bar for this particular subgenre/
Recently, that bar awas met by another book. While an a long weekend vacation in West Virginia for the Fourth of July holiday, I read Christian Williams’ Philosophy of Sailing: Offshore In Search of the Universe. The book is a memoir of a solo sail from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back. Williams brought along a shelf-full of philosophy books to dip into along the way. He made me particularly happy by having nice things to say about Will Durant’s Story of Civilization.
Sailing has always appealed to me. When we lived in New England, we would occasionally drive from Warwick to Rockland County, New York to see my grandparents. It was a three hour drive along I-95. Once, in 1980, we were driving on I-95 close to sunset, heading west, about to pass through New Haven. On the radio, Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” was playing, and as we came into view of the Long Island Sound, the water, orange from the sunset, was filled with sailboats. To this day, that classic of yacht rock is still one of my favorite songs. When I hear it, I imagine I am sailing along around the world–or at least as far as Hawaii, where the trade winds help out with a little push.
Written on July 15, 2022.
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