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Why Doesnít Anyone Sail Anymore?

by Colin

For our last three trips out sailing last year the wind was from the West or North West and quite fresh at times. We had some of the fastest and most satisfying sailing of the four seasons weíve had our boat. We sailed on and off the mooring, in and out of the narrow entrance to our home loch, through the narrows at the Lynn of Lorne, past Lismore light with and against the tide, up and down the Sound of Mull with little wind and again with plenty of wind and both ways along the south coast of Mull. We sailed up Loch Sunart with the cruising chute goose winged and were distracted from steering by porpoises and an eagle. Iíve never enjoyed sailing more.

My joy and enthusiasm didnít seem to be shared by my fellow sailors however. Or maybe the people on the boats we saw were grinning like idiots and motoring is the new sailing. With a few exceptions most of the sailing boats we saw out on the water were not sailing. Was it wind too light, wind too strong, wind in the wrong direction, sky the wrong colour, moon in the wrong phase? Weíll never know.

Maybe itís in the planning. Say you plan a weekend in Tobermory from Oban and leave with enough time to get there at six knots. The wind is from the North, so what do you do? Motor of course, you canít be late or you wonít get a space on the pontoons. Well good luck, but donít expect to meet me there. Call me a purist, but I bought a sailing boat so I could go sailing. In leisure sailing your plans are not cast in stone and you donít need to get anywhere so be flexible and go somewhere else where you enjoy your sailing boat. The clue is in the name!

Maybe itís the crew. ďMy wife/husband/girlfriend etc doesnít like it when the boat heelsĒ And I suppose they are going to enjoy slamming into 20knots of wind on the nose are they? Once again your plans are not cast in stone: let the weather dictate where you can go and set the sails so the boat doesnít heel too much. Perhaps you and your crew can learn to enjoy sailing together. Maybe itís the boat. Iíve been on boats that sail nicely in a narrow band of suitable wind speed and direction but become sluggish and awkward in anything else. This includes a large yacht with a great reputation for quality as well as more modest production boats. Some of this is because people buy new boats indoors at shows where accommodation and facilities take precedence and good sailing manners are assumed but not tested. Some of this is caused by poor rig tuning. I hope the solution to both problems is obvious.

Sometimes there is no alternative to motoring: damaged rig, sick or injured crew, crisis at home or work, anything can happen to make you rush back to base and itís impossible to tell from a distance so maybe some of the boats I saw were justified in motoring.

Some people just donít like sailing. Nothing wrong with that, but why spend money on all the sticks and string? A motor boat doesnít have to be fast and thirsty.

I used to sail with a former Thames barge owner who sailed for twenty five years without an engine. He didnít work with ETAs but did consider his ELA (Estimated Likelihood of Arrival). Sadly employers have become intolerant of such attitudes so when the wind fails us the engine has to go on to get you home, or get you safe, or even to get you anywhere. This brings us back to planning; modern forecasting will tell you whether to consider a light wind option and you can plan to not be too far away.

So go on, make a late New Years resolution. Hoist the sails and switch off the engine. Enjoy the peace and quiet and the freedom from deadlines and appointments. Plan your sailing with realistic destinations in sympathy with the weather. Arrive in style with a full tank and more money to spend in the pub!

Colin   © 2011