Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Prejudice among Sailors?

Bill's Log

Prejudice is part of the human psyche. None of us are exempt from it. So why pick on sailors? It’s not a case of separating sailors, supposing them to be different to other practitioners of sport, but it’s an opportunity to consider some of the prevalent prejudices among the sailing fraternity – that’s if there is a ‘brotherhood’ of sailors.

One thing we are united in is the preservation of our sport. We maintain there is no better healthy activity under the sun for the well-being of mankind! Isn’t that a prime prejudice, because aficionados of other sporting activities claim the exactly the same?

Some politicians would have us believe prejudice should be extinguished in our multi-cultural society. There should be no discrimination between ethnic groups and we should all happily co-exist in a world of global harmony. Of course, there is the truism that a transfusion of blood from a person of any nationality will replace or supplement the blood of another, irrespective of his ethnic origin, but that singular fact will not eliminate prejudice between racial groups.

You would think all the other common features of humanity would unite us and eliminate prejudice, but that’s not the case. For sure, there are some who would object to receiving a blood transfusion from a person who has a different colour – this mindset is at the heart of prejudice.

The dictionary defines prejudice as, ‘A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.’ Therefore the patient requiring a lifesaving blood transfusion who maintains a preconceived opinion that it would do him harm because it could have emanated from a black, pink, green or brown person would refuse the gift, and thus die! Such extreme prejudice sadly exists.

Now, regarding our hypothetical average western sailor who has been exposed to Bermudan rig from the time of his birth, would he look favourably to changing his rig for a Chinese Junk or European battened lugsail? Most likely his predisposed familiarity with Bermudan sails would influence his reason when comparing the characteristics of the junk sail with a Bermudan sail. How could such an antiquated, outmoded and Chinese configuration possibly be better than the one he has proven to be good?

His reasoning is flawed, because of his bias and he has never experienced the benefits of junk sails to know they are better - certainly in most situations, but I grant you, not for racing to windward. From one who knows through experience I can vouch that a junk sail is superior on all other counts, especially for cruising. The supreme advantage of a junk sail is the ease with which it can be reefed. It needs no hi-tech or expensive wizardry - on the contrary, the rig can be made from easily obtained low-tech materials such as wood and natural fibres, like cotton or hemp.

Then, in yachting circles, there’s the mistaken assumption that ‘square’ sectioned sailing boats cannot possibly sail as well as ‘round’ ones. In reply I would ask, ‘How about the Thames barge or the Dutch botter? Both types have been proven efficient, speedy load-carriers, and how can sceptics overlook the performance of tea clippers like the Cutty Sark?’ Yet prejudice prevails.

Those in the know, who have tried bilge runners (tiny horizontal keels), in the face of a prejudiced majority, confirm their effectiveness at reducing leeway when sailing to windward, while at the same time they have the distinct advantage that they can sail their boats in shallow water.

It’s not so many years ago there was prejudice against concrete and fibreglass as boat building materials, although now the latter has almost universal acceptance, but there remains some unfounded doubt about concrete.

Perhaps you will have thoughts of other prejudices expressed by sailors, but I must conclude by saying prejudice will always exist, since it is an expression of ignorance through lack of experience and the absence of a rational application of the truth, but it must not be confused with unfair discrimination against persons, systems or materials – such conduct would be a deliberate deceit intended to injure, damage or discredit.

So, sailors, are we prejudiced?

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