Sunday, January 27, 2008


“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” goes the saying. To ascertain the age of a horse, a prospective owner will examine its teeth, because the more they project forward, and the longer they are, the older will be the horse. Thackeray when describing a certain woman in “The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.” applied the words, ”long in the tooth”, to a very old person. The whole point of not looking a gift horse in the mouth is not to consider possible defects or shortcomings, rather to be grateful for the gift.

At Christmas we may expect presents, i.e., ‘free’ gifts, but when we receive unexpected ones, we are even more grateful.

In 1885 Joshua Slocum received an unexpected gift from Captain Eben Pierce of Massachusetts - a derelict hulk, which in her heyday had been a fine Chesapeake Bay oyster boat. Pleased with the gift that nobody elsed wanted, because in his own words, "She was a sorry sight," he totally rebuilt her in just over twelve months. Most of us know what happened next, because of his classic book, ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, in which he tells the story of his epic single-handed circumnavigation aboard the rejuvenated boat.

Another saying about free gifts is, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” which forms the acronym TANSTAAFL. Joshua Slocum knew this truth, but he also knew there would be the inevitable cost of restoring the boat, both in terms of dollars and hard labour. At the same time, he was cognizant of the joy he would have when the price had been paid.

For those of us who enjoy building boats and sailing them, we know, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Yachts and Sustainability

Last year Mukti Mitchell sailed around Britain in a zero-emission yacht of his own design to promote a low carbon lifestyle. ( ) His innovative boat was exhibited at the Southampton Boat Show with much approval by the Show’s promoters who gave lip service to his achievement. Following close upon the heels of the Show the same promoters of the London Boat Show made no mention of this pressing issue of a low carbon lifestyle. Anyone visiting the Excel ‘spectacular’ could not fail to be amazed at the number of huge motor yachts and sailing yachts on display. My reaction was to feel sick because of the lack of understanding of the rich who buy these plastic toys to gratify their whims. Furthermore I was astonished that Ellen MacArthur could fall into the trap that she believes she is able to ‘make a better world’ (her own words) by promoting a campaign for us all to reduce our carbon footprints. She is as blind as the rest of us.

Her personal blog ( ) is full of the savings in carbon emissions her companies have achieved, which in itself is laudable, but like those who build, market and sell super yachts, she fails to understand that by living the lifestyle of jetting here and there, promoting ocean yacht racing and encouraging the growth of the yachting industry, she defeats the very purpose she sets out to attain.

She and all of us, if we care, can do very little to make a great difference to this ecological issue of sustainability. This is not defeatism; it is a fact. How many of us live by the principle of only consuming what we need? If I were to do it, I would not even own or sail my tiny 14’ yacht which is no more polluting than Mukti Mitchell’s boat. My lifestyle would require a drastic change. I would not contemplate adding an engine to the boat, neither would I plan taking her by road behind my petrol guzzling car. The truth is that very few of us are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary for the benefit of our offspring and future generations. We are blinded by our material world of possessions and our greed for more. Trapped by the culture of our age we cannot escape. Who can convince us that we do not need yachts, neither do we need cars? Who can convince us that our world would be a better place without them?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Sailor's Reality

What is reasonable may be feasible and what is feasible may become reality. As I think about this, a lone sailor is battling with the elements in an attempt to beat Dame Ellen MacArthur’s record time of circumnavigating the globe in 71 days in her trimaran, B&Q/Castorama. The new aspirant is Francis Joyon aboard ‘Idec’, a 30 metre trimaran. He is comfortably ahead of Ellen’s position after sailing 44 days, and no doubt he is relieved that Thomas Coville sailing ‘Sodeb’O’, a 32 metre trimaran, has been forced to retire from his attempt at the record. Ironically, minutes after achieving the record for sailing further than any person in 24 hours, i.e., 619.3 nautical miles, Coville was forced to abandon his circumnavigation attempt because of damage sustained to the starboard float of his trimaran, most probably caused by a collision with ice.

Things that are feasible can hang in the balance when it comes to reality because of uncontrollable circumstances. A sailor can plan a route and determine strategies for success, but he cannot control the weather, neither can he guarantee that his strength will hold out, nor can he predict the unknown such as the possibility of his yacht colliding with an object, as was the case with the unfortunate Coville who is ‘limping’ towards Capetown.

For many of us amateur ‘weekend’ sailors we like to test ourselves by attempting the feasible, while hoping our dreams may become reality.