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!"

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