Not one week into living aboard s/v Rachel J Slocum, we received a few gifts from our boat neighbors, Rich and Lyn. A melon-sized avocado waited for us on our deck one afternoon when we returned from a walk around the neighborhood, and the next morning Rich held out a Christmas gift bag asking if we wanted to read some sailing magazines from the 1950’s.
Perhaps when you meet a new boat owner who has invested in a 30-year old boat, it screams history buff. Perhaps it doesn’t. But Rich had us pegged for sailors who are nostalgic for a simpler life and can find value in learning from the pages of history.
Roughly 15 magazines were in the stack, ranging from the earliest issue of April 1950 The Rudder priced at a staggering 40 cents per issue to the latest issue August 1972 Yachting Monthly priced at 25p.
Andrew has been good natured about taking on additional boat jobs based on the recommendations from Rich and Bill. This treasure trove compounded the list of things to fix and learn with reading material to ward off any threat of becoming bored while living on a boat.
As we have come to realize each day, we will never be bored.
The February 1972 Yachting Monthly issue happened to be on the top of the stack magazines and the mention of a boat show report caught my eye as it happened to coincide with the Ft Lauderdale International Boat Show held recently. We were not completely sold on going, given rising COVID-19 cases this fall and the questionable benefit we might gain from going. However in the spirit of the boat show season, it seemed fitting to review the latest and greatest from roughly 50 years ago.
The Moody 44 caught my eye (top right corner, pictured above). Designed by Laurent Giles & Partners, she’s a fast cruiser which can be rigged either as a sloop or a ketch. I was also tickled pink to see the tight slacks and miniskirt fashions worn by visitors to the show back then.
The Nauticat 33 motor-sailer was also pictured (below the Moody 44), showing complete wheelhouse, deckspace and accomodation below which feels like a 40-footer on the inside. She’s designed for extended cruises living in comfort and can be had for a low price of £10,000 (equivalent to £62,268 in 2020).
It’s fun to put myself in the platform shoes of would-be new boat owners at the time. How similar are their dreams with ours? What adventures have their future selves experienced? Did they pour over the same magazines as Yachting Monthly?
In 2020, we’re lucky to benefit from magazines both online and offline, personal accounts chronicled in books, blogs and vlogs to expand the cruising community. Ironically, it seems there may be fewer of us out there.
If the number of registered recreational boats in the U.S. is any indication, there’s been a decline since 2005, from a peak of 12.94 million boats to 11.88 in 2019. This is a dramatic down turn from the steady climb from 1980 that began with 8.58 million registered boats.
Has the sailing life gotten too expensive? Has the spirit of adventure waned? Have we now become overly-cautious?
The editor’s notes from JD Sleightholme amused Andrew, who chuckled upon reading it over coffee one morning:
I believe that whoever coined the slogan ‘Safety First’ did a lot of harm to the cause, it has an over-cautious ring. It suggests a man in a lifejacket, flare in one hand, fire extinguisher in the other, sitting becalmed and waiting for something to happen.
Accident prevention doesn’t limit activity, it extends it.
I wish I could claim that my own boat is accident prevention perfect; she isn’t but I work on it. Meanwhile, if I have a spare fiver in my pocket do I gallop out to replenish an out-dated distress flare? I wish I could say that I always do. I work at it though.
One of the ways in which we can extend accident prevention is through sharing knowledge and making sure everyone in the crew is capable of handling the boat. Shrowding navigation in mysticism, for example, seems an antiquated point of view as we’ve come to realize when we reflected on the message in the next article.
Assistant editor, Bill Beavis, wrote an article about mis-mating, the friction that may exist between captain and mate.
While the article began by characterizing the harmless tricks a mate may play on a skipper (e.g., drop a glass marble down the skipper’s ventilator’s shaft so it rolls to and from above his head all night, and he turns out for his watch in a highly nervous state), it also added the dynamics at play when the captain/husband interacts with his mate/wife.
Bill goes on to write about the wife who comes afloat and gets bullied and describes the following:
She may not normally be subservient, but on board a boat, she is at a disadvantage through her ignorance of nautical things. Then, far from encouraging her, the husband plays on this ignorance, ineptitude or whatever you care to call it.
He won’t for example show her how to navigate but surrounds the subject in mysticism; neither will he tell her about tides, winds and other secrets known only to him while important things like shipping forecasts to her might just as well be in code.
The poor girl doesn’t take this ‘Master Under God’ bit that he has somewhere read he is. She is used to the system in the home, and besides the pecking order getting upset, her loyalties might change as well.
I think for the good of all, we should take a long look at our ‘crew’ this season and ask ourselves this question: If I were about to make a frightful mistake does she know enough to correct me? And even if you are sure she could, ask yourself if she would.
As this topic relates to Andrew and I, we come to this experience with parity in knowledge. This means we both don’t know what we’re doing and so we need to figure it out together.
Luckily, we both have different approaches to learning (I tend to be text-focused; Andrew, experience-focused) and thus we complement each other. Sailing a schooner, navigation, boat systems, fishing, diving, customs procedures, and all aspects of our current lives are all areas we will undertake to learn together. With luck, we’ll do so while minimizing the extent that our egos get in the way.
Over the past couple weeks, we have had our share of emotionally charged exchanges and misunderstandings. Living in a 300 square foot sauna jammed to the gills with our stuff and spares, warding off mosquitoes, nimbly closing hatches to sudden torrential rain, and adapting to a new way of life is enough to test anyone’s patience. Tempers flare quickly and can only be stamped out when we take the time to address the issue head on. Andrew is usually first to broach the subject, and I reluctantly follow along until we find a resolution.
Egos have no room aboard our 300 square foot sauna. We have only each other to rely on. If we follow the advice of bluewater cruisers to “always have plenty of spares,” it seems prudent that we each level-up on the same skills so that we are spares to each other, so to speak. In an emergency, either one of us would be able to single-hand the boat, replace fuel injectors, or feed the crew. It makes no sense to short-change yourself of that element of safety.
Similarly, the Master Under God mentality has no room aboard our boat. However, I acknowledge that the vast majority of captains (and, by extension, community of cruisers) buy-in to this mentality. Among the new generation of cruisers, is it folly to reinvent the command-structure wheel?
In our chosen lifestyle, we are bucking a lot of conventions so why not this one, too. We’ll learn through trial and error what will work for us. Our saving grace is how openly we continue to communicate with each other.
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