forgive me a few generalisations….
but it seems to me that most of the sailors I have met have tended to be of a scientific or engineering bent
many are well educated to degree level in the sciences.
I think it is that the physics of what happens over a sail is such a beautiful thing that to fully appreciate it you have to understand it.
However, I seldom meet out and out artistic types helming or owning boats
sometimes they come along for the ride and can be good sailors – but by and large they are not the first to want to grab the tiller
I myself am an ag engineer who drifted into journalism.
A couple of years ago, while on a long car journey with a BBC producer, a devout Catholic, we talked about spirituality. We got onto the infalability of the Pope – a concept I find so very hard to accept.
(a bit of background….. the leader of the Catholic Church is infalable and can never make a mistake – but only as long as he is sitting in a certain chair)
The producer described me as the most unspiritual man she has ever met.
I did not say it, but my immediate thought was… but I am a sailor…. with the underlying idea that although I do not believe in a hairy bloke in the clouds I do think that I find sailing to be a spiritual experience – on some level
sailing helps me to gain an understanding of myself and my place on this blue ball in space.
So, chaps, is sailing a spiritual experience for you?
The reason I ask is that this summer I am going to sail to Lindisfarne – the holiest place in the UK.
Inevitably I am going to write about sailing there and about spirituality.
I would welcome your thoughts?
I did pose the question on cruising anarchy and YBW – I am always amazed at the different reactions you get on different forums. It is wonderful sharing ideas with other sailors
Ryley said this:
I’m with you on this one, Dylan. When I had my first boat when I was a kid I put it on a lee shore that happened to be the Stonington Fish Dock.. I screamed at God for letting me get the boat into such a bad scrape.. honestly I was hysterical by the end of it. Fortunately I figured out how to get off and get back to my mooring. I was probably in 6th grade at the time. From that point on, I started to really pay attention to what makes a boat go, the dynamics of it, the fluidity of air vs water, when I was in trouble and when it was literally smooth sailing. I made my peace with God as nature, and I think that it fits really well – Nature provides everything that you need, you just have to know how to harness it. That’s what I think is the balance in life – not being handed a decree by some hairy bloke, but accepting that nature’s gifts might just be the raw materials to true enjoyment. Perhaps that’s why “thinkers” gravitate to the sport of sailing. Not to mention that to truly enjoy it, you either have to be able to write big checks or suss things out on your own – again, gravitating towards thinkers and tinkerers. I’ve known a few granola-types that have owned boats, and in general their boats have been poorly maintained and while enjoyable to them, something you or I would look at and say, “nope, not going out on that. Ever.” However, I’ve found that most of my sailing friends, regardless of their technical or professional backgrounds, have been highly spiritual and – if they’ve ever been through any storm on a sailboat – deeply religious in their own way.
I’m an engineer by training and by nature, and would call myself an atheist (I could be wrong, but I suspect not). The techical aspects of sailing are interesting I suppose, but that’s not why I sail. For me, sailing, especially long passages, is as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve probably ever had. It’s not about God exactly, but more about my connection with the world and the universe.
The times that sooth the rabid beast, are the simple and quiet ones, the majestic and awe inspiring moments offshore in heavy weather, a night sky mid ocean, or the miniature moments of discovery paddling, rowing or sailing in small boats along the shore in secluded bays, shallow inlets …deserted beaches, the sound of wavelets lapping against a clinker hull….
Mung Breath said
Sailing is a metaphor for life. My scientific leaning brain hasn’t connected with organized religion or felt a need for intermediaries since I was a child forced into Catholic school asking, WTF? Count me in with the athiests who still appreciate the academic History of Religion. I even enjoy the rare history lesson by an intellectual Congregationalist pastor with a Quaker background and anthropological perspective, sans the stained glass of course. But I don’t believe in a God that doesn’t sail.
Every ounce of my spirituality is derived from offshore helming, especially at night, preferably alone or at least with kindred spirits, when the constellations hang low 360-degrees on the horizon with stars and galaxies as their backdrop, finely shaped sails carving through the universe. My 3D spacehip. I have literally screamed out loud at how fucking awesome it is to be alive and that my friends, never gets old. That passion never happened in church. So yes, sailing is spiritual.
over on the UK YBW board Phoenix of Hamble said
There’s been the odd night passage while alone at the helm when i’ve found myself suddenly laughing out loud and full of joy….. I guess that’s a ‘spiritual’ experience of sorts… but i’d prefer the term ‘uplifting’
It is without doubt a spiritual experience, especially if you go far and long.
My 6 years away on the boat will never leave me.
Mid-Atlantic at night, when your nearest human neighbours are the guys 200 miles up in the international space station, the nearest land is three miles straight down and you have a 40 ft whale alongside for company is pretty moving.
I don’t think I find any meaning in the word “spiritual”. To me, there are two worlds, the real one and the world of the imagination. Sailing puts me into the real world but also feeds my imagination. If that’s what you mean by spiritual, then it does for me.
Couple of years back I was sailing up the Hamble a week after my friend and colleague suffered a fatal MI and went overboard from a friends boat he was helping to move. I was drifting along with about 5 knots of breeze on the beam with the incoming tide and I shed a tear or two for the loss of a good mate. I had a moment when I felt he was near me and almost could hear him saying ” nothing like it, is there, mate.” Magical or spiritual, I don’t know but it calmed my grief and I wished the river could have been 10 miles longer, to hold on to that moment.
A few weeks later I went to the humanist service and drew great comfort from this memory, only wished that they had read out Elizabeth Clark Hardy’s “Unknown Shore”. To me, sailing is about those moments, magical (!)
“The Unknown Shore”
by Elizabeth Clark Hardy
Sometime at Eve when the tide is low
I shall slip my moorings and sail away
With no response to a friendly hail
In the silent hush of the twilight pale
When the night stoops down to embrace the day
And the voices call in the water’s flow
Sometime at Eve When the water is low
I shall slip my moorings and sail away.
Through purple shadows
That darkly trail o’er the ebbing tide
And the Unknown Sea,
And a ripple of waters’ to tell the tale
Of a lonely voyager sailing away
To mystic isles
Where at anchor lay
The craft of those who had sailed before
O’er the Unknown Sea
To the Unknown Shore
A few who watched me sail away
Will miss my craft from the busy bay
Some friendly barques were anchored near
Some loving souls my heart held dear
In silent sorrow will drop a tear
But I shall have peacefully furled my sail
In mooring sheltered from the storm and gale
And greeted friends who had sailed before
O’er the Unknown Sea
To the Unknown Shore
– Elizabeth Clark Hardy
I find it about as spiritual as cleaning my teeth.
cavelamb reminded us about this from 1970
In sailing there is a term called “lift” which is both technical and poetic at once.
It describes the moment of acceleration in a sailboat—the moment when the sails
harden against the wind forcing the keel sideways against the water, and the boat
begins to slide forward, faster and faster, until you can suddenly feel what William
Buckley meant by the title of his sailing book Airborne. How something moving so
slowly—about the pace of a moderate jog—can impart such exhilaration in this
moment is probably unanswerable. Hang gliding, dropping in a parachute, doing
barrel rolls in a light airplane—the thrills are easy to understand. But at seven miles
an hour the moment of lift in a sailboat is just as much a leap off the earth.
From “Setting Sail” By Tony Chamberlain Boston Globe, July 20, 1979
I’m not sure I agree with all your assumptions, but I do agree there’s something spiritual about being on the water under sail on a beautiful day, or night. After 40 years sailing I still don’t fully understand why, but it’s just as magical today as it was that first summer when I learned to sail. I can’t remember a wholly bad day on the water, pure bliss IMO…
I don’t have a religious bone in my body,
The plaque on the main bulkhead on my boat says:
Dear God, be kind to me,
The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.
I pity the person that even mentions that I remove it.