Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's been a Samuel Johnson Year

An Omar Khayaam day in the Bahamas a few years ago
Samuel Johnson said, “A man who would go to sea for pleasure would go to Hell for a pastime.” Then there's Omar Khayaam: “The Good Lord does not subtract from a man's allotted time those hours spent sailing.”

Being a lifelong boater, I've heard variations of those ideas for as long as I can remember. For some reason, I had never juxtaposed them before. I've enjoyed them both, depending on my mood of the moment, but I just stumbled across the irony in pairing them. If both are correct, then considering the percentage of my life spent afloat, I'll be living in hell long after my contemporaries have moved on.

I don't always find Samuel Johnson's sentiment to be accurate. Obviously, unless I were a masochist, I wouldn't chose to live as I do if I found going to sea as bad as he thought it was. Neither do I cling to the hope that Omar Khayaam was right. On the good days, I find his idea attractive, but there are those days when I think Samuel Johnson might not be wrong. Fortunately, those days are few, although sometimes they come in bunches, like bananas in the tropics.

Lately, we've been forced to spend more of our time working on the boat than we would like. Boats, like most things, are a complex web of compromises. Small boats provide cramped living space, but they're relatively easy to handle and maintain. Big boats are roomier, but they're more demanding to handle and geometrically more expensive to keep.

Being traditionalists, we find older boats more appealing aesthetically than newer ones, and in general more comfortable and seaworthy in rough weather. Their design and construction have stood the tests of time and use. Older boats are also more maintenance intensive, and they don't offer as much open living space as newer designs. There are many more dimensions for comparison, and traditional versus modern is a popular topic for debate among sailors everywhere. The 'best' boat is the one that makes your heart race; there's no right answer to the question of which boat is best.

Living with your choice for an extended period does make you conscious of the trade offs, though. Our boat is 35 years old this year, and we've owned her for 26 if those years. We're intimately acquainted with her good points and her shortcomings, and there aren't many things about her that we'd change. She's been a dependable and mostly trouble-free vessel, but every so often, a lot of things seem to wear out at once.

This season has been one of those times when Play Actor has been a demanding mistress instead of an uplifting, exciting paramour. We knew we were going to have to buy her a new mainsail this year, but we had not expected to have to build her a new bowsprit. We had planned on reupholstering her interior, but we hadn't reckoned on spending days getting rid of an infestation of termites. We knew it was time to preemptively re-caulk a lot of the hardware mounted on deck, but we had not expected that some of it had already leaked over a long enough period to rot parts of the deck.

For most of this winter, we've been in a Samuel Johnson frame of mind, so we're grateful for Omar Khayaam's encouraging view. Thanks to him, we know that we're going to have plenty of time in the future to enjoy the fruits of this year's labor.