Friday, September 16, 2011

The View From the Outside In

Originally Posted: May 29, 9:38 am | (permalink) | (0 comments)

20110521-134822-4 (1) [photo copyright 2011 Hinnerk Weiler, used by permission]

One of the great things about the Annapolis boating scene is the interesting folks you meet who are passing through. In the last month we met one of those, Hinnerk, a German solo sailor supporting himself as a writer and photographer for a German sailing magazine. He was visiting the Chesapeake for a while on his way to sail the “Great Loop” – up the US East Coast, across through the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi (or Tennessee/Tombigbee) to the Gulf Coast and around Florida, essentially making a circle around the eastern 1/3 of the U.S. We had wonderful conversations about our respective boating adventures, but the most interesting conversations came when we were seeing through his eyes: things that we here in the US take for granted that are done differently in Europe, and vice versa. Some of these were minor and of interest only to other boaters; the Coast Guard is more of a radio presence here than there – is that a good thing, or do you cease to pay attention when you hear them too often? Skills testing and licensing is required to operate a boat there, not here – is raising the bar a good thing, or does it keep too many people from appreciating the sport? Some were more universal: we stood at a bar one night mesmerized by the weather radar map showing intense storms and tornado warnings – apparently they don’t have many tornadoes in Germany. Or osprey, although there was some comment that I only partially caught, the rest was lost in the wind, about “fish-eagle.” He showed us some cool weighted line with a lead center (at least, ‘cool’ is a relative term, if you’re a boater you’d realize how lovely this very heavy line could be for anchoring) that we’d never heard about this side of the Atlantic. We suggested some great quiet anchorages to get wildlife photos for an article he was working on; and took him out in our dinghy to get some photos of the ELF classic boat race last Saturday.

hinnerk [photo: the pro photgrapher at work]

I got new insights into simplicity from meeting this man. His boat was old, tiny (31 feet) and almost Spartan by the standards of the American market. We raise our anchor with the touch of a button on an electric windlass, he hoists his hand over hand, getting an upper body workout and a dose of Chesapeake Bay bottom muck as well. We move our dinghy with a 10-hp outboard engine, he uses oars. And yet, this small old simple sailboat had safely taken him around northern Europe, and across the Atlantic and from the Bahamas to Newfoundland. When he docked, he walked across the deck with unhurried but sure steps, a balance and confidence that came from time spent on this boat in all conditions.

So many people have written about the link between sailing and simplicity – how you have to pare down your possessions to the essentials and give up the race to keep up with the Joneses or acquire the latest technogadget or knickknack, in order to fit into the physical space and other constraints of life aboard. Yet if you’re not careful, the glossy magazines and sometimes the less-scrupulous boat brokers will convince you of just the opposite - that you can’t go to sea without a big new boat and a plethora of instruments and safety gadgets and comforts. You may have to work another 5 years to afford the money to buy a boat equipped with the stuff you ‘need.’ Meanwhile, here we were with someone who’d gone smaller, simpler, sooner. Perhaps he didn’t have the newest and shiniest boat, but he was already embarked on his adventure. In that context, watching the classic boats was doubly symbolic – these guys didn’t have electronics when they made their voyages either.

The most impressive thing, though, that I saw through outsider eyes was the difference between “nice to have” and “gotta have.” Or between “comfortable” and “pampered.” And wondered if those lines had been blurred here in the US. His boat had just the right amount of everything, with no excess. Liferaft? Yup, mandatory. Flat-screen TV? Nope, luxury. GPS and radio? Yes. Chartplotter? Well, despite glossy boat magazine ads to the contrary, not really, as long as alertness and seamanship are there. The end result of all this is safe and comfortable although not pampered. And, here’s the big one: keeping the distinction clear meant he could begin his trip sooner, while others were still working in offices to afford the boat and shiny new gear they thought they needed. Conditions are magnified, and contrasts are sharper, on a small boat in the ocean than in a large house on land, but really the basic idea is the same. Knowing the difference between want and need is really the secret to much happiness, lack of financial stress, and the path to many adventures.

20110521-140334 [photo copyright 2011 Hinnerk Weiler, used by permission]


Notes: If you can read German (or just want to look at the photos), Hinnerk’s website is here.

The link to the description of the May 21 “ELF Classic Yacht Race” that appeared in the Capital events listing has expired, the text read: “Shortly after 8:30 am a train whistle will blow at the Eastport Yacht Club. The skippers will row out to their waiting, crew ready yachts, once on deck, caps doffed, anchors will be raised, sails set and the race across the bay to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum will begin! Upon arrival in St Michaels, the yacht secured, skippers will row ashore, sign in at the Tolchester Band Stand on the grounds of CBMM registering that yacht's finish. Awards and festivities will follow that evening. The Classic Yacht Restoration Guild, CYRG, owner of the 1888 Lawley Built Top Sail Cutter ELF has recreated this race from an 1800's tradition in Marblehead, MA in which ELF participated. This fundraising event is for the CBMM where ELF homeports.”

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