Sail and Oar

voile-avironI have just published an article on my French-language blog – Voile-Aviron, about a particular navigational mindset that distinguishes itself from aggressive competition or showing off one’s wealth and social status as in the case of some of the upmarket yachts in our ports.

Like modern dinghy sailing, sail & oar is a concept of boating that pleases me, having been to sailing schools more geared to regatta and sporting sailing rather than peaceful exploration or friendship with other amateurs. Many of the sites promoting this recreational activity show a more balanced spirit than some of the more bitter “sea anarchist” ideas floating around in their reaction against obscene wealth and the aggression of the consumer society. Let us avoid ideologies and promote tolerance and what is good in seafaring humanity.

Messing about in boats brings a person a certain childhood innocence like when he sailed model boats on the village pond. There is a distinct pleasure in managing with sails and a pair of oars and no engine – or a small outboard that is only used for safety reasons (if you have the type of boat for it). There is a clear notion of slowing down and finding our communion with nature – and the Creator. This kind of navigation gives place to others, friendship and tolerance. We find ourselves at the opposite end from our roads where drivers of cars and lorries behave with such rudeness, aggression and intolerance! If we find such aggression on the water, it is almost invariably from drivers of speedboats with powerful engines, rarely those who sail. The sea is still very much a space of freedom.

Some types of boats are more suitable for this spirit, above all wooden boats with simple lug or gaff rigs with or without a jib. Emphasis is placed on traditional designs and amateur building, but some of the older modern dinghies are not excluded, like for example the immortal Mirror. My own boat has a modern plastic hull, but is very definitely a sail & oar boat as opposed to a state-of-the-art regatta boat. What is important is the paradigm, that of upholding human friendship, respect of the environment and the old values of the seafaring community.

Next year, I intend to participate in some big celebrations like La Route du Sable and La Semaine du Golfe. The former is exclusively for small and light sailing / rowing boats, and the latter groups several categories of vessels from dinghies to ships. The sight of hundreds of sailing boats all going in the same direction, passing cheering crowds, has something electrifying to it. Less than for the sake of narcissism, these are manifestations of human solidarity as its noblest.

Any common interest in any group of people can be the occasion of sin, selfishness and snobbery. That is also the risk of those who collect classical cars, become members of Masonic lodges or gentlemen’s clubs, or otherwise want to have what others can’t have. We should be open and encourage others to be able to obtain what we have, for example by learning to build a boat or find a good second-hand one – so that we can share our human values with them. We have to be open and tolerant – and this is a value I try to promote as a Catholic Christian.

A great thing about sail & row boats is that they cost nothing in mooring fees in ports. They can be hauled anywhere on a trailer behind an ordinary car, and they can be rigged in minutes, ready for launching. They can go anywhere – the sea, rivers and lakes – anywhere where the others are going.

Here’s a couple of links to site featuring the sail & oar boating philosophy:

One last thought. Why the emphasis on the boat being able to be rowed as well as sail? The answer is very simple – you get the oars out and start rowing when there’s no wind. The wind drops more than we imagine, even on the sea. Many parts of sail & oar events are organised on rivers (slow flowing), and a couple of trees and a high bank are enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails. Oars give us access to rivers as well as lakes and the sea. Furthermore, if we use a port to put to sea as an alternative to battling with waves on the beach, we’ll need to do a bit of paddlin’ to get beyond the harbour wall. As an alternative to having an engine, it doesn’t seem idiotic to insist that the boat can be powered by sail and oar.

I am still discovering through my own experience and reading about what others get up to in their boats. The adventure continues…

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