Sailing Analogies

I quite often look at the French traditionalist Forum Catholique which had a posting that caught my attention:

Celui qui ne tire pas les bords dans un archipel, va passer droit sur un rocher…

Quand le vent est stable, quand la mer est sans courants, quand rien ne dépasse des eaux sans vagues, pas besoin de virer de bord.

Mais ce n’est ni le cas de notre vie sur terre, ni de la vie dans l’Eglise remuée de l’intérieur !

Pas moyen d’aller droit, ni d’aboutir sans tirer des bords !

A translation into English would be “Whoever does not bring his boat about in an archipelago will go straight onto a rock. But this is not the case of our earthly life or the life of the Church stirred up from within! No way to go straight ahead or get where you’re going without tacking!

Yeah, I understand that many people use sailing analogies and know nothing about sailing. The concepts the person is trying to get over are quite surprising to a person who sails. Tacking is the way to sail a boat upwind. The no-go angle varies according to the rig of the boat, the amount of sail carried and the efficiency of the centreboard or keel. A modern yacht can go close-hauled at about 30° from the direction of the wind. Older lug or square rigs are that much less efficient, and may not be able to may way against both current and wind without an engine. Another reason to tack a boat is the same reason a driver of a car would perform an emergency stop – to avoid a rock or a collision with another boat. Another possibility is heaving-to, releasing the sails and pushing the tiller over to lee, and a small boat stops very quickly even on the same tack. I usually use this technique to avoid getting run down by a ship, and if I could see that I was too close, I would tack and enjoy a surf on the vessel’s bow waves!

When the wind is stable, when the sea has no current, when nothing protrudes from water without waves, no need to tack. It depends where you are going, even on a lake where there are no tidal currents. If you go upwind, you have to tack, whether the wind is stable or fickle as from a weather shore. Another expression often used in everyday language is “You’re sailing too close to the wind“, meaning you are running close to getting into trouble or danger. A boat that goes into the no-go angle (about 35° each side of the wind) will simply stop and be caught “in irons”. The boat is stopped and therefore has no steerage and remains hove-to. You simply take in the jib sheet to give the boat lee helm, and then you haul in your mainsheet whilst pulling the helm towards you. Sometimes, depending on the boat, you need to “pump” the mainsheet to get the boat “rebooted” and moving. Once you are moving, you have steerage and can fall off the wind to get back under way. The analogy of sailing too close to the wind is not a bad one. I do it all the time when close-hauling, but you have to feel the balance between luffing up (luffing – steering towards the wind and falling off – steering away from the wind and setting your sail accordingly) with the helm and hauling in the mainsail, and hiking out, and losing your power by being too luffed up. The more you are to luff, the more distance you travel upwind, but at the cost of power. You may have to make less progress but with more power and distance. That is the art of sailing upwind. The rules are different for reaching and running.

Running before the wind is often an image that means having things good in life. Actually, running is much less efficient than being in a full reach, having the wind in your aft quarter and feeling the power. Like sailing upwind, you have to gybe and change tack, but at a closer angle. Gybing takes more courage as the boom swings over violently and much further. The best is to sheet in, make the gybe and let the sail out in increments. You are less likely to go into a broach and capsize the boat. It is also gentler on the rigging and the sail. Look after your boat, and you boat will look after you.

Tacking in the Church? In our figurative boat, I can imagine the rocks everywhere waiting to rip our hull open and destroy our centreboard. The wind can be very unstable and fickle as with a weather shore or a lake. You have to be very quick at reacting with the helm, mainsheet, jibsheet and your position on the boat. I capsized more on lakes than on the sea as a beginner. Certainly, in the Church, we go against the grain (woodworking analogy – which way you plane a piece of wood) or against the prevailing mentality, representing the wind direction. You need to go one side or the other to make your way in the political quagmire of modern Catholicism. Interesting…

The Church is often compared with a ship, Noah’s Ark or the Barque of Peter. Mighty ships can sail big seas, but small boats can get inshore and see the details of the coast, to navigate in shallower waters than the big ship. There’s something to think about.

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