A perfect sailboat… [Part 2]

By Noah

In the last post, I discussed things we are hunting in the interior of our sailing home. None of these are necessarily deal-breakers, but–as I mentioned last time–we are trying to decide what would we miss if we didn’t have it or had to deal with it not being there.

For this episode, we get to the serious parts of a sailboat. Not that a galley isn’t “serious” but you can sail without a galley… you can’t sail without things like sails.

Line leading is a bit underrated.

All sailing craft have sails. Somehow those sails are run aloft. And somehow those sails, once up there, are controlled. Some sailboats are a mess of ropes in the cockpit while others are spread around the boat strategically.

The mess of ropes cluttering the cockpit is usually a side-effect of all lines running aft. All lines running aft (at least somewhat) assumes shorthanded sailing. Honestly, I’m kind of okay with it. Maybe after 10,000 miles I’ll think differently, but for now, I’m really okay with it. In fact, I redesigned my little old boat that I rebuilt to have all the lines running to the cockpit. Primarily it was because the boat was small and didn’t have stanchions; but secondarily, it was because I was going to be doing a lot of shorthanded sailing with a tiller and no autopilot: I needed everything within reach.

Granted, that sort of boat has only a few lines and a 40 foot boat will have a dozen, but…

Sails.

The brand probably doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to me… but their layout does. Cutter rigs are going to be a real selling point for me. If for some reason we find a good ketch, I don’t really mind as long as it has those double headsails.

Why? My understanding of the physics of offshore sailboats is that it is a highly desirable feature to be able to quickly drop your surface area down in a gale. Roll up the genoa and leave the staysail. Another feature is that much heavier boats need a bit less wind with cutters. I’m not certain how much that is physical fact or fiction, but it can’t hurt.

A great topside.

This includes everything that can be walked on. As much as I love the idea of a nice wooden teak boat, I’m not really going to be distraught if I never have to do all that maintenance. I’m really not. However, I think it is only reasonable to expect the topsides to be usable. We’ve got to be able to walk around on the deck without feeling like I’m walking on a tightrope. And… places to hold on. Some of these boats have beautiful, clean-looking topsides, but if the boat was heeled a few degrees, there’s no place to hold on.hunter33

Secondly, but not secondary, is a good cockpit.

But, more important that a covered cockpit (that is really only usable when the boat isn’t underway) is a comfortable cockpit. Reading all manner of literature, it seems that having a cockpit that you actually enjoy spending time in makes spending required time (like long night watches) less painful.

That said, I think a dodger and/or spray hood is going to be needed. Since we will be living aboard, I’ve also found a few boats (Hunters, primarily) that have a really nice cockpit tent. I consider that a pretty good extension of the interior. Lynn and I are from the American south and we like our “outdoor” space… even in the winter we will use a porch. A cockpit tent sorta gives us that porch-y area.

Navigation, radar, and electronics.

I see practically no boats these days without some semblance of GPS or chart plotter. Also standards are things like radar, depth sounders, VHF, windspeed and direction, autopilot, etc. One that I’d really feel good about adding (if it wasn’t already there) is the AIS. We live in the North Sea and the English Channel, one of the most busy shipping lanes in the world. It would be insane not to have as much capability to be seen by these freight ships that are hundreds of meters long.

Another little fun piece of equipment is the depth finder. Fishermen would use them back on the lake that I grew up on to find fish. I don’t really care about the fish as much as seeing the bottom more than just numbers. That is really useful.

All of these I would feel pretty good having them readable from the navigation station. I’ve seen a boat or two in the past that had its only depth sounder out on the wheel binnacle. I guess it is more of a convenience than anything, but having multiple places to view important information just seems intelligent. I’m actually not a fan of those huge digital displays being outside. Putting such expensive technology outside–I know, I know, it is technically made for it–just seems like asking for things to last not quite as long as it would have inside.

An anchor.

Yeah, for real. A good one. Enough rode to circle the earth wouldn’t hurt, but anchor holding is more about technique and planning than anything. A good number of the horror stories I’ve heard from people who sail extreme distances are attributed to the ground tackle having some problem.

A usable tender.

A side-effect of the inability to get close to shore (because… keel) is a need for a good tender. I rode in a dinghy not too long ago with five people in it. Simple, tiny zodiac hauled nearly 1000lbs of people and a bit of gear a hundred meters or so. Now, the allure of too-good-to-be-true foldable boats (like Porta-Botes) just seem… too good to be true. It might take some trial and error…


 

 

Ready for heresy?

Things that don’t matter (to us).

Waterline. No matter what is said on the internet about hull shape and waterline/length ratios, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus. Anywhere. And I think it comes down to people comparing apples and oranges and trying to come up with a conclusion based on widely varying sea states, wind conditions, boat design, sailor skill levels, and a probably a host of other things.

Keel or bulb or wing or dagger. All I want to be sure of is that the ballast doesn’t fall off. We may do some shallow-water cruising someday, but I sincerely don’t feel as if one foot of difference will prevent anything. The weights and performance issues? I feel as though much of this, again, comes down to personal preference. I get it if you’re racing in the America’s Cup, but…

Hull material. Yeah… don’t care. Wood, fiberglass, aluminum, steel… everything has to be worked on eventually. Modern boat manufacturing has equalized the playing field. We may do some high-latitude cruising someday (higher than 51ºN, I mean) and I might eat my words; however, I’m seeing loads of people cruising in ice fields with 30-year-old Catalina, so I don’t really know what to think. For now? Meh.

-Noah D.

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GEAR: The MSR Hubba Hubba… one year later.

MSR_georgia-2

By Noah

Twenty-four hours after this pair of photographs were taken, I experienced the most difficult night of my life. And, though that might sound like an inflated statement, here’s a little of the circumstances surrounding this photograph:

My friend, Philip, and I–both photojournalists–were working on a project with the shepherds in the southeastern Caucasus. This particular evening in Georgia, we were in the lowlands awaiting our hosts: shepherds of the arid Samoukhi region in the far southeast tip of Georgia. This beautiful location (exactly here) is final staging ground for shepherds who will make the hard push up and over the Abano Pass into the summer grazing grounds.

This particular night of relative comfort–due to the tent–was followed by hiking approximately 20 miles from 1500ft to 9500ft the next day… at which point we were in conditions too bad and too urgent for the tent, so we “slept” in every piece of clothing we owned (including our coats)… inside a sleeping bag… under our rain cloaks… surrounded by all our gear… rolled in a blue tarpaulin.

Now, that wouldn’t be so bad, except the fact that outside our little blue burritos were about 6000 sheep, goats, cows, and horses. At this point, none of us–not even the shepherds–had eaten much other than vodka-soaked bread and some canned tuna (I think it was?) and half-way wild onions for the last 36 hours. This was the danger of this trek at this time of year: all the livestock are pushed hard because there is nothing to eat above the tree-line.

I mention the hunger issue not to make you pity us, but pity the sheep and the fact that I was nibbled and stepped on countless times during the night. Somewhere around 3am, I was nibbled on and whatever-it-was pinched the skin of my shoulder… so, I punched it through the many layers. The satisfaction of clocking a random animal in the middle of the night was short-lived…

The conditions were complete misery. For the few minutes of sleep I might have gotten, I spent most of the time shivering and soaking wet. It had been “raining” lightly as we lay down; however, I think it was just pervasive clouds. And to tell you how pervasive was the water… everything–literally everything–was wet. Every layer of the 5 or 6 that I had on was wet. Even under my back, which was inside the sleeping bag all night. The only thing that was not wet was the contents of a $10 oversized dry bag that my cameras and notebooks were inside and I had been very careful not to open it.

MSR_natchez-3What a strange way to start a review of a tent: a night in the most miserable conditions I’ve ever experienced and I didn’t even put up the tent! I give you this little anecdote because that is the situations in which I have no problem taking this tent. Even though the situation did not allow for it to be set up this time, it would have handled it, I have no doubt.

Rewind one year to the first time I ever used the tent for an extended period of time:

I rather consider it a shakedown cruise of my equipment and myself. For eight days, I bicycled from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi: the entire length of the Natchez Trace. For 444 miles over eight days I lived on a Jamis Aurora Elite expedition bike and lived in the MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent.

The 2014 version of this tent has been redesigned, but my copy–the 2013 version–I actually slightly prefer due entirely because it is green. (Though it is a tough find these days.) I wouldn’t have thought much of this until I saw it in action. One hazard of wild camping–especially certain places in the world–is being bothered by people. The tent, though kind of lime green, blends in well with the environment. The new version, however, is all red and grey… certainly a little more stylish, but a bit less natural colors.

One thing that I do recommend with this tent is the proper MSR Tent Footprint that is built for it.

Now, why is discussing a tent relevant for a sailing site? One of the coolest things I’ve seen people do while sailing routes like the Great Loop is to actually get out of the boat and camp along the way.

Notable things to mention…?

MSR_natchez-2This tent can put up with some of the most ridiculous conditions I’ve thrown at it. But don’t think that means it is difficult to set up or break down. It literally sets up in 7 or 8 minutes and, from the experience of the morning after the top photo was taken, it can be broken down in perhaps 60 seconds. Most importantly, footprint, structure, and rain fly packs down to the size of an American football (maybe a fraction larger) and weighs much less. I can pack it into luggage for international assignments and I don’t have to sacrifice too much else.

The tent is also spectacularly designed. Having spent weeks and weeks worth of time in this tent, I’ve never felt a drip on the inside that I didn’t inadvertently bring in. The design extends to the rope-free set-up. The tent pegs are really perfectly designed to hold each corner and the rainfly without fuss. I’ve been in a few storms with (Force 3-4) wind and I haven’t worried about it at all.

Don’t expect it to keep you too warm, but shockingly, the interior of the tent says warmer than I expected considering how breathable the material actually is.

Complaints?

The Hubba Hubba (two Hubba’s) version says “2-person.” Yeah, that is true. But you probably need to be quite good friends with them. I used it as a 1-person tent while on the Natchez Trace and kept all my equipment inside. With two people, the only space you have is for lying down. The rainfly extension becomes the gear shed, which the footprint does not extend to… meaning, if it rains, water will be running under your gear… or shoes.

It also has only a very small little pocket on either end for storage. It really might not matter very much to some people, but I could see how this Gear Loft could be a nice addition.

Conclusion

MSR_natchez-1Would I buy it again? Absolutely. It is not the biggest tent in the world (far from it) but it is perfect for extended living in rough conditions. MSR (Cascade Designs) have constructed a serious tent and not wasted anything while not stripping it down too far.

Is it a perfect tent to keep aboard a boat? Yes. Put it in a little out-of-the-way compartment. And when you need to take it to shore in your tender, you won’t even know it is on the boat.

 


 

A monetizing mention:

Though my comments and opinions about the tent itself are entirely my own and generated from real-world use, the links I post that open to Amazon are actually part of an Amazon Associates program. If you are in the market for these products, please click through and purchase them by my referral. It costs you nothing extra and I get a percentage of the sale cost:

MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent Footprint
MSR Universal Gear Loft

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A perfect sailboat… [Part 1]

By Noah

A house is a deeply personal thing. And a car, really, but for different reasons. So the purchasing of a boat that is intended to be a home mixes the two: lifestyle and personality.

I think one way to deal with it is to ask impossible questions: What will you miss about a house when you move away or have to sell it? Would it be the yard? The porch? The kitchen? I guess, perhaps, someone somewhere might miss a glorious bathroom with an enormous tub and heated towel rack and comfy toilet seats.

And when it comes to thinking about what you’ll miss, then think about the other stuff that you always complain about. Is the shower like bathing in an upright casket? Does the countertops (or lack thereof) drive you to distraction? Is it drafty, moldy, or in a bad part of town?

Now overlay the good with the bad.

Can you deal with wildly fluctuating hot water when it is in such a sexy neighborhood? Or is that porch as great as you think it is when you can only open one pizza box at a time on the countertop? All things in life require a certain degree of flexibility. That flexibility is reached by maintaining an ability to compromise. Still, dealing with idiosyncrasies and enduring hardship are two different things.

Larger live-aboard boats and sailboats compound these little idiosyncrasies and roll them up in a nice compact tube that can be taken almost anywhere in the world. Still, add those idiosyncrasies up too much and you might start seeing them as hardships (which is one step away from misery).

The only thing that makes the peculiarity of living aboard sailboats different from other land-based is that most of their parts and structures are similar. In a similar way that cars all have seats, steering wheels, and windows, a sailboat–though at first visually similar–are as different as a Ferrari is from an Aston Martin: to the discerning driver, they are not even in the same category of car. Flipping through SailBoatData.com floorplans, there doesn’t seem to be much variation: some 2-cabin, some 3-cabin, etc, and some the kitchen is there and the bathroom is there, or vice versa.

It is the nuance in design that makes such a difference. Some sailboats are like Aston Martin’s: sexy, fast, front-engine grand touring cars meant for sleek style and an all-around package. Some sailboats are like Ferrari’s: ridiculously powerful, high-performance, mid-engine super-cars that are designed to make a personal statement. And some sailboats are BMW’s: much cheaper than Ferrari’s and Aston Martin’s, but extremely reliable, ubiquitous, and safe (although relatively conservative).

Details are everything.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of those things that we take notice of browsing through the seemingly-endless numbers of boats on Yachtworld.com and proprietary broker sites.

An adequate master stateroom.

VISION42_Master-Cabin-Visual_05For the first month after Lynn followed me to London, we lived in an extremely small flat with only a single bed. We are in no hurry to return to that. Not only did it have practically no storage, there was nowhere to sit and had one window that looked out onto a solid wall. Woe to us, right?

This is our opportunity to chose something that is seriously livable. Somewhere to put clothes and such is great (I mean, we live in a city) but also just somewhere for Lynn to sit to get ready in the morning would be an improvement over anything we’ve experienced since living in London.

We’ve found that some larger production boats designed for ocean passages tend to possess this sort of larger aft stateroom or larger-than-V-berth forward stateroom. Those hidey-hole berths in the back are great while actually sailing, but they are a bit of a pain to live day after day. We’d like to sit up and read at night, not slide into it like a catacomb.

Decent climate control.

Living well north of 51ºN is a fact of life in London. The North American equivalent is almost 200 miles north of the US/Canadian border. It gets dark at 4:30pm in the winter and doesn’t get truly dark until 10:15pm in the summer, but it really isn’t as bad as people think when it comes to precipitation… but warm, it is not. Many Northern European boats I’m seeing come with Webasto (or other brand) heating systems. More than just a convenience, I think it is only realistic to expect to need a certain amount of heat throughout the boat. There are some creature comforts that we may be doing without while living on a boat, but uncontrolled shivering at night isn’t reasonable.

A good galley.

It might be hard to believe, but any galley on almost any boat larger than 35ft will have a kitchen larger than our current one. The studio apartment we have now in London has a single space approximately one meter wide on which to prepare things, store things like our hot water kettle (ubiquitous in London). However, when it comes to keeping a microwave…? Not a chance. It sits on the floor plugged into a power strip when it is needed and then gets put back on a storage shelf when done.maramu_46_drawing

More important in a galley on a boat, though, is the usability of the galley. A big open galley with miles of countertops is great in a marina–it feels like a house, right!–but is the galley actually usable at sea? I’m becoming a fan of U-shaped or C-shaped galleys: everything seems so accessible. However, boats like the Beneteau Oceanis 411 has a layout in which the galley is pushed back down one side of the companionway and cockpit overhead so that there is a wall directly behind while the galley remains straight.

Sailboats must be a strange thing to design: they’re one of the only things I can think of (besides perhaps space-bound vehicles) that force the designer to think, “What happens when everything is pitched to the left or right 30º?”

A suitable head.

For those unaccustomed to bathrooms on boats, they may seem to come in more flavors than you can imagine. I mean, how different can a toilet be, right? But there are two main differences: powered and unpowered toilets. “The toilet is powered!?” you ask. Well, without getting too graphic, most land potties work by gravity. The water is held in a reservoir and “flushing” is merely letting the water fall into the toilet, emptying the waste and reloading the bowl for next time.

Well, sailboats don’t work quite like this. Most sit dry before and after use. It takes a pump to prime the toilet (read: let a little water in before use) and it takes a pump to flush the toilet and re-empty the bowl afterward. Sailboats possess a manual or electric pump to do all this. And some have a manual override (just in case there is no battery power for some reason).

Pumps invariably break, fail, lose suction, get old, burn out, etc. Which do we want to deal with whenever that time comes? Or do we want to be all earthy and get a composting head? I’ve heard amazing things (one being that it saves an enormous amount of space because you can practically get rid of the holding tank). Still… jury is out on that one.

Again, anything is likely going to be an improvement over our current flat. If Lynn and I need to use it at the same time…? Too bad. One must come out before the other goes in. To have two bathrooms (like most 40+ foot boats do) kinda makes us giddy.

Range-extending systems.

Speaking nothing of things like radar or GPS, we are interested in a few particulars when it comes to making our home a self-contained unit.

Lynn is a life-long diver and she intends to continue doing this on board whatever boat we have. An air compressor would be nearly a necessity. Now, it might not be reasonable to expect the boat to come pre-installed with such a compressor; however, it is important that the boat has the capability of handling it and the necessary other dive equipment.

Another important system is a water-maker. Even if we are going to be at a Thames dock for a while, it would become laborious to drag the hose out to fill up every time. Not to mention the fact that most marinas nickel-and-dime things like that. Flip on the water-maker, problem solved.

Self-contained power systems will become a practical necessity. I’ve liked watching the evolution of the wind turbines. Being in the northern latitudes, sun is around much less than wind. I mean, have you seen the windmill farms out in the English Channel and the mouth of the Thames!? It is insanely impressive. Power independence will not only be handy offshore, but simply living in a windy city and not having to pay much of a power bill? Sexy.

Interior decoration.

Okay, not quite my thing. Whenever I show Lynn a few boats, if the boat has god-awful upholstery or weird wood color, she nixes it quite quickly. Now, before you roll your eyes or think she’s being too “girly” I actually tend to agree with her. Boats don’t really have much variety when it comes to color variation. Exterior colors tend to be white, blue, or red. Interior colors tend to be lacquered wood and a “nautical” color like… blue, white, or red. Occasionally dark green sneaks in there. Or something with wide stripes (also nautical).

Maybe we’re taking this thing a little too far, but… yes, I know, we live on a boat. Our life will look like a Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren advertisement anyway. Now, why would we want to decorate the interior of a nautical thing… nautically? Stripes, knots, fish, boats, brass things…? We will, of course, make it “our own” after purchase, but things like settee upholstery is a little tougher and more expensive to deal with.


 

Stay tuned for the next episode. Many of these have been interior considerations: up next, exterior.

RECIPE: And hot, it must be…

By Noah

It seems to be a staple of sailing blogs to have a certain amount of cooking discussed. Perhaps it is slightly interesting to people how one might exist beyond beans and rice every night when the available space is, to some degree, rather wee. But, honestly, I don’t expect many of you to get up yelling, “Brilliant!!” and start making whatever I posted. Like most blog posts, they’re just records. I’m just sending randomness out into the Internet aether for me and for us…

Maybe someone benefits from it? Maybe not. Nothing changes on this side of the keyboard.

Moving on…

Honestly? Cooking in a boat is no different from cooking in a small apartment (that happens to move around a bit). And “small” doesn’t even begin to describe our flat in London.

Also, everything I might post here fits into a certain category:

First, it is cookable within a modest amount of space and time. Second, it is cookable with relatively simple ingredients and/or ingredients that are common to most places; that means I’m not using overly-exotic fruits and veggies–although foreign cooking is often ripe with such things. Third, I’m not a spectacular cook and most of the things I make are spin-off’s from other recipes. If it is close to the original recipe, I’ll post a link to where I got the original. Give credit where credit is due, right?

So, without further delay…


 

Toasty chili oil
Toasty chili oil
Toasty Chili Oil

This is an amalgamation of about six or eight different ways that I’ve heard after asking waiters at various restaurants how they make their chili oil. And then, I like to add my little difference.

This also fits in a category of foodstuffs that can be prepared elsewhere (read: not on the boat) because it keeps for a long long time.

6 hot peppers (no less than six, ya wimp! 🙂 )
500ml (approx) of oil
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns (ground or unground)
1/4 teaspoon crushed chili (optional)
5 leaves of preferred herb
1 garlic clove
2 shallots (alternative: small spring onion bulbs, stalk removed)
1 teaspoon (approx) dried rosemary

1. In a deep pot, slowly heat the oil. Seriously. Don’t put the oil into anything preheated. (Some people use a large skillet, but if you’re cooking on a moving boat? I’m not one to risk super-heated oil in something that shallow and that wide.) I gauge the oil’s readiness by watching for it to “come alive.” It will almost quiver as if it were boiling but you shouldn’t see any bubbles.

2. While waiting for the oil to heat, cut everything to fit the neck of the bottle. You don’t want to have to shove scalding hot things. The shallots or the garlic clove might have to be cut lengthwise. If you don’t need to cut the peppers to fit, give them a little slice down the side to make the oil get inside. If you do have to cut them, wait the peppers to last so the oil won’t ooze out (and don’t let the seeds escape, either).

3. When the oil is hot and all things are cut, gently put everything into the oil. It should sizzle a little but not pop everywhere. If it does, reduce the heat.

4. As soon as everything is in, reduce the heat to just above a simmer. I allow it to cook (covered) approximately 15 minutes, but watch it and stir occasionally. You do not want the peppers and such to burn: if the smell changes to a sharp burnt smell, that’s bad. Also, everything will appear to shrivel and get a toasty amber color.

5. Remove from heat. To make it easier to get into the tiny neck of the bottle, I pour everything into a large 1L measuring cup (that I also sterilized, btw) that has a sharp pouring spout… then I pick out all the chunks and poke them into the bottle. Finally, I pour the oil in, making sure to keep stirring from the bottom so none of the good stuff is left behind.

If there is a little remaining, I have a small “waste” bottle that I add to each time I make this kind of oil. Gradually it mixes all together with different kinds of oil and different ingredients. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but it is probably quite lethal.

The final hotness of the oil will not be apparent now. Let the oil sit a few days in the refrigerator then give it a try. I’ll go ahead and suggest… try small amounts.

A few notes about the ingredients:
Regarding the bottle… Sterilize whatever container you will use prior to using it. A sterile container will ensure long-lasting oil. Even though most restaurants and pizza places just refill their little oil bottles when they get low, that’s actually disgusting, so how about being civilized about it and boil whatever container you intend to use. If you’re like me and love this stuff, it is entirely possible to use a 750ml wine bottle and buy the special drizzle cork that will fit.
Regarding types of peppers… I’ve used habanero peppers while living in London because they are some of the hottest that are easy to get at any supermarket. However, some peppers, like Haiti’s Bird Peppers, are just about lethal.
Regarding types of oil… The type of oil is important. Most people tend to avoid olive oil because it doesn’t stand up to very high temperatures before the flavor shifts. Some recommend sesame or sunflower oil. I actually used rapeseed oil, which settles to a smokey amber color and comes with a slight hint of a smell from my childhood. When boiling, it will get VERY hot before it will actually bubble. Some hot plates or hobs might not even be able to get it to boiling.

A Mandate

By Noah

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Some say travel is expensive. But, what better investment is there than to increase peace by being able to stand against bigotry, intolerance, and hate by intentionally and constantly traveling. What better way to fight terrorism than to use my passport and get on a plane. And what better way to fight ignorance than to get out there and show someone that even though smart people can believe ignorant things, the greatest evil is the promotion of ignorance: ‘I’m here because I refuse to be ignorant.’

Travel builds bridges, fights for truth, and defeats ignorance. And you may never see the return on your investment but your children might. Your grandchildren might. And so might the children and grandchildren of the people you call friends scattered around this very small mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

~written 1 July 2013 in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey

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2013_07.01-0152
Istanbul – July 2013

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The Discovery of Sail

By Noah

The brilliant blog Wait But Why wrote a piece not too long ago entitled “The Fermi Paradox.” It’s definitely worth a read if you have a few minutes. Basically it discusses a few heavy topics about space and time that might, at first, seem quite aloof and not slightly sci-fi. If you hold out for the whole thing, you might realize–like the author does–that this incomprehensibly massive universe is a lonely place. Not “lonely” as in “nobody wants to be my friend” kind of lonely, but absolute and total emptiness, devoid of anything. And here we are.

Well, that’s a cheerful start to the first post!

Of all the technology that you currently know of–from the device you are reading this on, the phone you use, the car you drive, the medicine you might take, etc–how many of those technologies existed 10 years ago? How about 50 years ago? How about 100? For instance, my great grandfather was a profound mechanic: he made a great living fixing Model A‘s and Model T‘s. Did his grandfather ever seen a car?

So, while the past 500 years has brought the ability to print and mass-produce books, writing itself and the ability to communicate by written characters is clocked at about 5000 years, attributed to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia around 3200BCE. Considered the “official” beginning of recorded history, the writings from that time are quite basic: most are not exactly “histories” as much as they are records of things.

Go back 3000 more years before that. This was the dawn of the sailboat. Though boats were likely used in prehistoric times (since prehistoric civilizations have been found to have lived on remote islands) the earliest record of a sailboat is from around 8000 years ago. So which of these is more shocking: the fact that most Egyptologists aren’t sure if wheels were used in the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza… or the fact that sailing is twice as old as the Pyramids! (BTW: Here’s an interesting article about ancient Egypt and their papyrus boats.)

Aswan, Egypt - 2008
Aswan, Egypt – 2008

Besides basic tools those used for cutting and pounding, the basics of sailing and the technologies involved with sailing have existed longer than almost any other technology. Who wouldn’t want the boat to push itself, right? And, until the rise of the airplane, the world has been conquered and empires have risen and then they, too, have been conquered… exclusively by sea.

Now, let’s take technology forward. Your cell phone was “old” after how long? Could you guarantee that we will still be using cell phones in 100 years? They were still using horses in World War 1; I bet every man in the American Civil War (50 years prior) would have bet everything they had that horses would always be used in war. How many of the people reading this blog–written on a laptop that is .7 inches thick at its thickest part–took typing classes on a typewriter when they were growing up? How many remember rotary phones? Whoever it was that thought, “Hey, let’s put up a big sheet in front of that boat and let it pull us!” invented something that literally has been done for 8000 years.

So I think I’ll do that.

Reading the following list, you might think I’m some sort of hipster: I like notebooks and pens; I prefer manual transmission vehicles and steel frame bicycles; I’d rather listen to a vinyl record all the way through to get to the song I like than jump to it on Spotify; and travel/living by sailboat is one of the finest of lives. I’m not stuck in the past or claim that one “works better” than the others. All of them work, most of them are relatively inefficient or downright frustrating, and I’m too much of a nerd to shun technology.

What do all of these things have in common? All of these things give tactile feedback to the user. I watch my notebooks pile up on shelves and in drawers, reminding me with their tattered pages and water spots that I did, indeed, travel there and record it. A manual transmission vehicle feels like I am driving it rather than it driving me. A steel frame bicycle flexes with the rider and any load you put on it and it is fixable with little more than a wrench and a welding torch. A vinyl record pops and crackles and is literally a needle picking up physical scratches on the surface of plastic. And a sailboat…?

Well, a sailboat is a direct connection to everything I cherish in a thing: a bizarre amount of history, the natural world, the wind, and the ocean. It represents a tactile feedback to all these things. And it represents a physical bridge between Point A and Point B in which you cannot just fly past or around the storm, you must go through it. Or you cannot zap yourself from here to there as if flipping channels, you must stay the course and have a longer than 17-second attention span. If properly prepared, all things to remedy the problem are within reach. The answer is here, you must only figure it out. Sailing simplifies and clarifies and–just possibly–purifies.

A friend of mine accused me once of being born in the wrong generation because, as a professional photojournalist, I have no problem using film. Maybe I was. But when it comes to sailing, it doesn’t matter what generation I was born in… because it has always been done.