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“A sailor is born, not made. And by “sailor” is meant, not the average inefficient and hopeless creature who is found to-day in the forecastles of deepwater ships, but the man who will take a fabric compounded of wood and iron and rope and canvas and compel it to obey his will on the surface of the sea. Barring captains and mates of big ships, the small-boat sailor is the real sailor.”

Jack London

The joy of small boat sailing

Yachting Monthly 1912

No doubt the good old Jack was right and yet still today the kindest thing a sailor can find to say to a motor boater is that his boat is a floating mass of iron, while the most benevolent definition a motor boater can give of a sailor is “fanatic”.

For all of us who go to sea, the question is: how is it that this absurd hatred, that since the very dawn of pleasure boating has gripped us and – let’s say –  we are all a bit bored of, is still alive? It is the same old story. Let’s try to imagine what the old fishermen could have said when engines for pleasure boats were first introduced. I bet two different opinions came out. One supporting progress and the other in favour of tradition.

Nowadays the feud focuses on other topics. Sailors usually describe themselves as sporty, nature-lover, environmental-friendly, with a strong ethical sense and a green approach they would never accept to question. No matter if their boat weighs some tons or more and is mainly made of non-recyclable materials. Or if they sail more or less 30-40 days a year and during the August cruise they don’t mind to speed up the engine!

In realtà secondo me bisognerebbe partire dalla base: chi va per mare ama il mare, chi più chi meno, indipendentemente dalla propulsione che ha scelto per navigare.

Actually, in my opinion, we should start from the basic idea that everybody who goes to sea loves the sea, some more, some less, regardless of the propulsion system of his boat!

And by the way, this “marked” division between sailors and motor boaters is not so marked as there are so many sub-categories in both these sides. If you look through them, you will see how sail and motor propulsion often overlap and intersect. Just think of – as a salient example – engine/sail hybrids, i.e. motorsailers.

Stereotypes on the subject are countless. Sailors are depicted as sport people who sail only for passion. They are accurate, they study, train, take care of the equipment and are not afraid to work hard. They know that spending the day looking for a puff of wind is part of the game. And they perfectly know their means of transport is the most irrational to move from A to B, but they do not mind, indeed it is precisely this irrationality that gives them the utmost pleasure. As captions under sail pictures often say: “The pleasure of a journey does not come from reaching a destination but it is the journey itself that brings great pleasure”. A sailor loves silence, wind and even adverse weather conditions (I myself love racing in wind and rain). Finally, a sailor states he loves the environment and he is totally convinced he is always environmentally friendly thanks to his – so he says – pollution-free sailing.

A sailor looks askance a motor boater as he thinks he is coarse and rude. He cannot stand that he jumps aboard, starts the engine and revs up – the sailor thinks – without bothering about weather, course, rules, in short, about nothing!

On the other hand a motor boater is thought of as a person who loves enjoying life, who wants to relax without many troubles. One who loves to have a port close at hand and to quickly reach his destination. Why not to power a couple of engines with high horsepower to make things easier? For a motor boater boats and navigation are a way to spend his holiday, not a sporting activity.

Motor boaters distrust sailors as they think they are fanatic, have a patronizing attitude, ready to “get in the chair” when speaking of respect of the sea. A motor boater chuckles when thinking about all those who get up at dawn just to sail a few miles. He makes fun of his antagonists as they are used to meeting at the port pub and talk about waves and storms, whether real or not, or about races missed by a hair and “who was to blame for it?

But in the end, do all these distinctions make sense? Is there a grain of truth in these common places and stereotypes?

My answer is no, they don’t make sense.

You can love the sea regardless of the means of navigation you choose. As for me, I love sailing to death, however I don’t disdain a trip on a gozzo [engine fishing boat]. Motor boaters and sailors are too generic definitions that don’t make sense anymore. Is there a correct definition for those who drive a sailboat equipped with engines? Or a racing vessel? For those who sail all year long or just a week in August, those who sail surrounded by every comfort and those who prefer a plain boat? For those who have a deep seafaring culture and those who go on being ignorant? For those who personally maintain (and even restore) their boat and those who apply to a shipyard even to change oil? Categorizing is difficult and useless. And even more difficult (and more useless) is to split those who sail into good and bad ones, sea lovers and nature usurpers.

Sailors seem to be more traditionalist but, once again, having a look around us when we are at sea, we can notice how reality goes beyond fixed frames. There are classical and even vintage sailyachts for sailors who love being surrounded by noble wood essences while sailing with style and ancient slowness. Many others think a sailboat must be light, performing and high-tech. The same for motor boats, where you can choose among a motorboat, a shuttle boat, a fisherman or an open, a cabin,a fly bridge, walkaround or an explorer and many more.

Moreover, there are people who have decided that their boat is their place, their home. For others this is the chance to take a break from their usual life and set sails for the seven seas.

To finish, I believe the crucial point is always the same. The sea is inside of us, it belongs to our subconscious, to our inner being, and who is able to really love it will always be among those who, when contemplating the horizon, do not perceive the infinity but only a good start.

Now, let’s conclude with a quotation from Jack London, who, once more, is of great help to all of us.

“But don’t be afraid for him. He is bound to run risks and encounter accidents. Remember, there are accidents in the nursery as well as out on the water. More boys have died from hothouse culture than have died on boats large and small; and more boys have been made into strong and reliant men by boat-sailing than by lawn-croquet and dancing school. And once a sailor, always a sailor. The savor of the salt never stales. The sailor never grows so old that he does not care to go back for one more wrestling bout with wind and wave…”

Fair wind. See you at sea!

Renzo Crovo