A Painful Truth

This May Get Me Fired, But...

Before I commit economic suicide in print, let me tell you why I'll miss working here, and why you should keep up your subscription - even after I'm gone. The best thing about this magazine, for those of us who put it together and those who read it, is its integrity. Like getting lucky on a first date, high standards in this type of magazine are something you hope for but rarely encounter. That's what's so special about Boating. It lays it on the line, regardless of the consequences. How driven are we? An international writers' association has an annual award for this kind of journalism that's named in honor of a Boating editor from the 1970s. And nothing has changed since then.

For a writer who cares about boats, this is paradise. So why give it up? Because of what I've been taught here - to be honest. Here goes.

Boating has a tradition of trashing sailboaters, a.k.a., blow-boaters, snailboaters, and all the rest. I've done it, too. But I can't do it any longer. I can't continue to live a lie. As they say in 12-step programs: "Hi, I'm David and I'm a sailor. I started when I was 17 and still take an occasional puff." While I'd like to keep my job, I offer no defense. In fact, (drum roll, please, as my paychecks come to a screeching halt), I suggest that you do the same. No, don't give up power. I may be honest, but I'm not an idiot. However, if you want to become a real boater, I believe you should learn to sail - and a lot more.

For its first 20 years, Boating covered sail as well as power. The inaugural issue even helped readers choose between the two. Back then, as recreational boating was opening up to the masses, it was a tough choice. But it wasn't long until engines became more affordable, reliable, and larger, as did the boats. From then on, most of us, along with this magazine, began to ignore sail. And that made sense.

But good boaters - true seamen - are ones who have captained and crewed on all types of boats. I believe that if you always stick with the same sort of boat, you're not learning and may even be doing things wrong and not know it. The real boater should be able to row a dinghy, paddle a kayak or canoe, drive a tiller-steered outboard, and handle an 80-mph go-fast or a slow single-engine trawler.

Which is why I sail: to avoid becoming a one-dimensional boater.

Without horsepower to get you out of trouble, sailing teaches subtlety. You discover how wind and water affect a boat. A powerboater who can sail comes to a dock balancing these forces, needing little help from the engine. The boater who knows only power depends on it, and when it lets him down - and one day it will - things can get ugly.

A sailor learns to judge time and distance and knows the right knots for each job. He is forced to be part of the world around him, working for everything he gets. All good things to know no matter what kind of boat you drive.

Sure, sailboats are laughable. They top out at 6 mph, run heeled over at ridiculous angles, and can't go anywhere in a straight line. But they are the best teachers of seamanship there is. Cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy who will someday command nuclear subs and aircraft carriers are taught to be sailors first. My kid will learn to sail before he gets his first real boat, too. (Although buying that boat may be a long way off, with his dad on the dole.) So the next time I see you outside the inlet, have pity and wave, as I try to sail my unemployed butt out of your way.