tiistai 21. helmikuuta 2012

Aesthetics of Sailing

I have loved the sea since I was a small child, almost since I was an infant. I can still remember my first trip from Turku to Stockholm onboard the last steam ship on the line. Her name was Bore [pronounced boo-reh], but during the voyage I really was not bored. While the other children were playing noisily in the playroom I was staring the sea, its waves, other ships, clouds and thousand of skerries surrounding almost all of the waterway along the route. I can still remember the curious mixture of relaxing and interested feelings. I would not say I got overwhelmed, but the sea fascinated me. It really was the love at first sight.

My first memories of sailing are not as tempting as that first voyage. They took place on the summer cottage of my father's employer. The first time I was sailing was with my father and sister on an optimist dinghy. It was far too cramped for the three of us and I can still remember how impatient my father was. I guess I had beg him long enough to get that really short round trip on the Lake Ruotsalainen [The name of the lake is Swedish in English.] Far later I understood that he was next to unable to sail at all. The following memory is about the short voyage from the cottage to Heinola city centre. The yacht belonged to the Finnish Hai class [Shark class. Some examples of the class were exported to the U.S. and France, where it is called Requine.] At first I enjoyed the sailing, but shortly after departure the wind increased or our route turned to upwind. The Hai class yachts are long ( about 32 ft) and narrow (about 6 ft), so they tend to heel easily. Heeling angles of 45 degrees are not rare. I was sent to the cabin and told to stay there. And I was afraid and crying. The owner of the yacht might not have been very experienced sailor, because there were four of us onboard. Either my father or my big brother should have had time to sooth me. The cockpit of that kind of yacht is not roomy, but still I think sending me to the cabin was a mistake. I was relieved after getting to Heinola but on the other hand I cannot remember regretting the short voyage anyhow.

A year or two after that I joined a sea scout troop. Because of my memory, the first short sailing on board the 38 foot yacht of the troop excited me a bit. But everything was nice. After setting the sails the scout leaders and the yacht master let us explore the yacht freely and even try steering her. During the camps we sailed not only that big yacht, but different kind of dinghies and small boats. Moreover, we were let to row in the proximity of the camp island quite freely. We also got occasional motor boat rides along the nearest coastal waters. I should say, my sea scouting career rocketed. I was assigned as a patrol leader when I was thirteen. Later, I was assigned as sea scout and yacht master for coastal waters when I was 18. So, I was commanding 39 foot ketch and her young crew of 6 - 12 sea scouts on that age. Nowadays I think I was too young, but on the other hand, the troop did not have too many active skippers those days. A couple of years later I left sea scouting, which, I think, is one of the most stupid things I have ever done. Since then, I have had several dinghies and a couple of a bit bigger yachts. The current one is Spike II, a Mälar 22 one design class yacht, build in Sweden in 1936.

Now, back to the early days of my boating and sea scout career. I was fascinated by wave formation of different kinds of boats. I could stare the bow cutting the water or the wake after the boat for long periods, like an hour or two without pauses. My friends called me odd. Those were the times I first understood regarding my boating hobby as a kind of aesthetic activity.

I never became a successful racing yachtsman. Being some kind of a sensitive person, I feel almost any kind of racing too exciting. I get overwhelmed. Moreover, I fear loosing more than enjoy winning. Thus, I am not very competitive on the sea or on any other branch of my life. Aesthetic pleasure is still the pleasure of my sailing hobby. However, it does not mean that I regard myself as a sunday sailor (which, on the other hand, I am) or like lazy floating on the waters close to my boat harbor. (I do not belong to any yacht club and try to avoid it in the futere, too). I can tolerate quite harsh weather condition and usually I sail alone. My sailing days tend to be 6 - 15 hours long, and navigating the Finnish and Swedish archipelago single handed is not an easy task. The waterways are narrow and the traffic is dense. Several times a day you have to meet ships 500 to 700 feet long on narrow sounds. And still, while not being occupied by the sailing it self, traffic or weather changes, I enjoy the movements of my small yacht, the landscape around me, watching the wave patterns, listening the humming of the wind meeting the rig and so on.

I feel happy and satisfied as long as the boat sails nicely. Slamming on or through the waves, heavy sprays, vibrations and unidentified sounds and noises makes me feel restless. They are messages of instability and excessive loads. Normally, even during quite heavy weather, the rig should hum or whistle tenderly. Aggressive howling or roaring of the rig appropriate only when the wind reaches force seven or more. And because my yacht is not meant for really harsh conditions, any aggressive noises or continued aggressive movements are clear imperatives to seek for shelter. She, however, can sail fast. The top speed without surfing along a wave I have reached (or should I write we?) is 8,6 knots. She also tolerate easily heeling angles over 45 degrees, although excessing some 40 degrees makes sailing slow and and hard.

The boat speed is also one of the aesthetic pleasures for me. As I wrote, I do not like racing, but sailing faster than some one else gives pleasure. Anyway, the greatest pleasure of the speed is sensing that boat is sailing fast according to the prevailing conditions. Making two or three knots is a pleasure if the wind is close to calm. During such conditions I still tend to look at the wave formation, the boat piercing the small ripplets and listening the gentle sounds caused by the movement. Actually, any rippling sound tells that there are interferences of the water stream along the hull. Those sounds just are not signs of danger, but have have warm and humoristic nature. Made mainly of my pine wood, my yacht is usually very quiet sailing fellow. The material absorb sounds and vibrations. Boats made of GRP or steel are usually noisier. My 16 ft Topcat catamaran was noisier than the 32 ft Mälar cruiser. And both of these are very, very silent compared to the 505 class dinghy I used to sail during the 90's. It was really like a thin, stiff membrane on wavelets amplifying manyfold any sound of the vortexes it made while passing through the water. Both the 505 and the Topcat became really noisy, if sailed unskillfully even when the wind and waves were moderate. Stalling rudder and centerboard blades, splashes and sprays and ticking and creaking of the rig were almost frightening before the last, very silent moment in the beginning of the capsizing movement.

Thus, this far I have tried to explain that the aesthetic pleasure caused by sailing is not caused only by beautiful maritime views or good company on board. There really is some kind of communication between the sailor, the yacht and the sea. The boat is my mate or instrument, with which I should be able to interact with the sea. Put more widely, if I (or you) feel nervous, there is something to be done. You are not cooperative with your boat or you crew, was it only yourself or a group on enthusiastic sea scouts. If the feeling gets permanent, you should train yourself, your crew and probably think about getting a more forgiving yacht. In the worst case you have to accept that you have got to a situation too demanding for you. That is the last message of an urgent to get to a shelter. So, a sailor should be an active and brisk person, but also sensitive to oneself. Being nervous is a symptom of loosing the situational awareness . Maintaining it is necessary for both, your enjoyment and, ultimately, your safety.

On the other hand the situational awareness gives you a sense of on control, which it self is a source of aesthetic pleasure. Sailing among or as a leader of a well trained crew by a rugged yacht during harsh conditions is indeed an experiment of harmony. It tends to be pleasing afterwards, but rough seas are also exceptionally beautiful to see and feel. The conditions of the pleasure during such a voyage are that you feel safe and able to eat and rest and the atmosphere onboard stays cheerful but concentrated. Not only demands that skills of handling the yacht, but also ability to cook or get thorough meals, rest and relax whenever possible and avoid nausea. And as while sailing in the ordinary conditions, you should be able to sense excessive vibrations, noises and slams in order not to break your yacht or make the crew too tired. Sailing the gale force winds is a great fun, but it should be clear, that it not an easy enjoyment, and, thus, not very popular or common either.

So, this far I have written about aesthetics of boat movements and sailing in different kind of weathers. I wish I could write another article about my aesthetics evaluations of boats themselves. Stay tuned... or at least afloat!

I pray the God or Someone to send me an enthusiastic proofreader who wants to support my work for free!

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