An interesting subject, I know.
This afternoon Alex Rodriguez admitted that from 2001-2003 he was taking steroids. I'm not about to throw my hat into the ring and debates whether or not he's a good person for admitting or a bad person for taking drugs in the first place. ESPN will have plenty of people to debate that ad nauseam all week. I'm concerned with how the rest of the world is going to react to Rodriguez, sports and life in general.
So how does this relate to sailing? Bernard Moitessier once said something to the effect that once technology as it relates to sailing (fancy navigation gear, carbon spars & composite rigging, kevlar sails, etc.) gets advanced enough, people will be overwhelmed, and will desire a return to the simplicity of old. With technology, he argued, we lose exactly what we set out to achieve in the first place - communion between man and boat, boat and nature, man and nature. Technological sailing becomes just another distraction in a daily life filled with them.
I read a fantastic article in the NY Times the other day about the beauty of sports and how the tennis great Roger Federer embodies athletic beauty in the modern, "power baseline" game of tennis. According to the article, Federer has evolved both from the finesse players of the good old days and from the power players of recent history, combining the best traits of both, to become simply the greatest player ever. And yet the only way to accurately describe his game is simply as "beautiful."
Baseball, tennis, Moitessier...? A common theme runs through each one of the above examples - simplicity & elegance. A-Rod testing positive for steroids and admitting it is going to change baseball, and more rapidly and completely than the trial of either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. A-Rod has not simply opened the door for others to come forward. He's offered the fans the "blue pill," the opportunity to see the truth in baseball. And I believe that given the choice between 500-foot homeruns by men who knowingly cheat, to the small-ball, elegant game of finesse, fans are going to choose the latter. Finesse equates to skill, equates to beauty in sports.
Similarly, once witnessing Federer's five-shot setups on the tennis court, or for that matter the way Tiger can punch his "stinger" two-iron 260 yards down the fairway with only a slight draw, the player that relies on pure power seems much less interesting.
When it comes to sailing, I believe Moitessier was right. Where is the joy in sailing when you're pushing a button to trim the jib? Where is the joy in sailing when an electronic device tells you where you are, while the wind, the stars, the coast lie outside your realm of understanding, yet remain only a glance away out of the cabin ports? Where is the joy in sailing when you drop all canvas two miles from the entrance to a harbor, chugging into a quiet anchorage under an iron genny?
And the joy of life's endeavors are not the only thing lost. What of seamanship when all your career you've fired up that iron genny only to have it fail on you when you need it most? Could you sail onto that mooring ball at the end of a narrow channel, upwind? Could you make it back to a safe harbor single-handed? Could you plot a course accounting for the set of the current without your trusty GPS?
I may be optimistic, but I believe that we are approaching a tipping point in society in general, at the very least in the sporting world, and that in the future elegance will be admired, not pure power. Knowledge will be rewarded not with accolades but with personal satisfaction. And beauty will once again be the motivational force behind our enjoyment of sport, both as spectator and participant.
When Mia and I first take Arcturus offshore, we will leave behind many comforts that the modern cruising sailor would not dare leave sight of land without. I'll have my sextant, we'll have our safety gear, and our mechanical wind vane will steer us toward the unattainable horizon. We'll have paper charts and old-fashioned plotting tools. And we'll enjoy our journey not for speed and power, for we'll be making a scant 4-5 knots. No, we'll enjoy our journey for simplicity's sake. We'll enjoy our journey because when we finally make landfall and sail into the harbor of our dreams, it will have be elegant. It will have been beautiful.