Sailing Ships: There is no Time to Rush
by Milo Clark

A wooden sailing ship is the stuff of romance for some, like me. And terror for others. For those who sail the seas, the terror may be part of the romance. Sailing is an opiate for some, like me. Although I have no actual idea, pure smack is just junk. Sailing is a real thing.

Put me on a deck with a wheel in hand and nothing but wind and water out to the horizon and I am gone, just plain gone. My feet grab straight down to the center of earth and hold tight. Every creak and rattle and rub and groan to a landlubber is purest music, celestial song. Any minute change in wind direction, attitude of hull to water, sail tension, singing in the rigging, just any change is instantly felt in my bones. And other places.

The Polynesians sailed all over the mid-Pacific long before the Europeans intruded their arrogances of navigation instruments. With stars and waves and clouds and swell as guides, the Polynesian navigators felt it all where? In their balls, hanging loose under the breachclout, that's where. For women, I'm told that horseback riding can be ecstatic. I'll take a sail for my highs.

For about five years once-upon-a-time, I was owned by a 56 foot hermaphrodite brigantine, a person of great beauty and subtleties beyond imagination especially when felt under sail. What makes a brigantine hermaphroditic? She had a long jibboom with room for two jibs forward, two courses (squaresails to lubbers) on the foremast, a staysail rig in the middle between the masts and a gaffrigged main. Add in some obscurely named pieces of triangular sails to fill the gaps. All of which permitted an impressive array of sails to meet almost any condition encountered.

The couple who built her were pure anachronisms. A man and a woman built this very complex sailing ship by themselves. On a beach of Vancouver island. Out of wood they had cut. White cedar for hull and deck. I had pictures of them in a saw tower handsawing the keelson. That is one big log cut very precisely into one big piece on which the ship is built. For them, no motor. No electricity. No radio. No electronic navigation equipment. They scoured the chandleries and yards of Puget Sound for all the ports and other hardware they didn't want to build themselves.

No winches, only block and tackle. Rigged so precisely that the ship could be one-handed. One person could do everything needed to get her underway and sailing. With any kind of reasonably decent wind and favorable tide, she moved like a ballet dancer, quiet elegance in slow motion. No time to rush.

They sailed her to Micronesia. For four and one half years they worked her on cargo runs among the islands. They came back to build another ship from wood they had stashed on Vancouver island. I understand, last I heard, that they are on their fifth one now.

I still have her picture in my wallet. Like any junkie or someone who has lost a great love to foolishness, I sometimes look for sailing ships as I pass marinas. But I don't dare go sailing for fear that I will lose it again. Fortunately, for me, almost everything that sails in San Francisco Bay is white hulled, blue covered tupperware. Their plastic hulls. Their lines dulled. Their metal masts festooned with antennae. Sheets adrift. All looking poorly for a day sail on a calm bay. Gutless money sponges, not even pretty, sitting at their expensive docks most all of the time.

Published October 14, 1996
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Main Page]