A Different Era – How It Used To Be

Published on October 4th, 2012

By Paul Newell, Sailmaker, Isle of Wight

When I was growing up we had almost free range on the sea. My father (a boat builder and long shoreman) put the limitations down by saying “Stay in sight. If you can’t see me then I can’t see you. And only sail the distance you can comfortably row back from and be back before it’s dark” (note: the penalties were tough and rigorously enforced…no boating for a week)

With that advice we learnt to row and learnt to row well.

This gave us a decent range to play in, in almost all weather conditions. Gale force and upwards off shore winds were always noted and we stayed inshore but gale force and upwards onshore were always looked forward to. If we could get the boats out through the surf then play we did. All day.

As a result big seas and heavy winds don’t frighten me but it taught me huge respect for the power of the elements and I never take the sea for granted. This has stood me in good stead over the years in both racing and cruising. Big boats and small.

But none of this “play” experience was under any form of instruction. We learnt how to be self sufficient and always got ourselves back home under our own steam and on time.

As a result we all learnt how to swim, sail, row, fish, paddle, dive, not get sun burnt, drive with an outboard, paint, varnish, race, surf and, above all, have fun. The mates I learnt to do all this with are still mates today, some fifty years later. This also means we have lots of memories and lots of tricks to teach our kids and their mates too.

This nannying of kids today is not good. I’m not suggesting that they go feral but does everything they do have to so regimented and “by the book”

so that they all get a piece of paper to say that they can do it? It means that they can do it “by the book” but probably without the “play” knowledge would not be able to get themselves out of trouble when they get past their comfort zone. And I suspect their comfort zone is not much past a force three.

Plowing along with a spinnaker up, in far too much wind, waiting for the inevitable nose-dive/broach/capsize was always one of the best things and looked on to by the old folk (parents etc.) with amusement. They, in the safe knowledge that we knew how to fix it when it broke.

I feel this is all lost on the young of today with too many people trying to get all the kids up to the same standard at the expense of natural talent. Let the reins off a bit and see what happens. I’m sure that natural talent will come to the surface without the system coming to pieces.

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