Harken Derm

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Not much of a sailor

Published on March 21st, 2013

This week marks the 97th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s release of his General Theory of Relativity. The renowned physicist spent the summer of 1935 in Old Lyme, CT, often sailing on the Connecticut coast.

Despite sailing for over half a century, Einstein was not a very accomplished sailor. According to his biographers, he would lose his direction, his mast would often fall down, and he frequently ran aground and had near collisions with other vessels.

Often sailing near the mouth of the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook, Einstein ran aground on a sand bar once. The New York Times took note, running the following headline in the summer of 1935: “Relative Tide And Sand Bars Trap Einstein.” Another newspaper put it this way: “Einstein’s Miscalculation Leaves Him Stuck On Bar Of Lower Connecticut River.”

Interestingly, Einstein seemed to be indifferent to the dangers of sailing, and the perils were particularly acute since he didn’t know how to swim! It is rather amazing that he didn’t drown. In I944, for example, while sailing on Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, Einstein’s boat hit a rock and capsized. A rope entangled his leg, and he was trapped briefly underneath the sail, but he managed to find his way to the surface without panicking and was saved by a passing motorboat.

Those who knew Einstein claim that he always took a pencil and a pad of paper with him when he sailed, so that if he got stuck or if the wind died, he could write down his thoughts. Since he liked solitude and privacy, perhaps this was just another aspect of sailing that appealed to Einstein. Perhaps even aspects of his famous Theory Of Relativity were formulated onboard a sailboat.

Here is how Einstein explained his theory in simplified fashion to members of the public: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.” – Excerpt from Mansfield-Storrs Patch



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