Sailing as an essential activity

Published on April 30th, 2020

by Darrell Nicholson, Practical Sailor
Let’s take away all the boats. Not the ships engaged in essential commerce, not the barges hauling goods, not the net boats catching fish. Keep those. And the Navy, of course, keep that. But all the rest can go.

Now, imagine as we look out over the waterfront we see no skiffs on the bay, no dinghies along the shore, no sloops or schooners on a sunset sail. This arrangement, if it persists, could have dire consequences—at least if you believe French philosopher Michel Foucault:

“In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure and the police take the place of pirates.”

Some, like Pompey the Great (as quoted by Plutarch), put sailing above even life itself. “To sail is necessary; to live is not.”

As for me, always pining for another long passage on the Pacific, I can easily see the value of sending all willing sailors out to a seaborne isolation. Perhaps a future pandemic strategy?

As summer fast approaches and COVID-19 persists as a threat, coastal communities, sailing clubs, schools, and camps around the country are asking the same question: Must our boating activities be curtailed, and if they are to continue, what measures are necessary to ensure public health?

The situation is changing, but at the time of this writing, the boat ramps around our homeport in Sarasota, Florida were opening up again. All state municipalities have banned gatherings of boaters on sandbars and on-the-water events that might draw a crowd—although some impromptu two-boat “regattas” will likely spring up (as they tend to do whenever another sail appears on the horizon).

The concern about even solo outings is that the boat and boater don’t exist in a bubble. A simple afternoon on the water can involve a great deal of bustling about. Whether in commerce (buying fuel, hardware, etc.) or in congregation (socializing on the dock), contact with others is almost inevitable. In most regards, however, sailing not only complies with the requirements of safe distancing – it embraces it.

Not that we’re a bunch of hermits, but the fact remains that a great number of sailors took up sailing precisely because it took us away from land and all its problems. (Okay, maybe some of are seagoing hermits—or at least we inspire hermits.)

As for me, I’m in no rush to get on the water. There will be time for that. The lull in waterfront activity has allowed me to catch up on some long-delayed work projects with my younger son Jake (above photo). At present we’re on a brightwork binge, with hatchboards and tillers lined up in the garage (doors wide open, and well-ventilated with fans, of course) awaiting another coat.

For the time being we’re buoyed by another quote to carry me through these days. Something Kenneth Graham said about messing about with boats.

If you are a sailor in search of a project, you’ll find many on the Practical Sailor website. A good start is to plug “DIY” into the search box. If you already have a specific project in mind, just enter in the relevant key words. Doing a Google search and including the phrase Practical Sailor also works (searching Practical Sailor varnish, for example, yields a number of hits).

And if you’re still looking for something to do, I’m sure we can come up with something. Feel free to reach out at practicalsailor@belvoir.com if you’re stumped.


For more than 35 years, Practical Sailor has been taking the guesswork out of boat and gear buying with bold, independent boat tests, and product-test reports for serious sailors and boaters. Learn more at https://www.practical-sailor.com

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