The Making of a Master

Published on October 12th, 2021

H.A. Callahan (Nov. 7, 1889 – Nov. 25, 1965), a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy and an author on sailing, describes the traits which heighten our connection to sailing in this excerpt from his 1950 book, Sailing Technique:


The Mate, stretched comfortably on the sun-baked deck, raised her head from the cushion, and give me the long, appraising look that meant she was going to say something very nice or else that she was going to give me Hell. I felt it coming. Yet I did not quite know what it was. She had already remarked that the older and funnier and bonier I looked, the less clothes I seemed to wear. So that wasn’t it.

“Why don’t you relax and enjoy the sail?” (So it was that one.) “You’ve trimmed and started your sheets twenty times in the last ten minutes. We aren’t racing. We aren’t going anywhere. Yet you’re hunched up over that tiller trying to squeeze the last ounce of speed out of the boat.”

I grinned. I gave her the answer that was as familiar to hear as her complaint to me.

“When you ride your horse, do you ride him or do you let him carry you as a passenger?”

That struck ‘tween wind and water. When she rides, she rides, forcing her mount to perfect gaits, collecting him, getting him up to the bits, breathing her will into him by niceties of hands and seat and aids. The passenger on a horse is anathema to her.

I think it is because I am never content to be a passenger in my own boat, that sailing has been my constant delight for more than half a century. The passenger can enjoy fully the tang of the air, the benignity of the sunlight, the refreshment of the spray, and the glory of the motion. He can feast his eyes and his soul on the abundant beauty that is inseparable from sailing.

But if he is only a passenger, these things will some day pall. He will want a change of scene. He will spend his vacation in the mountains or take up golf. Many sailors remain passengers to the end of their sailing careers.

It does not matter that they hold the helm, give the orders and pay the bills. If they are content with less than perfection, or if they lack the perception that tells when their boat is giving less than her best, they are passengers. They never become the Master.

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