Out on Sunday night past, deatin’, drinkin’, and talkin’ with the boys. Talk came round to my place as a die-hard traditionalist in a land of plastic boats.
The point that precipitated the whole debate was the arrival in Soper’s Hole of the classic 1949 72′ Sparkman & Stevens Yawl Bolero. Coming into West End aboard Kuralu on Sunday last, Robin and i agreed that Bolero was a fine yacht indeed, from the golden age of yachting, but we both winced to see the hydraulic furler at her bows. Sure, Kuralu herself is no traditional boat, but Robin is a bit of a traditionalist himself, having sailed a 100 year old oyster smack for years, including across the Atlantic.
Now, i have no qualms with those who choose a modern boat with modern trappings. However, seeing a lovely old beauty like Bolero sporting a most modern hydralic furler is horrid. It’s like completing a painstaking restoration of a rare (in this case, one-of-a-kind) vintage car, complete to the last detail, then shoe-horning a modern engine into the engine bay. The arguement might be made that boats like Bolero were cutting-edge stuff in their day, and throughout their working liveshave been appropriately upgraded to reflect that. Still, i hold that something vital, even spiritual, is violated when a classic is brought up to such modern standards.
The counter to this usually is, “So, where does is stop? Do we all have to go back to the most primitive of means to fulfill your ‘spiritual’ perogative?”
Well, no, not really. Just honour the classics. Honour the spirit of those crews who set to sea, trading, racing, fishing, or just cruising, without the powered winches, the hydraulic furlers. If you want a classic boat, restore a classic boat, fully and properly. While you’re at it, train a classic crew to go with it. If you want modern conveniences on a large double-handed vessel, buy a Beowulf. If you’d rather have a boat that embodies the grace and beauty of a classic design, but still have all the modern goodies, build a custom “Spirit of Tradition” boat.
My favourite boats are those from the mid-late forties. Winches were in, but block & tackles weren’t yet out. Not everything was made of wood, but bronze had yet to be replaced by stainless steel. In short, the technology of sailing had evolved to the point where things were getting simpler instead of just getting easier.


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