communities afloat

More ideas and discussions floating around this post in my other blog, which i had not at first thought to post here on this one. My own mind wants to follow the discussion off on a tangent, one of tallships and communities, and it seems like it ought to ultimately come here, to the Sailor Song.
i’ve served as professional or volunteer crew aboard a number of traditional and classic boats; ketches, yawls, schooners, sloops, all wood, most gaffers. i’ve only ever served aboard one “tallship” per se, a brig, The Lady Washington. i had the good fortune to serve with a generally excellent crew, who more than made up in any slight lack of raw skill or actual sailing proficiency with an almost rabid enthusiasm and dedication. i had been pointed towards the Lady by former crew and captains, and had been looking forward to a top-notch boat and program.
In fact, the boat and program are pretty top-notch, and continue to be so. My problem was in my expectations; i expected to working the boat and sailing her, as i had in previous positions on other boats. Instead, i found wyself in the midst of this wild, rolicking, roving museum/ambassador/training boat, and no matter how much i would have preferred otherwise, the focus was on people, comunication, human relations, and community. As one former crewmate spells it out, ” anyway, for me it’s pretty much 40% scenery/natural environment, 40% community, and 20% the boat. but the boat keeps us alive so of course she often comes first!” For me, i had been expecting 80% boat, 20% people, and never really adjusted.
As far as sailing goes, i will always be a traditionalist. i am a craftsman, a woodworker and shipwright by trade, as much as a sailor. i teach sailing to kids, and strongly believe in the sailtraining model. i have, however, come to see that the typical tallship is more about community, relationships, and education than sailing, at least the sort of sailing i was expecting, and that drew me to tallships in the first place.
My friend Tom (currently Second Mate on the R. Tucker Thompson) was an early “in” of mine to the world of sailing, showed me all these great slides, and regaled me with these great stories of fine boats, sailing across the pond, some tales hilarious, others harrowing. He told me too of the parties, the girlfriends, the copious drink, the wild frivolities; these i had far less interest in. When my turn came, i had a go at all that too, but it left me cold; i would rather have just been sailing, or up tending to the rig.
The sailing i prefer these days is mostly a solitary affair. Sometimes there’s a couple other like-minded folks along for the ride, but our common bond is not the comraderie or community itself, but a shared respect and passion, an awe and joy we find only on the water. The boat is not a setting for our relationships, rather, our relationships are first and foremost with the boat itself, the wind, and the water. So it comes that my usual sailing companions are folks who have logged inumerable single- or short-handed miles, and who are quicker to look to the boat than to any other human interaction. Clearly, i am more comfortable in a small boat or boatshop than i ever was (or even wanted to be!) in a crowded fo’c’sle berth.
i learned alot on the Lady, but many were lessons that took hold a year or more later, and few had much to do with sailing as i have now come to see it. i don’t regret my time aboard that tallship, although i found it somewhat disappinting; my disappointment came from the difference between the experience i has hoping for and the experience i received.
The tallship sailors i know are gregarious, personable, outgoing sorts who thrive in such close-knit communual communities. Most of them, i know, would thrive equally well in any such community, afloat or otherwise. i’ve come to see that for myself, i have little interest in such a community; i prefer a quieter, more solitary existance, much as i enjoyed before i started sailing. In sailing, it’s not the community that draws me; it’s just… the sailing: the boat, the wind, the water.


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