As a sailor, I am what happened to me

May 2003

By Dodge Morgan

The Human Genome Project has really screwed up how we can account for our personal sailing characteristics. Who knows but it may have even screwed up how all of human behavior is viewed. We used to have a simple “nature or nurture” debate, but now they have identified a gene for shyness, forcrissake. I’m certain a sail-trimming-skills gene has also been discovered.

I liked it much better when we could see a human being as a blank blackboard at birth that is then colored in by life’s experiences, because this concept gives me everlasting hope for myself. Got a problem? Have a new experience. So the hell with current science, I say. I am sticking with the old nurture theory. After all, science is continually telling us how stupid we used to be and doing it without regard for the obvious fact that today is tomorrow’s used to be.

I was thinking about my own eccentric sailing characteristics just the other day, many of which I know really piss other people off. This reverie was enhanced by 80-degree air and 80-degree seawater, a sunset viewed from the cockpit of Wings of Time and the third VT in my fist.

Sailing resume capsule as background: Sailed rented catboat Nantucket Sound (1/2 hour, $5 max). Owned a Hunt 110 and used it for cruising. Owned 36-foot Peterson schooner, Coaster, lived aboard two and a half years, Maine to Alaska. Owned 60-foot Hood cutter, American Promise, sailed around world solo without stops. Owned 53-foot Hood sloop, sailed regularly Maritimes to West Indies. Own 52-foot Hood sloop, sail regularly Maritimes to West Indies. Own 31-foot Peterson schooner (41-year friendship now), sail Maine coast.

Now for some personal sail-related characteristics and their logical reasons:

I am not comfortable in yacht clubs. Experiential reason: When I was a teen I worked at the family boatyard on Nantucket Sound. We did not get to actually use boats; we got to “fix” other people’s boats, people who belonged to yacht clubs.

I like to sail alone. Experiential reason: I taught myself to sail by renting a small catboat and could never find anybody to go with me.

I prefer to sail out of sight of land. Experiential reason: The only times I have run into trouble on a sailboat are when I have run into land of some sort.

I think ocean racing is an expression of human arrogance. Experiential reason: The sea has taught me the solid truth of that old saw, “My boat is so small and the sea is so big,” and the idea of making it a competitive racecourse seems frigging ridiculous. (One sailing competition I feel I would win is to sail around the world over and over until only one is left sailing.)

I trust boats that leak. Experiential reason: My early boats, and some current ones, are made of wood and leaked and I loved them.

I enjoy heavy weather sailing. Experiential reason: Most of the boats I have sailed prefer more wind than less.

I prefer sailing a reach. Experiential reason: (Does anybody need one?)

I don’t really trust navigation equipment. Experiential reason: As a young boy I bought a military surplus sextant, mailorder, on my grandfather’s promise to teach me how to use it. My grandfather looked at the instrument, then looked at me and said, “That was stupid.” He tossed the thing into the harbor and walked away. Much later I learned it was a bubble sextant, virtually useless on small boat.

I am skeptical of design innovation on a sailboat. Experiential reason: Every single time I have tried something new and untested by time on a boat it has failed me.

I prefer short-haired females as sailing partners: Experiential reason: I have found that, when anchored, males are less engaging than females and, when sailing, hair is a menace.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.