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Boating Quotes that Pull Like a Sail

Updated on January 9, 2012

Just as the teacher appears when the student is ready, so, too, the writer or poet or book appears when the reader is ready. Well, the writing might appear and be read before, but when the reader has gathered the right experiences to be able to fully relate to the writing, only then is the writing is noticed and appreciated. Quotations about boats and sailing and life (yes, that is being very, very close to being redundant) can articulate thoughts and feelings that are floating just beneath my hull and just out of reach in the wind flowing past my sails.

Some sailing quotes, although just for fun, will be recalled and reused, albeit no doubt in paraphrase:

  • Asked how he slept after losing the first race of the 1974 America’s Cup, Sir James Hardy replied, “Like a baby. Woke up every two hours and cried.”
  • “Any damn fool can circumnavigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.” – Sir Francis Chichester, loading his boat with gin
  • Waves are not measured in feet or inches, they are measured in increments of fear. – Buzzy Trent

Some sailing quotes, although probably never to be remembered word for word, will stay with you deep inside, deep in your subconscious, just like the memory of friends who seem to recognize you for who you really are, and the reserved strength that comes from ever in your life having had that feeling. Here, I’ve gathered a few that resonate within me. They express the role of my sailboat in my life. For anyone who’s ever had a decent keelboat in his or her life, or has dreamt of voyaging by sail and maybe has had parallel adventures, you might enjoy these:

  • There is a poetry of sailing as old as the world. – Antoine de Sainte-Exupery
  • In certain places, at certain hours, gazing at the sea is dangerous. It is what looking at a woman sometimes is. – Victor Hugo
  • A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble. – E. B. White
  • Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made. – Robert N. Rose
  • For the first time, and not on paper and in dreams, I had the little ship alone in my hands in a night of velvet dark below and stars above, pushing steadily along into unknown waters. I was extremely happy. – Arthur Ransome
  • When a man weighs anchor in a little ship or a large one he does a jolly thing! He cuts himself off and he starts for freedom and for the chance of things. – Hilaire Belloc
  • Overhead, the white sails stretched their arms to catch the night wind. They were my sails – my wings – and they had brought me to the sea of my boyhood dreams. – William Robinson
  • I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and the singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself – actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within place and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of man, to Life itself. To God, if you want to put it that way. – Eugene O’Neill
  • The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place. – Arthur Ransome
  • I have had to pass a considerable portion of my life aboard small craft of various kinds, and after a long and mixed experience of the life, I have come to two very definite conclusions concerning it. One is that life on a small boat in fine weather is the only kind of life worth living. The other is that, in bad weather, it’s just plain hell. – Weston Martyr
  • To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea – “cruising,” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. – Sterling Hayden
  • For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze. – Richard Bode
  • Adventure means risking something. And it is when we are doing that, that we know what a splendid thing life is and how splendidly it can be lived. The man who never dares never does. The man who never risks never wins. It is far better to venture and fail than to lie on the hearth rug like a sleepily purring cat. Only fools laugh at failure. Wise men laugh at the lazy and the too contented, and at those who are so timid that they dare undertake nothing. – Alain Gerbault
  • For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always ourselves we find in the sea. - e.e.cummings

And one last quote, to linger on the edge of your thoughts:

  • Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need: a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. – Jerome K. Jerome


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