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sailing - a shapechanger's mode of transport

Updated on August 23, 2012

a sailboat out of its element

The usually underwater part of its shape is visible; looks a bit like a fish that floats on its back.
The usually underwater part of its shape is visible; looks a bit like a fish that floats on its back.

contemplation on the nature of sailing

When a sailboat is under sail, it is not using any internal propulsion mechanism. The energy for its movement and control come from outside of itself. This is not like riding a car or an airplane, which have engines, or even like walking, riding a bike or hopping around on a pogo stick, where the propulsive force comes from your mussels.

I sailboat sits suspended between two different media: air and water. You make it move and steer it by changing the shaped of the surface it presents to one or both of these media. Typically, you turn the rudder in the water to steer the boat, and adjust the sails for optimal propulsion based on the direction of the wind relative to the boat. However, it is possible to propell or slow a sailboat with the rudder. You can also use the sails to steer. I have used this when leaving the dock; pull a jib in to bring the bow down wind. It is also a reason that motor sailing ( using a motor for propulsion with the sails up) is dangerous. If a sail unexpectedly catches the wind, the boat can turn unexpectedly.

While I can think of other modes of transport that rely on external force to propel them. Hot air balloons and gliders, or an inner-tube on a river, come to mind, I can't think of any other mode of transport that does this trick using the interface between two media. That is why I called sailing "a shapechanger's mode of transport".

Sailboats do not move particularly quickly. The size boat that most people would sail for leisure goes less than ten miles an hour. The fact that a sailboat has to keep its hull in the water, makes it maximum speed proportional to its size. However, even the commercial sailboats of the past moved relatively slowly, probably under twenty miles an hour.

Given the slow speed of sailboats, it is interesting that it would feel exciting to sail on one, or having a sailboat race would be interesting. It must be the splash of the waves, heeling of the boat and wind rushing past your face that makes five miles an hour exhilerating.

The slow speed of a sailboat is also fast enough to cross one of the world's oceans before your supplies run out, if you plan carefully. So, this seemingly ungainly mode of transport is also practical, unlike a pogo stick.

In current times, sailboats almost always have motors. This is a small effort to impose human schedules on the elements; if there is no wind or the current is against you, you can still get where you want when you want. Even equiped with a motor, a sailboat still requires some heed to the weather and tides, though. If the weather is not right, sailing will be, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, fatal. Given that a strong current can move as fast as a sailboat can, this too, puts the sailor in touch with forces of nature that the modern world usually insulates us from.

I think sailing gives me access to a beautiful environment that most people aren't even aware exists in their vacinity. Once away from the marina, it seems like a different world, one that is populated with seals, birds and jellyfish, rather than the constructs of men. Land, sea and air all pressed against each other, in the same location is also powerfully scenic.


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    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 5 years ago from The High Seas

      Nicely said.

    • RichardCMckeown profile image

      RichardCMckeown 6 years ago

      Wonderful hub!

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 6 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      Sailing is as close to a religion as I have ever come.I shall sail till I can sail no more on this earthly plain.Then I shall sail on...