What’s Your Sport?

“What’s your sport?”

“Sorry?”

“What your sport. Mine’s golf, what’s yours?”

“Well, I like to sail. I’ve got a boat.”

“Like to race around the buoys do you. That’s too much water for me.”

And off he went, leaving me thinking, “Sport? Why not Leisure activity? Or that awful phrase ‘lifestyle choice’? Do we have to categorise everything these days?”

But he has got me wondering why I sail – or, more precisely, why have I come back to sailing?

For a start, ‘sport’ seems to be the wrong word. I do have a competitive streak but that’s not it. Sailing for me is less about Formula One racing and more about mountaineering, less about competitiveness and more about self-reliance.

Sailing has been described as an act of constant motion in a confined space in the presence of a vast quantity of water. In that confined space, a range of knowledge, skills and attitudes have to be concentrated into a fluid mix of activities.

To go to sea is to trust in your own ability to master those activities, and, whether you like it or not, to continually test that trust.

As things stand for me at the moment, I know some of those activities well and am reasonably good at them, some I am coming back to after thirty years and am enjoying relearning and some I am plain ignorant about and discovering the hard way.

In the past few months, have I been anxious, irritated, disappointed, embarrassed, fearful and angry – shocked even? Yes, briefly all of those, but I expect these to be part of a right of passage. There is something more – the passage is to a deeper understanding that will surprise you or me one sunny day, when the sea sparkles and the wind freshens on your cheek. You will listen to the swish of the wake increasing astern, watch the sails curving above and feel the pull on the tiller as the boat heels gently and the bow rises to the swell of the sea. It won’t happen often, but it will lift the heart and satisfy the soul, because you will know for sure that, today at least, you have earned the right to be right here, right now.

And, in the meantime, everything is part way to achieving that. So we learn about, and enjoy, the sea, and the weather, and weather forecasts, and navigation, and navigation aids like logs and depth sounders and gps and chartplotters, and sails, and ropes, and rigging, and safety, and moorings, and marinas, and engines, and design, and electronics, and radios, and materials like wood and grp and paint and antifouling and glues, and repairs and renewals, and chandleries, and boatyards, and people and crew and leadership and management and preparation, and on and on.

Is that a romantic vision? Of course it is. Does it fit in with the attitudes of some of the characters I have met who sail also? For some, definitely not – on the surface at least! But it is there in others.

I am sure there are many other sports, leisure activities, lifestyle choices that offer similar journeys.

That’s fine, but I choose to sail.