On sailing a Folksong

Towards Rame Head – April 2008

I value my independence.

One of the things that attracted me to Blue Mistress was that there is no class standard for Folksong 26s.

Folksongs were built for the home completion market. That means that more or less anything goes! For example, look at the modifications made to Harrier.

So, no glossy brochure, no book of instructions, no class regulations. I am having to work things out for myself. I learn as I go along.

Three years down the line, I have learnt a lot.

The boat is a reflection of my knowledge, skills and attitudes.

I am enjoying the ride and there’s plenty more to come. I look forward to it with pleasure.


Some thirty three years ago, in New Zealand, I read an article that gave me a framework for learning that I have used ever since.

The writer suggested that when it comes to knowledge, skills and attitudes, 2% of those who undertake a particular craft, career or profession will actually master their element, 8% will be adept at it, 36% will be students of the subject and the remaining 54% will go along with it because they’re there.

Forget the numbers, what he was saying was that very, very, few people are on top of their work. There isn’t a lot of competition at this level.

The reason I mention this is that, in working on my boat, I am aware – sometimes embarrassingly so, of how much of a student I am and that some things might be better delegated to someone more adept – and some aspects, e.g. small details of rigging perhaps or some carpentry, to those who have mastered the job.

The main arguments for this are ‘time’ and ‘standard of finish.’

Two things are against it. Firstly, cost, and secondly, and more importantly, I won’t learn unless I do it myself.


So how far might I take this ‘learning’? Will there ever be a time when I’m ‘good enough’?

These days it’s fashionable to talk about ‘continuous learning’.

Inevitably this has become organised.

In some professions/careers, the sheer joy of learning the new has been subjugated to a never-ending gathering of points/credits, gained by undertaking formal courses and accumulating audited records.

This gives a regulatory body the right to dictate what that learning should be. This may help to spread basic knowledge in, say, safety issues, that many people would not otherwise have noticed, but the energy required to comply with the regulations means that much of one’s time and energy is occupied in attaining this average level of knowledge. A ‘usual and customary’ way of working is engineered by those in authority.

Like oil on the sea, the usual and customary spreads out, permeates everything and dampens down the very element that makes the endeavour worth undertaking in the first place. Where is the opening for the student, where is the stimulus for the adept, where is the space for the master?

These days more than ever, to master your craft requires stepping out of the fog, questioning the usual and customary, rejecting the accepted formula unless you have proved it for yourself. The usual and customary is just another waymark on a chart – it’s not the destination. To excel, you have to forge your own direction – establish your own standards.

Thirty years ago, that meant a long apprenticeship, working your way step-by-step, accumulating skills and knowledge at a pace that worked for you.

We now have the technical ability to speed the process up and our general expectations are high. It is easy to fool ourselves into believing we can do things when we are far from ready. In relaity, we learn at a human rate. Hands-on skills still have to be learnt step-by-step and getting to ‘good enough’ can be a rough ride.


Enough of that.

Next post on OSAF, I am going to start looking at ways of tuning the boat.

3 thoughts on “On sailing a Folksong

  1. This post pretty much sums it all up.

    I used to think it was an “unsigned” quote but a friend of mine told me that it was afterall Confucious who said:

    “I hear and i forget, i see (or read) and i remember, i do and i understand”

    And i think that it is applicable to any skill’s transfer. The regulatory body “Royal Yachting Association” for example tells you about the customary way to upright a small catamaran or come along side a pontoon but you have to practice it to get to understand how it is done. And you get to discover that each approach is unique (not to mention the variability in the dynamics of each different type of boat you might find yourself in)…so this learning aspect never dies, at least in skills that involve the elements like sailing or flying.

    Mastering a skill also means loving it, maybe more than your pride (or your I AM sense 😀 ) that might get a beating if someone comments (hopefully constructively) on your carpenting skills or rigging for example…

    All the best

  2. I liked your “oil on the sea” analogy. Another slick which is spreading is the marina. Increasingly these are becoming the ‘normal’ place to keep ones boat. But increasingly they are becoming the expensive preserves of sterile white plastic. Self build ad restoration projects are no longer welcome, they make the place look untidy and contravene all those insidious health and safety laws.

  3. Hey guys, check out my new online store. I am selling pontoon boats in Germany now (you can’t buy them anyways, so no advert 😉 ) – do you like the page?

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