“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. “ Rear-Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.
In my last post, I talked about the boat as a space for writing. Of course, that’s not what ships are built for but it’s now part of how I use her when I’m not sailing or ‘messing about . . .’ It’s an added asset.
For many people, including me, a sailing vessel is an object of sentiment. I cannot look at a boat without the heart lifting to a jumble of special moments – the moment the mooring drops, the lift of the bow to a swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water. However, there is a reason to be cautious, a reason to stand back and ponder.
Deep in this computer is a file with a detailed record of my expenditure for each of the ten years since I bought ‘Blue Mistress’ – all of it . . . The sum is high and it’s still rising! The bottom line overshadows the sentiment. This does not mean I should sell her, but it does mean I should make absolutely the most of her I possibly can.
Plenty of others have thought the same. I have been studying the sailing vessels – the smacks, the ketches and schooners which used to trade into Bude in North Cornwall. I will discuss why I am doing this in a later post but, in comparing then and now, I have been noting attitudes from those days, (highlighted by authors I rate highly), that seem useful for today. Remember, these were trading vessel, nevertheless:
“(A vessel) was not usually an object of sentiment to a degree that influenced the amount of money spent on her. She was a capital asset, used to earn a number of people’s livings and her success and that of the men who operated her and sailed her was judged not in terms of wonderful speed or seaworthiness, skillful seamanship or hard sailing, but in terms of money earned, first and foremost. She was not an object of romance but of everyday utility.”1
I wonder how that fits with our current thinking. The modern racing yacht would certainly fit the ‘utility’ description, whether a Vendee Globe yacht or an America’s Cup yacht. Used briefly for its build-function – then what? Some have a greater future, some a lesser one. The ‘romance’ in the desire to keep them sailing is tempered by hard fact. Some are successful. For example, below, an America’s Cup trial trial yacht earns its keep in Auckland.However, older vessels may spend time idle, like ‘British Steel’ – a famous yacht of its time, waiting in Dartmouth. Nevertheless, if a reason can be found, then there’s a will to keep them sailing.
A grand example of this is the important and exciting project to bring a much older vessel back to life, ‘Rhoda Mary’. Once again, the success of this will be measured more than in terms of ‘wonderful speed and seaworthiness, skillful seamanship and hard sailing’, which will undoubtedly be there, more than in the romance of the idea, but in careful financial input and the promise of a sound financial future geared towards the young people of Cornwall and youngsters from well beyond its borders.
“When gear grows old, they had always rather make shift than get new, and being seaman, they have usually the handiness to do it. How often one is told, on remarking that a rope, or a strake, or a spar ought to be replaced, ‘Ah, let it bide, let it break. ‘Tis different wi’ the likes o’us from what ‘tis with gentleman’s boats. When they sees summat be wore, or a rope’s lost its nature, they orders a new ‘un, but the likes o’us us lets it bide, till summat carries away, an’ then us knows ‘tis done for, an’ nowt more to say about it.’”2
I don’t tend to wait until gear breaks but I have learned over the years that most gear lasts a lot longer than my previous inexperience suggested.
“. . . schooners on the whole, if they survived the hazards of sea and shore, were very durable products. By the 1920s, the survivors had earned their initial investment many times over. The owners found themselves in possession of obsolete capital equipment which with expert management still had marginal earning potential. The owners, or some of them, profited several times over from the vessels’ continued operation. Shareholders who were chandlers, sail-makers, shipbuilders, provision merchants, brokers, all benefited in two or more ways from their interest and the connection with the vessel it gave them. Moreover, as long as freight rates covered the out-of-pocket expenses of operation, owners of old vessels did better by operating their vessels for what they could bring in rather than by laying-up and scrapping them. Old vessels were scrapped only when the discounted present value they could be reasonably expected to earn minus their out-of-pocket costs from continued operation represented less than the anticipated earnings of the alternative investment of capital acquired by the sale of the vessel at scrap value. Old wooden ships had a very low scrap value.”3
Well, there is little probably even less scrap value in my grp boat. There may be some resale value, but the market is large. So, not a financial asset then – but an asset nevertheless, and on several fronts . . . an asset in which to sail alone, to spend time with family and friends, to experience and to learn about boats and harbours and the sea, to write in and about, and, above all, to enjoy . . . the mooring dropping, the lift of the bow to the swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water . . .
1 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches, Conway Maritime Press 1974, p.32
2 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches, Conway Maritime Press 1974, p.20
3 Basil Greenhill, Merchant Schooners, Conway Maritime Press 1988, p.256
Images by Bill Whateley