Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Sailing, Wind and Humility

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 04, 2005

Someone once said of water transportation in general that if you need to get somewhere, use a powerboat. There is no question that happy sailing requires a certain philosophical dependence on the wind, much as a happy life requires dependence on Providence. I bring this up in light of our recent consideration of recreational discussion forums. As a sailor, I feel compelled to argue that sailors are closer to God than “stink potters” (which of course is not true). But really I’m just looking for an excuse to share the following story.

I own a small, trailerable sailboat, 16’ 5” in length, a Precision 165 from Precision Boatworks in Florida. Because the boat displaces just 750 pounds, the weight of its passengers makes up an important part of its ballast. This has been my first year sailing it, and in fact I was out sailing single-handed for the first time just a few weeks ago on the Potomac River, because nobody else wanted to come along.

The breeze was relatively mild but I noticed immediately that, with only myself on board, the boat handled much differently and heeled over far more easily. As the wind came up a bit, it started heeling over a little too much. Of course, I “knew” from past experience that the boat wouldn’t go over in that amount of wind, but a second later it was clear that it might. The boat is self-righting, so I wasn’t worried, and I decided to see how far over it would go. As it turned out, it went over all the way—a complete knock-down.

Finding myself clinging to the now-vertical cockpit, I released the sheets and waited for the boat to self-right. I waited in vain as my two cockpit cushions, my life jacket, a flip-flop, a bungee cord and a Pringles can fell into the water and began floating away. Clearly, the P165 was not going to come up with my 180 pounds hanging on it. So I had to get wet. I stepped off into the water, the boat came up beautifully, and I hauled myself around to the stern to climb back in using the swim ladder.

To my embarrassment, I now looked up to see a large powerboat hovering nearby, its operator ready to offer assistance to the poor fool who had just gone over. Rather than have him watch me sail around attempting to pick up my wayward gear hit-and-miss, I made discretion the better part of valor and harnessed all three-and-a-half horses in my outboard motor to control the boat as I puttered around systematically grabbing the gear with the boathook. I even managed to smile as the powerboat operator kindly handed me one of the cockpit cushions. It didn’t make things any better that, while arranging the cushions, I managed to drop the boathook overboard, and he kindly picked that up for me as well.

Still, what is a little embarrassment to a Christian? I jutted out my chin, reset the sails, and began to move off under wind-power once again. Plenty of time to recover my self-respect, I thought. Imagine my consternation, then, when after about a minute of sailing, I heard a bull horn crackling behind me with someone shouting: “Are you all right, skipper? Skipper, are you all set?” Looking over my shoulder, I saw the U. S. Coast Guard powering up behind to render possible emergency assistance!

A friend said all this reminded him of the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan (God) creates Narnia, including an odd little bird which, like all the animals, can talk. The bird says something ridiculous and all the other creatures laugh. Turning to Aslan, the bird says, “Oh, Aslan, have I made the first joke?” “No,” Aslan replies, “you are the first joke.” My friend says there is a moral here.

Personally, I don't get it.

If you enjoyed this vignette, you might enjoy a recreational discussion forum. Please let me know.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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