I have been taking a break from blogging, writing about Iraq and All That this past week in exchange for a much more enjoyable time working for a sailing examination off the south coast of the UK. But a few incidents and conversations with my fellow yachties got me thinking about some connections to this wonderful pastime and political stuff.
For starters, many nautical enthusiasts like me get into sailing because it embodies a form of freedom. For sure, there are thousands of complex rules operating at sea, many of which have accumulated like barnacles on the underside of a ship over the centuries, rather like the evolution of the rule of the English common law. And while they appear to be initially baffling, the rules of the High Seas make sense and actually liberate those who follow them. (Rules such as avoiding collisions and the use of navigation beacons, etc.)
Beyond such rules, what I like about sailing is that you have to obey and respect nature to master it. You are reliant on your own skills and knowledge and the voluntary co-operation of others in the same vessel. A skipper of a boat has and requires authority to operate a boat efficiently, but he or she cannot compel folk to be on the same boat in the first place.
Drawing big cultural implications out of all this has its limits, of course, but I cannot help feeling that those cultures most infected with the spirit of liberty have strong seafaring traditions. Sailing over long distances requires a natural spirit of enterprise. It requires skills and knowledge not best acquired at the point of a gun. It encourages the spread of language, particularly flexible languages like English. And seafaring folk have, in my experience, a robust, independent attitude towards life which sits well with the liberal outlook.
I spent a fair amount of money, not to mention a lot of energy, getting my sailing qualification ticket. I feel mighty pleased to know that I can now charter out a yacht in any part of the world’s oceans. That’s freedom.