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Sailing, trading and liberty

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.

2 comments to Sailing, trading and liberty

  • I’m sure you’re right.

    England, Holland, the Venetian Republic, the Genoans (such as Columbus), the Athenians, the Phoenicians. I think Vasco da Gama was authentically Portuguese, but Spain only got interested in opening up the Western Passage when a Genoan sold them the idea.

    Then when they got there it was digging up gold and silver treasure that interested them a whole lot more than the grubby mercanitle effort of buying or selling or growing or making anything. It doesn’t really surprise me that a country named after silver (Argentina) has lurched from one economic and political disaster to another, and was only really a wealthy country for the period round 1900 when British investors funded its infrastructure and the British Empire provided a market for its meat products.

    I suppose the counterexample for sailing=free-thinking nations might be the dogged democrats of Schweiz, the Confederation Helvetica?

    Could that be why the Swiss finally decided to win a sailing event?

  • Byron

    Nice comment, from a fellow sailor. My own enjoyment of it comes from a few other aspects as well. On large boats especially, the power generated by the sail is palpable to me as it courses through the rigging and hull and moves the boat through the seas. Few things are more exhilarating. And racing is a physical and athletic chess match, there are few better feelings than sailing a perfect race, calling all wind shifts correctly, using your knowledge of the weather, sea, and wind effects to outmaneuver your opponents. Great sport.