The Joy of Being Afloat
One day recently, I was feeling low of spirit and exhausted in body. Finding it difficult to say, “No”, to customers, I had taken on too much work and was paying a personal price.
Needing a change of scene, I headed down to the harbour with an Iain Oughtred Macgregor sailing canoe which I built for my own use many years ago. She is a thing of beauty – light, clinker planked, with a springy sheer and fine lines – guaranteed to make anyone feel a bit better.
On this outing I left the sailing rig behind and used a double-paddle in the kayak fashion. The boat is completely un-decked, with nothing to obstruct the paddler’s view of the sweep of planking as the little vessel slices through the chop. Added to the visual feast is the sound of the plank laps casting the waves aside, and the faint creak of pressure applied to the foot braces.
I paddled straight out of the harbour in the late afternoon, easily skirting the edge of the main channel, and the stream of large yachts entering harbour after the mid-week races. The occupants of the yachts took notice of the canoe’s shape, but to the grim-faced crews of the big powerboats, she seemed invisible.
Three nautical miles directly east of Manly lies Green Island, and it was to that alluring spot that I set my course. Steady exercise combined with the lively motion of the canoe worked its magic on my soul and by the time I spotted the sailing dinghy I was feeling pretty good.
Conditions were a bit lumpy and the sailing boat was reveling in the combination of wind and wave. Perched on the side deck, the single occupant was hiking out in the puffs, and playing the dinghy like a violin. This bloke (I won’t tell you who it was) sails more often than anyone else I know. The boat is about eight years old, and has been used continuously – in terms of value-for-money I can’t think of anything better.
The boat was a Green Island 15, and having sailed one of them myself on many occasions, I was fascinated by the view I received from my perch so close to the surface of the darkening sea. Initially the sailor was not aware of my presence, but I was able to see the smile on his face as he cut across the chop and went about repeatedly to take advantage of the wind. It was a visual feast.
By and by he became aware of the canoe in which I was resting, rising easily to the steepening slop. Bearing down on me he let loose the sheets and passed a few words about the weather (storms brewing in the south-west). We have known each other for many years, and there was no need for comment about why either one of us should be out there alone that late in the day.
My friend’s face was alive, and his eyes were shining with pleasure. This condition was not due to novelty, he having been out hundreds or thousands of times before. It was just the joy of being afloat in a simple, well-designed boat and sailing for fun.
After the sailing dinghy departed, I sat still in my canoe and let her drift with the wind and wave. Trying to think of absolutely nothing (some say that is easy!) I absorbed the sounds, motion, and feel of the bay. Then, when I had had my fill, I paddled back to the harbour in the gathering darkness.
It is amazing how much such a simple activity can change one’s state-of-mind. I was still very physically tired, but my mind was in a much better condition. The value of the boats we build is enormous, and yet they cost so little compared with the other things in life. As Larry Pardy said, “Go simple, go small – but go now”.