Birds of a Feather

by · November 23, 2009

We’ve noticed over the years that a remarkable number of our readers seem to share passions or professions, things that—on the surface anyway—seem unrelated to sailing and boats.

Early on we noticed a high percentage of our contributors were teachers or professors. We can see how teaching and small-boat sailing might complement each other. Sailors and teachers probably share a love of learning. Teachers have summer breaks for trailersailing and probably don’t make enough to own a mega-yacht, even if they wanted one.

A lot of you are pilots and engineers, and with the similarity in physics and the challenges involved this didn’t surprise us. You’re also a bright bunch.

What did surprise us a bit was discovering how many of you ride motorcycles. More than a few of you have mentioned a two-wheeled passion. Is it the freedom? The sensation of flying—the wind in your hair? As motorcycle legend Walt Healy is supposed to have said, “Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out the car window.” Maybe sailors know too?

Is it a coincidence that Bob Hicks, publisher of Messing About in Boats, is a die-hard bike racer who used to publish motorcycle magazines, and Bob Bitchin’, publisher of Lats & Atts, former life involved bikes and bikers that ran the gamut? We think not. So we shouldn’t have been surprised when regular contributor and Editor-at-Large, Larry Brown sent us excerpts from a new book he’s working on about the advantages and allure of motorcycles.

When we discussed all of this with Larry, he mentioned a related editorial he’d written for his regional newspaper column. We’ve pasted it below.—Eds


Something too huge to explain and too small to comment on…

A good life is full of passions.  I’ve been blessed with more passions than hours to pursue them all, which makes me a very lucky man.  Then, to balance the passions, you need quiet for reflection.  The shower is perfect for this… the heat pounds into your back;  a persistent hiss sets up a meditative dial-tone to blur the passing time.  I get at least half my newspaper columns right there where ideas rise up like steam into a mind blank from sleep.

So with summer coming up fast, this morning’s steam whispered of motorcycles and sailboats.  As passions go, these seem about as divergent as they can be, so I meditated on that… first alone, now with you.

If you want to grow up to be an old biker, the secret is to never let something even begin to happen that you don’t want.  I particularly don’t want to be run flat by some idiot driving an SUV while talking on the phone.  Black may project menace and gravitas but yellow gets seen, so I ride something red and wear something yellow. The reward for all this prudence is the sensation of flying in two dimensions.  And since there’s nothing dreamy about it, you’re absolutely present in the moment, which is another reward.

Whereas you drive the bike, in sailing, the boat takes you.  That doesn’t mean you’re not at the helm, but you can walk around in a boat, even lie down.  The first time I crossed Buzzard’s Bay almost 30 years ago, it was March… cold and blustery.  But I’d just gotten this 14 foot cabin sloop with a reputation for long passages. So I put some tea to boil on the gimbaled stove and snuggled into the windward berth for a nap, leaving Puffin (that was her name) to sail on her own with a balanced trim and a lashed tiller.  Tea takes a while with a can of Sterno beneath it, and I fell asleep before the whistle woke me up.  Sitting up, I watched the waves roll by my window and was happier than I’d been in a long time.

On a bike, you’re a hawk… on a boat, you’re a dolphin.  Big bike – or big boat –probably you can only afford to be one of these.  Small bike… small boat… and you get both.   Since I get over 80 miles per gallon on my bike, I fill up for about three bucks.  I’ve figured out how to ride through most of the winter (scooters are drier and warmer than cycles are) so now my primary vehicle has only two wheels.  Once I used to drive to work; now I fly.

When you’ve ridden to your destination, you get off.  When you’ve sailed to your destination, you just might want to stay right where you are – wherever that is.  You cook a dinner that would barely please a cub scout on land, but it’s delicious in a cockpit while the sun goes down.  If you’re lucky, your bladder gets you up in the middle of the night when the wind is still. The moon lays down a platinum trail across the water that a spirit could walk upon but not a man.  This, you realize, is what God is doing with the world when no one is looking.

If you’re lucky, someone you love is next to you and your two heads are sticking out the hatch to see it.  Either way, you take a deep breath and when you let it out, your whole soul pours out like smoke, across water, up the slopes of distant hills and away.  Then, in an instant, it snaps back inside your body like a rubber band, leaving you stunned and silent – knowing something too huge to explain and too small to mention has just happened to you, and changed you for the better.
Lawrence Brown of Hyannis teaches humanities at Cape Cod Academy in Osterville.  His column appears every Friday.  Reach him at 508-771-5096.

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