If you're a reader, if you're a thinker, if you're a sailor, read this book. You certainly don't have to like reading philosophy - and don't be put off by the fact that the editor is a professor of philosophy (but also a passionate sailor) - for this collection of 15 essays is written almost entirely by sailors, many of whom also happen to be good at thinking and writing.
Why do we love sailing so much, even when (or because?) it involves dangers and discomforts? What does the experience of sailing put us in touch with that we may otherwise not experience in our lives? How is sailing a spiritual, or aesthetic, or transcendent experience? How does sailing make us better, richer, more understanding people? These are just a few of the questions the writers of these essays think about. Or the biggest metaphysical question of all: what does it mean?
While a few of these essays may occasionally verge into abstractions, most are richly alive in ways that mirror the experience of sailing itself. You'll be captivated, you'll find yourself thinking "Yes that's just what I feel," and this reading experience, even if you don't learn anything "brand new" about sailing, will help enrich your consciousness of, and when, sailing.
Patrick Goold (editor)
Sailing - Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail
216 pages, soft cover
What It's About?
There's so much in this "little" book that any brief description will only fall short. The table of contents itself will reveal to you whether you need to read this book:
Part 1. Passing Through Pain and Fear in the Place of Perpetual Undulation
- Ships of Wood and Men of Iron: Voyaging the Old-Fashioned Way and Seeking Meaning in Adversity
- Winning Philosophy: Developing Patience, Inner Strength, and an Eye for the Good Lanes
- "Hard a'Lee": Why the Work of Sailing Can Be Great Fun
- Solo Sailing as Spiritual Practice: A Phenomenology of Master and Failure at Sea
Part 2. The Meaning of the Boat: Three Schools of Thought
- Buddha's Boat: The Practice of Zen in Sailing
- Freedom of the Seas: The Stoic Sailor
- Sailors of the Third Kind: Sailing and Self-Becoming in the Shadow of Heraclitus
Part 3. Beauty and Other Aesthetic Aspects of the Sailing Experience
- What the Race to Mackinac Means
- Sailing, Flow, and Fulfillment
- On the Crest of the Wave: The Sublime, Tempestuous, Graceful, and Existential Facets of Sailing
- Navigating What Is Valuable and Steering a Course in Pursuit of Happiness
Part 4. Physics and Metaphysics for the Philosophical Sailor
- Do You Have to Be (an) Einstein to Understand Sailing?
- Paradoxes of Sailing: The Physics of Sailing and the Import of Thought Experiments
- The Necessity of Sailing: Of Gods, Fate, and the Sea
- The Channel: An Old Drama by Which the Soul of a Healthy Man is Kept Alive
The 17 authors contributing to this collection include some notable sailing names like John Rousmaniere and Gary Jobson, the classic essayist Hilaire Belloc, and a wide range of other sailing writers as well as philosophers and academicians whoe bring formidable intellects to bear on the subject. While the style of some of the essays is a bit pedantic, in most the passion for sailing shines through. Who'd have thought that so many professors had sailed across oceans and cruised in their own boats? By the time you finish this book, it will seem perfectly natural that philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists (including Einstein) loved sailing - helping you better understand why you yourself do.
Why It's a Good Read
With so many riches to pick from, I'll describe just a couple of my favorite essays and offer brief passages that capture their flavor.
Steve Matthews, a medical ethicist by profession and windsurfer by avocation, writes about losing oneself in the "flow" experience of sailing and how that leads to a sense of self-fulfilment. He begins by quoting Csikszentmihalyi:
We have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like. This is what we mean by optimal experience. It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt - sails, hull, wind, and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor's veins.
Of course sailing is what life should be like - and Matthews explores why this is so.
The three authors of "On the Crest of the Wave" similarly explore how sailing can be a sublime experience, and not despite but because of one's complete immersion in the experience, including its dangers and discomforts:
"It's just awesome!" we gasp - words futilely try to express sailing's emotion that mixes admiration, respect, and intimidation. Even Slocum, a prosaically witty writer, cannot help but wax poetic: "During these days a feeling of awe crept over me - The ominous, the insignificant, the great, the small, the wonderful, the commonplace - all appeared before my mental vision in magical succession." Of course, sailing can be quite trying: sweltering heat, ice-numbing water, or the bone-jarring battering by waves; however, this is precisely what - after the fact - enhances the sublimity of the experience.
One more. In "The Necessity of Sailing," after explaining how humans' vision of the gods changed from the ancient Greeks to the modern Nietzsche, the authors conclude:
When Nietzsche snatches fate from the force of the sea and the will of the gods and places it in the hands of the individual, he makes contemplation and philosophy the way to freedom, not because they protect one from the shocks of adversity but because they can be used to forge a path through it. The gods have died, humans push forward in their small boats on a new quest, but the sea is still the same sea.
If you enjoy reading such passages, you'll love this book.
More reading for the avid sailor:
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.