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Why We Like Boating

Copyright 1990 - 2011 Michael Kasten
 

At anchor in a small unlit bay on Lopez Island, Washington aboard the Schooner Emerald late on a Saturday night, summer 1995...

The stars are out. I've found no writing paper aboard, so I'm forced to write these notes on a Universal Plotting Sheet. It is my own ship, so I am forgiven.

From any place ashore, it can be difficult to imagine what we find so intriguing about boats. Is it simply conveyance on the water that we seek?

I don't think so.

It is not more, though... it is less!

What I mean is that, aboard the boats we use for pleasure we hope to find solace. When we're out on the water, we expect for example that the phone won't ring. No one can disturb us. At least no one from our everyday working life. We are unplugged. The pressures of having to produce one thing or another in our everyday lives are no longer at hand. Instead, we may indulge in our most favored activities...

Sitting in the companionway, surrounded by the warmth below, perhaps we pick up the binoculars and have a long leisurely look out at the night. In the distance, we may see shore lights or hear shore sounds. They're far away, though, and the sky is very present.

If we look more closely, late summer constellations emerge among the stars of the Milky Way. The Andromeda galaxy - our naked-eye visible "neighbor" galaxy - is much larger when viewed with binoculars, though still an unresolved fuzzy patch. What we see there is only just the nucleus. The far-reaching arms of the Andromeda galaxy are much too faint to observe directly, even with good binoculars. A spiral galaxy some 180,000 light years across, Andromeda is considered to be 1.5 times the size of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. If this is so, we cannot view Andromeda as being "our" neighbor - instead, we are hers...

In any case, as near as humankind can tell, Andromeda is similar in structure to the Milky Way. It is rather like looking into a vast mirror.

Unfathomably, Andromeda is a member of our "local" cluster of galaxies and even though 2.3 million light-years away, Andromeda is gravitationally bound to the Milky Way. In other words, the light striking our eye left Andromeda 2.3 million years ago, and has been traveling at nearly 671 million miles per hour since, or close to 5.9 trillion miles per year for 2.3 million years. Go figure...

Thus, we see Andromeda only as she was 2.3 million years ago, and we will have to wait a few million years hence to see what is happening there now.

Our local cluster of galaxies is just that - local. Scheisse... from what we can tell, there is not an end to space or to time no matter in which direction we look. How then can we presume to imagine that we have anything whatsoever of any significance to say about what we now see there, or here?

It is in places of this sort that the lights in the night sky become much closer than those ashore. Distance meaning little... presence meaning all.

These thoughts - and their kind - are only possible in the places where we have gone to be unplugged, such as on the water. This goes a long way toward explaining why we like boating.

Little else can adequately explain what would cause us to spend our life savings on a small vessel so that it may carry us on the water's surface, with luck to the edges of our imagining...

Is it freedom?

No. It is only a healthy distance from the familiar. When someone says "Mars" or "Milky Way," we ordinarily assume they're speaking of a candy bar. This is a measure of how deeply conditioned we are. Our everyday routine clouds our view.

When we journey beyond the familiar we step away from our automatic assumptions - both large and small. We see with new eyes, and we question more.

If one has come all this way for less, something substantial will have been missed.

Our vessels, whether sail or power and whether new or old, present us with the chance to participate in a larger view, not only of the world but of ourselves. This is the meaning of the word "recreation" i.e. to re-create our world view.

On the water, if we've chosen our vessel and its equipment wisely, we know that the phone won't ring and neither the "familiar" nor our everyday shore-side duties will be able to press themselves upon us too avidly.

Michael Kasten

Metal Boat Quarterly #4 - Fall 1995 Editorial - Updated 2003 & 2006

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