It’s quieter and more eco-friendly, but sailing’s a lot of work to go nowhere fast.
By Elizabeth A. Ginns - October 2003
When I was five years old, my parents, avid powerboaters, were looking for something challenging and new to learn, so they decided to buy a sailboat. I don’t remember much about the experience apart from the fights they had with each other about all the work that was involved, and to this day they define their three months of sailboat ownership as an all-time low in their 32-year marriage. That traumatic summer left me with a skewed vision of wind-power craft and convinced me that powerboating was the only way of getting around on the water—an admittedly close-minded belief.
So I wasn’t exactly thrilled about being named one of the guinea pigs in this experiment. In fact, I tried three times to get out of it, but no dice. And I focused hard on keeping a positive attitude about it, but upon boarding the 41-foot Hunter sailboat at Key West’s Conch Harbor Marina and feeling seasick after three minutes onboard, the positive attitude was fading fast.
The motion of a sailboat, even at the dock, is different than that of a powerboat because of its lower center of gravity, tall masts, narrower hull design, and keel. At the dock, she rolls from side to side, a pretty sickening feeling if you’re not used to it. However, after setting off and raising the sails, I was amazed at the boat’s stability. Seas were about three to five feet, and it seemed to me that the sailboat rolled even less than the Mainship 430 that Charlie Doane was on.
Sailing is a lot of work, and there’s a whole lot of physics involved in making a sailboat move. So before we even left the dock, I had an hour-plus-long briefing from Capt. Vanessa Linsley of Florida Yacht Charters on the various points of sail. There are four of them, by the way, and you need to adjust your sails accordingly throughout any sail to make sure you are catching the wind most efficiently and thus getting all the speed—and I use that word advisedly—you can. This is a lot different than the get-on-and-go powerboating attitude I’m used to. You must always know the wind direction and position the sails accordingly, and you need some serious upper-body strength to raise and trim them. Even after the sails are up, you need to constantly fine-tune them for maximum performance. Little wonder that after I finally got underway, I was sweating like crazy.
My first sail to Sand Key, eight miles southwest of Key West Harbor, took me two hours. Every 20 minutes I looked behind me to see the progress I had made, and it was disenchanting; it was more like looking at the progress I hadn’t made. At an average speed of between 5 and 6 knots, a short-distance cruise takes basically all day, round-trip. Admittedly, had I had more experience, I probably could have gotten my speed up by an additional knot or two, in which case my cruise would only have taken me most of the day. I quickly learned that you don’t go anywhere fast on a sailboat. At least, in my experience.
But there is something engaging about sailing that I can’t say is true for powerboating. Since you don’t use the engines, it is extremely quiet, and all you hear is the water sloshing around along the boat, a peaceful sound; you can even hear the wakes “fizzle” as they dissolve. The quietness of sailing is, for me, hands-down its best feature. Furthermore, there’s something really satisfying about knowing that it is you working with nature and not the engine to make the boat move. It’s a feeling of self-sufficiency.
Along those lines, it’s also satisfying knowing that you can cover distance in a sailboat using little fuel. The Hunter I was on carries just 50 gallons of diesel and burns less than 1/2 gph. It is undeniably a “greener” way of cruising. In fact, while Doane was running circles around me in his Mainship, I said to myself, “Jeez, those diesels really do stink.”
The conclusion of my experience on the sailboat is two-fold. While I enjoy the quiet and working with nature, I don’t like spending an entire day to travel just 16 miles, and I don’t like having to constantly tweak things to go faster. I’ll never own a sailboat, but I can appreciate them in a way I never thought I could. But in the end, it seems it’s just a heck of a lot of work, to go nowhere fast.
Florida Yacht Charter and Sales Phone: (800) 537-0050. www.floridayacht.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.