Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What It's All About: A Sailing Poem

photo © Mark Butkus 2019
Sailing is the noblest and the best-compensated of all the arts.

No, you cannot find the world of waters in a motor boat.
You cannot help but find it in a sailboat,
for that world of water and sky, wind and tide,
is not only about you but part of you as well.
It is your motor as well as your resistance —
your safeguard as well as your enemy.

Of all man-made things
there is nothing so lovely as a sailboat.
It is a living thing with a soul and feelings —
responsive as a saddle horse, loyal as a dog,
and thoroughly downright decent.

Every sailboat hasa a character all its own.
No builder has ever succeeded in
turning out two boats exactly alike.
Their measurements may be identical,
but the difference is in their character.

Sailing boats are wise.
They display a sound shrewdness
born of the wind and the wave.
And they will impart that wisdom
to a sympathetic and attentive helmsman.

Yes, they are wise.
If you are mean or niggardly,
cowardly or slovenly,
selfish, overbearing or cruel,
rest assured your boat will find you out.

Yet in stress or storm of adversity,
no boat has ever failed to give her best
when called upon by her master.
It may be a poor best.
She may be old and rotten and leaking like a basket.
The odds against her may be overwhelming.
But she will always, always go gallantly into battle,
win through if possible, and, if not, die fighting.

To sail this glorious creature,
to be her master and her friend,
to enter with her into
the challenging, whimsical realm of the sea —
that is the noblest and the best-compensated
of all the arts.

For it gives so much that can never be bought by money.
Humility — and self confidence;
courage — and kindness;
strength — and gentleness;
these are the gifts to the sailor.


— H. A. Calahan


The above poem was not written as such by H. A. Calahan (1889-1965). It begins at the bottom of the first page of his Learning to Sail which was first published in 1932. Since then, 36 editions have been brought forward in no less than three languages. While the world of sailing has changed dramatically over the years, the words put forth by Calahan have remained timeless.

Calahan, a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, was the author of 11 books on sailing and a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island entitled Back to Treasure Island.






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