The Joy Of Sailing And The Lessons Learned From It

”I must down to the seas again for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”

~John Masefield, poet laureate of the UK.

I was born inland, yet I had a passion for the ocean (or the sea as we called it) and boats as long as I can remember. Messing around with boats in ponds, lakes, rivers and was so much fun. When I married, my husband was a keen sailor and had a 26ft sailboat. He taught me to sail, and I took to it like a duck to water! Our every non-working moment was spent sailing on the TVA lakes in Tennessee and Kentucky – still inland. On winter weekends, we’d pore over charts, read books by such amazing sailing couples as the Hiscocks, the Pardeys and more. We decided we wanted to have a boat built and sail it around the world.

We plotted our routes. We drove up and down the East Coast looking at the boat yards owned by people who still built wooden boats. For those of you who have never done this, you don’t know what you’ve missed – and today it’s difficult to find builders of small wooden boats. One of the first things that you notice is the array of odors and sounds. Fresh cut sawdust, oil, diesel oil, salt water, fish, rotting seaweed. The slapping of water on hulls, harbor walls, the seagulls’ crying, the halyards making a symphony as they slap against masts. Just thinking about it takes me back a few years.

Eventually, having moved to England, we found just what we wanted – a naval architect who had designed some heavy, double-ended cruising cutters – and who owned half a boat yard. Alan Pape was a Cornish Pixie in the best sense of the term, he was small, stocky, with red cheeks and a wonderful sense of humor – and a fantastic boat designer.   We commissioned him to build a 40 ft. double ended cutter made from Iroko on Oak. Living in London, we traveled to Looe in Cornwall almost every weekend to follow her progress.   That was an experience in itself. Cornish people regard tourists as emmets (ants) and shower scorn on them. But we were there long enough and consistently enough for us to get to know each other, drink beer together in local pubs and eat pasties.

The boatyard was small, and with few builders, so we had to learn patience. We actually had a wonderful time practicing patience by driving around villages, looking at historic sites, and sampling and rating the best pasties – those from Fowey were outstanding. Patience was a virtue we came to realize we needed in England and on the Continent. We were used to working fast, and working long hours to get things done. Not so in Europe! We had to slow down to their pace, even though it was often frustrating.

Eventually, on a cold Saturday in March, we took delivery of our sailboat – Kantele – named for the harp made from a shark’s jaw, and played by the avatar Väinämöinen, in the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala. It was similar to Apollo’s harp in that when played, the whole world became peaceful. We “christened” Kantele with a case of Perrier Jouet champagne, and had a wonderful meal with all the boat builders and a few of my relatives.

We had made arrangements to rent a berth in the relatively new Brighton Marina in Sussex, south of London, and so, after making sure we had all the appropriate gear on board, and plenty of provisions, we motored (it was a very narrow river with a significant bar) out of the Looe river, and set sail for Plymouth, where we spent the night.   The following day we had hoped to make it to the Isle of Wight, but as we headed away from the coast and into a choppy sea, we realized we were taking on water. We had expected some, as the caulking was new and needed to take up water, but we began to get concerned, and so we turned back to land – and aimed for the River Dart. (We had made sure we had detailed charts and tide tables for the whole of the South Coast, plus Cruising Guide books to tell us about harbors and marinas.)

Once in Dartmouth, we contacted Alan and the boatyard, and they asked us if we could make it back to Plymouth. We had both a really heavy-duty manual bilge pump and an electric one, so we agreed to meet them in Plymouth. We had to return to London to work, so they took Kantele back to Looe. It was very embarrassing for them, and an interesting lesson for us. The problem was one small bronze screw that had been forgotten when the next plank above the garboard strake (the plank next to the keel) had been screwed in. It had been painted over with several coats of paint, which was why it didn’t leak immediately, but with the movement of the planks, the paint had come off, exposing a tiny screw hole.   From then on, we checked everything more carefully (or so we thought) until a problem arose several years’ later – but that’s for a later article!

That all ended well. We resumed our journey to Brighton and had a very nice berth in what was one of the best marinas on the South Coast with some of the best and cleanest showers and toilets. These are very important facilities when one lives on a boat.   We actually had a shower on board, but we had to heat the water for it, and we did have a “head” as well, but having unlimited hot, running water was a real pleasure.   The management and the staff were great!   We made friends with several of them, including one character, named Fred, whose wife ran an “off-licence” (a British term for a store that sold wine and beer) and who often brought us a bottle or two. As an aside, Kirk and I have always liked people – chatting with them, laughing and joking with them, and just enjoying them. We never did it for what we could receive in return, but it really pays to be nice – no complaints, no cussing or angry words – and life operates so much more smoothly. We also had very nice neighbors living aboard – an Australian couple. They caught fish and shared them with us, and we invited them for meals.

Yes, we lived aboard Kantele in Brighton. We had sold our house earlier, in order to pay for the boat. We gave away all our furniture and a lot of clothes. We kept a few small artifacts of value – a silver vase we received for our wedding that was small enough to have on board – and nice china and crystal – all of which had special built-in compartments. Our main indulgence was specially made shelves for books and music cassettes – and a high-quality radio and cassette player. We packed the rest of our valuables away in my mother’s loft, along with about 1,000 books.

One of our main rules for living aboard was never buy anything unless there was room for it. Or, if one of us wanted something for which there was no room, then we had to decide what to give away.   That “rule” has served us well – although we have been shocked at how much we have accumulated, despite it.

Over the course of the next few years, we worked hard to accumulate money for our round the world trip. We taught ourselves to repair sails, make carpentry repairs, and to maintain and repair marine diesel engines – all useful skills for sailing long distances. And we had fun – sailing across the English Channel and the North Sea as frequently as we could, considering our consultancy work.

The next couple of articles will cover what happened after that, and some difficult choices we had to make.


Christine MacNulty
Christine MacNulty
CHRISTINE MacNulty has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic -planning for concepts as well as organizations, futures studies, foresight, and technology forecasting, technology assessment and related areas, as well as socio-cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and the Services, NATO ACT, NATO NEC, the British Army’s Force Development & Training Command, and the German BBK. Prior to that her work was in the commercial arena where she had Fortune Global 500 clients. During the last thirty-five years Christine MacNulty has contributed methods and models for understanding social and cultural change through people’s values. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1989. She is the coauthor of two books: Industrial Applications of Technology Forecasting, Wiley, 1971 and Strategy with Passion – A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, August 2016. Her paper: “Method for minimizing the negative consequences of nth order effects in strategic communication actions and inactions” was published in NATO Defence Strategic Communications Journal, p 99, Winter 2015. Two monographs “Truth, Perception & Consequences” (2007) and “Transformation: From the Outside In or the Inside Out” (2008) were published by the Army War College. Perceptions, Values & Motivations in Cyberspace appeared in the IO Journal, 3rd Quarter, 2009, and The Value of Values for IO, SC & Intel was published in the August 2010 edition of the IO Journal.

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    • Hi Geoff and Lesley, We’re sorry you didn’t get to sail with us, too. I’ll get to that part of the story later! Good to hear from you.

  1. ”I must down to the seas again for the lonely sea and sky
    I left my vest and socks there – I wonder if they’re dry?

    … Spike Milligan – unofficial comic laureate …

    (sorry Christine – couldn’t resist) … thank-you for your article – the pasties in Looe are most excellent … even a grockle like me gets that!

    Attention to detail – you can never have enough!

  2. Sailing is often used to build team cohesion and trust. Even just sitting on the deck helps people bond — and some sales guys use this to close the deal. There is something strongly psychological being on a boat; surrounded by water.

    • It’s true! 🙂 We often used to hold small meetings in the cockpit, when the weather permitted, or the cabin.