By G.D. MaxwellIf you spend any time around boats larger than, say, a canoe, one thing becomes painfully clear: Murphy was a sailor. Come to think of it, the first time I embarked on a canoe trip of longer than an hour, the canoe I was paddling, a serially-abused, oft-hammered Grumman aluminum workhorse, started leaking along the center seam. Being at that moment ‘of boats’ – a condition having nothing whatsoever to do with experience and everything to do with being at the mercy of the damn things to get you where you’re going – I improvised. I heated the hull with a camp stove, applied duct tape, let the whole thing cool down and launched it, fingers crossed. It worked; no leak… but then a seat broke.
It was Murphy who, of course, famously postulated what can go wrong will go wrong. On boats, what can go wrong will go wrong, often and repeatedly, and what can’t possibly go wrong will go fabulously wrong, defying, if necessary, the laws of physics, thermodynamics and, in a pinch, even gravity if necessary.
Sailors learn to roll with such punches like they learn to roll with the waves. Almost hourly around a marina you hear someone say something like, "I’ll be damned. I didn’t even know this boat had a framitz stabilizer let alone that it was broken." This is generally said to a guy who fixes boats for a living and who knows for a fact that having been lucky enough to be around the marina to take the call, he’s going to be able to afford to put his children through college. After a long and painful conversation, even the most reluctant boat owner will decide to fix –lots of time and money – or replace – even more time and money and the new one won’t be exactly like the old one, requiring extensive modifications that’ll cause a cascading failure of every device upstream and downstream – the damn framitz stabilizer.
Smart sailors, also referred to around marinas as ex-sailors, will say, "Sell this f*!#in’ boat before I torch it for the insurance." Boat insurance, quite understandably, contains a clause that simply assumes any fire that breaks out on a boat that can’t be traced back to clear evidence of deep frying fish and chips is a ‘suspect’ fire and coverage is excluded unless the boat owner can provide three eyewitnesses, two of whom belong to the clergy or an order of nuns, who will testify he didn’t set the fire himself… in which case they’ll call it an act of God and still refuse coverage.
For a pastime that keeps participants out of houses of worship and on their boat during both of the days generally recognized as Sabbath days, Saturday and Sunday, boating seems to invoke God or gods to a degree far greater than any other human endeavour most participants consider a quality leisure pursuit. I’m not referring to the oft-heard epithet, "I don’t know what compelled me to buy this goddamn boat!" I’m talking about invoking deities, both pagan and mainstream, in a hopeless attempt to ensure good weather, calm seas, safe passages, unbroken framitz stabilizers and eventual arrival at whatever destination weekend sailors thought they had a chance in hell at reaching when they set out.