A happy-making read for armchair sailors


In June 2002, in this space, I described a day of clean up aboard the boat. My older son and I wanted to bend the sails on and hoist them, but spring for boat owners is a penitential moment. You have to pay the price for the disorganization you permitted at the end of the last season and the accumulated debris and neglect of years gone by.

“Sunday,” I wrote, “my older son and I spent the day cleaning up the boat. Most of the more demanding spring chores have been done. The engine has been commissioned, the oil and the filters changed. The bottom and topsides have been sanded and painted. Ninety percent of the varnish work is done. We did all that earlier in the spring. Actually, he did most of it. Now, we’ve put the sails aboard. We’re ready to go, really.

“But below, the cabin was filthy. Tools, paint pots, varnish, sandpaper, dust, spare line, fire extinguishers, emergency flares, life jackets: all strewn about. It seemed as if every drawer or locker was jammed with stuff that had come aboard important and had now become merely debris.”

I’ve made notes after lots of the sailing trips over the years. Doing so helps me keep track of who was along, where we went, what we saw, and the adventures we had. “I wished I had tied in a reef before we left the mooring” is an often repeated classic of the genre. Or, “Where did this sea come from. Nobody said anything about four foot rollers.” Or, “Of course the wind would quit just before the tide turns against us and just a couple of miles from West Chop.”

None of these seem like observations that would be rewarding upon review years later. But, when it comes to sailing, a lot of actual pleasure may be derived by readers from published accounts by actual sailors of their adventures. You don’t have to be in the cockpit with the storyteller.

And, this is especially true if the story describes places that the vicarious pleasure seeker has visited and circumstances similar to those he has experienced. I say actual pleasure, because memory, reflection, and reminiscence flush the reader’s brain with peptides, just as they did the writer’s, when he lived in the moment. There’s a palpable reward, even if it is secondhand. You didn’t have to be there.

If you had been there, you might have smiled.

I continued, “My son defers to me on certain matters of stowage. He says, Dad, do you think we really need to keep these containers of soup left over from the Maine trip two years ago?

“I say, Well, they’re probably still good. (Who am I kidding?)

Dad, lentil soup?

“I like lentil.

“… I can feel resistance growing in me, although I can’t think of a good reason to keep those stale, dehydrated soups.”

And, the conclusion – “Well, the point is, all in all it was a terrific day, the way most days are aboard small sailboats. The boy and I got a lot done, but not everything. Happily, chores remain.”

If you are a sailor, and you like reverie and being reminded of days you’ve spent under sail and in familiar anchorages here and there along the Southern New England coast, you’ll want to get a copy of Matthew Goldman’s Moon Wind at Large – Sailing Hither and Yon, Breakaway Books, Halcottsville, New York, 2012, $14.95, Paper.

In comfortable bite-size installments, Mr. Goldman, who titles himself Constant Waterman and sails out of Connecticut, cruises the coast in his 26-foot sloop and tells us about his adventures. If you’re lucky, his adventures will remind you of some of your own. His anchorages will be anchorages where you too have dropped your hook. And, most important, his experiences, mishaps included, will remind you of how much pleasure you had in your travels under sail.

It will be very hard to match either Mr. Goldman’s devotion to his avocation or his unrestrained delight. His prose is never more pedestrian than when he aspires to lyricism, but his enthusiasm, curiosity, good nature, commitment, and the sense of never ending rewards illuminate the tales. The pace is frustratingly brisk. There’s not a lot of reflection here, and Mr. Goldman, who has also written such guides as Landmarks You Must Visit in Southeast Connecticut, sails swiftly along with the wind abaft the beam from anchorage to anchorage, leaving readers who’ve enjoyed the same wind driven delights and happy stops along the way to fill in the blanks.

There is an edginess to the Constant Waterman’s observations. For instance, visiting Lake Tashmoo and Vineyard Haven, he writes about his wanderings ashore.

“You need to go to Edgartown or Oak Bluffs to buy your favorite libation, then go into the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven and have them decant it for you.

“The transition between these two steps calls for diplomacy. In order not to offend the parched abstainers you need to conceal your bottle in a shopping bag that displays the logo of the local hardware store. Then you nonchalantly enter the tavern whistling one of the many Temperance tunes in your repertoire. If you choose the table farthest from the door and hide behind your copy of the Vineyard Times, perhaps no one you know will see what you’re doing and you won’t have to slink home late at night by a back street. Be sure to hold your newspaper right side up.”