Ahh, summer…there is nothing more inspiring than the majestic beauty of a sailboat sailing offshore, making its way into a welcoming harbor filled with beautiful white boats on a sunset-splashed summer evening.
It brings forth dreams of heroic adventures on the high seas and imaginings of far-away paradisiacal places with “palm-green shores” and ancient ports with cargo ships unloading their treasures of “emeralds, amethysts, topazes, cinnamon, and gold moidores” (as John Masefield describes in his poem “Cargoes”), all bathed in the magical golden hues of summer.
The idea of sailing is the ultimate romantic longing – glistening waters, brilliant sunsets, and a solitude that drenches the soul in the wonder, mystery and power of the natural world.
But, as I learned in a recent sailing adventure – with a departure date that was pushed back by the winds and rain of a tropical storm, adding an unexpected dramatic element – sailing is a lot of work. Both physically and mentally demanding, it takes a steady, patient and experienced captain to trim the sails, chart the course and navigate the changing winds and swelling waters.
The quotes below speak to man’s instinctive longing for All Things Nautical and to his adventurous spirit, as Herman Melville once wrote, to “sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” They also celebrate the skill of sailors who bravely captain their boats safely through the storm and calm of unpredictable seas.
As Nicholas Monsarrat* once wrote: “Sailors with their built in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world.”
1. “Never in my life before have I experienced such beauty, and fear at the same time.” –Llen MacArthur, Sailor
2. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” –William Arthur Ward
3. “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weathered every rock, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.” –Walt Whitman
4. “To insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for good seamanship, self-reliance, and sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer.” –Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
5. “That’s what a ship is, you know – it’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is…really is, is freedom.” –Captain Jack Sparrow
The next three quotes are taken from The Sea and the Wind that Blows, Essays of E.B. White, 1934:
6. “Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats – usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sail.”
7. “Men who ache all over for tidiness and compactness in their lives often find relief for their pain in the cabin of a thirty-foot sailboat at anchor in a sheltered cove. Here the sprawling panoply of the home is compressed in orderly miniature and liquid delirium, suspended between the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky, ready to move on in the morning by the miracle of canvas and the witchcraft of rope. It is small wonder that men hold boats in the secret place of their mind, almost from the cradle to the grave.”
8. “If a man be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble. If it happens to be an auxiliary cruising boat, it is without question the most compact and ingenious arrangement for living ever devised by the restless mind of man – a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than like a fish or a bird or a girl, and in which the homeowner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to take them close-hauled or running free – parlor, bedroom, and bath, suspended and alive.”
9. “Sometimes we are lucky enough to know our lives have been changed, to discard the old and embrace the new and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me…on that summer’s day when my eyes were opened to the sea.” –Jacques Yves-Cousteau
10. “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.” –John F. Kennedy, Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962
11. “Confronting a storm is like fighting God. All the powers in the universe seem to be against you and, in an extraordinary way, your irrelevance is at the same time both humbling and exalting.” –Francois LeGrande
12. “I kept moving along the deck, backward and forward,
until the waves ripped the sides from her keel and left it
bare, and they snapped the mast from its socket; it shattered
against the keel, but there was a leather backstay
still hanging upon it. I took it and used it to lash
the keel and the mast together, and sitting astride them
I was carried along on the waves by the furious winds.” –Homer, The Odyssey
13. “The planning stage of a cruise is often just as enjoyable as the voyage itself, letting one’s imagination loose on all kinds of possibilities. Yet translating dreams into reality means a lot of practical questions have to be answered.” –Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Handbook
14. “There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath…” –Herman Melville
15. “Any fool can carry on, but a wise man knows how to shorten sail in time.” –Joseph Conrad
16. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” –Old Norwegian Adage
17. “My soul is full of longing, for the secret of the Sea, and the heart of the great ocean, sends a thrilling pulse through me.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
18. “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” –Willa Cather
19. “Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick
20. “There are three sorts of people; those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.” –Old Capstan Chantey attributed to Anacharsis, 6th Century BC
21. “You can sit here in my cockpit and argue philosophy, politics or religion all week long and in the end it doesn’t matter. None of it matters a whit. What matters, what really matters, is that we sailed today and now we sit here with a full belly, a drink in our hands and friends to share it with. And Life is good, this I know.” –Tim Fuhrmann, Sailor
- “This is the Sea” by the Waterboys from the 1985 album
- “I am Sailing” by Rod Stewart from his album Atlantic Crossing 1975
- “Catch the Wind” by Donovan from the album What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, 1965
- “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison from his album Moondance, 1970
- “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young from the album Daylight Again, 1982
*Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979) was a British novelist known for his sea-faring stories, especially his novel The Cruel Sea, which, as Goodreads describes, tells “the story of the British ships Compass Rose and Saltash and of their desperate cat-and-mouse game with Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic during World War II. First published to great acclaim in 1951, The Cruel Sea remains a classic novel of endurance.”