Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Art of Boating. Attempts at a definition---by Trond Stokke

From time to time I will post articles and/or poetry written by guest authors on ‘A New Yorker in Oslo’. Today is one of those days. I am pleased to post the following article entitled The Art of Boating--Attempts at a definition, written by my husband Trond Stokke. He is and has been an avid boatman for many years, and we have spent a good many summers cruising the Oslo fjord and exploring the coastlines of Norway. I’ll let Trond tell you more about boating.

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The “art of boating” does not necessarily mean good seamanship or great navigation skills at sea, although these are large parts of the total package. It means more something like “having a good time and feeling good in your boat”. It’s advantageous to have your own boat, or to own one together with a friend, to fully develop this “art”. Lots of people think that it would be nice to be out in a boat on a nice and sunny summer afternoon. However, there is so much more to boating.

First, even in Norway, the season for boating lasts from March to November. If you have a boat with protective plates in the front to protect your hull from being cut in two by the ice (“ishud” or “ice-skin”), there are no restrictions if you want to go fishing in the middle of the winter. Just bring your sweater. Spring provides us with a number of nice and sunny days, excellent for boat trips. In the autumn, when it’s getting darker in the evening, you get to test your night sailing abilities, navigating by using the light houses, and in modern times, also by using a GPS.

Second, to master the “art”, you need to take thorough care of your “beauty”. Yes, your boat is not only a “she”, she’s also a beauty… (Sorry ladies, the boat could in principle be a “he”, but that’s not how it evolved.) If you don’t love your boat, sell it or get a new one! In the spring, you’ll need to sand it, paint it, lacquer it, water it, and put on the bottom paint before it’s afloat. Some years you may need to change planking, or a deck, or something that you didn’t know about till you’d bought the lady. (Most readers have now figured out that I’m the owner of an older wooden boat. However, much of the same goes for more modern glass fiber boats). This work, although sometimes physically tiresome, should not appear to be a bother. If it is, again, sell the boat! 

Third, enjoy being in the boat, whether it’s for repairs, or if you just want to hang around in the harbor. Sometimes you’re alone, and that feels pretty good! (I’ll come back to the fact that you need to be able to maneuver and take trips with your boat alone also.) Other times, some of your good mates will stick around, and often this could lead to get-togethers in one cabin or another, typically accompanied by a beer or an “anchor-drink”. Under such circumstances, you’re going to learn as many different ways of taking care of your boat as there are participants. It is well known that every captain has his own way of doing these things. God forbid that you use Epifanes lacquer instead of Benar, for example! These advices, though, are mostly given by the retired sailors sitting in the shade of the winter storage area in the spring before you put the boat on the water. If they don’t wear black captain’s caps and have long grey beards, forget about it… Seriously, you ought to figure out your own way eventually, or you will be entirely confused. For those of us who do not own a house with access to a garden or a sunny balcony, being in the boat is a great substitute even if you never leave the harbor. Likewise, if you don’t have a cottage at the seaside, your boat may serve this purpose, especially if it’s about 25 feet or larger and has berths. There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the waves hitting the hull.

Last, but not least, the art of boating is about how you master your boat at sea. This may look easy and relaxed when the skipper is experienced, but don’t get fooled! Behind every good and efficient move at sea, there are several disasters. The saying goes that there are two kinds of captains: the ones who’ve been on the rock, and the ones who will run their ship on the rock. I’ll use docking as the first example of “the art of boating” when you’re actually at sea. The skills required will of course be slightly different whether you have a sailboat or a motor boat. However, coming onto the pier will not be very different, although some tough guys in sailboats will lower the sail exactly at the right time when they take the final swing to align the boat correctly. Then the boat slides in to a perfect halt and the skipper can just fasten the ropes by leaning over the side of the boat. Since I have a motor boat, I’ll not be in the position to impress all the spectators in this way. (Yes, there are always a lot of people watching you when you’re docking. The more difficult, the more people will be around! Women get impressed if it works fine, men will verbally notify you if it goes wrong. In the latter case, your wife will also suddenly disappear and can later be found hiding in the cabin). However, what all of us need to do is to prepare beforehand. Fenders out, ropes ready and fastened on the boat, and clear roles for the crew. And remember that there is one captain on board, and his word is law. All such maneuvers are even more important to prepare for and master if you’re alone. That’s exactly why you need to train on your own. Docking is a small, but important part of boating. Most of us have seen, or experienced, lousy work at this stage. It’s simply embarrassing to need several attempts to reach land, and even more so if you have to give up.

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