Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Curves
I was watching a TV show last night when a 50’ schooner sailed across my 55” screen. When she disappeared I caught myself exhaling. I don’t know that I ever realized before that a few sights always have me holding my breath, at least temporarily. That must be the origin of the saying about something “taking my breath away”.
It requires discipline for me to simply describe the boat as a schooner without burying it in adjectives trying to say what I feel when I see her. . .about her grace and beauty and the visions of high adventure she evokes.
Well, why does that happen? I started taking inventory of my experience with sailing vessels in general and schooners in particular.
From the time I was quite small I spent from a few weeks to a couple of months each Summer in Montclair, NJ with my Dad and Grandma. One of his favorite things to do with me and my siblings (Bro and Sis) was to visit local parks and sail the boat he had made in Junior High school. He had the boat rigged to steer herself in response to whatever wind there was. She (Victoria) was a sloop about 36” long with a tall mast and long bowsprit that gave her a lot more sail area than most pond sailers her size. He would usually tease some other enthusiast into a race, which Victoria always won.
There was one elderly gentleman who would bring his model of the Atlantic, a legendary record holding three-masted schooner. Another man brought a model of the racing yacht America, which changed the name of the 100 Guineas Cup to the America’s Cup in 1852. America was a two masted, gaff rigged schooner with enormous sail area. Those models were a lot bigger than Victoria and were pure joy to watch as they glided silently about on the pond. Being built to sail, those models were not as detailed as you would find in a display model like the ones in the iboats store. Those take my breath away, also.
As I grew older I wanted a boat of my own to sail in the pond at the park. Dad and I went through a lot of plans (he would not even consider a kit) and selected a pretty basic daysailer sloop which took me 2 summers to complete. I sailed her during my last summer before joining the Navy.
Two years later I found myself in Hawaii. I was often at the Kewalo Yacht Basin, which I used as my base camp for exploring the reefs off of Waikiki with snorkel and sling. Among the vessels slipped there was an island trading schooner that just reeked of adventure. Her new career was taking tourists out for moonlight cruises. I managed to put together enough dollars to go on one of those moonlight cruises on a night that there wasn’t much moon. I crawled out on the bowsprit and watched the plankton flash and glow as the vessels pressure wave hit them. I imagined myself sailing among the Solomon Islands spying on the Japanese during WWII.
In my travels about the world I encountered other sailing vessels, mostly when fishing. One that captured my heart was Orion. Orion was (is?) a trading schooner, much like the one I sailed on in Hawaii. She sat in Port Dania, FL, neglected and slowly decaying. She might make you think of a Rolls Royce rusting away in some rural farmyard. I passed her twice on every trip from my home at Treasure Cove on the Dania Cutoff Canal to Port Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale.
What is it about those vessels that captures my attention and enchants me so? I have given that question much thought and considered other sights, static and dynamic, that command my attention in hopes of finding things in common.
I found some: curves and proportions. Those are what make some sights. . .boats, cars, buildings and women. . .very attractive. Change the curves or the proportions and the magic goes away. Dynamic curves and proportions do the same thing. Think of fly casting, paths traced by ballerinas and gymnasts.
Those curves are not circular, they are parabolic or hyperbolic.
I think my reaction to these curves and proportions is genetic. I, like most men, am genetically programmed to be attracted to women with the right curves and proportions. Other things with the right curves and proportions are automatically just as attractive.
And that, my friends, is why we call our boats “she”.
(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)