By Ingrid Sapona
Maybe it’s because I write, but I’ve always been interested
in adages. You know, those old sayings that have been around, it seems, forever.
Because the general truth is usually pretty obvious (or uncontroversial), it’s
easy to trivialize adages and sayings. But, if you’re like me, every now and
then something happens in your own life that makes an adage come to life in a
way that vividly reminds you of the underlying wisdom. For example, if you’ve
ever pulled the one right (wrong?) thread on a machine-stitched hem, causing a
long stretch of it to come down before your eyes, you gained first-hand experience
of the adage “a stitch in time, saves nine”.
I recently spent a week sailing with some friends to ports I’d
never been to on Lake Ontario. Though I’ve sailed for a long time, this was the
longest cruise I’d ever taken. When you’re out on the water for hours on end,
it’s impossible not to reflect on sailing. As with most things, technology and
innovation has transformed sailing. We have conveniences that make sailing
safer and more pleasurable. Auto helm is an excellent example. Not only does it
free up your hands, it steers a straighter line than most skippers can for
One of the topics of conversation that seems inevitable when
you’re spending a week on a boat is the combination of courage and naïveté people
must have had hundreds of years ago to board a ship for the New World. I can’t
imagine the physical conditions of life on such a boat. I couldn’t help wrinkle
my nose at the smell of a leaf of lettuce or a piece of fruit that had started
to turn in our cooler. I don’t even want to think of what live animals on board
must have smelled like!
Besides comparing the physical conditions those on long
voyages endured, naturally there’s also the question of navigation. Thanks to
our GPS, we didn’t even need to uncover the boat’s compass. Imagine relying on
celestial navigation to cross oceans!
Modern day sailors have GPS that you can program to get you
from waypoint to waypoint, and there are charts and guides that tell you what buoys
to sail between and what on-shore landmarks to watch for as you approach a
harbour. Because some of the places we were sailing were known to have shallow
areas, we dutifully put on our depth sounder – something we normally only think
to put on if we’re approaching a marina we’re not familiar with.
Though we were never out of binocular view of the shore, we wouldn’t
have dreamt of setting out without a well-known reference book that covers all
the ports on the lake. It has great aerial shots of different clubs and marinas.
It also details what to look for (buoys and landmarks) and describes spots
where it’s shallow. That book became our bible, and there were many sections we
reread to make sure we knew where to pay particular attention.
But, the book was not a nautical chart. That became very
clear on day two, as we came upon what looked like outcroppings branching off a
few small islands that were not mentioned in the book. A nearby larger island
and the markings and depths around it were described in some detail, but not the
smaller ones. We confidently continued forward, figuring our trusty guide would
have mentioned any shoals or reasons not to proceed between the islands. We
also figured our depth sounder would have alerted us to shallow waters. And,
just to be safe, one person was on the bow, keeping an eye out for rocks ahead.
At about the time we noticed that our depth sounder had
stopped working, we felt a bit of a bump. Then, before we could hit reverse, we
felt a bit more of a jolt and we were stuck. Lucky for us, the bottom was kind
of soft. It took about an hour, and a bit of ingenuity, but we managed to get
the boat off the shoal.
We were never in any danger and the boat was not damaged,
which are really the only things that mattered. But, after more than a bit of blaming
the book for not mentioning the shallow water, we knew the fault was our own. The
book, however useful, isn’t a substitute for a navigational chart, which would have
provided enough details about the depth that even if our depth sounder had been
working, we clearly would not have gone that way.
When we were safely in deeper waters, I couldn’t help smile
about the fact that I now had first hand experience of what it means to be in
uncharted territory. Or at least of what can happen when you don’t have a chart, which (though it isn’t quite
the same in terms of responsibility) can lead to the same outcome!
You know, I have a feeling that if you live long enough you’ll
have first-hand experience of the wisdom of many adages…
© 2015 Ingrid Sapona