Owner’s View: The benefits of patience

Aug 15, 2020 by Melvin Miller

Owner’s View: by Melvyn Miller

Far too many years ago, I was lying to a mooring in Scituate, Massachusetts, on a modest sloop. Not yet knowing the full extent of what I did not yet know, I decided to sail off the mooring, out the inlet, and thence to Marblehead, perhaps to achieve another racing victory. 

Raising the main, I noticed that an older captain on the next mooring was enjoying his first coffee while silently observing my actions. He observed that I walked forward to drop the mooring pennant, pushed the boom out to back the sloop off the mooring and bring the wind on one side, raised the jib, and gave a reasonable demonstration of singlehanded sailing as I made for the inlet.

Once outside the inlet I found that the North Atlantic did not agree with my sail plan, and it took some time to beat back, even with the ignominious use of my auxiliary engine, which I continued to use as I returned to the same mooring.

The old captain was still sitting in his cockpit. He waited until I had lowered my sails and then said, “Sail boats are for folks who have nowhere to go and plenty of time to get there.”

I had raced that sloop rather successfully, so my initial thought was that sailboats are for those who want to get to a turning buoy as fast as possible, but I soon realized he was talking about cruising, and not just on rag boats or even small power boats. Although a 45m is a wonderful floating condo for those who just wish to fly in to use the toys, those expensive engines imply the vessel is intended for the journey, not just the destination, and the journey can be miserable.

In all the decades since, whenever I discuss a sail plan with a captain, marina or guests, I always say “depending upon weather, especially sea state,” and I caution my less experienced fellow owners to do the same. I have found that convincing a captain that it is useful to make a delivery with 8-foot seas on the beam will eventually cause that condition on a leg with owners or guests aboard.

Even charter milk runs can encounter heavy seas, and seasick guests may not be generous. That old skipper would have us remember that cruising boats are for folks who understand the benefits of patience.

Melvyn Miller is an American yacht owner from the U.S. East Coast. He has owned and operated yachts for six decades and employed crew for more than 30 years. Comments on this column are welcome below.