Into the wind
I have recently joined the ranks of the sailing crowd, with the purchase of my first sailboat. It is something that I have been planning for more than thirty years and finally I have taken the plunge, figuratively, not literally. The day of the final transaction, when the boat became mine, was, I was reminded by Silver Donald Cameron, one of the two happiest days of a sailor’s life. The other happy day, of course, is when he sells the boat! Thank you Silver Donald!
When I look at the wonder and marvel that is a modern sailing vessel, I cannot help but see the fantastic history that is wrapped in this amazing vessel. It is a wonder to me that more people do not become mesmerized by the simplicity of the ceaseless wind, how the breezes and zephyrs we take for granted, that rustle the autumn leaves, also powered the great ages of exploration from Europe, Asia and Africa, allowed the settling of the Pacific Islands and are part of almost every peoples of the world.
When the age of fossil fuels dawned some 200 years ago, it slowly strangled the great sailing traditions and tall ships became but an anachronistic euphemism for an outdated time. But out of the ashes, quite literally, a new age of wind is dawning. The movement of air, the wind, has within it the possibility to change the way we move our goods on this world. Imagine if we began to see sailing ships as not only a recreation, but as a mode of transport for people and goods. Quiet, non polluting and elegantly plying the waters, modern sailing ships could employ the latest polyfibres and incorporate the latest computerized programmes to squeeze every erg out of the endless wind. We could embrace the past and revitalize local and regional economies. In harbour, ships with sails and wind turbine blades could become power generators and bring electricity to any port the visited, selling the wind as it were.
Its not hard to see how trading a bit of time for the cost of pollution and fuel could make good economic sense. Our old economic engines have always treated the world as a dumping ground for our unwanted refuse. We never consider the exhausts of our gas, diesel and coal engine to have a cost. But they do have a cost and in the coming decades we will have to include that in the price of everything we produce. If we choose to invoke a cradle to grave economic system, where the cost of returning our garbage and pollution to a benign state is factored into our goods and if that is passed on to business and business is held accountable for effluent it produces, then perhaps a sailing vessel could again be competitive. If we could see past the “just in time” delivery systems, slow down a bit, we could quite literally have a return to a modern generation of tall ships.
When I sail out of the harbour, the wind in my face, I can’t help but wish for a return to wind powered sailing ships of every type. Instead of the steel, smoke belching behemoths that clog our ports, I envision a slower, but no less efficient pace powered by the never ending wind. I wonder how long it will take before what was old is new again?
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