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CLASSIC BOAT SEPTEMBER 2006

Editorial by Dan Houston

    We might need to be less aloof

    It’s not that you can’t have fun sailing a modern plastic yacht, it’s just that these old boats and old styles of boat seem to be more fun, especially when a few of them get together. I like to tell people that the trad boat rallies and classic regattas are the best-kept secret in sport – the media in general totally ignores us, doesn’t it? OK, there’s the odd programme on non-terrestrial or satellite television but it’s irrelevant to culture really and feels as remote as Pluto. I suspect that the rest of them feel that trad boating is so far off the ASDA/ASBO map that they would get accused of snobbery and poshism. It’s much safer, street and awright to carry on building football into a new religion. As for restoration and the heritage angle – to the mainstream mind that just gets lost in a caricature of Treasure Island- like proportions... “What do you mean you don’t all have wooden legs, eye patches and parrots? Why don’t you talk like a pirate and say ‘Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum’? Oh go on, sing us a sea shanty!”
    OK, so I’m exaggerating but even mainstream sailors can still mentally cross the road and pass on the other side when it comes to wooden boats and their owners. They either think we’re millionaires or that we are quirky folk in slow, leaky boats who don’t know the rules of racing and spend most of the year scraping and varnishing. Of course, we do all know someone like this, and when a boat has got down on her luck she needs a huge amount of care to bring her back. But after that the spring fit-out can be in the order of what Richard Sewell does with Thalassa (p22), with a 10-day programme of graft that isn’t so different from the glassfibre boat owner’s. And, as he so ably demonstrates, you can pretty well carry on like that indefinitely.
    I wonder if we can change this attitude, and I also wonder if we want to. After all, do we need a lot of newcomers coming in who don’t necessarily care about the traditions of boating? Well, sailing certainly needs new blood and there are always good, old boats in need of love and care. Taking a leaf from Thalassa’s log again, I think we should stretch out the hand of friendship and take sailing those who would otherwise never know the difference between beating to windward and whipping an end of rope.
    So we might possibly just need to change our own attitudes, to be a little less aloof with our boats and promote the right ideals of tradition and heritage into this sometimes fractured civilisation of ours. I was going out to a friend’s Beneteau recently where a wooden boat owner sharing the water taxi proclaimed loudly to his friends: “What an ugly boat!” We’d better steer clear of such ignoble attitudes if we ever want more general acceptance, and appreciation for what trad boating means.