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Sailing to Simplicity: Life Lessons Learned at Sea

Among the 30 brief incidents from a healthy, wise cruising life that Migael Scherer captures in this lovely little book—always instructive, sometimes profound, and a good candidate for both the bedside at home and the bunkside afloat—are the following:

She and her husband, in their ketch, are powering through a calm when on the opposite course old friends appear who "seemed to be in as much of a hurry as we were, motoring on a flat, pale blue sea." Both crews are eager to reach their destinations, yet they surprise themselves by stopping and rafting-up in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. "It was," she says, "as if we had discovered a magical, invisible island, a mirage created by the afternoon heat and light that had substance after all." They catch up on their friendship, and after a few hours cast off their lines and move on, a little amazed by what they have achieved so spontaneously. The point is summarized in a Zen aphorism appended to the end: "If we take our time, we'll achieve what we're seeking faster than if we hurry."

A longtime cruising sailor and liveaboard who also wrote A Cruising Guide to Puget Sound, Migael Scherer gently provides lessons about how to live healthily and happily on or off boats. She calls this a book about the Zen approach to sailing; yet people (like me) who are phobic about self-help books, and especially books with a veneer of Eastern wisdom, need not fear. Most of her stories and anecdotes, like the one described above, do very well on their own. She neither obscures nor scolds. Nor does she romanticize the sea and the boats. Her vessel drags anchor, runs aground, suffers lapses in judgment by her crew, has overly complicated fittings, and is knocked flat by wind gusts. The author wants us to understand that, to get out of such fixes, we must think clearly, be sensitive to the changing environment, and avoid aggression. She observes that in a building gale, "Something in the rising wind excites. It pushes you and, reflexively, you push back." But don't push back, she says. Give in a little and reef.

What she calls Zen thinking, I would call good seamanship. But she writes about it so well that I really don't mind what she calls it.

Sailing to Simplicity: Life Lessons Learned at Sea, Migael Scherer, International Marine/McGraw-Hill, Camden, ME, 2000. 169 pages, hardbound $17.95.


John Rousmaniere is offline  
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