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The Cerebral Sport

The pace of sailing on most craft invariably gives us time to be pensive.
We've all heard sailing described as a cerebral sport, but I've always wondered exactly what that meant. I don't like to remember such things, but what about those stormy passages when everyone on board felt either seasick or cold and wet? Those times when I was asking myself, 'What the heck kind of recreation is this, anyway?' I don't remember those times as being so smart or cerebral.

Of course I understand that the label is derived from the belief that sailing is a thinking-person's sport. But is this because sailors invariably have so much time on their hands when they're sailing? We all know that it takes forever to get anywhere when sailing, which leaves a lot of time to think about things.

Part of the answer comes from the fact that a sailor's mind works differently than, say, a tennis players mind. A sailor will get hung up on the silliest things that can slosh around within the cerebelum til he or she finds the solution. There are legions of sailor who routinely wake up in the middle of a deep sleep troubled by some nagging sailing question. A typical scenario goes like this:

Having the right gear and gadgetry is a simple extension of a sailor's yearning for more information and knowledge.
Your partner suddenly sits straight up in bed. "What the matter, dear?" you ask groggily.

"I just can't figure out why we weren't sailing better upwind that day last August when, remember, we had the halyard and the leads set exactly for the nine to 12.5-knot range. But our speed stunk. I just can't figure it out," they say.

"Go back to sleep, honey." You say, thinking why doesn't he or she just forget it?

But you know better. You know that sailors' lives involve quiet, never-ending quests for information, know-how, tips, and factoids. Put whatever label you want on thisI call it compulsive knowledge searchingbut certainly others in the watery world are aware of this quirk. I suspect that jet-skiers view sailors as just plain know-it-alls.

Sailors are the only people I know who actually can find the learning process as fulfilling as the actual doing. Take a fisherman for example. Would you ever find that person holed up in a windowless room for a weekend of learning how to put bait on the hook and how to cast properly? It's no exaggeration to say that sailors find a weekend of learning about sailing to be a profoundly satisfying experiencejust so it's not a weekend during the sailing season, of course.

Attend any boat show and you'll be treated to an ample offering of seminars and thought-provoking presentations.
This explains the overwhelming number of seminars available to those interested in any aspect of the sport. Go to even the smallest regional sailboat show and you're sure to find some expert off in a corner room somewhere telling an audience of captivated sailors how to handle some situation on the water. Minor and major sailboat shows are no longer just emporiums for new sailboats and flashy sailing gear, they are much more. Any sailboat show worth the price of its admission offers a full spectrum of lectures and seminars that are relevant, current, and non-commercial, and sailors expect this.

It's very much in keeping with sailors' insatiable thirst for expanding knowledge that what happens on the exhibit floor of a sailboat show these days is but a portion of the dynamic at these events. Boatshows brim with seminars running dawn to dusk. Show-hall seminar rooms are in constant turnover, with up to a dozen seminars going on simultaneously. Some shows run 50 to 75 seminars per day over four full days of the show.


Not every product born of sailors' thirst for knowledge is exemplary of the cerebral sport. 

What sailboat show organizers have figured out is what marketing consultant Pat Linn calls the sailor's "real hunger for knowledge." She explains that Safety-at-Sea seminars, so popular in the '80s and early '90s, tapped into sailors' concern for security. By following up on the friendly tradition of information flowing via word-of-mouth from sailor to sailor, those gatherings confirmed the need for a more organized method of dissemination. In much the same way that yacht clubs used to host travelog-type slide shows by members who wanted to share the experiences from their big cruise with fellow members, boatshow seminars are sharing the richness of the sport and feeding sailors' insatiable appetite for knowlege.

That sailors find themselves in a perpetual search for knowledge that can lead to enhanced sailing no doubt has a lot to do with the fundamental need to establish self-reliance. One thing is for sure: When sailors decide to buy something for their boat, they don't rush out and snatch it off the rack. Sailors will spend a surprising amount of time researching a product. Maybe this is why sailors are seen as tightwads by some purveyorsyou just don't find impulse buyers among this group.

Call this proclivity for knowledge one of the reasons why sailing is known as a cerebral sport. Its pretty clearsailors like to keep their minds churning as fast as the cups on their anemometers.

Suggested Reading:

The Human Factor by John Rousmaniere

Ten Lessons of Fitting Out by Micca Hutchins

The Third Essential by Don Casey

Buying Guide: Chart Plotters

Micca Hutchins is offline  
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