Sailing and the ability to navigate

Ocean-crossing feats, including one where a man swam from Africa to Brazil towing a raft on which he slept at night, continue to amaze me. Another man crossed the Atlantic on a five-foot sailboat, and people routinely row across the Pacific.

These things, coupled with my own experiences sailing primitive sailboats and my study of history, have led me to believe that a true sailor cannot be enslaved. 

What must a sailor have to escape? The list is short — a decked boat, a mast, sail, compass, some food, and a jug of water. Food can be fished. A sapling makes a mast, a scrap of tarp can make a sail, and a cork and needle can serve as a compass.

The only hard-and-fast requirement is an ability to navigate, but navigation is navigation, and the smaller and slower the boat, the easier it is. Ninety percent of WorkBoat and readers could modify a small boat, outfit it, and take it to sea if they had to.

What kind of boat? It could be any kind of boat. Joshua Slocum, the first to sail around the world solo, did it in an oyster lugger. John Voss did it in a dugout canoe. During the German occupation of Poland in World War II, entire families escaped in punts and rowboats. Every dark night a flotilla of improvised sailboats crept out from the bays and estuaries of the beleaguered country to set sail for Sweden and freedom.

An escapee doesn’t have to face imminent peril. Many people you meet cruising say they’re escaping the rat race. And while under normal circumstances you might not choose to escape in a decked-over pirogue, people are now cruising on smaller boats, many of them under 30’.

Demographers say that yuppies that move their families for better jobs or better environments are “voting with their feet.” But those who can navigate are not fettered to such pedestrian flight. We can vote with the wind.

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About the author

Capt. Max Hardberger

Max Hardberger is a maritime attorney, flight instructor, writer, and maritime repo man. He has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1995. His memoir, Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters, was published by Broadway Books in 2010. He’s appeared on FOX, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio and the BBC, and has been the subject of articles in Fairplay Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire (UK), and the London Sunday Guardian.

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