More than 10 years ago Dan Spurr wrote the definitive first book for those thinking about becoming sailors. It had perhaps the best sales of all his books . . . and Dan has written many. It’s no surprise that he should republish this book as a new edition for a new generation of would-be sailors. What surprises me is that, in comparing the two books side-by-side, how much has been updated and changed from the first edition. I thought second editions were basically re-publications of the first with, possibly, a new foreword and cover. Perhaps a new chapter.
Not so. This book has been updated from stem to stern with new photos in many cases, additional boats, today’s prices for boats, new equipment and electronic gear that wasn’t around 10 years ago, and much more. Even the fonts and page design have changed.
What has stayed the same, however, is Dan’s great sense of humor and perspective about getting started as a sailor. In his own words, Dan says: “I wanted to address the primal fears first-timers may have and make it fun.” That he does. One by one, he ticks off the primal fears they may have with chapters on: what if the boat heels, what if it flips, what if I hit something, how do I know where I am, what if it gets dark, what if it gets foggy, what if the boat sinks, what if the wind stops blowing, what if the engine won’t start, and more.
To make it fun and overcome the panic new sailors might have about worst-case scenarios, Dan tells good stories about first-time sailors’ experiences . . . usually on himself: the first time he grounded, the first time he was caught out in the dark, a disorienting experience with fog, and so on. All’s well that ends well, and that’s the point of the stories. Even regarding sinking, he provides steps to keep in mind when in a sinking daysailer or a keelboat. But he starts with this advice: “The general rule is to stay with the boat . . . as long as it floats. Obviously, you don’t want to stay with your vessel if it’s heading toward the bottom.”
In addition to turning off the panic button, this book addresses in some depth the how-to of buying a new or used sailboat and the types of sailboats and sailing people do with these boats. He is also remarkably succinct and helpful when explaining how to sail your new boat, including raising sails, tying knots, navigating, and docking each in a brief and useful chapter.
Finally, he tells the truth that good old boaters know all too well regarding what this sailboat is going to cost in terms of time and money: loans, insurance, storage, additional gear, maintenance, and upgrades. At the end of this litany, Dan summarizes this way:
“‘My god,’ you cry. ‘Is there no end to it?!’
“In a word, no.
“‘Is this penchant for acquiring boat gear as compulsive as buying barbecues and patio furniture for my home?’
“But relax. It will give meaning to your life. Why? Because unlike your house, which is just a pile of concrete and two-by-fours rooted in the ground, your boat is a transcendent, extraspiritual, out-of-body, cosmic transporter that is going to transform your life. That’s why.”
And there you have sailing summed up neatly, thanks to Dan Spurr. I wish I had said that. If you know anyone who is contemplating sailing (in any of its many variations), buy him or her this book. Read it first if you like. You won’t regret it. Then stand back as a new sailor is created.
The folks at DiscoverBoating.com should be buying this book by the truckload and giving it away to anyone who shows even a glimmer of interest in sailing.