2017 was a disastrous sailing season for the boaters of the lower Great Lakes. At launch time in late April, the water was several feet higher than normal. Owners donned rubber boots to wade through several inches of water covering the docks just to get to their boats. Because they were under water, the docks were soon slick with algae, making the stroll to a boat perilous. Shore power was cut off because the electrics were under water. After a few of us experienced tingling while wading on the submerged service dock to step our masts, the crane was shut down and we worked to re-route the wiring to higher ground. Soon, every club on the lake was closed to visitors for safety considerations. Even for those who were determined to sail, there was no place to go. What is normally a six-month sailing season turned into two and a half months.
And so it was that some of us were sitting ashore on a pleasant evening discussing our plight when the accountant of the group started crunching numbers. He had been able to get out twice this season and sail for three hours each time. He tallied the cost of club fees, gasoline, and repairs. He amortized the purchase price of the boat over the number of years of ownership and included other expenses in the equation. He valued his time spent prepping his boat in the spring, putting away his cradle, rigging his mast, and other chores at $20.00 an hour. Then he announced that sailing had cost him $900 per hour in 2017. Looking around the group I saw the furled brows and constipated grimaces of those trying to do their own calculus.
I sat back with a smile and sipped my adult beverage. The cost of sailing had occurred to me, but I’d immediately dismissed it. To leave the dock, clear harbor, and bring her into the wind to raise the main, provokes a surge of anticipation that can’t possibly be translated into monetary value. To take her off the wind and feel the main fill with a breeze that snaps her to a heel and begins the rush of water along the hull, is a sense more invigorating than the scrawled debits and credits on some sheet of bookkeeping paper. To judge the power of the gale and still pull out that big Genoa and tighten it down so she’s taking the bone in her teeth and leaping from crest to crest at a steady seven, is something that can never be calculated in dollars and cents. And finally, to reach down and turn the key and silence the clatter of the engine…to hear the sound of sailing, the swishing of waves, the snapping of the sheets; the song of the wind through the sails…how could you ever put a price on that? That first sail of the season, late as it was, was worth whatever it cost in money, effort, and time spent waiting for the water level to fall. And every sail after was pure profit. Because for a sailor, there’s no cost to sailing, only the sense of lost time when you’re stranded ashore.