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The Joy of Being Unreasonable

It pays to ignore the accountants and uninitiated who say boating makes no sense.

It is particularly unfortunate that the two quotes most landlubbers know about boats are, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it,” and “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.”

This situation is lamentable for two reasons. First, the comments put a negative slant on boating. Second, they are so true.

There is simply no way that any self-respecting accountant could sharpen a pencil and make the numbers work out for boat owners.

Even the least-expensive boat is never going to appreciate in value, and it’s always going to require some investment. It might be something as insignificant as the fee for a launch ramp or the annual haul out to paint the bottom. Even the simple act of starting the engines reduces the life of those iron anchors. Depending on how fuel-hungry they are, the sound you hear might be anything from silver dollars to gold krugerrands falling from the exhaust.

Anyone who relies on an accountant’s ledger will fail to find the joy of boating. Boating is one of the last adventures available to most of us who live in a world of deadlines, traffic jams and constant strife. Your boat remains the dream at the end of the week, the escape between the Friday afternoon gridlock and the Monday morning business meeting. And for those who try to justify that all-too-brief interlude with neatly penciled numbers on lined green paper, well, I feel sorry for them.

Just being aboard your boat at the dock as it moves slightly on a bright summer morning, with the breeze still cool on the back of your neck and the sound of the docklines creaking gently, can be a soothing tonic that is literally priceless. I know that I can feel my tensions slip away, and I’m certainly not alone in those feelings.

Casting off the lines from shore always brings a lift to our spirits because you never really know what will happen. That very anticipation adds zest to boating and our lives. Set out on a highway journey, and you always have the nagging fear of traffic jams, accidents or construction delays. But as you stand at the wheel as the shoreline drops astern, you are in a world bounded only by water, wind and sky. What you find is completely unpredictable. Whether you’re crossing a lake or an ocean, you never know for sure what’s going to happen.

Perhaps you’ll find dolphins playing in your bow wave or simply enjoy the effortless gulls as they bank overhead. You might like the sound of bacon sizzling in the galley while anchored in a quiet cove, or you might prefer the power and surge of surfing down swells.

Part of this pleasure, of course, comes from the sacrifice of boat ownership that knows no logic in the accounting sense. The fact that you must spend money to indulge this passion only adds to the heady joys. Instead of bringing you back to practicality, the cost makes you savor it even more.

Perhaps an envious reporter simply misinterpreted the comment (“If you have to ask how much”) from onetime New York Yacht Club Commodore J. Pierpont Morgan, who might have been saying that if you don’t truly love boating, then you can’t afford it whatever the cost. The really dedicated sailor will forsake reality—mowing the lawn, washing the car, painting the eaves—in favor of freedom on the open sea.

Tony Robbins, the motivational guru, is not a boat owner, but he has an interesting comment that applies to boaters: “People should be unreasonable about their expectations.”

As he explains it: “Our culture is about sedation, about lowering your standards, about settling for what you have. It’s about sedating yourself with drugs or alcohol or food or TV. It’s about giving in to something less than you’re capable of being. That means a life of failure. Being unreasonable and setting a higher standard for themselves is really what I want people to do.”

Boat owners already know this, because they are doing something that is unreasonable by conventional accounting standards, and they’re finding their lives vastly improved because of it.

I have a friend who, after retiring on a budget and remarrying, found himself boatless. His Christmas letters and a few postcards in between talked of working on a dune buggy, fixing up the house and taking trips with his wife. Not a word about boats, and he sounded tired and old.

Recently, I got a letter from him saying that he’d found a battered old trawler that he could singlehand easily, and he’d talked the owner of a waterfront pub into giving him a free mooring so the boat would make the patrons’ view more interesting. The letter was vibrant and alive, full of planned adventures on his local waters. He was once again afloat on his own terms, and the years seemed to have fallen away from him.

I have always loved sports cars. I saved my money to buy a completely untrustworthy Porsche that I loved with a fine and pure passion. Like sailing, there was absolutely no rational justification for it. My parents’ cars were usually a sensible light brown, which didn’t show dirt or oxidation. The Porsche was flaming red. My parents’ cars were sedate and quiet. The Porsche was loud and blindingly fast, as a long string of tickets can attest.

My parents viewed me the same way that many landlubbers view boaters: as completely nuts. But I loved that car, and the many other sports cars that have followed, with a passion that is completely inexplicable to the uninitiated.

That’s the way it is with boating. If you try to justify it in your wallet, you’ll miss out with your heart.

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.