Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sailing: Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail

Sailing: Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail
Edited by Patrick Goold; Forward by John Rousmaniere ISBN 978-0-470-67185-6
A Review by John Edward Harris

One of the many titles available in the Wiley-Blackwell Philosophy for Everyone series, Sailing: Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail offers philosophers real world application of philosophical principles and invites sailors to critically reflect on their sailing experience.  If you are a philosopher and want to learn about sailing, you could do better by taking a sailing class or reading an instructional book. If you sail and either have a philosophical bent or want a little help reflecting on your sailing experiences, this is the best book I know of.

I am both an amateur philosopher, having taught Introduction to Philosophy as Adjunct Faculty based on my M.Div., and an amateur cruiser, having completed ASA 101, 103 and owning and sailing a C&C 24 on New York’s Jamaica Bay.  As a sailor and a philosopher, I loved most of this book.

The fifteen chapters, divided into four parts, are written by either philosophers who sail or sailors who have critically reflected on sailing. In Part 1, PASSING THROUGH PAIN AND FEAR IN THE PLACE OF PERPETUAL UNDULATION, Jack Stillwaggon considers the Certo ergo sum dimension of sailing.  Gary Jobson provides a racer’s point of view. Crista Lebens draws primarily on Aristotle’s “eudaimonia” and phronesis to reflect on a typical day sailing.  In my favorite chapter, Richard Hutch applies Rudolf Otto’s idea of mysterium tremendum to ponder the spiritual dimension of sailing.

In Part 2, THE MEANING OF THE BOAT - THREE SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT, James Whitehill offers a reflection from a Zen point of view.  Gregory and Tod Basham’s chapter on The Stoic Sailor was my fourth favorite chapter.  I highlighted more text in it than any other chapter except one.   Steve Horrobin’s “Sailors of the Third Kind” was my third favorite chapter and the one in which I highlighted the most text.  In case there was any doubt, Horrobin convinced me that of the three types of sailors, I am the third kind.

In Part 3, BEAUTY AND OTHER AESTHETIC ASPECTS OF THE BEAUTY OF THE SAILING EXPERIENCE, Nicholas Hayes’ reflection on the Race to Mackinac left me a little cold because I am not a racer.  Steve Matthew’s chapter on Sailing, Flow, and Fulfillment, however, invited me to reflect on the “flow” I sometimes experience sailing as well as sea kayaking, even though he writes from the perspective of a sail boarder. My second favorite was Chapter 10, “On the Crest of the Wave: The Sublime, Tempestuous, Graceful, and Existential Facets of Sailing.”  In it, Jesus Ilundain-Agurruza, Luisa Gagliardini Graca, and Jode Angel Jauregui-Olaiz helped me understand why, for me, navigare necesse est.  Their chapter 10, along with Hutch’s Chapter 4, would have justified my purchasing this collection of essays.  In Chapter 11, Jesse Steinberg and Michael Stuckart consider what is “instrumentally valuable” and “intrinsically valuable” about sailing.

In Part 4, PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS FOR THE PHILOSOPHICAL SAILOR, Sebastian Kuhn’s chapter 12 considers the relativity of sailing. John D. Norton considers wind, apparent wind, and created wind in Chapter 13, a chapter that forced me to remember what I learned in high school about vectors, and in the Appendix contained more math than most would be comfortable with.  In Chapter 14, Tamar M. Rudavsky and Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody consider the gods, fate and the sea.  Hilaire Belloc’s Chapter 15 transforms a crossing of the English Channel into an archetype sail.

Because Sailing: Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail is a collection of essays rather than the work of one author, it can seem uneven.  While for some, its choppiness can be a challenge, it can also provide some excitement.  Sailors, from racers to cruisers, and sailboarders to blue water circumnavigators, will most likely find some wind for their sails in these pages and lead them to wonder if indeed the unexamined sail is not worth sailing.

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