I grew up on a farm in North central Kansas about as far from an ocean, river, or sailable lake as one can be. Mark Schraeder, who has sailed around the world alone twice and was race director of the single handed around the world sailboat race, the ‘94-95 BOC Challenge, grew up in neighboring Nebraska. He claims that the US Navy has the greatest per capita membership from there that any other state. Maybe growing up so far from the sea attracts one to it. As a child, the closest I came to waves were the fields of wheat blowing in the wind.
With a name like Paul Jones I am often asked if my name is John Paul Jones, the famous sailor. My father’s name was Paul John Jones. His grandfather was a farmer and came from England on a sailing ship. Our other ancestors were from Wales. Those countries have a rich sea faring tradition. To the best of my knowledge I am not related to the famous John Paul Jones, but you never know. I know of no ancestor who was a sailor, but I could be.
Kansas has a lot of wind. The Native American name for Kansas is the “Land of the South Wind”. I remember buying a small paperback book about learning to sail while I was in college and renting a Sun Fish at a small area man made lake. I sort of got the hang of it but only went a couple of times.
Eight years of dental school, private practice and specialty school intervened and distracted me from pursuing sailing. Once I started my specialty practice, I found I had plenty of time to read about sailing adventures and dream of learning to sail. I spent hours reading the authors Joshua Slocum, Sir Francis Chichester, Tristan Jones and Cruising World magazine. I was fascinated by their adventures. I was hooked and knew that some day I would learn to sail.
The next spring I took a Coast Guard Auxiliary learn to sail course and bought a 14 foot sloop. There was no turning back. For the next several years, I gradually improved my sailing skills and got progressively larger boats.
After spending 8 years sailing on Midwestern lakes, I was finally ready to try salt water and the BVI’s was the place I wanted to go. My wife and I signed up or a learn to bareboat course. To rent cruising a boat with out a crew (a bareboat) one needs some credentials. The class was a week on a 39 foot sloop with another couple and a captain in the BVI’s. Although I knew how to sail, he showed us how to cruise and live on a sailboat, how to anchor, pick up a mooring (permanent anchor attached to a float), raise and lower sails, tack, jibe, cook, dock, and maneuver a sailboat.
What a life changing experience. I was hooked. I loved to snorkel right from the boat on the beautiful coral reefs filled with a kaleidoscope of tropical fish. All you had to do was step off the boat and it was like swimming in an aquarium. The water and the air were at an ideal temperature. The culture in the Caribbean was a wonderful change of pace from life in modern America.
All that could be experienced while staying on land or on a power boat. Why then do to love to sail? I don’t really know all the answers. Can anyone say why they love a particular fine wine, a sport, their hobby? Sailing is part sport, part hobby and part life style. It is both a physical and a mental challenge.
To begin with, I love being out doors. I love fresh air, the sky, and being away from buildings and crowds. I also love water. Without it, life would be impossible. Being on, in, or near water relaxes me. I forget my worries and enjoy life much more when I am close to water. I enjoy the physical aspect of sailing. Just standing and moving about on a sailboat is exercise. I find it exhilarating to become one with the boat. To feel its motion through my bare feet is pleasurable. I like the sights of land and water from a boat. Sunsets and sun rises are somehow more inspiring when viewed from the deck of a sailboat. I enjoy the mental aspect of sailing. Trimming the sails, keeping up with navigation, maintaining the mechanical aspects of the boat are fun, mental exercises to me.
I love nature. The birds, animals, and marine life fascinates me. Sailboats are much more environmental friendly way to observe the creatures of the world. Animals are less intimidated by a sailing vessel. I am thrilled to watch a dolphin frolic in the bow wave and stare up at me as I stare back at him. Watching a whale broach, a sting ray fly through the air, a school of flying fish skim the waves, or a sea turtle surface near the boat gives me a special connection with the rest of the animal kingdom. Seeing a flock of ducks or geese take flight, watching giant pelicans soaring high above my mast, or spotting bald eagles nesting lets me marvel at the diversity and beauty of nature.
These events never fail to move me when I view them from a sailing vessel whether on the ocean or on a lake close to home. I love to watch pelicans dive for fish, schools of hundreds of small silver sides jump from the water in unison and reflect the sun light or jacks make gentle arcs as they jump. I remember waking up one morning aboard a boat on a Kansas lake and hearing a strange chirping sound on deck. I peeked out and saw nearly a hundred barn swallows perched wing to wing along the entire life lines on my boat. They sat undisturbed for several minutes before taking of for a days bug catching.
I also enjoy working with rather than against nature. You are getting an almost free ride. When you shut down the engine, you aren’t burning and fossil fuel and aren’t polluting the environment, yet you can get where you want to go. It is a very satisfying way to travel. Because you are forced to move slowly, you learn patience, perseverance, and persistence.
There is no greater expression of freedom to me than sailing. With a sailing vessel, there is no limit to where you can go. Humankind was born to roam. We have developed many ways to assist in going from one place to another. Traveling on a sailboat is by far my favorite way to go.