Today, most of our existence takes place in our minds. Our bodies seem little more than physical encumbrances. They require proper feeding, clothing, and cleaning, but we hardly exist in them anymore. I enjoy sailing because it forces me back into my body and treats me to a beautiful kinesthetic experience. It’s like a conversation where communication is physical. Wind hits: you feel the hull lift beneath you. You respond: hiking out, pressing the boat down with your weight. Waves strike: you’re thrown back and forth. You answer: torquing your upper body, lifting the bow over the crests.
– Kao Zi Chong, Commodore, UChicago Sailing Club
Trivia: Because sailing for pleasure started in yachts, the sport became known as Yachting. Today, the term Sailing is more commonly used since it covers all types and sizes of boats.
One of the most powerful attractions of sailing is its timelessness. Another is its simplicity. By learning the art of handling a boat under sail, you are continuing a practice that dates back thousands of years. The skills are essentially the same as those our ancestors used to explore the world. Yes, today’s boats are faster, safer, and more comfortable than those of our predecessors, and life afloat need not be a physical hardship, but the challenge of travelling under sail and the rewards of a safe arrival are little changed and still have few equals.
An ancient skill – our seafaring ancestors would probably be astonished at the idea of sailing solely for pleasure. For them it was simply the only way to explore, conquer, and trade with the rest of the world. For thousands of years, up until the invention of the steam engine, the use of sails was the only alternative to rowing and paddling. Now, while rowing and paddling are still essential skills and can be great fun in small doses, it’s easy to see why a very enlightened (or lazy) person had the idea of using a sail. In fact, lots of people seem to have had the same idea. All over the world, different types of sailing boats evolved to meet particular local needs. Whether the requirement was to carry cargo or people along rivers, across shallow seas or rough oceans, or to carry troops to invade the neighbors, individual solutions were devised. The successful ones proved their worth at sea and the rest showed where there was room for improvement. The builders and sailors who created and manned these craft developed the skills of design, seamanship, and navigation that stretch in an unbroken line to us today.
A sport was born – In the 16th and 17th centuries, Holland was the most powerful seafaring nation in the world, with a huge fleet of sailing ships that maintained the country’s trade links with Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. A particular type of small, light, and fast ship was known as a jaght, from the Dutch word jaghen, which means to pursue or chase. These ships were normally used for transportation and communication in Holland’s sheltered waters but, sometimes, their wealthy owners used them for pleasure sailing. In 1660, the English king, Charles II, was given a Dutch jaght and the words Yacht and Yachting entered the English language. A year later, English shipbuilders had taken up the challenge of improving the Dutch design. The Peu brothers presented the Catherine to King Charles and the Anne to his brother, the Duke of York.
Then, as now, boys and their new toys meant a race. In this case, a race down the River Thames from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. The King won this first recorded competition between two yachts, which was perhaps fortunate or he may have banned the sport before it began. By the early 19th century, the practice of yachting for pleasure and
competition was established among English gentlemen led by the Prince Regent, later to become George IV. From small, if royal, beginnings the idea of sailing for pleasure quickly spread overseas!
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