A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Quote unquote: boats vs. houses and other random writings

For all those in the business of designing, building, selling, maintaining and generally enjoying boats, a few thoughts on those things (mostly) pointy at one end and (mostly) square at the other, as summer swells and all thoughts turn to getting out on the water.

On boats vs. houses

“Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable, not the animal world, rooted and stationary. … The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.” — Arthur Ransome

“Suppose you took a house and tossed it in the air, then twisted it back and forth after it had slammed back in its original position, then tipped it from 30 to 40 degrees or even more from side to side and constantly pounded it with tons of force while propelling it through a resistant mass. And you repeated this torture at least once a month, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. How long would a house last before it collapsed.” — Ernest K. Gann

On quality

“Good work in the building of my vessel stood me always in good stead.” — Joshua Slocum

“For a schooner is in fact one of the most mechanically satisfactory, austere, unornamented engines ever invented by Man.” — Richard Hughes

“Never has a finer craft existed. Graceful were her lines, ever pleasing to the eye, because she was the embodiment of usefulness. Like a true masterpiece, she stood above the fickle taste of fashion. She was fast, and she was safe. She was an able boat. During the thirty-five years when she served as a pilot boat, surely many a ship’s crew and many a valuable cargo would have been lost if not for the staunch ability of this boat.” — Erling Tambs

“My boat was the best seaboat that ever sailed upon the sea. The reason of this was that her lines were of the right sort, belonging as they did to the day when England was England: And my boat was so English that if you had seen her in any foreign port you would have known at once that you had seen an English thing. But, indeed, nowadays, what with their boats made like spoons, and their boats made like table knives, and their boats made like tops, and their boats made like scoopers, and their boats made like half-boats, cut away in the middle, no one can tell whether the boat is Choctaw, Eskimo or Papuan. For boats have nowadays fallen into chaos, like everything else.” — Hilaire Belloc, circa 1951

On being there

“The ship tore on, leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a cannonball, missent, becomes a ploughshare and turns up the level field.” — Herman Melville

“We would cut a path just thirteen feet and nine inches across this ocean, like a meteor wandering through the solar system.” — Ray Kauffman

“Even now, with a thousand little voyages notched in my belt, I still feel a memorial chill on casting off, as the gulls jeer and the empty mainsail claps.” — E.B. White

On mystery

“To touch that bow is to rest one’s hand on the cosmic nose of things.” — Jack London

On common sense

“When you are in a crowded fairway at night, always give way; it is the only rule. And have the sense to behave as the lawyers do: Forget that there is such a thing as justice, let alone honor or pride.” — Hilaire Belloc

Comments

2 comments on “Quote unquote: boats vs. houses and other random writings

  1. Dudley Dawson

    Great selection, but as a naval architect, my favorite is in a 1781 letter from John Adams to Abigail:

    “I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

    Fittingly, my oldest son has a BFA in pottery.

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