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Where do sailboats go to die?

Where do elephants go to die? Everyone’s heard about elephant graveyards, those places where elephants mysteriously go to die, but who has ever seen one? … Steiner says, “when death approaches, they want more earth, of which their skin is most akin, around them, so they withdraw into caves. This is similar to my supposition that the reasons dolphins beach themselves is that they are near death and want to die in contact with the earth”.
“From Elephants to Einstein, byRudolf Steiner”


 They’re not nearly as mysterious as elephants, but do aging sailboats seek to go back to the earth from whence they were built or the waters where they lived? We often see them resting on moorings, always appearing alone and uncared for, slowly fading. Perhaps they’re waiting for rot to settle in to their planking that will eventually lead to a soft place on the bottom – a temporary navigation hazard? Those that find a resting spot in a yard seem destined for a different and non-watery fate. Someone recently suggested a trip across the scales at the local landfill – a rather undignified end for a craft that freely and gracefully plied the open waters of the world. And why would we care?

            It was the congruence of a sailing forum comment about the disposition of sailboats that had exceeded their useful life, and my own imminent retirement that got me thinking (not in any morbid way) about mortality and the end of things. For those who love the water and boats that marry form and wind to move across it, I think most focus only on the pleasures of cruises and passages past and anticipation of the future. We don’t give much consideration about the inevitability of endings. Yet they can, and often do, put many present matters in sharper focus and with a new-found perspective.

            So, should there be some formal way to gracefully and suitably conclude the life of our boats? Surely we’ve all participated in a christening complete with a bottle of fine Champaign, and perhaps a renaming ceremony with all the correct appeals to Poseidon and other deities that we believe (or are told) may control our future travel safety. It’s at least interesting that these parallel ceremonies in our own lives. In any event, I could find no such terminal (such a harsh word) ceremony. If one Googles ‘boat burial’, the obvious is returned – -‘A ship burial or boat grave is a burial in which a ship or boat is used either as a container for the dead and the grave goods, or as a part of the grave goods itself.’ In which case, it is not the boat itself that we intend to sink. Does it imply that we must depart in order to take our boat with us?

            Perhaps what’s called for is a dignified ceremony at sea, or a wake depending on personal preferences. We could begin simply by welcoming everyone for the final interment (sinking) of our fine boat. “As we gather on this occasion it’s safe to say that our hearts go out to the skipper and crew, and all their friends and relatives who have sailed here today and to those who missed the weather window and could not”. Then we would follow with assorted eulogies recalling the many great days of perfect winds and following seas, and finally the tossing of wreaths into the waters. Or maybe a series of toasts and roasts would do recalling the fun days. Either way, it would be a much more poignant ending than a wrecking ball at the local landfill.

So, to my colleague on the sailing forum who recommended the landfill scales, I suggest more thought and imagination is due such an important passage and event in our lives, and that of our boats. There may well be some Poseidon-like deity out there who guides boats into the afterlife of perfect weather and calm seas – and who looks ill upon anyone who discards same without due reverence.

Penned on the Ides of March 2011

Published in Spinsheet May 2011




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