25 February 2012

Sailors and Grog

Sailors and grog have a long and distinguished relationship.  I am a died-in-the-wool sailor as far as this goes.  I like my grog and I see no reason to go teetotal, just because I am sitting comfortably in my saloon, with the boat underway, rather than at anchor.

On a recent passage of several days, I felt quite tense at the initial stages.  I had a tidal gate to negotiate, a tricky headland to round and what appeared to be in un-forecast increase in the wind.  I felt a little daunted, it was about 1800 hrs, around the time I usually have a pre-prandial glass of wine.  So I poured a pre-prandial glass of wine and even with the first sip felt a whole lot better.  It wasn't the alcohol so much as the normality of the situation that made everything seem less fraught.  I then cooked myself a really good meal, taking my usual care in its preparation, and drank another couple of glasses of wine while I cooked and ate. 

To be honest, I hadn't even considered whether or not I would drink on passage - I assumed that I would - but it did cross my mind, as I poured out another glass, that some would consider me irresponsible.  It is a concept that utterly bewilders me.  Here I am, pottering along at about 5 miles an hour, drinking moderately a gift of the gods that adds enormously to my pleasure in life.  And yet many of those who would be sucking their teeth and tut-tutting at the throught of drinking alcohol underway, wouldn't hesitate to down a bottle of beer or a glass of wine half an hour before getting into a car and hurtling down the road at a closing speed with another vehicle of some 120 mph.  And passing it within just a few feet.  That person might also be driving very much within the legal limits for blood alcohol and most people would consider these drivers to be responsible citizens.

I rarely drive, and when I do I am immensely conscious of the speed and velocity of the vehicle.  I am even more aware that a single glass of wine may slightly slow down my reactions.  On the water, miles from land, boat or anything else, there is no real reason why I shouldn't drink myself into oblivion, if I choose to do so.  When I'm coastal sailing, even half a bottle of wine is unlikely to impair my judgement so badly that I can't manoevre round a buoy or bring my boat to anchor within 20 yards of another vessel.  And yet so many people say, with nauseating piousness - "Oh, I sail a dry boat.  I completely refuse to have alcohol on board any boat I sail."  Well, bully for them.  But don't preach to me, mate: what was good enough for Admiral Cochrane is good enough for Missee Lee.