Book Review: How to Sail A Boat, by Matt Vance

Having grown up in Taupo, people make assumptions cv_how_to_sail_a_boataround my upbringing. They ask how often I went skiing, if I enjoy fishing, and how much time was spent on boats out in the lake. The answers to these are very few times, no I don’t, and not much at all. The extent of my sailing knowledge is when I capsized the tiny boat I was sailing for the first time at Kawau Island on school camp at 12. And this remains the extent of my sailing knowledge, as author Matt Vance points out “If you are now aboard and quickly leading through these pages to find out how to tack your boat, you are in trouble.” Rather than teach the reader how to literally sail a boat, Vance has created a fundamental guide to the body and soul of sailing.

Divided into sections ranging from ‘I see the sea’, ‘A most dangerous book’, and ‘Solo’, the thirteenth edition to Awa Press’s Ginger Series does not disappoint. Vance uses stories of his own sailing experiences to take you deep in to his sailing mind and manages to create vivid images of the ocean, even when on land. “My favourite time to think about boats is during meetings.  When I’m asked to contribute I have to be careful not to blurt out ‘Lee-oh’ or ‘She’s dragging’ in case I get taken the wrong way.” He takes you below deck in ‘The Rat Effect’ to share in the less than pleasant experiences aboard Siward, where the theory that too many sailors aboard a boat “the rat effect takes over: past a certain critical density, rats in a cage go berserk.”

“Just occasionally you may find a boat that is the love of your life. It will have many things, but most of all it will have indefinable beauty.” Vance’s relationship with Siward could be compared to the courting of a fine woman from a very strict father, however, in this case the father still actually owned the yacht and Vance made constant attempts to buy her off him. Slowly he wore the owner down, being allowed privileges over the years, and his persistence eventually finally paid off with while the owner selling some of his soul to allow Vance to buy some of his back.
The section ‘Sailors’ was a particular favourite, giving an insight in to Vance’s views of the different types of sailors. There are, he explains, two types of mariners: tinkerers who enjoy working on their boats and engines but don’t enjoy sailing, and the small minority who have been “over the horizon”, which Vance clearly falls in to. On top of this, he notes that 90% of boats are rarely sailed, merely given maintenance every year or so, and the true sailors equate to about half of the remaining 10%. The section ends with the tale of a lovely couple (husband in white pants and wife in a sailor’s felt cap) declaring over chardonnay “Of course we wouldn’t keep our boat here. The cruising in Marlborough Sounds is far superior”. Deafening silence follows.

The book closes with a list of ‘Dangerous Books’ every budding sailor should read, and a very detailed glossary for all those readers who, like me, had no clue of the definition of some of Vance’s stunning words. There is no need to have an in-depth knowledge or sailing or boats to enjoy. This simple sentence sums up Vance’s life as a keen sailor and loving member of many families both related and not, and in itself is a succinct summary of this book: “‘Where’s your family?’ chirped the smallest. I pointed to the yacht. Heraclitus was right: some things had changed. I smiled. I wept.”

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

How to Sail a Boat
by Matt Vance
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781877551857