The Five Stages of Sailing Grief

This morning I was reading some old Sailnet posts on depowering fractional rigs and stumbled on a thread on the MacGregor 26. Don't jump all over me just yet, this is not a trash the M26 rant per se. I have over the last few years noticed an interesting and understandable trend in sailing forums. And that is the rationalization of the qualities of our own choices. In some ways it reminds me of the five stages of grief introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These stages are:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
First off, I think that anyone who is truly interested in a exceptional sailing craft would agree that a MacGregor 26 has a number of intentional compromises that would exclude it from consideration if that was your choice. That doesn't mean that it wouldn't satisfy some people exceptionally well (and they have sold a bunch, so there you go). But I just don't see the sense in trying to argue about how well they actually do sail.

To me this seems like the denial stage. Knowing full well that they were buying a boat with some significant sailing limitations many M26 owners just bristle at hearing the fact repeated back to them. After a while these discussion turn a bit to anger and then bargaining by comparing their boat to an even lesser sailboats. Or by describing the incredible sailing feats that have been accomplished in the M26's.

I am not intentionally picking on the MacGregor 26. I find this same idea pervasive in many, many threads. Maybe it is getting standing headroom in a small boat and rationalizing how the design still maintains beauty. Or maybe rationalizing how you sail engineless except for a few short trip in an out of the bay.

The Buddhist have a concept call acknowledgment without guilt. Which I think is the ability to acknowledge something without feeling guilty or having to rationalize and defend you choice. I know it is human nature to be proud of our choices, but I think it could be healthier if we could add a little objectivity. Obviously everyone will think that objectivity is in the eye of the beholder. But I think not. To me rationalizing is looking back and objectivity is looking forward. By that I mean if I have to find a lesser boat to make make my choices seem okay, that seems like rationalization to me. It is far easier for me to look up to a high standard even if my choices fall short.

For instance, my standard for beauty on the Bolero project was Dennis Conner's restoration of the Q Class sailboat Cotton Blossum II.



Now I think Tim did an extraordinary job with Bolero.



And we did jokingly discuss the consequences (time and money) of pursuing a "Cotton Blossom type" renovation. But in the end you have to admit that as stunning as Bolero turned out she is not in the same league as Cotton Blossom. For me this is just giving credit where credit is due. It doesn't take anything away from Tim's work. And I certainly don't get offend by it or have to rationalize my choices and Tim's work by showing pictures of botched restorations.

But just because I have made this choice doesn't make it the best or right. And I have no intention to try to force my ways onto anyone else. What gets to me is when people try to rewrite the definitions to support their own choices. I am hopeful that we can get to the acceptance stage where we can see the great choices, the good choices and the poor choices and talk about them equally.