The Auxiliary Engine - Eric Hiscock

The following is an excerpt of the first four paragraphs of Chapter 21, The Auxiliary Engine, of Eric Hiscock's book "Cruising Under Sail", Second Edition 1965.

A reliable auxiliary engine enables a yacht to maintain a reasonable average speed in light winds and calms, and to enter or leave harbour under almost any conditions of wind and tide; it will assist her to get away from a lee shore, a tide race, or any other dangerous situation, and it will allow her cruising range to be extended with the certainty of being able to return to her home port at the desired time. If, then, we consider that the main objects of cruising are to visit a large number of places or cover many miles in the shortest possible time and with the least physical and mental effort, the engine must be regarded as an essential part of the cruising yacht’s equipment.

But, as I hope I have shown in previous chapters, much of the pleasure of cruising is to be had by getting the best possible performance out of the yacht under sail in all conditions, and by overcoming any difficulties that are met with by skillful seamanship. Certainly the cruises most worth reading about, and therefore most worth doing, are those which were undertaken by yachts without engines, or during which the engines were only used in calms when time was running short. The phrase ‘and so we had to start the engine’ has become a common place in the accounts of cruises one reads today, but in most of the instances mentioned the crew did not have to start the engine; they started it either because they had allowed the yacht to get into some awkward or dangerous situation which should have been avoided by good seamanship, or because the wind failed or came ahead or the tide was foul, and it obvious that the destination could not be reached under sail alone for some considerable time, perhaps not until after nightfall. Admittedly there are few people who would choose to lie and roll becalmed within sight of a peaceful haven in preference to running the engine for a short time; but in cruising, as in mountaineering (to which it is much akin) the easy way is not always the best, and I am convinced that those who so readily use their engines to save themselves trouble or to avoid every little difficulty with which they are confronted, fail to obtain the full pleasure and satisfaction from their sport.

From this it should not be assumed that I wish to disparage auxiliary engines. I have raised this matter because I know that many a cruising man is missing one of the most important points of cruising --- the feeling of achievement which can only be got by regarding the yacht purely as a sailing vessel and the engine merely as a form of insurance to get him back to his shore engagements when the wind fails, or for use in canals and small artificial harbours in which a yacht under sail alone cannot maneuver without some risk to herself and others. It is sometimes said that as sailing yachts used such places once they can do so today, and with greater ease because they are more handy; but when sail was the only form of motive power, the difficult places were generally provided with facilities which are now absent; warping buoys were placed where needed, and there were huffleers to take and make fast lines or give a tow; also the harbours were not so crowded then.

Valuable, therefore, as an auxiliary engine undoubtedly is, it is well to emphasize that it is not always essential; indeed, I would most strongly recommend the newcomer to the sport to spend at least his first season in a small yacht without one, for only in that way can he learn seamanship and self-reliance; he should, however, remember that the man who chooses to sail without an engine has no right to beg a tow, and only when in a real fix ought he to accept the offer of one.

Often times people ask me why I sail without an engine. Some want to know what I am trying to prove. And other think that it is unsafe. I think that Hiscock's take on this nails my feelings. I sail precisely because I enjoy the experience of sailing. The learning and the self reliance are an integral part of my passion for sailing. I have sailed on and off for years but I still haven't developed such expert sailing and seamanship skills that I wish to remove the experience of sailing by motoring. It is just my choice and I don't have anything to prove.

And I don't ask for or accept tows.