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Why I Don’t Sail Yachts

The word ‘yacht’ has always bothered me.

It’s simply too pretentious for my taste. When I go sailing, I don’t go to the yacht, I go to the boat, and there is a distinct difference. When I think of yachting, I imagine a Jay Gatsby-type character sipping  champagne and eating Grey Poupon. For some people that image is exactly what they’re looking for. On the other hand, my idea of a great day on the water could not be more different. There is no feeling quite like a boat sailing in its groove, heeling with the lee rail down, and handled by an adept crew. Truly sailing a boat is the art of creating a symbiotic relationship between yourself, your shipmates and the natural world. It is a feeling I constantly crave and that has in turn molded many of my most deeply-held values.

Stars & Stripes — or USA 11 from the 1992 America’s Cup — in the groove off Point Loma.
© 2020 Stars & Stripes

Living in such a developed and technologically advanced world makes it all too easy to adopt an anthropocentric mindset, which perceives humanity as an entity distinct from nature.

Sailing a boat quickly breaks down that attitude.

When I was first learning how to sail, my captain told me, “Sailing is a metaphor for life. Your success is not measured by what the sea gives you, but by what you choose to make of it.” As my experience on the water has grown, I have found this statement to be increasingly true. A sailor excels because of the frame of mind they choose to maintain. Those who leave the dock with an overcompensating ego and an attitude of dominance, defiance, and the idea that they know everything there is to know rarely find success on the water, at least not for long.

There is no feeling quite like that of a boat sailing in its groove, heeling with the lee rail down, and handled by an adept crew.
© 2020 Stars & Stripes

The harsh reality is that the natural forces of the Earth are always in command of the vessel. It doesn’t matter how much a sailor has thought out, planned, or prepared for a voyage, Mother Nature can always take control. Don’t try to overcome nature, because that’s a losing battle. Successful sailors, on the contrary, view the wind not as something to manipulate or exploit, but rather a force to work in harmony with. In reality, this seemingly negligible choice of viewpoint is a critical component in their triumph. Good sailors work with what they are given and make the best of it, and the result can be truly beautiful.

A pleasant day of not-yachting in Southern California.
© 2020 Stars & Stripes

Besides the pure satisfaction of moving a hull across the water’s surface, sailing affords me the ability to broaden my perspective of the world, how it works, and the role that humans should play in it. When sailing, I am readily reminded that the world is larger than myself, as the inherent value of other species becomes blatantly obvious. The dynamic nature of the ocean and wind reminds me that some things are simply out of my control, but I can choose to react responsibly.

Sailing with a crew reminds me that the divisions we place between people are often trivial, and that which unites us is more powerful. Setting sail and maintaining proper trim reminds me that effort is both necessary and a noble endeavor. In short, sailing a boat offers genuine experiences not accessible on land, while simultaneously presenting opportunities to grow and refine one’s personal character. Yachting, on the other hand, entirely misses the point. Engagement, teamwork and observation are far more virtuous and worthwhile.

Latitude Nation — As you may know by now, San Diego Bay was recently closed to recreational boating. We thank captain Andrew Naslund — who sent us this story a few weeks ago — for reminding us of better days both behind us and ahead.

We had originally said that Stars & Stripes USA-11 was sailed in the 1995 America’s Cup, which is incorrect. The vessel (don’t call her a yacht) was sailed in the 1992 Cup.


  1. Chuck Hawley 4 years ago

    I wish I could dredge up a lovely column written by the late Gary Mull on the term “yacht”. It was actually part of a defense of the old “US Yacht Racing Union” title that was the name of US Sailing Association, before this was changed, what, 30 years ago? In any case, the name change occurred while Gary was alive. As I recall, Gary felt that “yacht” was a fitting term for the type of vessel that USYRU members might own, and he defended the term “union” as being appropriate as well, both in its association with labor and the bond between individuals.

    What a wonderful guy who, like some other local naval architects, died way before his time.

  2. anneke dury 4 years ago

    Captain Naslund has one thing wrong and that is the meaning of the word “ yacht”: it designates a boat that is NOT used for commercial purposes ( So anything that is for private use is a yacht: your Laser, your Pywacket etc.

  3. Greg Clausen 4 years ago

    All yachts are boats but not all boats are yachts. I always heard that a yacht is classified as a pleasure boat and the others are working boats?

  4. Jose Kanusee 4 years ago

    Stars and Stripes is in San Diego Bay, runs out of Kona Kai Marina. As of last Friday (4/4) Port President Coniglio closed the bay to “recreational boating” (including kayaks, paddleboards and fishing). The same press release encourages and permits “walking, running or cycling” on bay promenades (as long as 6ft separation is maintained). Someone needs their head examined here as to how walking on the bayfront promenade is safer than me taking my boat out on the bay…

  5. Ibrahim Sargin 4 years ago

    Add to that the commodore titles as if the average yacht club is Lord Nelson’s Royal Navy and not basically a glorified shed with a bar. I remember seeing the images of yacht club visits from Maiden’s recent visit to California (, and thinking that despite their good intentions and hard work, a lot of people are not going sailing or joining yacht clubs, and it goes beyond income levels. If calling your yacht a boat makes it easier for you to get others out on the water, I’m all for it, although I think there’s a lot more to be done to make sailing a more equal activity.

  6. Robby Robinson 4 years ago

    Why was San Diego Bay restricted?? Certainly a singlehander or family could safely sail the bay without spreading the virus.

  7. Fran Stateler 4 years ago

    Right you are, Ibrahim.
    I think our humble Berkeley Yacht Club has members from diverse income levels and sailing abilities and is a very friendly place but it remains difficult to attract new members.

  8. Marc Lambros 4 years ago

    Both Chuck and Anneke are accurate. I got educated quickly on this distinction back in the Northeast years ago. Calling it a boat means it’s working and providing a living and service. Yachts are for pleasure. The problem occurs when sailors have no experience working on boats and get indoctrinated into stereotypes created by the many who have no experience, as with mentioning Gatsby. All those pictures are yachts, though I do crab off mine and will then call it a boat and call it a boat often, though, never a working boat a yacht as Greg states, as you will get thrown out in a fisherman’s bar for being a …
    The author brings up a serious point, how sailors with pleasure boats are just considered rich b.. in their yachts and hence the desire to avoid that term. It’s now accepted that public officials out in SF should denigrate yacht owners even though we know the vast majority are struggling working people, as any walk down a marina dock shows. The America’s Cup was that on steroids, that it left to Bermuda in my opinion. This attitude has led to a drop in yachting and the promotion of removing boat yards and storage for the building of condo developments in the SF Bay Area, ironic as the majority of the owners of these boats aren’t rich enough to buy those condos. The key is to get more people into yachting and promote it out West so that owning one isn’t a strike against you, but as normal as it’s back East, where the public likes yachts and boats and the government promotes them.

    • Nick Fraser 3 years ago

      The Captain of a vessel may always refer to his vessel as his “boat” even if it is a ship. Does not matter if it’s the Queen Mary, the Behemoth of the Seas or a Panamax. He is the only crew who can. Other crew refer to it as their “ship” if it is a ship (a ship being a vessel that can carry a boat)! This appears to be unwritten but nonetheless extant nautical etiquette which I have observed in 30 years of commercial sailing. Yacht, as I understand it comes from Dutch and referred to a boat that did not do work implying it was for pleasure. Nonetheless, a Captain of a yacht is afforded the privileges of the Captain of any vessel. As racing yachts take a great deal of leadership and skill to handle safely, I well understand the reluctance to be calling oneself a Yacht Captain. One is hardly less skilled or, for that matter, less responsible

  9. Walter Nath 4 years ago

    Awesome article Andrew. Having sailed with you I agree and feel like you do about USA 11, Stars and Stripes. It is a working boat as far as I’m concerned. Having been a commercial fisherman in my life I can say that raising that mainsail 115 feet above the water a few times is work. But it is a work of love. Love of being one with the sea.

  10. Suzanne Statler 4 years ago

    “Sailing is a metaphor for life. Your success is not measured by what the sea gives you, but by what you choose to make of it.” That was my takeaway from the article.
    But on the article headline – to me, the only time the word “yacht” sounds snooty is if someone uses Thurston Howell III’s accent when they say it.

  11. Capt. Ken Guyer 4 years ago

    Thank you for this Andrew, I like your perspective. USA-11 is and always will be a special boat for me. I had the privilege of being her chase boat driver for both the ’92 Cup Trials, which included the IACC Worlds, and her visit to New England for the Summer of ’92. Proud to have been a member of an incredible organization, Team Dennis Conner for ’92 trials, part of the ’95 and ’03 trials. Glad it is out on the bay reminding everyone of San Diego’s time in the spotlight of the America’s Cup.

  12. Grandpa Bill 4 years ago

    A fine and impressive birthday present, Andrew. Your words capture the mystery and awesome nature of what you have discovered about the sea, the boat, and your place in the midst of it all. I treasure you, and what you have become. God bless you.

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