‘Twas on the 19th day of March, in the year sixteen-hundred and fifteen, with fog and plague adversely affecting visibility and the tide at half past the cockerel’s wattle, that the sailing yacht Serf’s Up was launched with a great deal of ceremony and throwing of things in the air. And while this initial sea trial suffered an inauspicious start – she ran hard aground and had to wait 200 years for the first working tug boat to be invented and pull her off – we nevertheless pay homage on the anniversary of this day as being particularly significant in the long and difficult battle for employment of those who cannot hold down a job.
On that very vessel the captain had previously been trained as a ‘Horseshoe-Thrower-and-Sharpener-of-Scissors’ (prior to the industrial revolution the second most popular trade, after only ‘Carrier-Of-Things’), as well as a draw-bridge operator, pub manager, dung burner, real estate agent, and wet nurse. None of the rest of that initial all-male crew (women weren’t allowed to see the ocean or use stairs in those times) had held a job for long enough to have to pack a lunch. Indeed, the three deckhands had been found that very morning aimlessly wandering the waterfront, uncertain of their plans for the day, or ensuing years. The record shows that none of the members of that deck crew had any experience in sailing but that they did have 21 fingers between the three of them, and all remained on the vessel long after it’s grounding and well into their retirement.
Little has changed in the four centuries since, with the modern day yacht crewmember often having tried numerous occupations, occasional military service, and – for those who can afford it – rehabilitation clinics prior to making their way to the yacht marinas of the world looking for work. And so it is in this spirit of ‘I’m Not Very Good At Staying Put, So Let’s Try A Job That Moves With Me’ that we celebrate today; the arbitrarily declared ‘400th Anniversary of Yachting’.
Worth considering is what the nearly 50,000 estimated yacht crew currently employed on the water would be doing had an industry not come along that allowed them to change locations, uniforms, phone numbers and lovers with greater frequency than their underwear. Clearly only so many people can sell ice cream out of bicycles, and in most places that’s seasonal anyway. No, the sad truth is many of these restless souls would have become pickpockets, dice-players and lorry drivers, adversely affecting the fabric of society in unseemly ways that even the heavily-armed police forces of today would have struggled to contend with.
To think nothing of the brokers, provisioners, dockmasters, strippers, chandlers, and storage facility owners who have come to rely on this industry for their bread and butter and jam and another serving of shelled pomegranate seeds please. They too would be without gainful employment, with the spin-off effects of this rippling through the economy to companies that make deck shoes, and crappy websites, and label makers. Without succumbing to hyperbole it would seem safe to say that without yachting we would have inevitably suffered an economic implosion and subsequently returned to the barter system.
So today, when you’ve knocked off (if employed), or finished pestering crew agents (if currently listed as ‘seeking’), raise a glass to the inaugural voyage of the inaugural yacht with her crew of itinerants who first found their way out to sea. Not to fish or transport goods or lob cannonballs and fire muskets at each other, but to polish things and see new places and occasionally annoy a wealthy person by not being able to procure perfection, despite having implied that they could. After all, without the pioneering work of this first yacht crew, 50,000 odd people would still today be wandering aimlessly on shore, where its considered a weakness, instead of at sea, where its considered a job requirement.