Thought for the Day: Comfort vs Sensation

“What  stops so many would-be sailors nowadays owning such craft [i.e. a  Viking-style ship], is that their perceptions have been warped by modern  urban living and the expectations of urban living. Modern urban man  travels in his sealed luxury ‘car pod’ to his/her centrally heated  office, then back to a centrally heated, carpeted floor house. For  exercise he/she joins an expensive gym, where he/she runs on a treadmill  like a hamster or a 19th century convict. All the time protected from  the wind, the rain and the sun. The Vikings protected their bodies  comfortably from cold and wet with wool and oiled leather. We have  yachting clothing today which is as good. So we have the small boat  design, we have the protective clothing. All we need now to have a new  renaissance in modern sailing man, is to drop the comfort perceptions of  urban city man.”




I came across this while reading about boat building. In the last 25 years I have built a number of wooden boats from a 7’6″ kayak for my nephews when they were little, to a 29′ Bolger sharpie. If I couldn’t build airplanes, I would build boats.


There is a lot of common ground between the two. Historically you find a lot of aviators also spent time on the water. The quote above holds true with planes. Flying in light planes is a cornucopia of sensory input that you don’t get in modern cars; sounds, bumps, smells wind, tactile feel on the controls. For those who like the sensations of reality, it is rich pay dirt. For those that seek comfort to the point of anesthesia,  light planes are an exercise in discomfort and frustration.


I have noticed how wide this gulf in experience is for many new young people getting a first flight in a light plane. Many people who are under 40 have never ridden in far less driven or owned a car that you could hear the engine in while driving down the road. My youth was spent joyously putting headers on V-8 cars and savoring the sound. I welcome the sound of aircraft engines as the herald of power. The acrid smell of burning rubber automatically makes my heart pound. I am not taken back by the typical aircraft flight experience, I like the idea that it is a sensory load, all reminding me that I am working with a machine.


Conversely, the people who grew up driving in a “sealed luxury ‘car pod’ , often find the initial exposure to the sound, vibration, smells and visible mechanical  systems daunting and foreign, and it greatly heightens their sense of fear. The cars these people know are appliances, not machines.


This observation has a more important function that sorting people who loved Mötley Crüe’s song Kickstart My Heart from people who love their Toyota Prius. I am of the opinion that new pilots are better off being constantly reminded they are in a responsive, and occasionally unforgiving machine, very different than the appliance they drove to the airport. Yesterday Dan Weseman remarked if all new pilots were at least required to solo a 7AC Champ, they would know what a rudder was and understand that all of the most rewarding planes to fly require the pilot to be an active participant. This is a particularly important revelation for people who grew up thinking that the word ‘crash’ was invented to describe a computer malfunction. Heightened awareness is critical element in being in control of your environment, and that is what flying is all about.




Sound check: Other General motors products brought to you by the same people who engineered your Corvair motor:

572 cid blown Big Block Chevy burnout in a ’57 Bel Air:

Rare 12 cylinder blown and turbocharged Detroit 12V-53, (Detroit was a GM division, yes it is 2 stroke diesel):

Two Allison V-1710’s on a P-38, (Allison was a GM division)





Above in our driveway, 2011: I stand beside my mentor in flying, Chuck Nelson. In the foreground is the 15 foot lapstrake double-ended sailboat we built. Over coffee a couple of years ago, Chuck casually said that he had actually done just about everything he ever wanted to do in life. And in Chuck’s case this is a long list of adventures, the centerpiece of which is an incredible array of experiences in flying. I was concerned that there were no more items on his “bucket list” to check. After I pressed him for a while, he confessed that he had always wanted to build a sailboat. He had owned plenty of them, lived on one for years, and cruised for months at a time, but he had never built one. The boat above is the result of several years of working one morning a week or so. I qualify the term “working” because this time included a whole lot of coffee drinking at the kitchen table, a lot of plinking in our backyard range, flying around in the Taylorcraft in good weather, messing around with sailplanes, and general screwing around. Quality time well spent, with something nice to show for it in the end.


11 Replies to “Thought for the Day: Comfort vs Sensation”

  1. WW, I had a sensory overload this week bicycle riding with a retired vet. We (three) rode our bicycles 76 miles to commemorate his years on earth, he turned 76 years old. We did this on Black Friday in Michigan and it was 20 degrees. We got back after dark in a snow storm, but we made all the miles. Vikings beware…..

  2. Nice. If you haven’t already, check out Bartender Boats. I have an old set of plans hanging inches from my left shoulder as I type. #1, wood (epoxy encapsulated) #2) Double ended #3) Dory sheer, V-bow, planing bottom aft 1/2. Air, water, earth, fire – good stuff!

    1. I to have an old set of these plans on a shelf.Have built other boats,but never got around to this one.You would be hard pressed to find a more seaworthy design then George Calkin’s Bartender.

  3. Oh, this is so true – and so many can’t even drive a manual transmission either. Had the pacemaker not made me a necessary spectator, I was planning to learn to fly in a Citabria, as I wanted to learn to fly the ruddy airplane and handle a taildragger. Before planes it was boats when I lived on Long Island. On the other hand, I destroyed a 1954 Mercury trying to rebuild the engine – didn’t know what I was doing, even with the Chiltons manual, but I did get it apart and replace all the rings and bearings. My consultant – my brother – said he knew how to do it but he didn’t know you have to mark all the removed parts and put them back exactly where they came from. The engine locked up and we bent the crank trying to push start it. But it still was an accomplishment (of sorts)…..

    1. Even top mechanics have stories like that in their background.The important thing is you did it.

  4. Yes, boats are right up there with airplanes for me, too. Many is the evening that finds me reading one book or another about solo circumnavigating, ocean crossing, boat-building, or -especially- the wonderful Aubrey & Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian about the days of sailing in tall ships. Building a pair of skin-on-frame kayaks for Jay and I even now:

  5. Interesting what a lot of us have in common. I’ve been thinking about building a wooden kayak for a while. Some of those wooden boats are just beautiful…

  6. Yes, there is wood in the shop for a plans built boat. One of our treasured books is from 1931, “The Boat Building Book”, from Popular Mechanics; the text and pictures are right out of Bernard Pietenpols era. We also bought the Camaro convertible for open air driving with outside sounds. Who needs a radio? The six speed manual plus 426hp engine does not provide an isolated driving experience. So we find that a Piet makes lots of sense as does our 41 Aeronca Chief.

  7. The Sitka spruce I got to build my Pietenpol came from a Maine boatyard that builds and restores wooden boats. They rebuilt not one but three 1902 Nathaniel Herreschoff Buzzards Bay 30’s (30 ft on the waterline, 44 ft LOA). In the process of making the masts, gaffs and booms, they had a LOT of long pieces of beautiful tight grained wood that were the perfect size for sawing into Pietenpol pieces. There was, in fact, enough to do two complete Piets and I have a bunch still in a rack. The boatyard is currently building a 90 ft — yes nine zero feet — mast from a HUGE pile of Douglas fir as well as a shorter mizzen, gaffs and booms. They are also restoring another Herreschoff boat of some 50 ft in length and making those masts, gaffs, and booms out of Sitka for her. Very shortly I will be awash in wood and loving it.

    One of the partners in the business has the hangar next to mine and built a beautiful RV-9 so he has the best of both worlds.

  8. I relate to the P-38 sound. The Allison has such a smooth powerful creaminess to it’s sound, idle or at Full Mil Power. R-4360’s, R-3350’s, R-2800s and R2600s (and Bristol Centaurus’) have have a throaty, bellowing thunder. Packard/Merlins have a lovely note at full power but they spit, pop and crackle on taxi…that seems to say: “I refuse to ignore my British automotive heritage!”.

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