Every August for the past ten years my family and I have spent a couple of weeks on a smallish lake in northwest Michigan. I say small, but it's about 1800 acres, plenty big for most purposes, if tiny compared to the big water of Lake Michigan just five miles away. Most every afternoon the breeze picks up and I take a good sail on our Laser. Sometimes it's peaceful and the zen-like tranquility overflows as the dinghy slides along the water. The aloneness is pleasant and refreshing, like a good walk in the woods. Other times the wind is howling at 25-30 knots, spray lashing over the bow, and it's an exhilarating fight through the waves. On those afternoons I find myself talking to the sky and the wind and feel a bit like I'm in a Hemmingway novel, equal parts Heraclitus and Epicurus.
I picked up a book published just this year called Sailing - Philosophy For Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail which contains nice set of essays that join reflections on practical wisdom with serious thinking about a human activity steeped in technology that rivals farming in its ancient role in civilization. A lot of books on sailing amount to travelogues, a pleasure in their own right, but this compilation is more about reflection than about story-telling. Editor Patrick Goold sets the stage for a philosophical focus on sailing in his introduction saying
Committed action pre-supposes goals, values, and meanings. These give it its structure. Philosophical reflection wants to explicate these goals, in order to comprehend them, to see how they hang together with one another and with the larger set of commitments that the actor shares with others, and, finally, to interpret them as a signpost pointing us toward wisdom...
Philosophy can help us grasp the meaning, aims, and satisfactions of sailing. Perhaps reflecting on sailing can also help us grasp the meanings, aims, and satisfactions of philosophy itself. Philosophers might find a path to more philos in their philosophy.
The essays are varied, but all tie back to some philosophical point. Crista Lebens, with an explicit nod to Aristotle, considers the eudaimonistic character of sailing. Steve Horrobin breaks sailors down into being-focused Parmenidians and process-focused Heraclitians/Spinozians, lashing himself firmly to the mast of the latter whom he considers "sailors of the third kind". John D. Norton considers the physics of sailing, the nature of paradoxes (leading off with Zeno of course) and the use of the thought experiment in general.