He-Said, She-Said: Sailing Versus Fishing

Which is more fun, sailing or fishing? Sailing aficionado Zuzana Prochazka and die-hard angler Lenny Rudow force-feed each other their favorite pastimes.

22nd December 2013.
By Lenny Rudow & Zuzana Prochazka

Part 1: Sailing Rocks

Zuzana: It’s not that I’ve never been fishing. Because I have – and I’m still getting therapy for it. Growing up in Colorado, we spent every summer weekend waterskiing until once when my dad decided he was going night fishing on a different lake. Promising my mother that we’d be back by sunrise for her morning slalom pull, we headed out with the boat on the trailer. I spent the night attaching worms to hooks, squealing as my father gutted fish, holding lights over the water, smelling like a cannery, and freezing. Once, I was hit in the face by a frantic fish trying to escape.

Lenny: Sweet!

Learn-to-Sail-Indigo

In spite of a traumatic childhood fishing experience (or maybe because of it), Zuzana discovered the tranquility of sailing.

We returned the next day, well past the time for the morning pull, with the boat covered in blood, fish guts, and worm parts. We did have a haul of crappie (which I still think is pronounced wrong) that my mother refused to cook. She didn’t speak for two days. After being the one to clean out the boat, I filed the whole experience under “let’s just pretend this never happened.”

You say it like this: craw-peee.

A decade or so later, I moved to California for grad school and took up sailing. It was life-transforming to sail the ocean blue. Quiet and peaceful yet active and challenging, sailing made me use my wits and my muscles, and I took pride in knowing how to move a boat with nothing but the wind. And best of all it was free – well except for the lessons, boat mortgage, slip fees, insurance, bottom cleaning, diesel (for rare motoring times) and maintenance. But other than that, it was all FREE!

I started dreaming of circumnavigating. Distant landfalls and exotic anchorages called my name. I still haven’t sailed a boat around the world but I have done large parts of the world on a sailboat. And of course, the dream is still there, a promise of a life well-lived, fish gut-free.

Part 2: Fishing Rules

Lenny: It’s not that I’ve never been sailing. Because I have – and I’m still not getting therapy for it, since I’m way too manly for that sort of thing. After all, I like nothing more than flinging chum, gutting tuna while they’re still kicking, and wrestling with denizens of the deep mano-a-mano. Can I get a boo-yah?

Lenny-boot

You never know what Lenny will pull up out of the briny deep, or whether it will be edible.

Leaving aside the boredom, excruciatingly slow speeds, and lack of fossil fuel consumption associated with sailing, I have my own reasons for being scared of—um, I mean disliking—this form of boating. When I was s kid at summer camp I got stranded 100 yards from the dock on a Sunfish, due to a complete lack of wind. Since the water was only a few feet deep I jumped over the side, intending to walk the boat in. I landed in a bed of seaweed, which I felt enveloping my legs. Then I looked down and realized to my horror that I’d jumped straight into a massive flock of jellyfish. I leaped back into the Sunfish howling in pain, and swore right then and there that I’d never again depend on wind for locomotion.

Zuzana: Haven’t you ever heard of paddling? A hundred yards in a Sailfish is not a big deal.

Fishing, on the other hand, consumes my soul. It gives my life purpose and meaning, provides an ongoing mission, and at the same time strengthens my relationships with my kids. By the way, did I mention it’s just plain good, clean fun? Well, it is. And I’m going to prove it to you, Zuzana, by taking you fishing.

Hah! That’ll be the day. Let me make it really simple for you, Rudow. Sailing is better than fishing because:

1. Sailing is peaceful, quiet, relaxing, and majestic, and the boat moves for free (kind of).
“Peaceful, quiet, relaxing, and majestic” is code for “boring”.
2. Sailing is exciting – you can’t have more fun going six knots (no offense Team Oracle.)
Going six knots is a heck of a lot more fun with a full spread of trolling lines in the water.
3. I can sail home when I run out of fuel. I can sail around the world. And I can still fish off a sailboat – if necessary.
If you’d stop being so cheap and simply refill the fuel tank, you wouldn’t run out of fuel in the first place. As for fishing from a blow-boat, I can only say puh-leaze, that’s like driving a Kia in a NASCAR race.
4. Except for your sailing mates, nothing aboard is likely to have teeth, smell funny, or die.
Or have fun.
5. You don’t have to poke anything through the eyes and generally, there is little blood involved unless there has been operator error.
(Yawn).

Lenny: The bottom line? I’ll accept all of those points as valid, except numbers one through five. Actually, fishing is better than sailing because:

1. I get to bring home dinner, for free. Sort of.
Zuzana: I’m not buying the economics. By the time I get the boat, gas and bait, I could have had a nice fish dinner prepared for me at a restaurant – many times over.
2. It’s exciting! Every time I feel a fish bite, my pulse starts racing. Every time I make a cast, I wonder if I’ll get a bite.
Much like sailing, fishing is hours of boredom punctuated by a few minutes of excitement. Unlike fishing, when I go sailing there’s no mess to clean up unless I spill my wine.
3. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, or the bite is slow, I can throw down the throttles and be back at the dock about 6,000 times faster than you can.
If the weather takes a turn for the worse, the wind comes up and sailing (sometimes) becomes more fun.
4. I see and experience a ton of things most people never get to see or experience – whales breaching, porpoises playing in my wake, mahi-mahi swarming around my boat, fish species I never knew existed, and the list goes on and on.
I see and experience a ton of things most people never get to see or experience – whales breaching, porpoises playing in my wake, mahi-mahi swarming around my boat, fish species I never knew existed, and the list goes on and on. And I don’t harass or kill them.
5. I love the smell of chum.
I get queasy just looking at chum. What the hell is that, anyway?

Lenny sailing

The reason Lenny looks so nervous? He has just made his very first tack on his very first (adult) sail.

Part 3: Let’s Go For a Sail

Zuzana: I knew you could only be enlightened by the real experience, Lenny. That’s why I took the opportunity to schedule a sail for us, after the Annapolis Sailboat Show. Unfortunately, as you found out, an ultra-calm day with winds gusting to five knots makes it difficult to provide a thrilling sailing experience. I’m not sure what kind of rugged adventure you expected, but why’d you ask if foulies were required even though it was calm and sunny? Once aboard, I could tell from your reaction that there were entirely too many lines snaking about and a definite shortage of rod holders. I think you searched for the livewell for at least 30 minutes.

But I also noticed that you were also enthralled by the “clever” details of sailboat conveniences like integrated sheet bins, and of the versatility of a well-thought out interior. Unfortunately, like a true angler, you never looked up where the action was happening—in the sails. And heeling was clearly uncomfortable for you, so it’s a good thing we didn’t do much of it.

He-Said-Fish-2

Lenny shows Zuzana the first fish she ever caught. (Too bad about your head being cut off, Lenny, but maybe it was because you didn’t net it on the first try.)

Part 4: Time to Fish!

Zuzana, I was dying to take you fishing so you could see just how much fun it is for yourself. Lucky for us, the Annapolis boat show happens to occur smack-dab in the middle of the red-hot Chesapeake Bay fall striper bite. Yes, it was blowing a solid 15-knots with stronger gusts and I’m quite sure you wished we could have traded days. Sure, I saw the cringe on your face while live baitfish were skewered. But I also saw that giant grin on your face when you landed your first keeper—though I’m still not sure if it was because you caught the fish, or because I botched the net job.

Zuzana:I caught a fish! In fact, I caught two! To be fair, I did little to earn them. You caught the bait fish and attached them to my hook because I couldn’t poke something through the eyes. I then cast (badly) and stood there holding the rod. Once I reeled the first rockfish to the boat, you netted it (badly), got it off the hook, and stashed it in the bin. (Fish box!) Yeah, that’s right, I was fishing.

Ok, so the trauma of my initial experience has worn off and I have to admit fishing is fun and kind of like playing the lottery. You go out there with all your expectations and then it’s a real pleasure to actually succeed at catching something other than your own sweater on a bad cast. However, sailing is much less of a crap shoot – except for those windless days. You know what you’re in for and you can always pack a lunch, so you don’t have to catch it yourself. And although I may get hit with the boom on an accidental jibe, I’m unlikely to ever get a fish in my face when sailing.

Lenny: I went sailing! I tillered the mainsail and winched the Harkenboom! And you know what? I’m ready to admit that I had a great time. I’m ready to say that stepping on a boat without a fishing rod is not necessarily a bad thing. And finally, I’m ready to see a therapist.


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