Ever since we started sailing I have been pondering about speed. Conceptually it is not hard to grasp; you cover a certain distance in a certain time and that is what we call speed. If you increase the distance or decrease the time it goes faster. To go slower you can either decrease the distance covered or increase the time used. The same speed can then be expressed in a number of different ways, e.g. miles per hour, kilometers per hour, meters per second and so on. On sea the speed unit is knots where one knot means you have covered the distance of one nautical mile (1852 meters) in one hour. It may seem complicated with all these different units, and for sure it can mess things up, but in the end it really does not matter since they all just express – speed. For example, 5 km/h is the same speed as 3,1 mph, or 1.39 m/s, or 2,7 knots which happens to be a common cruising speed for us. When telling people that our cruising speed is about 2,7 knots their normal reaction is “Oh, that is slow, I usually go this or that fast”. Looking at the figures the number 2,7 is definitely lower compared to most boats, but is it really slow? I am not so sure, because there is more to speed than just the distance covered in a certain time. I am sure everybody can think back at moments time seemed to stand still. I am talking about all those incredible boring moments where every second felt like an hour. How would moments like that affect our speed? Going back to what speed is, distance/time, and increasing every second to an hour our speed would dramatically drop 3.600 times (1 hour = 3600 seconds).
I am also sure everybody can think of moments where time just flew by and a hour felt just like a few moments. Maybe during an interesting conversation, on a date or at the cinema. Of course this also affects the speed but in the other direction, it goes faster. The more time that magically disappears the faster it feels.
I was once told a story where a number of consultants where given the task to reduce the train travelling time between two major cities. Of course they looked at the obvious way of doing this by improving the tracks and trains to increase their speed, i.e. the number of kilometers travelled in one hour. But doing so would be extremely costly, so instead they proposed to change the comfort level and offering all passengers comfy seats, nice looking interior, free newspapers, well dressed and polite staff serving free drinks and so on. Offering this would be way cheaper and none of the passengers would complain about their train journey being too slow.
So if your boat is too slow there are two different ways to solve the problem. The first is to upgrade the thrust – wether it may be new sails, improve the rig or get a more powerful engine. The second is to improve the quality of your journey and design it so that time flies. The first option has a few drawbacks. Besides the cash needed for such a solution there is a backlash sneaking up from behind. When going along the cost for a number or days, or weeks, most places tend to blend together. When passing one bay there is another, surprisingly similar, coming up around the corner. Entering guest harbor after guest harbor they soon look alike. Starting from one guest harbor and travelling to the next guest harbor is no different from travelling further and taking another harbor down the coast. Both harbors will be new, and still surprisingly similar. At the end of the day the actual distance in meters or nautical miles are irrelevant.
Instead, how far you have travelled is more dependent upon how much you have experienced. Just imagine going on a speed boat far out at sea where all you can see is water. If you double the speed, there is really no difference since all you can see is still just water. But entering a tiny canal where steep walls are just feet away and the tricky currents require your full attention a few miles will feel like a marathon. Your experience is also very much linked to your level of awareness. Do you have the presence to spot the different birds, different patterns in the waves, the different smells, the contours and colors of the trees and shapes of the clouds. Going slow could actually help you improve the number of different sensations during your journey and thereby, surprisingly enough, increase your speed. Or, It is actually not that strange when thinking about it since a journey full of experiences and sensations will make it feel longer and thus the speed is increased (speed = distance/time).
So, is 2,7 knots slow? I would say it depends. If you have a curious mind to explore all the wonders of mother nature along the way together with interesting travelling company – 2,7 knots can even be too fast. Also 2,7 knots, or 5 km/h, is about normal walking speed. So in a sense we are actually walking on water. Who has not longed for that superpower?