The proper proportion of salt in his veins that a British boy ought to have

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The sort of dinghy we’re told a boy should have. Now
that part seems fair enough!

Have you got the proper proportion of salt in your veins?

These days they say too much salt in your veins causes osmotic pressure leading to raised blood pressure, which leads ultimately to end-organ damage. But it wasn’t always like this, and certainly not when they were busy bringing up the breed that led men into the dreadful battles of World War 1.

I’ve been reading The Complete Yachtsman by B Heckstall-Smith and E Du Boulay, first published in 1912. Much of what it has to say is sensible and reasonable. For example, there’s a great section on the draftsmanship involved in yacht designing. All in all, I’m pleased I invested in a copy.

Nevertheless, there are some bits that bear all the hallmarks of 1912. Take this priceless paragraph on teaching a boy to row, for example:

‘If a boy is of the right sort, with the proper proportion of salt in his veins that a British boy ought to have, he will soon get to love his little craft and a steady development in his character and improvement in his health will be visible to all who know and watch him; for there is no sport in the world that brings out all that is best in a man like that of learning to use the sea for his playground; judgement, courage, and especially self-reliance, are learned there as they can be nowhere else. In all other branches of sport, when a lad or a man feels he has had enough of it he can generally retire. Not so at sea; if he should be caught out in a squall he must fight his way back himself, using his brain to set one force of nature against another to his advantage, and not until the fight is over, and the boat is safe in some shelteredwater, can he rest or retire. This is why the sea so often makes men of boys, and heroes of men.’

Can’t you just smell the tanned leather, liniment and pipe-smoke in that voice? Pass the port Heckstall-Smith, and damn and blast the foreigners.

Copies of The Complete Yachtsman may be obtainable via ABE Books – I’ve been told there are lots around in second-hand bookshops, but the one I have is the first I can recall having seen.

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7 thoughts on “The proper proportion of salt in his veins that a British boy ought to have”

  1. Reminds me of an exchange in one of the Goon Shows between Neddie, Moriarty and Gryptite-Thynne . Moriarty is introducing G-T to Seagoon " ( bad French accent) This is the Honerable Duke of Orange, an old "Navel" family . G-T agrees in an even worse French accent

    " Arrrgh, the sea is in my boood! Arrrgh!" Neddy replies, "Yes, I think I can see where it gets in!"


  2. Very much the 'if not duffers, won't drown, if duffers, better drowned' generation.

    But he speaks a lot of sense about the beneficial effects of facing and surviving testing conditions.


  3. And, come to think of it, if you substitute words like 'promoting self-esteem' and 'combating negativity' for 'judgement and courage' you get totally modern ideas underpinning outward bound courses.

    With the difference that in 1912 the lads would have gone sailing with the Scouts or Boy's Brigade. Today they go on professionally run courses paid for by us taxpayers……

  4. That was exactly the generation and set of attitudes the Goons were taking the mickey out of. I remember having to read Scouting for Boys and finding it was full of this kind of stuff – and worse – and I imagine there's a strong chance both of you read your share of this kind of thing too.


  5. I think it's a great quote.. I know the bit about men of boys and heroes of men sound a bit old hat but I've never come across the line about how in other branches of sport when one has had enough one can generally retire , and how true that is.

    And I love the sucinct line about using his brain to set one force of nature against another to his advantage,

    This could be a mine of literary gems!

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