Letters to Murray

After Cruising World's founder died in December, editor John Burnham reflects on what the magazine's first editor saw as the essence of cruising: "degrees of competence and endless rewards." From our February 2009 issue.

368 Murray Davis

Early in his journalism career, Murray Davis worked as a newspaperman in Melbourne, Australia. Courtesy Of Kate Davis

Thirty-five years ago, in this magazine’s first issue, Murray Davis wrote that “the safe enjoyment of cruising under sail” was what Cruising World would be all about. He went on, in the next issue, to explain the essence of cruising as “a developing skill, an art that has no finishing line, only degrees of competence and endless rewards.” At the risk of overplaying an already-complete thought, I’ll add that to gain mastery in cruising, one is the perpetual student; through experience and what others teach us, we learn to handle and care for our crew and our boat. And through that learning and practice, we gain fulfillment.

George Leonard wrote a book called Mastery in 1991, and I’ve always felt that his words hit the nail on the head about sailing, even in the first four sentences: “It resists definition, yet can be instantly recognized. It comes in many varieties, yet follows certain unchanging laws. It brings rich rewards, yet is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. We call this journey mastery. . . .”

The author describes the master’s progress as a curve with relatively brief spurts of upward progress, followed by slight declines or plateaus. As Leonard’s writing applies to sailing, staying on the curve requires being patient and simply practicing the disciplines of seamanship, navigation, and maintenance across each plateau. Progress often comes when you don’t really expect it, and it typically stems from teaching someone else or putting to use what others have taught you.


As we enter 2009 and Cruising World’s 35th year of publication, the chance to pursue the mastery curve remains as great a reward of cruising as any. The issue in your hands, like those before it, comes full of stories of mastery in the making. Richard King outfits a small boat and sails it to Portugal, despite his miscalculations about power consumption. Donna Lange outfits a small boat and sails it around the world, seeking and finding in every task the means to build her confidence. And two-time circumnavigator Beth Leonard admits to fears of offshore passages, then offers practical suggestions for managing them.

Murray died on December 4 at the age of 80 (see “Remembering Murray and Barbara Davis,” Shoreline, page 22), and I think he sent me a message for you in his passing. That night, about 7 o’clock, I was at my desk reading the story of a cruising couple who’d reached a stage in their first major cruise when they realized all that they’d accomplished and how much it meant to them. That’s when the thought came to me: Why not ask all of you when you had the same kind of moment? You can tell your story on our website, and we’ll select several to include in our 35th-anniversary issue next October. We’ll call them “Letters to Murray.”

After dinner that evening, about 10 o’clock, I opened an e-mail from Murray’s wife, Constance, that said that his heart had stopped three hours earlier.


Please write to Murray via the CW forums thread “**When Did You Realize Your Dream**“. I expect that he’ll read them all, but in truth, the letters are for you, not him. Both in sharing your story and reading what others write, we’ll all move another step or two along the mastery curve and enjoy its rewards.

Thanks, Murray.
John Burnham

Click Here to add your story.