Einstein on the Water

4 Aug
We can all be grateful that Einstein was a better physicist than he was a sailor

We can all be grateful that Einstein was a better physicist than he was a sailor.

While the academic community celebrates the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s presentation of his theory of relativity in August 1914, the sailing community should not forget that the great scientist was one of us.
Although the wild-haired mathematician could not swim, he had a great love for the water. He learned to sail on a Swiss lake as a student in the 1890s, and in 1929, on his 50th birthday, a group of wealthy admirers presented him with a custom-built sailboat. Tümmler, German for porpoise, was a centerboarder with a kick-up rudder and (at Einstein’s insistence) a Bermudian rig rather than the more usual gaff. Below, the cozy accommodations included two berths, a special shelf for Einstein’s spectacles and another to hold his pipes and tobacco.
Einstein reportedly loved his Tümmler—“He sails her with the skill and fearlessness of a child,” one relative wrote—but he didn’t have her for very long. In 1933, after he fled to the United States, the boat was confiscated by the Nazis, and Einstein never saw her again.
Meanwhile, the great man did not let this setback stand between him and the water. Renting a summer cottage overlooking Cutchogue Harbor on Long Island, Einstein purchased a 15ft dinghy that he named Tinef—Yiddish for “junk.” Alas, his sailing skills seemed to match the name. A 2007 New York Times article quoted a longtime resident as saying, “To us, he was just a bad sailor with funny hair and a funny accent. People used to look out there and laugh at this strange guy in his sailboat going nowhere.”
Einstein’s sailing misadventures were mild in nature but persistent, as his love of the water never became diluted by knowledge of the technical side of the sport. Over the years he became notorious for running aground, and his mishaps made the New York papers more than once. So the next time you misjudge the tide and your keel touches the bottom, take solace in the knowledge that you’re in good company, relatively speaking.


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