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Sailing very close to the wind? 抢风驶航

中国日报网 2019-03-31 09:30


Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “On a number of occasions, however, he would sail very close to the wind.”

My comments:

Several times, he would do something that’s very risky, even dangerous, almost getting himself in trouble.

That’s the idea to infer from the expression “sail very close to the wind”.

It is a sailing expression, needless to say. If you ride a sailboat or sailing boat, you of course want to sail close to the wind. Specifically, you want to make use of a tailwind, one that blows from behind the boat which pushes your boat forward.

You want make as much use of a tailwind as possible, or make use of it as efficiently possible so you want to sail as close to the wind as you can. But not too close.

Not too close and not when the wind is too much in force.

Less you get into the middle of, say, a whirlwind. Why, wild gusts will shake your boat left and right, this way and that way. The outcome is your boat may capsize. Everybody in the boat may find themselves in water. People may drown as a result.

Well, you get the point.

Hence and therefore, if people are described as sailing too close to the wind, metaphorically speaking, they may be taking too much of a risk, they may be acting reckless, they may be putting themselves in danger’s way.

In Chinese, we have a similar saying. Don’t walk too close to the river, people warn each other, or you’ll run the risk of getting your shoes wet. By that, they mean to say if you are engaged in shady business, sooner or later you’ll get into trouble, get caught and get punished.

To sum up, sailing too close to the wind means one is probably on the verge of getting into trouble, because one perhaps is involved in something that’s bordering dangerous or wrong or illegal, i.e. unlawful.

And here are media examples, old and new:

1. British diplomats have warned ministers that the private business and charitable activities of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are in danger of causing another royal public relations disaster.

Foreign Office sources told the Guardian that there was “serious concern” in diplomatic circles over the Kents' extraordinary lifestyle, which has seen them carry out more than 20 trips in the last 15 months, paid for by a bewildering range of organisations.

This year, Prince Michael has already visited Dubai, India, Australia and the US, while his wife has travelled to Peru and the US.

In the wake of the Sophie tapes affair, the fear among ministers is that the couple are “sailing too close to the wind” in using their royal status.

Their financial arrangements have long been a source of debate among senior courtiers and ministers. Prince Michael, the second son of the Duke of Kent, does not carry out official engagements and therefore receives no money from the civil list or the privy purse. His office says this justifies his commercial activities.

- Diplomats worry over Prince Michael's trips, TheGuardian.com, April 13, 2001.

2. The Bank of England governor admitted he was warned four years ago about problems with the borrowing rate used to calculate millions of mortgages and loans.

However, he insisted the Bank had no idea until two weeks ago that “deceitful” traders were deliberately submitting false data.

In a hearing with MPs, Sir Mervyn was under pressure to explain why he failed to stop the Libor scandal, even though US officials repeatedly raised the alarm.

The governor argued that no one had ever produced any hard evidence that banks were mis-reporting Libor until Barclays was this month fined £290 million for manipulating the rate.

“There were concerns about the accuracy of Libor during the financial crisis but that is not the same as proof that the figures had been manipulated for private gain,” he said. “That is my definition of fraud.”


Sir Mervyn said Barclays had been “sailing too close to the wind” on a number of issues and the Libor scandal was simply the “bale that broke the camel's back”.

- Sir Mervyn King: Libor fixing bankers committed fraud, Telegraph.co.uk, July 17, 2012.

3. Suspend your disbelief for a second.

Assume that the Trump administration – which lies so easily and so often on matters big and small – can tell the truth about the Mueller investigation. Forget the cover-up about separating families at the border and jailing children. Pretend it has fully embraced the death toll of more than 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Imagine Trump’s inauguration crowds really were exceptionally large.

Let’s just give the new attorney general, Bill Barr, the benefit of the doubt, based on his service in the George HW Bush administration if nothing else.

Let’s also assume his four-page summary of the special counsel’s investigation is the very best case he can make on behalf of the man who just hired him.

That case would sink any other leader in any other western country. Any previous president of the United States would need to start lawyering up for impeachment.

As Barr points out, the Mueller report is divided into two.

One part is about Russian interference in the 2016 election, which Trump has repeatedly dismissed as a Democratic excuse for why Hillary Clinton lost.

The second part is about Trump’s obstruction of justice in seeking to halt the Russian investigation.

According once again to Trump’s own attorney general, making his best possible case for his boss, Mueller declined not to make “a traditional prosecutorial judgment” about whether Trump committed a crime. So Barr made it for him. Strip away all the legal throat-clearing, and he decides the case is “not sufficient”.

Quoting Mueller, Barr writes: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Now, you might be wondering why a sitting president would sail so close to the wind that he might just be guilty of obstruction of justice.

Normal people sitting on a jury, or voting in an election, might be curious as to why a president would possibly, maybe, commit a serious crime – depending on your reading of the law and Trump’s intent – to stop an investigation into Russian interference in his own election.

Then again, normal people asked the same questions of Richard Nixon, who infamously demonstrated that the cover-up could be worse than the crimes of Watergate.

It might be too much to imagine this tweet-raging president quitting office under threat of impeachment, as Nixon did. But it’s not too much to consider the impact of this cover-up on voters in next year’s elections.

- No collusion, plenty of corruption: Trump is not in the clear, TheGuardian.com, March 24, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


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