Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Fort Lauderdale, FL

Every once in a while, I "entertain" myself by reading about all the recent disasters at sea.

"Why do you do that?" Chip asked yesterday, a fair and relevant question.

It all started when I was reading a cruiser's book, and they wrote, to paraphrase heavily, "don't let not knowing how to sail keep you from cruising. We knew dick squat, and we didn't die."

That attitude gets me all riled up. Number one, I think it's completely irresponsible to go offshore with that cavalier attitude. When you get into trouble, somebody has to risk their life to come help you. Number two, it's even more irresponsible to encourage others to do the same. Certainly, we all have to learn offshore sailing by, yes, sailing offshore. But doing that without first sailing inshore -- a lot -- is foolish.

Then a few days into stewing about that book, Island Packet posted this article and a haunting, really haunting photo of a fully intact Island Packet 380, exactly like Cara Mia, adrift, ghosting alone in the Atlantic.
About six months ago, the owners of that drifting 380, a cruising couple not much older than we are, got caught in a dreadful storm during a rally between Rhode Island and Bermuda. The woman was swept overboard, her body never recovered. The man was rescued from the boat by a passing ship.

Then yesterday I saw this article written by one of the surviving crew members on the ill-fated Low Speed Chase, a racing sailboat that was tossed on the rocks during the Farallones race out of San Francisco. Seven of the eight crew members were swept off the boat by an enormous rogue wave. Three survived, one body was recovered, the other four assumed dead.

I let myself read these disaster at sea stories about once a year, and there are two reasons. I like to stoke my respect for the sea, and I want to learn the lessons that come from these incidents.

The fateful tales no longer make me fearful like they did a few years ago, when I wrote this blog post. Instead I'm much more in the thoughtful-consideration-of-safety-at-sea mode. Even back then, I did learn lessons from reading those articles. The fatality in the Bahamas was my first lesson about respecting Bahamian inlets.

This article from Practical Sailor about the Island Packet
is a sound discussion of the pros and cons of rally mentality and/or buddy boating (traveling with other boats). With only one exception, we have not made crossings with other boats. We like to keep our own counsel. The one time we did allow the nervous get-going agitation of other boats to make us leave earlier than we planned, it was not a good experience. We should have waited. Nobody knows more than we do about our boat and our crew. We listen to what others are thinking but gather our own information and keep our own counsel.

The article linked above about the Low Speed Chase incident is a beautifully written account of how the accident happened followed by some healthy discourse about lessons learned and safety measures onboard. Well worth reading.

Among other good points, he says this:
"I'd reached a level of comfort where I'd only tether at night, when using the head off the back of the boat, or when the conditions were really wild. It's simply a bad habit that formed due to a false sense of security in the ocean."

None of us can afford a false sense of security.

Yesterday, I picked up Triton, the local yacthing newspaper. They too have a theme this week: Disasters at sea, but hey, it's time for this sailor to stop with the disasters before nightmares commence.

What I take away is this:
--continued and perhaps heightened respect for our beloved oceans
--the understanding that neither I nor my boat are ready to make a major passage (the details would be a good topic for another blog post)
--zero bravado about not being ready to cross an ocean.

I read once that world cruising gods, Lin & Larry Pardey, cruised for more than five years in the Caribbean before feeling competent to cross an ocean.

As another world cruiser says:
Don't ignore conventional wisdom: it's formulated by people who didn't drown. — Cap'n Fatty Goodlander


  1. And the biggest lesson...."to each his own". We can always find quotes from notable folks to support our way of thinking.

    - Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain.

    Some folks can be ready to cross oceans in very little time and some folks never will be. Aptitude as well as Attitude vary in so many. One size does not fit all.

    And, the one that libertarians (and adventure seekers) like myself understand so well about life: Shit Happens.

  2. Everyone seems to have a nonchalant view until they're stuck out in the middle of the ocean without a mast, water, and a clue. I'll agree with Tammy, learn how to do it VERY well before you shoot out from continent to continent. Have people done it before and survived?...sure. You can't be disappointed about your lack of accomplishments in 20 years if you don't live that long.

    Sure, some people can be ready to sail in a relatively short amount of time. No one should jump in a sailboat to go into the ocean if they don't know how to sail...period.

    Just out of curiosity, GW. Have you sailed offshore across continents?

  3. Hey Jay,

    GW is an experienced and thoughtful sailor. He has helped us many times in many ways, especially with weather for passages. I think he's just throwing in another voice here.

    I don't think any of us here would encourage newbies to head out there without experience and preparation. My point was that I wish others wouldn't either.

    We should all entertain open discussion about safety at sea. Our lives, quite literally, depend on it.


  4. I am quite used to folks not having an opinion that runs parallel to mine on the risks of life.

    I'll go back to my point about the biggest lesson: "To each his own"

    I know that Tammy is writing an entertainment blog here and I respect that very much. I don't want to take away from that as I explain my point of view on this subject.

    I just read an interesting article in the April issue of Cruising World where the author points out (while sitting at a cruising crossroads of Georgetown Bahamas) that American cruisers seem to want more certainty in their cruising - a 'safety net' was a term used to explain the general attitude in decision making. I say that this is just fine for those who want that extra 'security' in their life.

    It's well known that security and freedom don't live well together. You almost certainly need to give up some of one to obtain the other and the real trick in life is finding the right balance for you. I would never suggest that anyone who is getting in a boat is being too conservative. Only THEY know what their threshold is for new things and how much they can handle at any given time. Likewise, I'm quite disappointed when people try to impose their own conservative view of cruising (or any adventurous endeavor) upon another (unless that person is in the accepted position of instructor/mentor).

    If you spend much time at sea, you will find yourself in conditions that you have never been in. This is how you learn. The first time you push away from the dock - this is the case - by definition. You learn as you go. I personally find no fault whatsoever with someone starting cruising without much experience. Cruising does not solely mean crossing oceans. Some folks have very steep learning curves. I would suggest that there are many more instances of experienced sailors needing assistance in a cruising situation than inexperienced.

    And seriously - so, you don't live 20 years because you died while endeavoring an adventure. Death is part of living. That takes me to my last point above: Shit Happens. We can't have life guarantees and full freedom. Sure, it sucks to die while adventuring but (for my life) it sure beats a lifetime of being so conservative that you didn't attempt the adventures that you wanted. I understand that most people may not subscribe to this way of thinking - and I'm okay with that. My desire is that others are okay with letting ME subscribe to that way of thinking.

    Personally, I don't think that I take risks that I'm not prepared to handle - but then again - most people don't think that. Reminds me of the lifelong question: Do stupid people know that their stupid? :)

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  7. Speak freely here! Love it.

    I agree with everything here. I will just add, again, that, conversely, I don't like when people try to impose their own cavalier view of cruising on people. As adventurers, we need to respect that 'to each his own' mentality.

    I'm not here to inspire or discourage anyone, just to talk about my own thoughts and thought processes along the way. Yours are welcome as well!

    (Sorry deleted others with a typo.)

  8. Good stuff Tammy!! Imposting any view - on any one- at any time - isn't any good! :)

    By the way - I have personally taken Serenity into the anchorage that you guys were looking to get into the last time you were through here. Like most things - it's easy if you know the secret! :) Now I can give you the 411 next time you're through and if I'm not around, I can leave the shower key for you. You can dock your dingy in my slip and enjoy the marina (which we won't name here) while anchored out- if you so choose.

    P.S. Isn't it a shame you can't edit your posts after you publish them? I noticed my typo (next to last word of my last post) as soon as I published it. Oh well.

  9. .....and yet another typo... **Imposing*** not imposting. Sheesh!

  10. Thanks, GW. We'll be heading north in June. We hope to find a weather window to shoot outside. If not, we'll be passing right by!

    Dear Blogspot,

    Please let us edit our typos after publishing comments.


    Love, Tammy