Saturday, September 23, 2006


Georgetown, MD

Boy I really regret my decision to stop at the Bohemia River yesterday. We had the opportunity to sail more southward with both the wind and the current in our direction. Instead we waited until this morning and we had a fierce wind against us and the current against us too. It took four hours motoring to get 8 miles south. We aborted our plan to visit Havre de Grace because of unfavorable winds, and decided on Georgetown instead.

We rented a mooring so that we could get to use showers and laundry and I borrowed a bicycle to ride to town for some badly needed groceries.

Yesterday on the C&D canal we met a sailboat from New Zealand, and one from Canton NY. Today, at the marina I found a Westsail named Bob, also from New Zealand together with her owner Nick. Nick has been in the USA for 10 years. He bought the Westsail to sail home. He'll spend a year fixing her up and a year to sail. Nice adventure.

I wrote some stuff on safety yesterday, and wrote it poorly. Here's another attempt.

I was reflecting on how much more confident I felt sailing the Delaware on our third passage than on our first one. The first time it was daylight and I was scared. The third time I did it in the dark of a moonless night and I felt comfortable. It made we wonder if familiarity and confidence made me more safe or less safe as a solo helmsman.

Safety is a relative thing. The words safe and unsafe don't correspond to any reality. One can only be more or less safe. A number of factors contribute to safety.

Familiarity - Being familiar with the territory and the equipment saves one from having to guess. Speculation on the unknown is not always helpful.

Experience - An experienced operator has a storehouse of procedures, strategies and tactics that have worked in the past, plus knowledge of what didn't work. That breeds confidence.

Vigilance - Being constantly observant. Taking in an processing all available information.

Discipline - Having the while to adhere to known safe practices especially in the face of adverse factors including fatigue. Discipline must be soft enough to allow one to push the envelope and expand one's experience. Following prescribed and practiced procedures and having oversight by other people are key methods of maintaining discipline.

I'm sure that you could name additional factors but I think that these are the big ones. They can not be ranked in importance. A culture of safety is one in which all involved are aware of these factors and who try to apply them to their behavior all the time. These principles of operational safety are not specific to sailing. They apply equally to flying a plane, or operating the power grid, or a nuclear power plant, or performing surgery.

Based on these principles, I can critique myself. Familiarity and experience make me safer except when it lulls me into inadequate vigilance. Once, while on watch offshore late at night a Coast Guard boat pulled up behind me. They wanted to ask me a question. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't see them approach until they were three feet away from me. My vigilance was lacking. Another time, in the Yucatan, my lack of vigilance led me to an unpleasant encounter with a fishing net. I conclude that I sometimes lack the discipline to remain vigilant when fatigued and when alone. I either need someone to oversee me, or I need to give up the helm when fatigued. That's something I have to work on. It surely helped when we had Carmello onboard because there was much less fatigue.

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