Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hammered Lessons

New Bern, NC
35 05.92 N 077 02.56 W

I promised readers to post an analysis of what went wrong out at sea last week. In engineer's lingo, it would take the form of a list of "lessons learned" that lists the causes of the incident and how to avoid future repeats.

I've given it lots of thought. I made a considerable number of errors out there. I could analyze each error, derive a lesson to be learned, and write a post about it. I could probably generate a dozen interesting and readable blog posts from that material. (Believe me, that's tempting. I have to dig deeply to find fresh things to write about after 1,500 posts. I'm always on the lookout for "bloggable" material.)

Reluctantly, I conclude that a list of errors and lessons would prevent readers from seeing the forest through the trees. When a whole chain of errors occurs in a short time, one must question why. I'm afraid that the real answer is that the captain (me) has slowed down, lost drive and energy and has been letting maintenance and operation of this vessel get sloppy. Just before things started going to hell out there off the Delmarva, I recall sitting in the cockpit thinking, "I'm too old for this s..."

Believe me, this is a hard confession to make in public. It is, I guess, the burden of a frequent blogger. If I failed to write about it openly, readers would sense anyhow that something big was being obscured. The truth is, that I'll be 66 next week, and in the past year I've been slowing down physically and mentally. I delayed posting this message for a while because this kind of talk is often a symptom of depression. I've thought it through. I'm not depressed. I don't despair. Rather, I recognize the need to change and improve. I'm not too old, I'm too lazy. That can be fixed and I resolve to do it.

An old saw says, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." That's generally true but it can be overcome. Five years ago, I recall impressing myself and everyone else by the fierce determination and boundless energy I showed to abandon shore life and start the cruising life. I also recall frequently telling sailing newbies that if they didn't enjoy boat maintenance as much as the sailing, they have the wrong hobby. I need to re-awake that spirit.

As most people age, they are expected to slow down and society generally lowers expectations for what they are supposed to accomplish. There are exceptions, airline pilots are expect to perform at peak right up to retirement. So is it with sea captains. When we're out at sea, I'm the captain of this vessel even if I don't have a uniform, a certificate or an able bodied crew. My responsibilities are no less than the captain of a cruise liner.

So, how to go about it? I could make long, detailed and highly technical check lists and action item lists, and then discipline myself to live up to them. I could make a budget, say 10 hours per week, to work on boat and crew maintenance and upgrades regardless of what else is going on. I'm not sure yet of the best approach. I'd appreciate advice from geriatric readers (only) who've faced similar problems.

What about Libby? I haven't discussed it with her. Nor am I about to judge her performance here. The reality is that she generally follows my lead. If I'm energetic, she is. If I'm lazy, she is.


  1. Dick,

    As your senior by some 6 years or so, I did not need to hear that you are slowing down, getting lazy, etc. just after my fruitless search for the chart plotter that I brought home to protect from the hurricane. I will continue to search, but I am beginning to think I did something very stupid and expensive, but with no risk to life and limb.

    I am glad to hear you plan to attack the problem. I find lists to be important, but get lazy in digging them out, not losing them, following them, and checking twice.

    Maybe Libby could be the list manager. I think there are boat management software packages out there that might help.

    You are having too much fun to give it up, but maybe the deep blue isn't exactly the best idea without more crew to allow more rest.

    Keep on sailing.

  2. John Schieffelin10/13/2010 8:35 PM

    I am younger than you (62) but have nowhere near your energy levels! I am impressed by your accomplishments and would not be too harsh on yourself over the gear failures.

    Yes, the gear failures caused a dangerous situation, but to have so many things fail at once is rare. I suspect the gear failure will prompt you to go over all the rigging very closely before you undertake another offshore passage.

    The other aspect of all this is to examine whether you still enjoy cruising full-time aboard a 32-foot sailboat. If the lifestyle is losing its allure, then start pondering alternatives.

    Good luck, enjoy!
    John Schieffelin

  3. My wife and I traveled from Lake Ontario down the ICW at age 60 and were out for a year at age 50. (aboard a 27 ft Cape Dory). We traveled out the St Lawrence and around Nova Scotia and back home in between. Your equipment failures - especially the shrouds - may have happened no matter how close you checked things. Its made me give my rig a good look - but the nut may have loosened in a short time. I had friends who shared the anchorage in NYS with you before the passage - they went up Delaware Bay and experienced a nasty few hours. I was concerned at that time because I thought you were out there. It seemed to me that the weather forecast was a bit questionable when you left. (sorry for being a Monday morning quarterback)
    My wife and I have both grown less fond of the offshore passages - I believe it is related to our age. I feel that with the extra bit of caution you are likely to use now, you will probably encounter nothing like this again.
    Best wishes - fair winds.



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