Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Green, Seasoned, Professional

Vero Beach, Florida


As you know, Libby and I are seasoned cruisers. You also know that after a year's hiatus, Libby and I committed a number of blunders when we restarted cruising this fall. i attributed them to us being rusty. We have other seasoned friends with similar experiences. They both restarted cruising after a prolonged period of down time. Both committed blunders of the kind that one would not expect from seasoned sailors.

One friend entered the ICW, at the very first day market they came to, they forgot whether it should be red left or red right when heading south. They chose wrong and ran aground less than 1/4 mile from their starting point. The other friend put out to sea and shortly discovered that their running lights didn't work, their Monitor self steering didn't work, and that their engine was seriously misaligned. As I said, their errors and our errors are not of the kind that one would expect from seasoned cruisers.

What is really going on here? Certainly the prolonged down time has a lot to do with it, but what happens when we restart?

A completely green sailor would be afraid to leave without first testing everything. In fact, the green sailor might even hire a surveyor to check things very thoroughly. Indeed, green sailors often start by buying a boat and a survey is part of the ritual.

I've had time to think about it. My conclusion is that we should categorize cruisers (sailors) in three classes, green, experienced, and professional.

The green cruiser does not trust his knowledge or instincts. The green cruiser seeks the opinion of others as to the seaworthiness of the vessel and the crew. Green sailors may travel in flotillas with more experienced sailors so that they can follow the leader and call for help if needed. I am ignoring utter fools. Fools tend to not choose the cruising life.

Experienced and professional sailors share knowledge, know how, and experience. However, professional sailors have discipline, that amateurs like find hard to match.

Think of merchant ships and Navy ships as examples of professional crews. They have an entire management structure to maintain the discipline. The captain sets the standards, the officers and noncoms supervise, and the grunts do the work. Everyone has multiple people looking over their shoulders. Quality is assured by inspections. Lack of fresh experience is compensated for by drills.

It is not difficult to see why couples like us and our friends who are living our retirement dreams as we cruise, can not easily match the discipline of professional crews. We minimize blunders by keeping our experience fresh. We deal with equipment failures on an incremental basis as they occur. Therefore, a prolonged period of not sailing undermines the very foundation of our competence. Our skills get rusty, and clusters of boat problems can build up invisibly while we are not using the boat.

I'm sure there are exceptions. Another cruising couple of similar age and experience, leave their boat 6 months every year. But the captain is a former police chief, is very disciplined. He may be able to avoid the restart problem. I'll see him in the next few days and ask what he thinks.

I know that many experienced cruisers read this blog. Please comment on this post. Do you agree or not?

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