Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Subject Makes Me Squirm

Valcour Island, NY
44 37.332 N 073 24.417 W

[I am sticking our necks out by publishing such candid personal thoughts on a blog. Please do not read it to infer that we are sick or are dwelling on morbid thoughts. We are not. If this post makes our family or friends anxious, I’ll never be candid again.]
The other day on the Westsail.org forum, someone posted a story about a sailboat at a marina in Rio Dulce Guatemala that suddenly exploded with a propane explosion. The skipper died. His boat was destroyed and neighboring boats heavily damaged. It was a tragedy. The writer make the point of his post is that propane can be very dangerous as a fuel on a boat. . Another writer posted a reply on Westsail.org saying that he/she chose kerosene because of the dangers of propane. That’s certainly true. Years ago I chose an Origo alcohol stove for day sailing on our Tanzer 27 because of safety, but since living on Tarwathie, we are happy consumers of propane

I think that most of us boaters are fully capable of making safe and rational choices about boat equipment, and also operating and maintaining the equipment safely. We pride ourselves in safety and seaworthiness (which is a standard that outranks almost everything except airworthiness) . However, I also believe that we are less good at revising our choices when personal circumstances change.

What personal circumstances? Age is a big one. Budget, health, stress from work or family, time or lack of time to focus on the boat, alcohol/drug use, guests on board, full time/part time cruising, levels of recent experience, location and many other factors can be important. I have no knowledge of the Rio Dulce incident, but in other propane explosion cases I’m pretty sure that the underlying cause was chronic alcohol abuse, or poor health.

All these personal circumstances are subject to change. My point is that some (perhaps most) of us are bad at re-evaluating our choices, ambitions, and methods in response to such changes. Thinking about that led me to realize something. That is why insurance companies impose those obnoxious surveyors on us. Their real purpose is to force us to change some of our choices against our will. In other circumstances, external authorities evaluate the fitness of pilots, captains, engineers and others with critical safety responsibilities; they do not allow the people to self evaluate.

This subject makes me squirm because I realize that we too are affected. I first became aware of it in 2012. I have been taking some remedial actions. In some ways, we beefed up our vigilance. In other ways we scaled back our ambitions. But no matter what we do, we are on the back slope of the life cycle; we’re getting old. No matter what remedies we take, the challenges will become bigger with time while our reserve energies to deal with them diminish. This is an existential threat to our life style, and I have no sure remedy for it.

But we are stubbornly determined to live this life style until … until I don’t know what. Something eventually will force change upon us. Americans tend to admire the “die with my boots on” mind set. We do too. That is out ultimate hope. But I am also troubled with the obligation to prevent carelessness or irresponsibility to be the cause of that end.

Now comes the part where my logically trained engineer’s brain comes into play. Baring the unforeseeable (everybody bars that), these trends lead to an entirely foreseeable crisis sometime in the future. There will come a day when it will be irresponsible to continue the cruising life, yet my feeling is “Hell no; over my dead body.” Libby feels the same way but even stronger. I have no plan to deal with that crisis, and that is cause for worry. It is a circumstance in which thinking logically and with foresight is a disadvantage. [Libby agrees with this essay except the previous sentence.]

Libby and I also had an unrelated conversation last night. The question was, “If we won the lottery and became billionaires, what would we change?” We both came up with the answer, “nothing.” It shouldn't be surprising therefore that we don’t want to change; we are already living the best life we can imagine.


  1. I am living this post. My heart disease has progressively gotten worse as expected (severe or extreme family history of heart disease). My wife started recognizing changes in my mentation over the past ten years. I have lost many years of memories (some years are completely gone) along with mental abilities due to side effects of vascular disease (thank goodness for spell check!). I was fortunate to understand the process and sold the boat and moved to a small town with good end of life care for me and a safe place for my wife. My biggest fear was putting young men or women in danger, just to rescue me. I know that is their job, they volunteered for it, but I made the moral decision not to put them in danger because of my desire to go cruising, knowing that I had physical limitations. If I had been healthy and younger we would not be having this conversation. Now, I just tag along with those wonderful people that blog the cruising life. Being mostly housebound you and others make this life a little more bearable. I thank you and hope for many years for you and Libby. Ken formerly aboard Satori #223

  2. Reading your blog these past few yrs, I have recognized what I suspect to be a fellow INTJ.

    Among the traits of an INTJ is the ability to rationally evaluate all aspects of a problem. Sometimes in your writing, I get frustrated as you lay out your logic for us... Get to the point, already. Bullets man, we want bullets... Bullets and Pictures. (A hard earned lesson for me. Sometimes we get lost and luxuriate in the intricacy of our logic, while others are just bored I have a son I am trying to teach that lesson to, now. I really am not interested in which order you added the legos, boy... sigh)

    But in today's missive, I followed your mind's meanderings with synchronous pleasure. I read your self evaluation a year or so ago when you concluded that you and Libby were getting careless and the steps you took to correct that. Bottom line is, when the time comes, I believe you will know when it is time to make a change.

    Whether you choose to make that change or not, will depend on how ready and willing you are to stay the increasingly difficult course of what you have concluded is the perfect life. For as long as that may last.


    1. PS. btw, I disagree with this statement:

      I think that most of us boaters are fully capable of making safe and rational choices about boat equipment, and also operating and maintaining the equipment safely.

      Really? Have you paid any attention to the boaters around you? Folks agonizing over every purchase. Choosing equipment and practices that are wholly illogical and based on aesthetic or popularity? Attending seminar after seminar on how to do it. And paying no attention whatsoever to just going out and doing it right. And if it wasn't right, figuring out how to do it right?

      My only conclusion is that you are out there with people who are still successfully cruising. That is your reality. My reality is, I am surrounded by wannabes, myself included. For every couple who manage to successfully cruise long term, there are probably 100 couples who don't make it a week, month or even a year. Just last week, I told a friend, "For the love of Mike... Just go."



Type your comments here.