Community responsibility

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Hi all,
There has been some recent writing of 2 mariners being rescued after 5 months drifting around on their sailboat. I know little of the actual facts of this incident, but found myself interested in responding in a general way and using it to put some thoughts together on what I see as our personal and community responsibility to our completely voluntary recreational sport.
We are largely un-regulated and I wish to keep it that way. It is my take that regulations/authorities appear as a reaction to abuse/excess/problems.
I believe that these 2 mariners should have been told, by their sailing community, that their plans were un-wise in a multitude of ways and strongly discouraged from leaving. I would want to suggest that every experienced sailor who knew of their plans had some community responsibility to actively and strongly discouraged them from departing.
I say this for multiple reasons:
1.    They were lucky not to have died and it was predictably likely they would get in trouble.
2.    People who need rescuing at best incur great expense on the part of the SAR people and at worst put them in danger.
3.     If we do not police/supervise our sport, I worry others will move in and do so. (Could you picture a bureaucratically administered “offshore license” necessary to sail to Bermuda from the    US? Or to the Azores from the UK?)
4.    Ours is a sport best learned in a “guild/apprenticeship” like manner: where those with knowledge and experience pass their knowledge along. Book knowledge and self-taught skills can only    take you so far. This entails a willingness on the part of those learning to actively search out mentors in areas where they need more knowledge/experience. Concomitantly, those with    experience/expertise need to be available, even forthcoming, and maybe even a bit forceful in educating others, especially when observing potentially dangerous practices or intentions.
I am not suggesting this to produce a cadre of supervisors/police-people, but rather to facilitate a caring community who recognizes the adventurous nature of our sport and the inter-dependence necessary to ensure that cruising widely on small sailboats thrives. In addition, most learning, I believe, takes place through interaction.
To my mind we carry a large responsibility when we venture offshore. This is particularly and especially the case if you carry an EPIRB, or radio or satphones etc. with the intention of calling for help if you get into trouble. This responsibility becomes even more magnified with crew/wife/guests on board who believe that the proposed trip makes sense and is safe, but who also have no ability to question the experience/preparations of the skipper.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Simon Currin
Simon Currin
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As time goes on the story of the two missing Pacific sailors you refer to grows more and more mysterious with a number of inconsistencies and probable untruths. We can only guess at their motivation. What is sure is that they do not represent the wider sailing community in particular as one of them had never been in a sailboat before setting off from Hawaii to Tahiti. No type of regulation could have prevented this.
Your point is much wider than this particular episode and raises the question should or could offshore sailing be effectively regulated? In a way we already have a bit of this in Europe where some countries insist in an International Certificate of Competence and anecdotal reports suggest that seamanship in these countries is generally of a lower standard than in countries where there is no requirement to possess it. In the UK we have voluntary certification via the RYA but even their flagship qualifications should probably be regarded as entry level qualifications when going more seriously off piste.
I am not sure how access to international waters could be regulated and who would do the regulating and enforcement? Yes I agree that we all have a responsibility to ensure that we, our boats and our crews are as well prepared as they can be but that should be more of a moral duty rather than a regulator’s requirement.
As for the rescue services one of our own OCC members made an interesting point when he was plucked from his boat this summer in the North Atlantic. He said, on radio, that both the Master of the rescue vessel and the pilots of the Hercules reconnaissance plane that oversaw the rescue had thanked him for giving them the opportunity to practice their skills and seamanship. So there is a different spin on things whether you agree with the sentiment or not!
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Hi Simon,
All good points, thanks for your thoughts and observations. And you are correct to highlight my wider concerns with regard to regulations.
You are also correct in pointing out that Europe is more regulated than the US in the maritime realm, at least in a voluntary fashion. I am quite admiring of the UK mariners and their promotion of RYA and its ability, to a great extent, to bring to the public safe and seamanlike marine skills. And admiring of the its voluntary nature and how well embraced it is by mariners (also your RNLI).
To answer your question: access to international waters could be regulated from the major ports of call (inspections when clearing in or out, I believe New Zealand had offshore requirements for a number of years before they would clear boats from leaving: which eventually was dropped as a requirement). It could also be instituted in the same manner as we had to do last season when Iceland and Greenland required regular reports of various kinds from as far out as 200 miles.
And I agree that facilitating boats and crew being well prepared is (to some measure) a moral duty, but I also come at it from a pragmatic (and personally selfish) stance of wanting to be solely responsibility for my vessel and have as few entities as possible tell me what I can and cannot do.
As for the OCC member being thanked for the rescue practice, I can imagine polite and caring guardsmen/women taking the edge off a rescue with just such a throw-away comment. I doubt this would be said were they called out in F8 and above conditions at the edge of their fuel limits. The rescue crew can feel what they like and want the people rescued to feel ok about their decision, but I would not want anyone to feel sanguine/easygoing about needing rescue. It is a big deal and even the least challenging rescues can go pear shaped.
And yes, the reports on these 2 mariners that needed rescuing after 5 months, gets weirder and weirder. If found in any way fabricated etc., I hope that they incur serious penalties. And it is true, no amount of regulation or community policing/supervising will stop people who are seriously committed to doing something, no matter how un-wise. Such is life.
Always good to bat things around with you.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Roger Harris
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In 2010, Sam Llewllyn – author of a well-received series of ‘sea thrillers’ (Death Roll, Black Fish, Dead Reckoning) and editor of The Marine Quarterly – published a delightful little book entitled The Minimum Boat. Below in its entirety is Chapter 3, reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

Safety First

I was climbing onto the boat one evening when I heard a hail from down the quay. “Oi!” it said.

I looked round, and saw an odd-looking cove wagging a gloved forefinger in my direction. He was wearing a crash helmet, lifejacket with harness, double Gibb hook lifeline, whistle, strobe, built-in EPIRB, GPS, waterwings, survival suit, knee protectors, shin pads, gloves (obviously), and Suregripp rigger’s boots.

“Yeah?” I said. “Let me guess. You are off to the South Pole via both Capes and Tasmania, and you plan to do a little oil exploration and skydiving along the way, and you would like to know whether to turn left or right on leaving the harbour?”

“No. I am assisting with the Rescue Boat for the Under Tens Oppie Race,” he said. “I am the Club Health and Safety Officer and I cannot let you go to sea like that.”

Well, Daisy was nice and tidy, rig and sails perfect, plenty of fuel, all navigational instruments in place, radar reflector up, pumps everywhere, lights working, flares in date. I was wearing a lifejacket/harness combo, some clothes, and a thin coat of Factor 20, the sun being out and the breeze Force 3. But us Minimum Boaters are always ready to learn. I glanced at my watch. “You have half an hour before the race – “

“Better safe than sorry,” he said.

“- and I would like you to have a look at Daisy. I feel there may be issues. Perhaps you could help me brainstorm a way forward with regard to this one.”

The muddy eyes under the helmet brim brightened. This was the kind of bluff, sailorly talk he understood. “Clearly I welcome an opportunity to input re the safety of your on-water leisure environment,” he said.

“Fine,” I said, ignoring a faint ringing in my ears. “Hop on.”

He lumbered down the quay steps, slowly, because he kept clipping and unclipping on and off the handrail as he came. As he stepped into the cockpit he tripped over his lifeline and fell. His crash hat bounced him off a fender and his nose hit the starboard side of the companionway. “Mayday!” he called.

I brought him an oily rag from the first aid kit and told him to lie with his head back.

“There are issues re your cockpit environment,” he said. “I may sue.”

“I am of course insured for three million squids third party,” I said. “And if my no-claims bonus is in danger I will bring countersuit down to you dripping blood on my teak deck. These issues, now. Please explain.”

“Hard decks not bearing sign saying DANGER–HARD,” he said. “Deep cockpit also inadequately signed. Possible flammability issues with teak decks. Boom unsigned, could give nasty bump to head or stick up nostril. Proximity to sea – cold, wet, moving in several directions at once. Lack of signs saying DANGER–TIPPY. No chainlink fence round edge of boat. Have you conducted a safety audit?”

“I am correctly dressed,” I said. “My boat is seaworthy, even when some overdressed cretin starts crashing around in my cockpit –“

“Unhelpful,” he said.

“Stop it and drink this,” I said, handing him a glass of rum. “It is nose medicine.”

Health and Safety drained the glass. “It is alcohol.” He said. “Modern studies show – “

“A pox on modern studies,” I said, pouring him a bit more. “Stone age canoeist or Vendee Globe competitor, we ignore common sense at our peril. Common sense dictates that we take responsibility for our own lives and that we do not trust them to foc’sle lawyers like you, and that rum can in certain circumstances oil a gritty soul.”

“I am shorry,” said Health and Safety, bursting into tears. “Very, very shorry. I had a chaotic childhood and ever since have shown a tendency to overcompensate by bossing people around.”

“You have my sympathy,” I said. “I suggest you go somewhere else and use your talents where they will be admired, like maybe North Korea, and leave these poor children in the Oppies to have fun.”

“North Korea, eh?” he said, musingly. “How about Iran?”

“Iran would be perfect,” I said. “Now it is time for you to go.”

As his boots hit dry land his back seemed to straighten. He turned, an expression of weaselly vindictiveness once again polluting the features below the helmet brim. “But before I get my plane,” he said, “it is my duty to inform you that as Club Health and Safety Officer I have to condemn your craft for lack of adequate signage, neglect of Best Practice, absence of Quality Assurance and failure to achieve Safety Management Norms.”

“I fear I am not a member, so naff off,” I said. “I am however Safety Officer of my Minimum Boat. We have no injury accidents but expect a one hundred per cent mortality rate.” I turned my back on the brute, tightened belt, adjusted braces, and headed off for the uncluttered blue horizon.


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