Hi Simon and all,
I have followed some of the work of the Polar Yacht Guide participants and their suggestions and believe their work to be important for recreational sailors well beyond those who choose to venture in the higher latitudes.
In sheer numbers, sailing to the higher lats is on the increase (as has sailing/cruising overall), but is still a very small percentage of the total recreational cruising miles. The PYG reports most vessels are well prepared and manned with competent crew and who carry their cruising goals to a successful completion. However, the PYG’s work is, in part, stimulated by the number of exceptions to those vessels that are well prepared and with competent crew: those that have needed SAR assistance and whose difficulties have threatened the environment. (This variance is also reflected in the broader cruising community.)
Now, any vessel venturing anywhere, day sailing to expedition cruising, may encounter bad luck in any of its various manifestations and need assistance. That said, at some point, reasonable sailors can look at a boat’s preparation and the skipper/crew experience and be clear that their plans are not wise: that they are inviting disaster to be planning to “go out there and do that”.
The PYG, as I understand it, wishes to generate a guide for recreational polar expeditions as a way of educating those intending to sail Polar waters (and thereby making less likely ill prepared vessels and crew.) An alternative is to (possibly) have the commercial shipping regulatory agency, The International Maritime Organization, extend their purview into the recreational area.
However, the PYG work reflects a wider concern that I have written about: that there are too many ill prepared vessels and crews going to sea. A SAR call-out, even in the best of times, always entails some possibility of accident and injury to crew, not to mention expense. And the best of times is rarely when there is a call-out. It seems predictable, over time, that some SAR crew member will endure a serious injury or death trying to assist a vessel that, upon later examination, should in no way have been “out there” in the first place. This scenario, tragic for the crew, is problematic for us recreational sailors as it invites what the PYG describes so accurately: the “creeping extension of mandatory power” by agencies possibly (probably) far removed from the interests and realities of cruising sailors.
I have written about this concern in various venues over the years where I called for the recreational boating community to develop some sort of self-regulatory procedures before it is foisted upon us by some outside agency. The PYG’s work seems to be a great start toward setting up a model that might be emulated by the broader recreational boating community. I believe it is in our interest to find a way to self-regulate our recreational cruising activities: to keep any oversight “in house”. This may entail generating guidelines (such as PYG is developing) and to encourage vessels, skipper and crew to embrace the guidelines and finding a way to respectfully discourage ill prepared vessels and in-experienced skippers/crew from departing and from putting themselves and others in danger.
One of the joys and appeal, for me, of our sport is the degree with which I am on my own with minimal outside oversight or interference. I am loathe to put that in jeopardy.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy