Skip to main content

Editor's note: Blame Games

One reason I like sailing is that it is one of the few endeavors in which the concept of individual responsibility still has meaning. It is much easier to blame someone or something else for the consequences of your decisions than to admit any fault on your own part—it goes back as far as Eve and the serpent—but on a small boat you soon run out of things to point your finger at.

From the May 2013 issue

One reason I like sailing is that it is one of the few endeavors in which the concept of individual responsibility still has meaning. It is much easier to blame someone or something else for the consequences of your decisions than to admit any fault on your own part—it goes back as far as Eve and the serpent—but on a small boat you soon run out of things to point your finger at.

I’m reminded of this every time I do something dumb on board. One fringe benefit of experience is that the magnitude of your mistakes tends to decrease; where once your errors may have resulted in sinking, dismemberment or drowning, their effects now usually range from slightly painful to rather humiliating and, often, moderately expensive.

There was the time an unsecured gallon of diesel toppled over in the cockpit locker during a particularly exuberant daysail and half of it glugged into the bilge. It wasn’t my fault, of course. That wind hadn’t been forecast at all. Damned NOAA.

There was the episode with the angle grinder, when I was trying to grind off the remnants of an old depth sounder housing glassed onto the hull. Who could have predicted the grinder would twist in my hand and cut through the cable for the new depth sounder? Poor design, obviously. Must send a stiff letter to Makita.

I’m trying to forget falling overboard one sunny day on the mooring while threading a new lifeline through a stanchion. It was that powerboat wake’s fault for making me overbalance; no one could have predicted that. Nor could they have predicted that unwired shackle pin falling out, with the result that the mainsheet came away from the boom in the middle of the night.

I have other such stories, as no doubt do most boatowners. No matter how smart or careful you are, sooner or later you’ll do something dumb, and even though there will always be the temptation to blame something or someone else, you’ll know that you, yourself, were at fault.

When you’re in charge of a small boat on a big piece of water you know that just about every decision you make has a consequence whose effects will be felt—if not immediately, then in hours or days. Most of the dozens of small decisions we make each day in our landlubber lives have little or no meaning; fish or fowl for dinner, go to the gym in the morning or after work, mow the lawn or play golf instead.

It’s different on a sailboat. Small mistakes can lead to big ones more quickly than you think. I was once almost decapitated in a crash gybe in 20 knots of wind—was it the fault of the novice on the wheel, the kayaker he was trying to avoid, or the skipper—that would be me—who had given a greenhorn more responsibility than he was ready for?

Every mistake is a lesson learned, as long as you take ownership of it. Tell yourself that next time you forget to unplug the shorepower cord before powering out of your slip. You’ll feel better. Maybe. 

Related

Sailing-for-Change

Five Years at SAIL

Last year I was at a wedding of an old friend from high school. Near the end of the night, when the bustle of the evening started to ebb and we had a chance to catch up, he slung an arm around me and said, “Lydia, I’m so proud of you. You are the only person I know who’s doing ...read more

00-LEAD-JB13-RT1169

What's it Like to Sail a Legend?

At 110 years old, the storied pilot cutter Jolie Brise powers off the wind.  In 1851, the New York pilot schooner America sailed to England, beat the Brits at their own prestigious yacht race (which came to be known as the America’s Cup), and launched an evolution of the East ...read more

Alexforbes Archangel1-1 (14)

Cape2Rio Draws to a Close

With just four boats still on their way, it has been a long road to Rio for the fleet competing in this year’s Cape2Rio. Larry Folsom’s American-flagged Balance 526 Nohri took line honors and a win in the MORCA fleet, finishing with a corrected time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 42 ...read more

_01-Steve-and-Irene-1

Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner ...read more

14_01_230123_TOR_JOF_0414-2048x

The Ocean Race Leg 2 Kicks Off

After a trial by fire start to the race and only a brief stop for limited fixes, the five IMOCA 60 crews in The Ocean Race set off for Cape Town, South Africa, early on January 25. Despite arriving somewhat battered in Cabo Verde, an African island nation west of Senegal, the ...read more

Lead

Cruising: Smitten with a Wooden Boat

I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast ...read more

Screen-Shot-2023-01-23-at-12.03.19-PM

Racing Recap: Leg One of The Ocean Race

New to spectating The Ocean Race? Managing Editor Lydia Mullan breaks down everything you need to know to get started. ...read more

image00001

From the Editor: Keeping the Hands in Hands-On

SAIL Editor-in-Chief Wendy Mitman Clarke enjoys a sunny autumn cruise in her Peterson 34 on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late afternoon just after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis when I climbed aboard the last boat on the schedule. I and others who review and sail boats for ...read more