From the Editor: Gambling with Nature

We at SAIL don’t tend to dwell on the darker side of the sailing life—boats lost, sailors drowned. The monthly “Voice of Experience” column has its share of drama, but it’s the kind in which, to channel the radio cliché, “luckily, no one was hurt.” Quite honestly we’d rather focus on reasons to go sailing rather give anyone a reason not to.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

We at SAIL don’t tend to dwell on the darker side of the sailing life—boats lost, sailors drowned. The monthly “Voice of Experience” column has its share of drama, but it’s the kind in which, to channel the radio cliché, “luckily, no one was hurt.” Quite honestly we’d rather focus on reasons to go sailing rather give anyone a reason not to. At the same time, it would be disingenuous in the extreme to gloss over the very real hazards attendant to spending time on the water, whether you’re in a kayak or a cruise ship.

Sailboats and people are lost at sea for a variety of reasons, most of which fall into three broad camps.

One is bad luck: scientific types will deny its existence, but we sailors know better. Imagine doing everything right—good boat, well-prepared, experienced crew—and thunk, you sail smack into a container floating, invisibly, just awash. That’s bad luck.

Another is stupidity, examples of which are legion. An overwhelming number of deaths at sea (and I’m not just talking sailors here) are directly attributable to acts that would not qualify the victim for MENSA membership. Let’s face it; a lot of people just should not be out there.

Although there are some common denominators, stupidity should not be confused with the third camp, hubris, aka recklessness—taking the calculated risks that are an intrinsic part of all sailing to an extreme. This is when you bet your own skills as a seaman against nature itself, which always has the stronger hand. It’s only a matter of whether or not it’s played. Making an off-season crossing of a notoriously fickle body of water is the kind of risk taken either by stupid people who have no real idea of the consequences should things go wrong, or smart ones who gamble on the strength of their boat and the stamina of their crew and think the odds are in their favor. Most times it works out; sometimes it does not.

I was brought to this train of thought by the sad loss of the schooner Niña with all seven hands in a winter storm in the Tasman Sea last June. That is one nasty piece of water even on a good day; vicious low-pressure systems barrel up from the Southern Ocean with monotonous regularity, battering the New Zealand coast and whipping up huge seas offshore. So were skipper David Dyche and his family and friends stupid to depart at that time of year? Well, cyclone season was officially over, and given a generous weather window, there was no reason Niña could not have made the crossing safely. On the other hand, as a Kiwi friend says, “it’s never a good idea to cross the ‘Ditch’ at that time of year.” Dyche just made the wrong judgment call. Reckless, perhaps; unlucky, definitely.

Then I read about the Pearson 365 that washed up on a Martha’s Vineyard beach, 54 (!) days after being abandoned somewhere off Florida. Its owner, a “novice sailor” according to news reports, ran into some weather not to his liking and hitched a ride on a passing freighter, leaving his boat afloat as a danger to other vessels. As so often happens in these “get-me-outta-here” situations, the boat looked after itself very well and looked scarcely damaged when it beached itself.

There’s no doubt where I feel the blame lies for that episode. Fortune really does favor the foolish.

For the full investigative report into this tragedy, visit www.sailmagazine.com/nina

Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum 

Related

02-'17-Trans-Atlantic_Downwind-Schralpin

At The Helm: Man Overboard!

Imagine this simple scenario: the boat’s powered up, sailing close-hauled in a building breeze under full sail. I come on deck as the skipper during the watch change to make sure the new crew is comfortable and the boat is properly set up for both the current conditions and ...read more

Promo-01-LEAD-MGR00321

Contrasting X-Yachts & Moody Cruisers

One of the most fascinating things about sailboats is the different ways that sailors, naval architects and builders will approach a single design problem. The result has been a bewildering array of rigs and hull forms over the years, and in the case of the two boats we’ll be ...read more

04-Yacht-anchored-in-front-of-one-of-Lastovo's-gunboat-tunnels-(3)

Cruising Charter to Croatia

As is the case with so much of the Mediterranean, to sail in Croatia is to take a journey through time. Centuries before the birth of Christ, Greeks traded amphoras of oil, wine and grain across these waters. During the first millennium, the Romans built lavish palaces and ...read more

m123728_13_01_171012_PMA_02901_9999

Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the ...read more

01-LEAD-doublehanded2

Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are ...read more

01-LEAD-Day-three---dolphins.-300-dpi

A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and ...read more

OceanVoyagesInstitute-2048

Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ...read more

01-Ocean-Voyages-Institute_PHOTO-READY_1_pg

Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient ...read more