PxPixel
From the Editor: Gambling with Nature - Sail Magazine

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:
Publish date:
 Niña: schooner lost at sea

Niña: schooner lost at sea

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

Josie-helm-2

Chartering the U.S. and Spanish Virgins

Flying into Tortola in the British Virgin Islands one December morning, three months after Hurricane Irma, I felt like a war correspondent dispatched to the battlefront rather than a sailing magazine writer on an assignment to go cruising.As my LIAT plane descended toward Beef ...read more

Crew-North-27M004

Weather Gear for Inshore Sailing

Just because you’re not planning on braving the Southern Ocean this summer doesn’t mean that you won’t have some dicey days out on the water. If you haven’t got the right gear, a little rain or humidity can make things miserable. As with all safety equipment, “it’s always better ...read more

atlantic-cup-trailer

2018 Atlantic Cup Video Mini-Series

Atlantic Cup 2018: TrailerThis past spring, SAIL magazine was on-hand to document the 2018 Atlantic Cup, a two-week-long Class 40 regatta spanning the U.S. East Coast and one of the toughest events in all of North America. The preview above will give you a taste of the four-video ...read more

3DiNordac_webheader

3Di NORDAC: One Year In

One year ago this month, North Sails launched a cruising revolution with the introduction of 3Di NORDAC. The product promised to deliver a better cruising experience for a market that had not seen true product innovation in over 60 years. Today we’re celebrating the team that ...read more

HB96k_EP

Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP

What SUP?Dinghies and kayaks are all very well, but there’s nothing like a stand-up paddleboard for exploring interesting new shorelines while giving you a good workout. Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP makes a fine addition to your boat’s armory of anchorage toys, either on its ...read more

DSC_0031-43

Charting the USVI and Spanish Virgins

When my friends and I booked a one-way bareboat charter with Sail Caribe, starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finishing in Puerto Rico, we were a little nervous about what we would find in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria—even seven months later.When our plane ...read more

SailRepairKit

Know How: Sail Repair Kit

Despite your best efforts, there will inevitably be times when your sail gets damaged while at sea and needs to be repaired. First, no matter what the job, you will need to do a quick damage assessment, a task that requires a flat wooden surface, sharp scissors and a helping ...read more

01-061018ROAC-8149

Coming of Age at the Atlantic Cup

Midway through the final race of the inshore portion of the 2018 Atlantic Cup, the three boats in the lead—Mike Dreese’s Toothface 2, Mike Hennessy’s Dragon and Oakcliff Racing, representing the Long Island Sound-based sailing school of the same name—suddenly broke free from the ...read more

01_silken_2018-03-08-0052

North U’s Regatta Experience Program

“Want to check the keel?” North U Coach Geoff Becker calls to me from back by the transom. We’ve just suffered our worst finish in the regatta and are absolutely flying on our way back to shore, spinnaker up and heeling at an angle that feels like maybe we’re tempting fate. ...read more