Way back twelve years ago, when Phyllis and I started this site, our primary purpose was to help others, particularly younger people, realize their voyaging dream by sharing what we had learned, often the hard way. To, at least in a small way, refill the well of combined cruiser knowledge that others had so generously drawn from to help us as we learned.
AAC is now a business, but one that pays us considerably less than we could make slinging burgers, so helping others get out there is still much of what motivates us to put in the time and effort to keep writing and publishing.
To that end we’ve found that it’s relatively easy to zero in on the things that every voyager must know to be safe. But what Phyllis and I have been thinking about a lot lately is the other, and far more complicated, side of the coin. And that’s what this post is about.
You see, for those of us who have voyaged for years, it is very easy to confuse our justifiable pride in the skills we have mastered with the need for others to master the same skills. I know I have screwed-up big-time in this regard, but now I’m trying to do better.
Techniques We Don’t Need
For example, at various times in my life I have been reasonably good at:
- Celestial navigation.
- Dead reckoning, plotting and pilotage on paper charts. (We were very late adopters of electronic charts.)
- Splicing of braided lines. (I was a rigger and sailmaker back in the mists of time.)
- Tying of a lot of different and sometimes quite complex knots.
- Installation and use of SSB radio.
But here’s a shocker for you: After a great deal of thought, I now believe that none of those skills are required to voyage offshore in a safe and seamanlike manner.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that, for example, it’s OK to buy a plotter and sail around just keeping the little boat icon in the white with no sense of where we are. Not at all, we still need to be navigators to be safe.
But what I am saying is that demanding mastery of the same tools and techniques that we used back in the day before electronic navigation systems is not the way to get more people out there voyaging, or even a good way to help them be safe once out there.
And that goes double when we are trying to help young people who have less time and money than we boomers enjoyed, not to speak of no hope for the defined benefit pensions and/or real estate value gains that gave many of us a financial safety net, which in turn made playing with boats a lot more viable.
So here’s something for us experienced sailors, and also those of you who are new to the sport who have just mastered a skill you are proud of, to think about:
If we sincerely want to help and mentor those struggling to master our incredibly complex sport of offshore voyaging, we need to be careful not to demand that they master unnecessary skills.
Techniques We Do Need
In fact, I would argue that by demanding all, or even some, of the skills I list above, we run the risk of actually making those we hope to help far less safe and competent—after all that, they probably won’t have the time, money and energy left to, for example, learn to:
- reef quickly on all points of sail,
- snug down to ride out a gale at sea,
- receive and interpret the weather,
- properly navigate with electronic tools,
- set up proper backup systems for their primary navigation gear,
- tie the knots they really need,
- anchor securely,
- dock their boats safely (online book coming this winter),
- not fall overboard,
- fix all the stuff that will break.
The point being that since there is never ever enough time to do and learn absolutely everything, we must prioritize if we ever hope to see our protégés (or ourselves) leave the wharf as safe seamen.
Is It a Hobby?
One other point. Let’s not confuse our hobbies with what’s required for seamanlike voyaging. For example, if you are a crackerjack celestial navigator who can take and calculate a star fix in ten minutes, or a SSB expert who can talk halfway around the world at any time of day, no one has more admiration for your skill than I do.
And feel free to suggest to others that mastering these skills is a fun and rewarding hobby. Just don’t tell them they must learn them to be good seamen, because they simply don’t, any more than they need to learn what I know about photography.
If you want to add to the basic concept of this post, please leave a comment.
If you want to debate my classification of the above-listed skills as unnecessary, feel free, but please make your comment on the relevant post linked to above, not here, and only after you have read said post.