Which Old Salts Should We Listen To? 10 Ways To Decide—Part 1

©istock/MarcoCoda

No one is more of a believer in the benefit of gathering knowledge about how to voyage offshore safely and enjoyably through experience than I am. No amount of reading, listening to podcasts, or watching videos comes even close to the amount each of us learns on a single voyage. And that even applies to those of us who have voyaged for years—the learning never stops.

So, extrapolating from that, it would be easy to assume that deeply experienced voyagers are pretty much always right, simply because the gear and techniques they recommend have worked well for them for many years.

And to a great extent that's true. Getting advice from someone who has been out there a lot is the next best thing (although no substitute) for being out there ourselves.

That said—you knew there was going to be a "that said"—blindly following the teachings of old salts, no matter how experienced and well meaning they are, can sometimes lead to poor gear choices and big mistakes once out there voyaging.

Instead, in our continuous quest to be competent mariners, we need to learn to use our own common sense and rational thought when deciding which of the gear and techniques used by others we will adopt and which we will not.

I know, that's easy to say, but how the heck can someone just starting out on the long and winding road to becoming a good offshore mariner possibly evaluate the teachings of the deeply experienced?

Or, even more confounding, how can any of us decide which of two old salts with conflicting opinions to believe?

Glad you asked.

Here are ten ways to do just that, that I have found useful over my decades of offshore sailing and, for the last 15 years, when deciding which gear and techniques to advocate for here at AAC.

And the cool thing is that using these tips is a lot more about critical thinking than offshore voyaging experience. So, by following them, even those brand new to voyaging can decide, with a fair degree of reliability, which old salt's recommendations to take on and which to discard.

But before we get going, three caveats:

Investment Based

You will notice that a lot of what I'm about to write is based on insights I have learned from my long term interest in, and frequent reading of, investment industry wisdom. That's no accident.

Investing is where much of the really deep work on understanding human behaviour and how to decide who to listen to is being done. It's also an industry with high uncertainty and many unknown unknowns, just as offshore sailing is. And one where, just as in offshore sailing, gurus with huge reputations and experience can be, and often are, very wrong, or at least their opinions and process can be wrong for us.

Promoting AAC?

Originally, I tried to write this article without making any reference to what we do so that it would not seem to be a thinly veiled attempt to tell you why you should listen to us here at AAC.

But then I realized that that approach was artificial and disingenuous since the base premise of this article is that this is what I have learned and apply every day. So I have abandoned all pretence of modesty (what a surprise) and just gone for it.

And that has actually worked out well, because it's made me think and write about our process here at AAC, including its potential weaknesses. Asides that I have highlighted with grey boxes.

And talking of our weaknesses, if you can think of a time when what I have written would have failed these guidelines—and I'm sure there are many—feel free to point it out in the comments. It will help to make me better at what I do—see #3 below.

No Malice

It's impossible to write an article like this without citing examples. And since most of those examples are about recommendations from old salts that I think are wrong, or about the process that they used to arrive at those recommendations that I think is flawed, I have no doubt that I will upset quite a few people with this piece.

And worse, it's likely that some of the people I offend will be those who have given hugely of their time and energies to make offshore sailing better and safer. I apologize in advance for this.

And if you are one of those upset people, I get it, but please know that I did not write this article with malice, but only because I strongly believe these are issues that must see the light of day.

OK, I have all the CYA done, let's get on with it.

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Marc Dacey

Well, this is going pretty deep into what a friend of mine, an old salt himself, calls “the mental game of sailing” in terms of bringing up notions from marketing, confirmation bias and investing logic…

But that’s interesting to me (I work editing financial services stuff) and matches my experiences as a former marketer. Regarding the corporate sponsoring, I think it’s never not going to be a double-edged sword, but you seem scrupulous in telling your readership when and when you have not received a consideration or accepted sponsorship from a given firm, and quite frankly, you are often fairly scathing about the gear you do like, so there’s little concern you’ve “sold out” from me. The benefit to your readership is, of course, the discounts offered for gear or services a lot of us would be buying even if AAC didn’t exist.

I’ve also seen your commenters bring you around (eventually!) to a contrarian point-of-view you previously rejected. The safety at sea topics illustrate this well. So that’s healthy. A sailor who insists on “one way and that’s my way” needs to go have a following sea tear him a new one and fill the gap with hubris. Not only are there many ways (and gear, and strategies) to stay alive in heavy weather, they may all be required in the same watch…so an open mind and a willingness to challenge one’s assumptions is the mark of seamanship, even when that is just moderating comments in front of a computer.

Brent Cameron

As a long time follower (and fairly frequent commenter) of a great many sites and forums and a student of human nature and philosophy, I firmly believe that the comment section is particularly suspect for confirmation bias as:

1) far more people will write glowing review comments, especially when the author takes the time to respond, than will “dare” to disagree – and the bias gets more exaggerated the more perceived “risk” the author puts into the original article. Go to some site like Fox News or CNN news and look at the ranked comments and you will see this in spades. Heck, even here, you see it on your most recent article about raising the rates. Lots of people piling on about how brave and valuable you are but, at least when i read it, nary a comment about how they may not see the value in a 20% fee increase. I strongly suspect there are quite a few of your 4000+ subscribers who aren’t happy about it but I also suspect that very few of those will publicly go out and say anything about it because of the perceived risk of going against the crowd – especially after those enthusiastic posters who have already gushed their support. I suspect that you’ll see the results of this in the takeup rate for the subscription discount but not in the comments section.

2) The site attracts people who are already preselected – and in the case of a paid membership site, heavily preselected – for generally agreeing with the site’s philosophy, internal “politics”, and for a lack of a better word I’ll say, “ethics”. These three properties, I’ll collectively call the “ethos” or norms of the site. Using the Fox/CNN example again, you will find that positive reviews dominate BY FAR most of the comments that agree with the ethos. Contrary opinions- even those that are very well laid out – are ruthlessly shut down by those who “conform” to the norms or ethos for that particular site while positive reviews will be heavily thumbs upped. For every well thought out criticism, there will be 8-10 often fairly brutal responses “enforcing “ the ethos. You can see this effect very clearly on sites that allow thumbs up/down reviews of comments. Of course on less moderated sites, you also have trolls who seem to live for annoying the ethos but those are generally easily detected and ignored.

3) Frequent posters gain a certain amount of credibility and “notoriety” that also reinforces the groupthink/ethos of the site. If you follow any site for a while, you’ll see a Pareto distribution of commenters where the square root of the commenters post more than half of the comments. I’d wager that if you added up the comments of your frequent commenters like Dick or Colin here you’d find this even on this site. These frequent commenters are often (but not always – there are always exceptions to the rule) unofficial (and I’m sure often unintended) “enforcers” of the site’s ethos and any criticism of their opinions is often met with fairly brutal backlash by those who see value in the ethos. This reinforces the confirmation bias yet again. I follow a website devoted to a specific brand (not owned or moderated by the manufacturer) and there is one extremely knowledgeable and very prolific commenter who comes across as a bit brash, brutal and conceited with his comments on rare occasions. I’ve noticed that when a new poster will write in with a reasonable criticism of the brashness of a particular comment, the forum immediately comes alive with what I’ll call “defenders of the virtue” piling on top of the poor unwitting critic. This has the , I’m sure unintended, effect of dramatically boosting the confirmation bias yet again – as well as boosting the continuing ill behaviour of the frequent commenter.

None of this is meant as criticism of your site or definitely those opinions or actions of your frequent posters like Colin or Dick (i certainly didn’t mean to pick on you two but used you as easily recognizable examples of frequent posters) but merely to point out that these effects are probably even more widespread than you give them credit for.

How to solve it? Not easily. It isn’t really a feature of your site but rather simple human behaviour. I do think anonymous surveys can help highlight reasnable contrarian positions and are also one reason I think ranked comments CAN be valuable. Of course they can also contribute to trolls posting crap just to get votes so I’m not sure I’d recommend them here but if you really want to check on whether or not there is CB going on, the anonymous survey might illustrate those articles where you are pushing the bounds a bit too fat. I think the results of any one survey would be far less illustrative than the ‘trend’. As an example, if you for instance, wrote an article on the merits of a fee increase (to use a recent example), I’d wager you’d have far more negative survey opinions than usual on some article than one on the benefit of using a JSD (on this site as we are already to a certain extent preselected to agree on that by virtue of the fact that we pay to get safety advice).

At the risk of being one of those “suck up” commenters who unwittingly reinforces the ethos, I appreciate that you take the time to seriously examine the potential biases of your articles and address them.

Brent

Thanks John. Let me be very clear, I meant in NO way to suggest that Dick (or Colin) were “enforcers” of groupthink. My rationale for pointing them out was simply to illustrate that there are a few on every forum who generate the vast majority of the content (and value) of the comments. I fully agree that you and Dick do often disagree and that those discussions add a lot of value to the site and are one reason I enjoy the comments as much as the article. In fact, I often agree with Dick over you!. 🙂

On pricing, my comments were not specifically aimed at your new prices but rather again as an example of confirmation bias by showing that the people not commenting publicly on disagreeing with the increase won’t show up until you see the actual take-up rate in your discount offer. I fully agree with your comments on pricing strategy and suspect you’ll do just fine revenue wise even if you do lose a few of your existing subscribers.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
The valid point I think Brent makes is about limiting inevitable confirmation bias on Attainable Adventure Cruising, particularly in the comments. He suggests ways to combat the risk in Point #4. Perhaps we should take care not to put off would be contributors and new “offshore adventurers” with our comments and advice, because we haven’t been open enough, or kind enough. (As an aside I believe Dick and Eric are not only two of the very best contributors that add enormously to the site, but are also some of the most open minded of contributors).
The confirmation bias I see is most frequently, particularly in the comments here, is on boat choice. I see it every month (more so for owning a beamy offshore production yacht and well bitten tongue). Take a new member who has been to a boat show and bought their dream retirement boat – a beautiful, beamy, modern “offshore” production yacht and comes on here for help to go adventuring (whatever that is for them). How long will they last as active members or even as member, learning that their pride and joy is really an ugly duckling?
Do we really think that they can’t learn to safely take their boat on offshore adventures? Shouldn’t we rather help them understand the possible limitations of their beautiful vessel and learn how to make safe passages? To help them create correct processes both in safety and maintenance that mitigate any risks posed by their choice of boat and its potential shortcomings offshore? Because if we are careful to nurture this learning, I am confident it can happen for them on this wonderful site of yours John and Phylis – and I trust there is no confirmation bias in saying so – haha!
I’ll try and take that splinter out of my own eye now, Rob
Bonnie Lass, Beneteau 473

Rob Gill

Hi John, excellent question!
Let me start by saying I don’t for a moment doubt the care you both take to walk that “fine old line”. And you absolutely should (and do) call out poor practice. You should absolutely promote good practice and design as you see it (and you do).
I am questioning whether on not infrequent occasions, bias or even dogma (more so in the comments) creeps in as Brent has bravely suggested. And it takes some guts to post a contrarian view in the face of “group think”. A few examples might help – take your point about a design being “fundamentally unseaworthy”.
I have from time to time read here disparaging remarks about the design of so called “condomarans” and over time, myself formed a view they were unseaworthy. Last year we cruised offshore in the SW Pacific from NZ, meeting many other yachts and their crews, including a Lagoon 440 of the “type”. We made a number of passages with this yacht which absolutely amazed me with its speed on passage off the wind AND speed and pointing ability on the wind! She also impressed with her robustness and ability to cope with the sea conditions we encountered and we had a few rough old passages. We never once beat her to port and we have a fast boat, easily capable of 200nm days. Wow, did I get my bias blown away. Do I still have concerns about this type of boat? Yes a few, like the large vertical front facing windows but these could be mitigated, right? Anyway, I never saw any cracking or other tell-tale stress signs on this yacht and it more than proved its seaworthiness to me.
To the “bias of the month” – the new breed of wedged shaped cruisers advertised as “offshore capable” at boat shows. May I challenge the though that these new boats are fundamentally unseaworthy? Are they that bad and their design trend so flawed, when nearly every new offshore racing yacht has a similar hull form, is often sailed short-handed, with twin rudders and hard chines that stand the boat up incredibly? You just need to follow one (if you can keep up) to see how they stiffen-up and stabilise, once their fat chine comes into play (between about 15 and 18 degrees of heel) with no great tendency to “round-up” that I have witnessed – and we have followed the wakes of a few now.
May I challenge the view that their modern interiors are way too voluminous and favour form over function? Must be dangerous in a seaway, surely? Well, perhaps not if they are easily fitted with a few extra strategically placed grab handles and rigged with a taught centre grab-line in the cabin at chest or shoulder height, when on passage. We only have to look at the GG Race 2018 to see that narrower traditional hull forms are no inherent protection in themselves, when things get ugly.
I do get that these new designs may not be optimal offshore, especially at high latitudes or with long ocean passage making. But I also think many (not all) of these new boats are pretty well built, are amazing value and will serve their owners well, as long as their voyaging ambitions match their capability (boat and crew).
So could we not exclude these owners in our comments and content, perhaps by covering more – “So what if your boat is different from the norm / ideal? How should/could you…”?
Just a thought.
Rob

RDE

Hi Rob,
Interesting that you should write: “May I challenge the view that their modern interiors are way too voluminous and favor form over function?”

It’s early winter again, and my elbow reminds me again that I should have had the surgeon chop on my elbow at the same time as I had the bone spur on my heel from 40 years of ski boots removed. The elbow is a souvenir from a a November Gulf Stream delivery in one of those modern 16′ wide deck salon interiors with no handholds and a step down into the galley. Once I stepped down with nothing to hold onto and the boat fell off a wave I was launched all the way across the boat and landed on my elbow on the chart table.

Sorry, I don’t believe that a 1.5 million dollar boat should require a major interior redesign to eliminate the interior desiccator’s vision or a cat’s cradle of lines rigged inside the salon (AKA bowling alley) in order to navigate to the head in order to pee. Or all the capabilities of a gecko in order to cling to the mandatory walk around center line queen berth.

Rob Gill

Thanks for the link John,
I do recall this article and remember holding back from questioning parts of it. Why so? Sadly, I didn’t feel brave enough or knowledgeable enough. More so given the experience of the contributors and general direction of the comments showing the danger of confirmation bias – except ironically Richard (RDE), who was rather expertly putting a case for wider boats, haha.
But I still have the question about the article’s main conclusion – that trends have created a new generation of offshore production boats that are so flawed so as to be bad boats or unseaworthy ones.
Our Beneteau 473 has a 4.3 m beam, not so much narrower in relation to our length than the latest generation boats. We hold that beam a long way aft and have a similar and only slightly less extreme prismatic coefficient profile. But we also don’t benefit from a chine that the newest designs employ, that greatly enhance their stability once pressed over. John, I don’t dispute that our boat, like every boat, has compromises and that other designs are better suited to higher latitudes or may cope better with storm conditions, or maybe not (read-on).
But if the linked article and comments are completely correct and are the last word in offshore yacht design, is our boat inherently a bad boat to take offshore? One we should sell and buy a real one like a Boreal? Does everyone think we will broach whenever pressed by a 35 knot gust or loose steerage with our single rudder? That we wouldn’t be able to heave-to? Or would experience a horribly uncomfortable ride up-wind in real waves? Does anybody think she would be heavy to helm rather than a delight that steers with mostly finger tip control and often left unattended with no auto-pilot set? Because that is how I am sometimes made to feel about our boat choice.
Yet none of these things have happened offshore, even though we have negotiated several gales and Taman frontal passages, bashed to windward in 30-35 knots and coped with some good seas with the odd big wave strike.
And is hull shape by itself as important as the whole boat design: keel, rig and sail plan. This from a boat design site I follow: https://www.boatdesign.net/threads/massive-southern-ocean-storm-hits-golden-globe-fleet.61074/page-2#post-841952
As “CT249” in the thread ponders, how can a 43 foot Benny (with its wrong prismatic co-efficient hull shape) be handling the conditions and going to the rescue of a Rustler? And more succinctly goes on to say, “It doesn’t indicate that newer boats are more seaworthy, but the record of the GG boats does seem to be evidence that older boats are not proving to be any better when placed in that sort of event, than modern boats”. And these GG boats were specially selected and prepared for the Southern Ocean challenges by their skippers.
Anyway, my only real salient point is for us to keep an open mind and perhaps better include rather than inadvertently exclude would be first timers who have so much to gain from this site, because of opinions (no matter how scientific) about their choice of boat.
Rob

Rob Gill

Hi RDE,
I did have a chuckle when I saw in John’s linked article above, you were expertly putting the case for wider boats and more accomodation being a valid part of the design choice.
But ouch – so many of these type of falls do seem to lead to abandonment of boats by their crew unsettled by a serious injury situation and being unable to deal with it, particularly if the skipper is the one down. So serious stuff.
I totally agree that an expensive offshore capable yacht should be better equipped, but the truth of the matter is 50% of these new boats hardly ever leave the marine, another 40% don’t leave the coast. I can understand why manufacturers don’t include “features” the majority of their customers won’t want or value.
But I certainly think a pre-purchase “offshore option pack” would be a great option for the more adventurous owners, when safety features can be built in rather than added later in sub-optimal ways as you say.
But I am also sure you have experienced classic offshore boats having dangerous aspects too, the GG Race being a case in point. I have recently helped with two 10 day offshore deliveries, the first on a Halberg Rassy 48, the second on a NZ build Davidson Cavalier 45. Both being capable, well regarded offshore designs with centre-cockpits and moderate beam. And both had a near identical wide open space at the bottom of the companion way, with no posts or handholds to reach for and even a gecko (loved the imagery) couldn’t have clung on to their deck heads. It was really tricky negotiating a “look no-hands” reach across to the companion way steps each night.
Cheers, Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi Brent,
Much of what you wrote I agree with, but still, a complicated comment which may take a while to fully absorb.
I suspect you are correct in pointing to AAC’s Comments Section as being more prone to confirmation bias. But this is not, to me, surprising. You are correct in your observation that this form of bias is an inescapable part of human nature. Not only is it a powerful determinate of choices/decisions, but it is poorly understood as to the bias it induces in everyday life for most of us. Add that to my sense that, in the comment’s section, (and as well written and well thought through as many of the comments are), that most responders just enjoy responding by shooting-from-the-hip so to say and not engaging overly with “bias oversight”. For better or worse, ultimately that may be seen as John’s responsibility.
One thought that got kicked up when reading stays with me, however, and that is how glad I am that our discussions (usually) are fundamentally about areas where we can get close to an approximation of “best practices”: where data can be collected and field experience shared. This seems fundamentally different from Fox/CNN. Examples of this is perhaps an (still emerging) agreement that the best practice is to move to a new generation anchor, say a Spade, and to move away from the CQR/Delta/Bruce’s of the world as bower anchors. Similar with storm tactics: go with a JSD over other methods.
As to anonymity: I certainly think it has a place: voting for one area. In general, though, I think anonymity is over-rated as a way to generate data, and I feel strongly I like to know who I am have a discourse with. Along those lines, you may have noticed, I fully identify myself in postings I make, on AAC and elsewhere. I am willing to take personal responsibility for the thoughts I share.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Brent

Fully agree Dick. I only meant to use anonymous for the surveys as like elections… definitely not for comments. Anonymous comments encourage trolls and spurious behaviour. I also think that if used, those surveys should be used only sparingly and only as a check in order to look for confirmation bias or encourage open discussion on possibly contentious topics otherwise they could contribute to what John was posting with his reference to the Idea Democracy vs Idea Meritocracy and further encourage groupthink. I think that requiring the names (as John does) adds to the decorum and is one of the many good things about this site.

Brent Cameron, s/v Enterprise

Marc Dacey

Brent, some excellent comments here with which, in a general sense, it is hard to disagree. They remind me of the discussions I used to have as the marketing manager of a large ISP in Toronto in the late ’90s, a time where the vendors of the services (Internet access) held a vast advantage in terms of selling a product everyone wanted and few understood. Good times for me. The sale of the company, as an aside, meant I was given the bag of shut-up-and-go-away money that purchased my first sail boat…and here I am 19 years later, getting ready to world cruise in its successor.

But I digress: My point here is that the distance-cruising (or passagemaker, or “adventure”) community is exceedingly small. Not a lot of people own boats for fun, and only some of those sail out of sight of land for fun, and only some of those move aboard a boat and sail away from land, on purpose, until they see a different continent on the other side. Any idiot with a bias can sign on to a website with a political point-of-view and wave “me, too!” until breathless, but I would put to you that a forum and site of this type is, by its very rarity, self-selecting. There are so few real-life opportunities to discuss tactics and gear and philosophy with offshore cruisers that access takes precedence over bias, and anecdote must serve when testing simply does not exist (or when it comes in the forms of “why the front fell off” reports from MAIB and other forensic government bodies).

I think John gets (and certainly gives) a great deal of pushback to being the site’s voice of authority. Despite decades and ten of thousands of miles at sea and in higher latitudes than most, he retains a receptivity to challenge, because the sea can’t read his logbook and will kill him as if he was a newbie if he does not work to avoid that. The same is said for most here who’ve been to sea. The most experienced and the least can both benefit from each other. This is the logic I’ve employed by my wife and I crewing on separate deliveries: none are quite alike, and it’s a double-dose of reality to do them separately, as well, somewhat morbidly, a way to keep our son from being an orphan in the worst-case scenario.

So while I agree that your points are valid and agree with my adventures in advertising, I would say that the rather particular constraints of both the cruising lifestyle and the enormous breadth of experience in both the readership and the commenter contingent mitigate to a large degree those concerns. This is the only website for which I’ve ever paid to participate, because its value proposition is, to me, uniquely suited to my ambitions to sail around the world, an activity about as popular as space travel, I would venture. Short of living next to Robin Knox-Johnson’s local pub, this is a solid option. Rather than confirm my biases, I find the debates here, and the logic presented, challenges them and makes me rethink, in some cases, entirely, why I believe the things I do and that maybe there are better ways to do them.

Brent

Awesome comment Marc… I fully agree with everything you wrote. My intention wasn’t to highlight the “problems” or lack of value with commenting on a site like AAC (it’s the only site I pay for as well), but more that just having a comment section doesn’t completely guard against a confirmation bias – even on AAC. I agree that AAC is FAR (I.e. orders of magnitude) less vulnerable than more tribal sites like Fox/CNN but I would say the risk of CB is still there. Just look at the discussions on Monohulls vs Cat’s on some of the more common cruising forums (or the discussions on the merits of different anchors) to see what I mean. I probably shouldn’t have used Fox/CNN as my example but rather picked certain examples directly from AAC (and I can think of three or four right off the top) but that felt a little to close to home for me. Glad to hear of one more getting ready to leave for the long trek! Fair winds!

Brent Cameron, s/v Enterprise

Charles Starke MD FACP

I find this comment particularly useless and irritating. The comments in most columns are knowledgeable, helpful, educational and valuable. The articles generally generate positive and negative discussion that allows discourse and learning. I value the many different opinions proffered. I feel they are not biased except by long experience at sea and find the increase fee for this site totally justified. Any sailing magazine subscription costs much more, is colored and slanted by advertising, and does not allow useful discussion and comments.
If you are unhappy, please make constructive suggestions about how this site could be improved.
Charles Starke MD FACP
s/v Dawnpiper

Brent

Charles, you may have missed my suggestion for adding surveys as a way to possibly check for confirmation bias. In fact the whole response was meant as guidance to check for CB and definitely not a comment on the value of AAC or the contributions of the forum members as you seem to imply. I realize I got a bit over long with it and probably could have been more succinct. Cheers

Brent Cameron, s/v Enterprise

Michael

One of the many things I value about AAC is it deals with practical reality, putting it into the proper context. An Old Salt may have sailed a bazillion miles, but do his/her conclusions apply to me? A couple of recent comments by AAC about storm conditions are great examples. Skip Novak and Moitessier. Sure Novak has his Yachting World techniques videos. How does his context relate to mine? See John’s wise comments on this. And Novak always makes it clear his decisions are for him. I am getting older and weaker, I have a modest boat. I used to be able to sail downhill in big waves all night long (whether advisable or not) and be fine the next day. I used to ocean race solo. No more. Without the ability to safely rest I am a wreck – and hazard – the next day. I still want to be on the ocean, and this requires me to realistically evaluate what I can and can’t do, and what my boat can and can’t do safely. I think it is important to listen to everyone and get the big picture, and then be honest and realistic. I think this is the approach AAC takes. And AAC tries to be as evidence based as possible.

Drew Frye

You made me want to go back and review my blog from the beginning, if only to point out places where experience and testing have led me to know better now. I’m pleased when new testing confirms old positions, but I’m disappointed when I can’t at least refine the position, or better understand it’s limitations. I’m thrilled when our or my understanding has grown, or when new gear excels. And once in a while… I was just wrong. Ouch.

And then there are the subjects–like heavy weather and drogues–that are just so darn complicated, with so many bits of gear, types of boats, and different sea states, that learning is an on-going process, with many wrong answers but more than a few right answers. I’m leery of statements that are too black and white, or as Yule Brenner said in the King and I…

“When I was a boy, what was so was so, what was not was not.
Now I am a man, things have changed a lot. Somethings nearly so, others, nearly not.
Is a puzzlement.”

Ernest

And, while you mention your site updates, may I reiterate my “request” (well, rather begging for it) to receive notifications when an article gets updated, similar to the notification on new comments? I simply feel I am missing a lot.
Any other takers out there?

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I rather like Ernest’s suggestion. A possible notification could be a note in the monthly summary when you feel additions of significance in either quantity or quality have accrued in an article
My best, Dick

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Since we are discussing which old salts to listen to and now raised new features for Attainable Adventure Cruising, have you considered providing a function that gave each member the option to write a short bio about themselves and their boat?
The benefits could be:
1) When old or young “salts” comment or make suggestions, readers would know something of their professional and recreational backgrounds, their offshore sea miles, and the types of boats and geographies those sea miles have been accrued in.
2) Less frequent contributors wouldn’t have to preface their point by writing about their experience, boat, or qualifications under each new chapter before making their point, so keeping comments shorter and easier to read.
3) Contributors would be able to reasonably judge the competence/experience of the person they were replying to, so as to avoid over complicating the reply for some, or worse, teaching others to “suck eggs” as I have inadvertently been guilty of.

It would be neat if we could click on the contributor’s picture to quickly bring up their bio, including how long they had been members and how many comments they had made.
Who knows, I may even put up a photo. Cheers, Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Understood and agreed: no intention of adding more work. I merely thought that if you had a sense of adding significantly to say, the weather chapters, you could throw that in the monthly summary pretty easily.
My best, Dick

Drew Frye

There is also the matter of the type of sailing you are doing. My last boat was a cruising catamaran and my sailing was >90% coastal. Though I wrote for a wider audience, and I’ve always sailed on other boats, the cat experience influenced my thinking.

I recently downsized. My kid is off on her own, we stopped cruising as much, and I always liked smaller, more responsive boats. As a result, I was reminded that the interests of day sailors and those with smaller boats are different. I started cruising on a smaller boat, decades ago. And so my writing focus has changed a little. The things I learned cruising a heavy boat are still true, but they are often not right for my smaller boat or the sailing I do now.

The point being, the advice should match the boat you have and the sailing you are doing. Expeditions to Patagonia, lolling around the Caribbean, and cruising the Chesapeake are three distinctly different things, and best practices are different. It is often left up to the reader to figure out the focus of the author. I think John has made his focus pretty clear.

Steve Holloway

Hi John,
I know you’re sold on the idea of the Jordon series drogue and on the strength of that I will probably invest in one, you may count as an old salt to much of your readership, shocking I know!
I don’t share your opinion of the Golden Globe Race however. (Opinion’s the wrong word, just the sense you give that they are mad to be out there) Having interviewed all the skippers last year it is clear they are an amazing bunch and will provide some fascinating storm tactics information on their return, you would struggle to describe Suzi as an old salt, but she sure can sail!
They can tow warps but have choosen not to on many occasions, will be interesting to hear their reasoning. Tomy and Gregor’s dissmastings seem to have happened in a storm that a drogue would have been little use in. A storm that developed very quickly on top of them and changed direction leaving a terribly confused sea. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s pitch polling seems more like something a drogue might have help avoid, but with his vast experience, and at 73 Jean-Luc is the ultimate old salt!… and he made the decision not to tow anything.
I’ll tell you what, if Jean-Luc gets back and says he wishes he had a drogue I’m definitely buying one!
Steve

Steve Holloway

It will be interesting to hear Susie Goodalls take on the series drogue. From the initial report she’s given she was enjoying the sailing in the conditions she had until something broke in her wind vain self steering. Realising she couldn’t hand steer forever she deployed her series drogue and went below. It was then that she pitch poled. Maybe the series drogue isn’t quite the panecea you think it is!?
Steve.

Rupert

Hi All,

What a fascinating series of comments! Congratulations to John for opening up this discussion.

I particularly enjoyed Brent’s discussion of confirmation bias as it appears in AAC and Rob’s appeal to be more open minded about yacht types. John’s statement that he struggles between kindness and reality is but one example of the former. I think we mostly agree that in the complex questions of yacht design or vessel management in storms there is no one reality. Should John’s struggle, like my own, rather be to express reality as he sees it with more kindness?
Rob’s mild defense of modern yacht design as typified by broad sterns and RDE’s post in response raises some interesting points. A yacht designed for ocean cruising has to wear many hats. Naturally it has to be a safe and stable platform for crossing oceans but it also has to be a comfortable and welcoming home. The paradox is that such a vessel, in contrast to a boat sailed at week ends, say, spends much higher proportion of it’s time in use as a home, a place to entertain and be entertained than it does actually at sea. It seems eminently justifiable therefore that it’s interior should be as bright, open and welcoming as is commensurate with its other functions. Obviously good hand holds and grab rails are a must, but rigging a little webbing here and there at when at sea would be a small price to pay. After all, saloon settees are often, perhaps almost universally, used as berths at sea. How is that achieved? We put up lee cloths and nobody finds that too much of an imposition. Of course I sympathize with RDE’s tumble but do note that it was during a delivery (by paid professionals I assume), in November, in the Gulf Stream. Many designers could come up with an interior that was ideal for those circumstances but I would hazard that the boat’s owner, during his summers in Maine and winters in the West Indies (I’m guessing, of course), might miss his open, airy, well ventilated deck saloon with its views all around.

I’m looking forward to the next installment of this post and the comments that it inspires.

RDE

You are right Rupert, the owner of the particular boat in question did spend his summers daysailing the boat with friends in New England and then hire paid delivery crew to move it to the Caribbean every winter. If you know the east coast you know that every delivery on that route is a November gulf stream passage because of hurricane threat if you jump the gun. Any boat designed to go back and forth to the Caribbean should be first designed for a November gulf stream crossing rather than a daysail to Nanny Cay.

The fact that hired help are willing to deliver a yacht for money so than an owner doesn’t have to expose himself to the challenge of an ocean passage does not mean that the serfs should be subjected to unsafe design features. The boat in question had 4 designated sea berths, (only one of which was adequate for a full sized adult), a standard V berth and a king sized centerline berth. The salon had round seating for 10 with no possibility of using the 16′ beam for accommodation in the lowest motion area of the boat. It’s “open, airy, salon” has so much headroom that anyone under 6′ 6″ couldn’t reach handrails on the ceiling anyway so they just left them off. As with the companionway handrails. Any attempt to temporarily string safety lines through the boat would require crawling on hands and knees to get from one side of the boat to the other because of the layout.

Sorry, but my elbow injury wasn’t an accident or a tumble, but rather a product of the negligence on the part of the designer.

The use profile for this boat is not unusual for a 55′ multi-million dollar sailboat owned by someone wealthy enough to have the boat delivered to his playground of choice. The boat in question is a popular design from one of the two most prestigious builders of high end production sailboats. As such the boat interior should be designed for it’s intended purpose— which includes ocean passages from one desirable area to another.

I’ve built and managed all kinds of boats from 36 to 155′, and there is no reason that even I can’t create an interior that will provide safe passage for the OBN’s who deliver the boat and pride of ownership for the owner who wants to daysail the Islands in style. I’d start by throwing away all the drawings from the interior desiccator, with their curved settees and landlubberly conveniences that look nice on the drafting paper. Sorry, the priority role for someone who claims to be a sailboat designer is not to create a “bright, open and welcoming” home. Of course all those “artistic” features are one of the reasons why the owner (or his wife) bought the boat in the first place. Confirmation bias!

Mark Gadue

Long time listener; First time caller.
Owner of Tartan 34, built 1985. Boat name: Jack Aubrey. Cruising grounds, Lake Champlain, Vermont. (See! Not even Coastal sailing much less blue water.) Age 61. First sailboat I’ve ever owned. Because of ACC, I replaced the standing rigging when I bought the boat; I own an oversized SPADE anchor; I have three reef points built into my mainsail, with the second and third reef points rigged; I can reef the main in roughly two minutes from the cockpit; I have practiced heaving to; I regularly sail with my wife and granddaughters in 30 knots of wind. And so on.
But I’ve already jumped ahead of myself and buried the lead. I never would have bought a Tartan 34 and started cruising Lake Champlain without ACC. What you have to offer, confirmation bias, blah blah blah aside, is unique, inspiring and wonderful. Most of what I know about owning and rigging a sailboat, I’ve learned here. If anything, you don’t charge enough. This site is directly responsible for the fact that my wife and I had the courage to own a sailboat at all.
What is offered here goes way beyond high latitude sailing. It’s just about sailing, safely and enjoyably, full stop.
It’s also about dreaming.
John is a self-declared curmudgeon. As humans, all we can do is our best to state our own biases. We all know he is opinionated. That’s why we read the site in the first, second, third and fourth place. After that, let the buyer beware.
The most offensive thing I’ve ever read on this site is John’s last comment about the morality of hiring captain/crew to sail your boat across an ocean. Ethics and morality, in this case, are based on full disclosure more than anything. If the owner is transparent, the responsibility to accept the gig or not lies with the captain, not the owner of the boat. Let’s face it. Most delivery captains think they could sail an oreo cookie rigged with a handkerchief across any ocean at any time. Let’s just be clear about who has agency here, and not pass moral judgments. Leave that to CNN and Fox News.

Mark Gadue

I’m sorry. I may have contributed to distracting from the main point which was confirmation bias. Do you know the book, The Four Agreements? Worthwhile. They are: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t take it personally. Do your best. As to bias of any kind, I find the commentators at ACC, and particularly the moderators, fulfilling most of the Agreements consistently. John does his best to provide his most up-to-date thinking based on new knowledge, experience and continued consideration. If he is stubborn about some things, like all tough-minded people are, so much the better. I’m not at all concerned about confirmation bias when people are doing their best, within a lively exchange of information.
As to hiring crew, yes of course I would hire someone to do something that would be stupid and negligent for me to do myself. Some things I can do (plumbing, boilers, project management, lawn work) but some things I cannot do (high voltage electricity, computer repair, roofing, stand-up comedy).
I believe in the things you emphasize at ACC. Staying on the boat. Keeping the rig up. Keeping the water out. Good engines. Clear decks. Massive ground tackle. Gybe preventers.
Delivery captains, I imagine, must often sail without these “comforts” that they might insist upon in their own vessels.
And no, I’m not heading across the North Atlantic, or down the East Coast and across the Gulf Stream in the winter. I’m not capable of it. Someone else might be; or they might not be as risk averse as I am. If they are willing to provide that service to me, and I can afford to hire them, it’s not a moral decision. It’s a business decision. Some people do want a sailboat that might be more RV than expedition. They have the right to get it from place to place. It’s not something that I would want personally, but I can see the attraction.
People do things all the time that I wouldn’t do for money. It doesn’t make it unethical to pay them to do it if you do not lie to them about the nature of the work or the materials, and the activity isn’t illegal.
Thank you for letting me comment. Mark

RDE

Hi Mark
Love your Oreo Cookie sentence! Met more than a few Cookies myself.

Charles Starke MD FACP

Dear Mark & John
I want to complement Mark on one of the best, and most pertinent (to me) comments I’ve seen on AAC. He expressed why I read AAC. I agree with Mark’s points about the improvement in safety and ability my crew and I have experienced since reading with John on AAC. The comments and continued column corrections lead the way to critical thinking and safer sailing.

Examples:
1. I’ve arranged my boat to be able to heave to in spite of a self tacking jib.
2. I use a bow led preventer for the main boom downwind after reading John’s article and analysis.
3. Over the last few years, I’ve purchased four large CO2 fire extinguishers since I’ve assumed, after taking fire training courses at the Navy Sealift Command and Safety-at-Sea seminars, that this was the safest extinguisher with least cleanup. Unfortunately, CO2 is used at these courses because of the ease of resetting the fire for the next person in the course. This makes it look as if it is uncritically recommended for boat use.
I did not learn, until comments on AAC, how dangerous CO2 is in an enclosed space or cabin in a boat, with death in an enclosed space in under a minute because of rapid ph change in the body with CO2 inhalation.
I am now equipped with Maus and halon extinguishers that I learned about on AAC, and several fire safety head hoods.
4. I previously used a Rocna 88 lb with 3/8” chain on my 47 foot, 40,000 lb boat. But I had several difficult times setting this in good sand or mud bottoms unless speed in reverse was less than 1.25 knots, and several dangerous episodes in which anchor pulled out and failed to reset with wind or tide changes in spite of routine hard backing down on anchor to set. My new Spade anchor has been infallible.
5. We use fixed tethers and are working toward midline jacklines. Midline jacks are hard to institute with a track for self tacking jib.
6. Anchor handling has been streamlined, after reading several comments.
7. After John’s analysis, we carry a 3/4 HP 120 volt dewatering pump (Gould LSP07) with 2” flat fire hose powered directly from the generator (not inverter) at a specially installed 120 volt socket. With this, I emptied a 30 foot boat filled to the gunnels in under 2 minutes. Generator is installed high above level of main bilge.
8. We carry a Galerider as a drogue and for steering if the rudder failed. John and AAC have been extolling the Jordan Series drogue. John has successfully used the Galerider off the bow in a serious episode. I’d like to see comments and comparison of the Jordan drogue with using a Galerider, possibly with the Pardey bridle. This has not been mentioned. I realize that the Jordan drogue may be the gold standard, but I have hesitated to carry both because of weight, complexity, difficulty of adding chain plates, and the type of cruising we usually do.

I value:
-“Consistency is Not Good”
Continued analysis and corrections are valued.
-Views and opinions are openly aired and discussed.
-John’s “admonishment to be kind.”!
-Comments add worldly view and vast experience.

Comments especially appreciated recently:
– “John is a self-declared curmudgeon. As humans, all we can do is our best to state our own biases. We all know he is opinionated. That’s why we read the site”
– to navigate below in some boats we need “all the capabilities of a gecko in order to cling to the mandatory walk around center line queen berth.”
– “Most delivery captains think they could sail an oreo cookie rigged with a handkerchief across any ocean at any time.”

I would agree that if a column gets updated it would help to get a notice of this. Perhaps a regularly published list of column edits would help.

I hope I can live up to and add to the friendly and critical analysis led by John and Phyllis.

Best wishes,
Charles
Charles L Starke MD FACP
s/v Dawnpiper

Rupert

Hi RDE and John,

I seem to have touched a nerve (funny bone?) here which is unfortunate as the point I was trying to make is that boats are used in all sorts of different ways and that it is quite right that their design and construction should reflect this. The challenge in designing an ocean cruising home is that it serves as both home and ocean crosser and that the requirements for these two operating modes are sometimes in conflict. Somehow those faced with the challenge have to meld an IMOCA 60 with a house boat. The particular twist with ocean cruising boats is that they actually spend much more of their time at anchor in port than they do at sea. Of course, when they are at sea they are far from help and may be subject to severe weather.
RDE says even he could design an interior that could provide a safe passage for the crew, and I don’t doubt that he could. But the difficulty is that a) he is only addressing half of the design criteria ( to provide an interior that takes care of the crew at sea ) and b) could he sell such an interior to his clients, be they an individual or a production builder?
Although it is off the point that I was trying to make I have to address both RDE’s and John’s comments regarding yacht deliveries and the morality thereof. Both appear to make the assumption the owners have their boats delivered because they are too afraid to do it themselves. Back in the day I captained deliveries in Northern Europe, the Med, the US East Coast and West indies and the North and South Pacific. Never once did I feel that I was being asked to do so because the owner was afraid to do the job himself. In almost all cases the owner was either not competent or confident to make the passage or was simply too busy. I never felt that the relationship I had with the my clients was one of Lord and Serf and would have immediately rejected the job had I done so. I always reserved the right to refuse a delivery if I felt the vessel was unsuitable or insufficiently prepared for the passage with the owner paying for repatriation of me and my crew. Once I took the job I assumed full responsibility.
Naturally no one could condone hiring someone to do something that you dare not do yourself (but are quite capable of doing). But to suggest that this is often the case with yacht deliveries is surely nothing but a blatant attempt to grab the moral high ground.

RDE

Hi Rupert,
I once prepared a bid spec for a 100′ lifting keel aluminum sailboat for owners from France. When I commented that you don’t often see a design with two identical master staterooms the owners responded that the paid captain and his wife were good friends and they wouldn’t think of asking them to live in quarters less well appointed than their own. There are all different kinds of owners of large sailboats just as there are all different kinds of people in general. I may have implied that the only reason people hire delivery crew is because they are afraid to make the the delivery themselves— If so I was clearly in error as the many reasons you have experienced in your career are equally valid.

As to responsibility for delivery disasters at sea, let me allude to an event off the Oregon coast a few years ago. A delivery skipper and crew of one contracted to delivery a new catamaran all the way from France to be displayed in the January Seattle boat show. As it happened, meeting a schedule half way around the world encountered a few hiccups, and they found themselves offshore from the Oregon coast in January— a patch of water that frequently sees weather at that time of year that rivals Cape Horn. The inverted catamaran washed ashore and no trace was ever found of the occupants. I’ve seen 80 knots of wind and a 50′ ground swell there— fortunately from land! Who was at fault? The manufacturer who dangled a briefcase of money in front of somebody who probably needed it, or the fool who didn’t park the boat on a safe mooring in San Diego and walk away penniless when it became obvious what the remainder of the voyage entailed. I think the answer is clear.

RDE

Hi Rupert.
I didn’t say “RDE says even he could design an interior that could provide a safe passage for the crew” What I did say was that even I can design an interior for a sailboat that provides safe working conditions during ocean passages and pride of ownership (and function) for an owner while living aboard his SAILBOAT. If he wants a floating condo there are any number of motoryachts that will fill the bill so why compromise it’s purpose by cluttering it up with a mast, sails, and lines underfoot?

Rupert

Hi RDE,

Thanks for your reply. I enjoyed your story about the French couple and their captain –Liberte, Fraternite and Egalite and all that. In a similar vein I was once working on the General Arrangement of a 132′ ketch when the owner’s captain came by. As is usual in such vessels the crews quarters were forward and he asked me where the ironing board was going. In my naivety I replied that I didn’t usually show ironing boards on my drawings. I was sternly informed that the stewardess would spend up to four hours a day ironing bed linen, table cloths and the crews’ uniforms. Did I expect her to set up a board on deck?

I did indeed miss the second half of your sentence regarding interior design and I apologize. What this discussion shows, I think, is that in this, as in probably everything in yacht design, the choices made are a compromise. It would appear that your preference is for interior design features that promote security at sea while I might incline a little towards openness and a feeling of light and space and be willing to accept some modification to things when on passage.

Your reference to the loss of the catamaran being delivered to Seattle raises another fascinating difference between our approaches. I gather from your last sentence that you believe that the manufacturer who dangled the briefcase of money was to blame for the sad outcome and that to you this conclusion is obvious. I, on the other hand, draw exactly the opposite conclusion. To me the skipper is master under God (as the saying goes, I imply no particular religious connotation) and it is his responsibility alone to decide when and where and whether to go to sea. Temptations of all sorts abound, and I understand the pressures that money, fame, time and other things can exert. But that does not shift the basic responsibility of the captain. Where, after all, does this end? Do we excuse the hit man (to take an admittedly extreme example) for his actions because he really needs the money? Certainly the instigator who puts up the cash is guilty, but so, surely, is the guy who does the deed.

Anyway, to get back (finally!) to the subject of this post from John. I gather from your comments that you are not short of experience and I myself have some salt in my veins so I guess the correct conclusion to the question of which Old Salts we should listen to is…..none!

In reply to John, you clearly did write the words that you repeat above. You also wrote “hiring a delivery crew to take the risk, as we so often see, is a complete failure of morals…..” and implied that the reason these cowardly (but rich) owners do this is so that they can carry on their sybaritic lifestyle “in a warm place”. What I objected to was the idea that owners “often” hire delivery crews to take risks they are not prepared to assume themselves and the characterization of their motives (which I have found to be as varied as the owners themselves) for doing so. I find both statements to be inaccurate and prejudicial but do thank you for the opportunity to put my views before your readership.

RDE

Hi Rupert
A lot of things we agree on and some on which we differ, but the one we are 100 percent in agreement upon is that once the captain sets foot on the vessel ( whether he is the owner or a paid employee) he is 100% responsible for the decisions that are made. In the loss of the catamaran off the Oregon coast the fault lies with the delivery captain and his choice to attempt a voyage toward a likely disaster, regardless of how well or poorly the vessel was designed or how much he was being paid.

RDE

Hi John
As you probably know I worked with Colin to attempt to get a boat I built accepted into the Globe fleet. She fit the letter of the rules, but probably threatened the organizer because her speed potential is about 5-10% higher than the boat he owned. But the race is his baby and he had every right to decide the rules and must accept responsibility for the consequences. And in an era where real adventures that are not chronicled minute by minute with a Go-Pro are increasingly rare, I support individuals right to undertake challenging endeavors.

That said, I’ve always felt that opening up the race to designs like the Valiant 40 and Fast Passage 39 would have been prudent based upon their proven speed and safety advantage over the short waterline 36 footers that characterized almost all of the accepted entrants. But then the New Globe race probably would have played out more like a sailboat race than the Survivor contest it has become.

RDE

Given that they found themselves in the same piece of ocean at the same time I’m sure you are correct. However attempting a non-stop circumnavigation in a boat with a 27′ waterline exposes you to far more seasonal weather patterns than the same voyage in a V40 with a 34′ waterline that could quite likely be 50 days faster and have at least some capability to avoid the worst of it.

RDE

Hi John
Jean-Luc’ Van Den Heede, probably the most seasoned “Old Salt” on the planet, recently published an account of his storm survival tactics and subsequent pitchpole in Latitude 38. (https://www.latitude38.com/lectronic/2018/11/28/#jean-luc-vdh-cape-horn) Probably the best possible confirmation of your advocacy of using a series type drogue.

RDE

Hi John
I don’t think I come close to qualifying as an old salt, but I did race cars when I was young and foolish. One of the things that I recommended when discussing outfitting a Cape George 36 for the Globe was installing a Recardo style seat and seat belt at the chart table for security when the going gets rough. I’ll bet Suzie (the latest pitchpoler) and all the other upside down Globe sailors would have thanked me as the cabin roof came up to meet them!

Personally I would never build any custom sailboat without an high performance automotive seat at the chart table just because they are so much more comfortable even while stationary.

Stephan

Hi John,
being new at AAC I in fact remained both – a quiet reader & as well a deeply amazed one, impressed by the sheer knowledge & real world experience shared and discussed by so many members here.

Taken from #4: [John wrote]
„… let me take this opportunity to encourage each of you to apply critical thinking to everything we publish, and not hesitate to point out any logic fails. …“

I really appreciate that approach. And beeing an mechanical engineer (and so basically able to understand some of these brilliant technical discussions here up to a certain amount …) – but not beeing a native speaker, it takes me some more time to ‘get things strait’, read as well between the lines & make up my mind on things. A timespan during which many new comments in this active community already popped up & pushed the running topic further on … I’m mostly simply too slow.

Few is worse in my opinion then simply repeating some already written statements … so I usually just drop it & keep on reading. Thoroughly happy with that. 🙂

Again from #4: [John wrote]
“… And, further, don’t let lack of experience stop you from participating in our process of getting to better decisions. …“

You get it to the point: It is indeed the lack of own experience on one hand and the respect for other sailor’s vast (and shared!) experience on the other that simply keeps me quiet. “Who am (I with less then 10.000 nautical miles slowly collected during short trips over decades) to (critically) comment on statements of top experienced sailors (doing my lifetime-mileage in just one year) unless I’d be dead-sure?!” I’d be better of remaining silent, keep one reading & learning … and maybe carefully ask somewhen later…

So please do not misinterpret the silence – in my case it stands for my full appreciation & deep respect.

Thanks, STEPHAN!