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


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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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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