We live in a crazy world where the law of maximum precaution is the way. I first became aware of this when buying a pot of paint in England about 20 years ago, on which there was an instruction – Do not drink the paint. The reason has become obvious, protection against legal action by people who believe themselves to be absolved from their duty to cultivate common sense. The Nanny State invades every aspect of our lives, concerned for our safety, but certainly not for our freedom to live and take reasonable and calculated risks. Every time we get out of bed, we take risks – falling downstairs, getting burned or scalded, having a car accident. Even in bed, we can have a stroke or heart attack and die. The zero risk life is an illusion.
It is right to protect our children and other people who fail to appreciate the risk in question. It is right to take precautions for ourselves, a seatbelt in the car, a life jacket for the boat, safety goggles when grinding metal, a push stick when pushing the last few inches of a piece of wood through a circular saw. Reasonable precautions are to be taken with any risk, but there are always possibilities of things going wrong. Life is risky, and we ultimately face the certainty of death. That relativises things somewhat!
I am on an e-mail list of keen dinghy cruisers who enjoy being out in their boats. They are mostly experienced men and do the right things – checking the weather, carrying safety equipment, checking the tides and planning. They often go out together on the Solent and the South Coast. I would love to go with them, but that will have to wait for days when I won’t have to be so careful with money. Already, I will go to two organised gatherings in 2015, the Semaine du Golfe and the Route du Sable. Those associations have motor boats ready to give a tow or help someone in difficulty, but they don’t go policing everyone and assuming we’re all idiots.
We all had to learn to sail. Some learn on the job. I went to a sailing school and was “brought up” on regatta sailing. It formed a good basis, and we have to be able to handle a boat and overcome panic when we get a heavy sea, a broach and a capsize. Most of my learning has been alone on my little ten-footer, and finding I “invented” many techniques that are standard practice – for example spilling the wind out of the sail in a blow instead of sheeting in and hiking out in an extreme way. I discovered dinghy cruising and a whole different way of messing about in boats than racing round the cans. We were supervised by instructors in inflatable motor boats, and this is necessary when you’re learning and in someone else’s boat (ie. the school or club). After that comes a time when our experience allows us to become autonomous within the limits of which we are aware in terms of weather and sea conditions. In short, we don’t need to be nannied all our lives!
On the e-mail list, this came through:
Novembers issue of ‘All At Sea‘ – ‘Britains most read waterfront newspaper‘ has an article titled ‘Discover dinghy cruising‘ and describes a cruise from Lymington to Needles light house by the Cody sailing club based in Farnborough, Hants. What’s interesting about the article to me is the contrast in the running of this event with that of a typical DCA [Dinghy Cruising Association] event, or at least a south coast one.
There is an emphasis on safety in the article which include, having a nominated officer of the day who assesses weather conditions, suitability of boats taking part, experience and fitness of crews, safety equipment carried. Crews may be changed around to ensure they are suitably manned. Crews are briefed on the passage plan are are expected to stay close enough together so that sail numbers can be read. The cruise was accompanied by three yachts acting as safety boats.
Nothing wrong with safety of course but it’s hard to image the DIY DCA matching that. Most of us would not wish to for a number of reasons and that may limit our appeal to some sailors. Is the DCA will a club for diehard, stubborn individuals? I think so.
I replied on the list:
This sounds awful. I have been on the Route du Sable and there was little in the way of Orwellian interference. There were motor boats ready to give a tow without assuming we needed to be “rescued” or in serious trouble. I will be going to the Semaine du Golfe next May for the first time, and assume the spirit is about the same. There are some great tips in Roger Barnes’ book – be courteous with those who assume we have no sailing skills and need to be mothered, but sure of knowing what we are doing without help.
If this has to be the spirit of sailing clubs and gatherings, it is best to organise outings between friends. I have encountered this attitude with professional seamen like harbour masters – dinghies should be on lakes and tethered to motor boats like children in Optimists! We have a long way to go in promoting dinghy cruising and freedom to take our own responsibilities for safety and being able to assume the (reasonable) risks we take.
I see little of the Fédération Voile-Aviron, but attitudes seem to be reasonable. Discourage the obviously foolhardy and those who can’t handle a boat – get them to go to sailing school, and treat experienced sailors as adults. I must see about bringing my boat over to England for a DCA event… It sounds my kind of thing. I discovered dinghy cruising on my own as I got bored with going round the buoys and wanted to see more of the coast and set challenges.
Interesting and significant. Don’t let the DCA go the way of bureaucracy and the “principle of maximum precaution”! Keep it human!
Few things remain human and free from bureaucracy and official claptrap. It is also what has happened in the Church. That is perhaps the interest of my sailing articles for those who don’t sail. We have to be on our toes, and refuse to accept being bullied by control freaks. We are adults, and it’s our problem if we stupid enough to go out in bad conditions. There are legitimate rescue (mayday or pan) situations, but we can manage on our own nine times out of ten. There are risks, as when getting out of bed and taking a shower. That is life. I have discovered some good people out there, and these are the stars in the dark night – I treasure them and look forward to sailing with them next spring.