Commitment vs ‘safety’.

This is one of the bigger subjects that i have been thinking about recently , in fact its something i come back to just about every time i go down to the boat and all because of the boat that is alongside the wall behind mine.   That boat is of course Spirit of Mystery, the lugger that Pete Goss built and sailed down to Australia : its now owned by Chris and Julia who run the boatyard.  It will be the subject of my first review of a local boat and what a boat to start with.

That’s all to come, Julia has promised me a tour before the yard gets busy, by then i hope to have a video camera too so it might even be the first video : our man Dylan has suggested doing a tour of my own boat but i think that in this case the Lugger wins the day over my little plastic tub.   Anyway….some things that i have seen and heard (around boats) this year have made me consider that many of todays yachtsmen have become overly sensitive to the slightest hint of ‘adventure’ in their sailing, i call it that rather than ‘danger’ and lets steer clear just for a moment from the dead hand of ‘safety’ with its dull (but safe) overtones.  I do by the way believe in ‘safety’ in fact at work its a major obsession of mine :but there again i mean patient and clinical safety and that’s the real deal.  What then do i mean ?

This is going to take some explaining and to do so i need to talk both about sailing and another outdoor sport/activity from my younger, fitter and lighter days ie rock climbing…yes i was once a hairy-arsed hero rock climber !.  In climbing we often used to talk about climbing routes being very committing ie that once you were on them then either you had to top-out, fall off or generally have a bit of an epic.  Climbers also talk about the ‘crux’ of a route ie the section that is often the hardest or least protected or in some way also very ‘committing’ in that maybe the moves were irreversible once started.   Climbers have a very finely nuanced language of a route’s difficulty which is usually given as a grade : lets say ‘VS’ or ‘very severe’, when i see that on a route description i mainly know what i am in for except that it also might have a technical grade ie the technical difficulty of the hardest moves and thus a VS might be technical but ‘safe’ ie easy to protect or escape from or it might be technically easier but have higher degree of commitment ‘risk’ shall we say.  Climbers manipulate risk and challenge every day : reducing it with modern climbing rope and protection and also alter technical difficulty with things like ‘sticky’ footwear and often chalk to keep the fingertips dry.  The thing here though is that when i did climb i would chose the level of problem i wanted to take on : feeling confident and necky i might choose a route right at the limit of my ability or even something very ‘committing’ and on a route like that i would bring on my best gear, my best footwear etc and thus match my technical and physical/psychological preparation against the difficulty ahead.      The times when i pushed at the limits of my technical ability and did so on a route that was psychologically demanding and committing are the ones that i remember to do this day : that intensity of focus some climbers call “deep play”.

Ok so i will have lost many of you now…crazy climbers…and the opposite of the above were the times i just went and played in the mountains exploring the easy rock : to do that with all the kit and toys would have been a waste and to spoil the enjoyment of simple movement.   Lets than bring this on home and put it into a sailing context.

Pete’s voyage on Spirit of Mystery to Australia via the southern ocean i would definitely describe as ‘committing’ : that’s a big and lonely ocean down there and a copy of a Cornish fishing lugger is not the boat for the job. Hint : if you want to go down to the big chilly bin then take something that will run fast and hard like an old IOR maxi, thats what they were made for and not pissing about in the solent !.

There  was a little incident last year that brought this home to me and it happened in the ‘posh’ marina that i briefly put in alongside before my offshore passage over to Roscoff.    The story here is that once the harbourmaster actually allowed me alongside : too funny but i must have looked like the snot-nosed kid in torn shorts and muddy shoes alongside the big posh ‘yachts’…the liberty even had a streak of mud down one side from laying in the soft mud overnight.   What i have to add is that i had to carefully ‘hand-rail’ my way around the Hoe to the marina as i had hit a belt of thick fog just as i came through the narrows.  So i went shore, did my shopping, got a bacon butty and chips at the cafe and that was just about my agreed time up.   Down on the pontoon i made ready to leave, simple enough : fill up with water, walk around to the fuel berth with my spare can and then go…only for a few moments i was distracted by the couple on a very new looking big cruising boat that i was ahead of on the pontoon.  The boat was about 40 feet, shiny-new and with every concieveable toy and gadget known to a modern chandlery : definitely several arials, other obviously electronic recievers (possibly AIS etc) radar….you name it.

The owners looked brand-spanking shiny-new too : nice deckshoes unlike mine with the strategically placed ventilation (holes to you mister), new matching crew jackets etc.  Only mrs owner was having a right old moan on her mobile along the lines of “absolutely awful…stuck on the motorway in fog for hours” !…absolutely can’t go to to Fowey in this weather etc etc…just HAVE to stay in the marina etc etc.  By which time i am thinking “i’m leaving for France tonight and solo” : ok so i was actually thinking ‘FFS” : thats rude in sailing if you didn’t know and “you have radar, GPS AIS etc etc in fact every bit of kit that the captain of a supertanker has and you still cant leave the safety of a marina for a 15 mile coastal hop.  Which one of us i thought was showing a little bit of commitment and spirit of adventure. ? Is it just me or are modern yachties becoming ever conservative and fearful, overly ‘safety’ conscious and un-adventurous ? where is the fun in that i wonder.

1 Comment

  1. Very good post Steve in a nutshell, is the whole world becoming over safety conscious. We seem to be heading to a ‘no risk’ mentality and where is the fun in that. Some commonsense and responsibility for ones actions seems to be a thing of the past.


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