This is Captain Paul Foer From The Foerfront with another article about boating safety and seamanship. The below is the unedited letter I recently had published in the November, 2017 Spinsheet, The Chesapeake’s monthly sailing journal. I hope you find it to be of interest and that you will consider the lessons to be learned so we can all enhance our boating enjoyment by being safe on the water.
I often enjoy Spinsheet’s features and technical articles but November’s “Taking the Leap” was a silly story of two sailors who described themselves as “new and naïve but eager” and admitted that “we did not know what we were doing.” That quickly became evident.
After some sailing courses, they bought a 1986 Catalina 30’ and sailed it from Deltaville to Kent Island—in March or April. They immediately ran aground, fouled their prop and attributed these first mishaps to “bad luck” and a “sandbar that only the locals knew”.
By mid-afternoon they never found Windmill Point Light “because we didn’t turn our GPS on for fear it was old and broken.” Somehow they made Tangier Island by nightfall but ran aground again. “Fearing that our tanks would leak and sink the boat, we weren’t using either the head or the tap water onboard.” (???) The next day they “were reluctant to raise the sails, because we were nervous about their condition. However, we got up the courage to try our auto helm.” They seemed afraid of all the wrong things-except sailing a worn-out boat in early Spring with little experience.
The author thought a “faint, grey shadow rising up from the water with foaming white movement near the water’s surface…was an island until we got closer. It was a ship. Boy did I feel dumb.”
I guess it was about time.
“Docking was a disaster” but then their battery died (only one?). Finally raising the mainsail, they found a bird’s nest (hmmm!!!). They “were almost overtaken by a freighter in the shipping channel. During the short window of time we had to avoid a collision, our jib ripped as we tugged it in against the wind. Our mainsail spilled all over the deck and into the water on its descent.” Her husband almost went overboard into the frigid water.
The author admitted “We still knew very little and had so much to learn…we were more aware of what we were capable of [sic].” She concluded “The trip had given us a vision of becoming the sailors and adventurers we hope to one day be [sic].” I think a vision of Davey Jones’ locker would have been more appropriate.
What were these two school teachers thinking? Had they been run down a ship or lost overboard, would we or the Coast Guard have concluded that it was operator error, lack of training, improper lookout, mechanical failure–or all of these things?
Why did Spinsheet publish such a story of cluelessness and intentional haphazard behavior without any context on the part of the writer? Was it to have us smile and chuckle or sigh along with them? It is wrong for sailors to encourage or otherwise somehow honor those who get into such situations. Such cluelessness is way more common than one might imagine and mostly results from ignorance, overconfidence or perhaps impecuniousness.
They should have recognized their need for more preparation, but they have since moved on to a larger boat and were featured, of all things, in another boating magazine about how they got started in sailing. I am glad they are alive and enjoying sailing, but they are very fortunate. The sailing world should encourage preparation, experience, prudent seamanship and discourage dangerously ignorant behavior.