Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Dumbing Down.

Heads up. This is a rant!

Sailing is one of the final freedoms in this over-regulated world of ours. Cruising the Seven Seas, self-sufficient, independent, taking responsibility for our actions, depending on no one else. Anyway that’s what I’m out here for.

Part of its attraction is the unpredictability, the excitement, the danger and the reality of living on the edge.

Yet more and more “cruisers” seem to be seeking exactly the kind of hand holding by service and support agencies that I left my land-based life to avoid. I just picked up a February 2007 edition of Cruising Compass in the laundry. Yes, it takes a while for the latest news to catch up with us here! What's the first piece I read? A group of cruisers in Cartagena are liaising with the Colombian authorities to agree a “safe route” from Cartagena down the coast to Panama. It made me so angry that I am still hyper-ventilating!

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’m similarly annoyed by some cruisers’ demands that the Guatemalan Navy put a stop to dinghy thefts. It’s not that I don’t understand a desire for more safety in the trailer park; it’s just that I had hoped more of my fellow cruisers might have chosen this existence out of a desire to take command of their own lives. Where in the world is free from theft? Where in the world can personal safety be guaranteed? And what comes next? More paperwork, more regulation, more bureaucracy, a request for 2,100 Quetzales to put a new propeller on the launch. And who is going to pay? The cruisers. Then maybe a higher cruising permit fee to fund “the improved security,” fines for not anchoring in designated safe anchorages... and so on until this wonderful, wild place becomes just another extension of Florida or Texas.

But more than this is fueling my anger. It is the growing feeling that these minor irritations are symptoms of a much deeper malaise: denial of the sometimes harsh realities of a seafaring life. You see it in the way that boats are bought, like a car or caravan, to just hop in and drive away.

If you are scared of pirates, drug runners, being alone, heavy weather, running out of fuel, don’t come here. Stay close to home in safe, patrolled waters.

What I would like to see is more realistic assessment of our own levels of competence and a greater readiness to invest the time and effort to build the skills needed to face the wilder ocean passages. Honestly recognizing our limitations.

Many have been there before and survived to tell the tale, let’s pay greater attention to what they have to say. Take precautions; prepare our boats and ourselves fully. If we feel the need, file a float plan. There are plenty of SSB nets to check on us as many times a day as we want. Have an emergency plan prepared and actionable. Above all PREPARE FOR THE WORST, it’s an insurance that we will hopefully never have to cash in!

But if you are not comfortable with your level of competence stay where you are happy, practice, gain knowledge, only then venture out to the untamed places. But please don’t require that everywhere else becomes as friendly and familiar as home. Becoming comfortable with our own level of self-sufficiency and competence isn’t about developing a gung-ho attitude, it’s the exact opposite. Because, let's face it, in extreme conditions, high seas, big winds, mechanical malfunction we are on our own out there. No amount of Navy patrols, bits of paper or dollars in the bank may be able come to our rescue in time.

If we are not more honest with ourselves, then we risk channeling our fears into misplaced efforts to dumb down the excitement and challenge of sailing for everyone.

What makes me so angry is to see my freedom and self-sufficiency compromised by individuals who do not own up to the problems that they have with this way of life. I don't care how you want to sail. What risks and inappropriate actions you want to experience, but I really, really feel passionate about any attempts to dumb down my experience of the wild places that we have left on this planet of ours.

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