Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Flight of Fantasy!

It has been an enlightening experience following the story of 'Captain' Heather, her dad Gene Neill and her boat "Flight of Years".

Most of the enlightenment has come from the posters on the sailing forums, I have been a member of the British ybw.com community for a while now, cruisingworld.com and sailnet.com more recently.

My initial contact with the Neill circus came about through Cruising World when Mr Neill posted a thread to inform the world of his daughters attempted solo-circumnavigation. He mentioned a marina in Panama that I had personal experience of and I responded with some practical information that I believed may have been of some help.

Now those of you who have been following the story, and there are a great number of you, will be conversant with the aggressive and increasingly strange responses and statements that these various interactions engendered!

Suffice to say that the story ended ingloriously after a trip of less than 100 miles when 'Captain' Heather turned back after suffering sea-sickness, running out of minutes on her satellite telephone, locking herself out of the boat, and experiencing engine problems.

I am only human! I do, of course, have a deal of satisfaction in the clarification that my original perspective was indeed correct. No its not gloating or 'reveling' as the moderator of the Sailnet forum labeled it . Its just an honest human reaction to being proved right!

It seems that some of todays sailors are so politically correct that they have, in many cases, lost the ability to be honest about their own emotions and motives. I suppose this should not have come as a surprise to me but it has!

It's fine to jump around cheering from the sidelines, commending the razamatazz, waving the pom-poms wildly but for Christ's sake lets not address the serious and fundamental questions here. Like; this woman may not only be endangering her own life but also the lives of those who may have to try and save her. Oh no we mustn't go there it might discourage her! Too bloody right it might!

And so it should.

I can honestly say that I am sick to the back teeth of this saccharine coated , sailing fantasy that so many people are sold. Sailing is great, cruising is fantastic, there is nothing on this planet, in my humble opinion, to better the sense of freedom and accomplishment of a passage completed, a problem overcome, a decision well acted upon.

And therein lies the crux. It isn't a storybook tale of dolphin sightings, sundowner cocktails, white sand beaches and meaningful encounters with cute native children. Its a hard learning experience that involves large periods of boredom, shorter ones of sheer terror, mastering new skills, surviving in a self-sufficient manner. And that's just those of us out here cruising. For the solo sailor there are the added requirements of honest self-knowledge and an understanding of the considerable stresses of being alone, completely, for long periods of time.

None of these had appeared to be addressed by 'Captain' Heather. She has two kids, a dog, a dependent father.....where were the lone forays into the wilderness, the practical challenges , the addressing of basic issues of sailing knowledge?

They added up to some sailing lessons(started in Jan 2007) a shake down cruise which appears to have consisted of 170 miles, mostly motoring, and a deep belief that soul and God would see her through anything. Well guess what - she was wrong.

And again thats OK, its OK to be wrong but please don't expect me to endorse bogus sailors, pr spin doctors and bogus preachers. Maybe it's my character flaw, goodness knows I have plenty of them, but I WILL NOT lend my support, even in silence, to these money grabbing charlatans.

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