Risk is a four letter word

IMG_20131116_065235_650

 

 

Many activities we undertake for work or pleasure entail some degree of personal risk. The legal system has a long and complex history of dealing with risk, especially in the work place, and how/where to assess responsibility for harm. It’s less clear in certain areas of the recreation arena. Recent crises and loses, and the reactions to them in the sailing community, raise issues about risk.

We have become a very risk-averse society. The predominant view appears to be that any bad thing that happens must be the responsibility of someone, and steps must be taken to assign blame, assess for any loss and to prevent such from ever happening again. This view makes moot the notion of ‘accidents’,i.e. no one is at fault, and raises real questions about who, if anyone, should decide for each of us what level of risk is appropriate or acceptable for us to accept.

Two events and recent weeks prompted me to revisit my concerns about this trend, and to try to condense the issues at they relate to the sailing community in particular. First, a family set off to cross the Pacific with two young children aboard. The younger became ill, required a significant rescue effort and resulted in the scuttling of the boat. The family is well and working to recover. Second, four very seasoned blue water sailors were returning a boat across the Atlantic, lost a keel and their lives. Their bodies have not been found.

In the first instance, the parents were severely criticized in the media for putting their children at risk. The criticism came largely, if not entirely, from sources that had no relevant sailing experience. The cruising community has come to their defense, and provided much needed support.

In the second, an extensive and largely futile effort was mounted to find/recover the sailors against severe odds. When the search was first called off, there was a loud and massive cry to continue – long after any reasonable chance of finding the missing sailors. That ‘forced’ a re-start of the effort with unsuccessful results, put more folks at risk, and escalated costs.

There were enormous financial costs and personal risks to the rescuers/searchers in both cases. It can be argued that in neither case were the experienced sailors undertaking any unusual or even unreasonable risks. They went off shore in competent boats with adequate experience.

The questions these events raise with me are in the realm of risk assessment and response, including costs. In no particular order: 1) who, besides me, has any right to decide what level of personal risk I may willingly accept in undertaking a voluntary activity? 2) who should be financially responsible for the costs of responses such as were mounted in these cases? 3) should anyone besides the parents decide what degree of risk to impose on minor children, and if so who and how?

I have my personal answers to these questions, at least in part. 1) no one; 2) probably some combination of insurers, public services and the private party depending on the specifics; 3) ‘No’ should be the default, but as a society we clearly believe in protecting minors from irresponsible parental behavior – irresponsible being the operative word. Who’s the judge?

I believe the case can be made in the sick child instance that where it occurred is irrelevant. There are many other remote scenarios that would likely not have raised the same public response. How is an at-sea response any different from a remote shore-side response where an insurer would pay for an ambulance – other than the magnitude of the cost? Parents would likely not have been criticized in such on-shore cases. And, would the public response have been different had it been an adult that needed medical attention? Clearly history says yes. See the following for more, and a thoughtful response to their critics.

The Kaufmans’ journey on their sailboat, Rebel Heart, comes to an alarming and heartbreaking end, igniting a surge of media attention and fury at the rescue’s estimated $663,000 price tag and raising concerns for the safety of their young children. Charlotte Kaufman, mother of two, speaks publicly for the first time.

http://www.sandiegomagazine.com/San-Diego-Magazine/June-2014/After-the-Rescue-The-Kaufman-Family-Speaks/

In the case of the four sailors lost at sea, the relevant questions are cost-based and who decides, by what criteria, to call off a search. In my view, the professionals conducting the search are in the best position to judge – they did in that case, but unfortunately succumbed to uninformed pressure to continue.

In the end, our personal decisions to accept risk come also with the acceptance of consequences. We shouldn’t have to answer to anyone for those choices. In the case of responsibility for others at sea, minors or otherwise, there is well-developed maritime law. I think the Kaufmann’s made responsible decisions and their public response (see above) make the clear case for them as competent, responsible parents.

The sooner we accept that ‘accidents’ can happen, and that individuals are free to accept risks associated with their personal activities, the better in my view.

 

Getting to the bottom of things…

They say ‘there’s nothing better than messing around with boats’. I agree, but up to a point. Every couple years, if your boat stays in the water, the growth on the bottom has noticeably slowed you down. It’s time to ‘do the bottom’.

 

IMG_20140512_083208678editIMG_20140512_083740074

Doing the bottom entails having the boat hauled out and blocked at a marina $, sanding down through the old bottom paint (whatever hasn’t worn off) $$, and repainting with a growth inhibiting paint $$$ – usually two coats $$$$. Not only does each step have a price tag, but the cost to your body is not trivial if you choose to do the work yourself. Mostly two days of sanding – upside down – with a sander built for the local weights room.

IMG_20140513_151944681editIMG_20140514_075058900_HDR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then a few more hours, separated by long drying times over two days, to apply the new bottom paint. When all’s done, she looks almost like new again……..now with black over what’s left of the red. Just need to strip off the tape…

..and she looks like new…

IMG_20140515_135211206_HDR

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20140516_092352719_HDRThen back in the water!

Wandering

Wandering

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong

does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

aaaIt often seems to me that Tolkien had sailors of some age in mind when he wrote this passage. Those of us who wander with little purpose other than enjoying the time on the water and the places we visit certainly see ‘gold’ in the passing scenery, and remain as young as we feel.
The trick is to focus on the journey, not on the destination – a hard lesson to learn and to hold onto once discovered. In thinking back over my recent journey from home in Annapolis to Key West and return, my only regret is that I frequently lost sight of that lesson. Fortunately I love taking pictures and can re-live many places and events that I hurried past a bit too fast.

There follows, some of my favorite scenes and pix that remind me of special experiences.

Leaving the Bay and clearing Gilmerton Bridge near AICW mile’0′

Gilmerton Bridge

Approaching the first lock to enter the Dismal Swamp along with other assorted boats..

IMG_2043  IMG_2054

.. and rafting together at the visitors center.

DS visitor ctr

The inevitable grounding – unstuck with the help of a friendly power boater and family …

picked the wrong side of the channel !

image

Just one of many beautiful sunsets..

IMG_2067

..and sunrises..

IMG_2072

Pelicans everywhere were constant companions ..

IMG_2096

Some long stretches of easy travel on flat water ..

IMG_2143

And the bridges – way too many to share. Cleared 30 in two days with a little help from friendly bridge tenders.

IMG_20131210_130648_457IMG_20131210_121506_611

Did I mention beautiful sunsets?

IMG_2185

Often had company of porpoises – got to be quick to get pictures..

IMG_2219

Lovely evenings, sometimes followed by not so lovely mornings…

IMG_2302 IMG_20140330_092116570

The southbound trip across the Albemarle Sound was beautifully calm — less so on the return (thus no pix)

IMG_20131031_081528_628

A fun gathering of fellow cruisers in St Mary’s .. chance meetings with friends.

IMG_20131128_125053_726

Then finally the southern destination – here at the end of I-95.

IMG_20131223_174724843

.. and Christmas in Key West.

IMG_20131219_213250688IMG_20131220_195554421

Wonderful live music everywhere — Jazz in the Gardens, and a band of 5 talented brothers..

IMG_20140105_171253653IMG_20140224_192049177

Made some new friends ..

IMG_23735539655496

Enjoyed great food..

IMG_20140312_202159103Loui's

Even got to go fishing as guest of a friend from New York – my first off-shore fishing..thanks Joe!

photo

And dinner with my generouse hosts in Key West – Karl & Terri (left), along with CCYC friends from home – Dan a& Martha were passing through on their way to Ft Meyers.

IMG_20140129_192319714

Lots of early morning starts – a pleasant time of day..

IMG_20140403_070252790_HDR

.. and did I mention sunsets?

IMG_2180

.. in the end, perhaps the hardest lesson of all to learn..

Sailing