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Posts from the ‘Nibblings’ Category

Risk is a four letter word




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.

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’.



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.










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…… with black over what’s left of the red. Just need to strip off the tape…

..and she looks like new…








IMG_20140516_092352719_HDRThen back in the water!


“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 !


Just one of many beautiful sunsets..


..and sunrises..


Pelicans everywhere were constant companions ..


Some long stretches of easy travel on flat water ..


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


Did I mention beautiful sunsets?


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


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)


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


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


.. and Christmas in Key West.


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


Made some new friends ..


Enjoyed great food..


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


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.


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


.. and did I mention sunsets?


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


Home again..


With beginnings come endings…. so it is with my ‘there and back again’ adventure.

IMG_20140327_072547902_HDRValinor’s name has it’s origin in that J.R.R. Tolkien adventure tale. At the end of the tale, the heros sailed off to Valinor, the undying lands, with the elves. Well, I’m not a hobbit, elf or hero, and I found no elves to take me anywhere along my adventure, at least none that would admit it. But it does feel a bit like leaving for some final place as I approach the end.

I’m in Solomons as I write this, having sailed from Hampton with friend Roger Long. Roger’s boat’s name,  ‘Strider’, also has its origin in the same Tolkien tale. I will meet some SOS cruising friends at Pirates Cove Marina (Galesville) on Saturday/Sunday, then head back to home and hearth on Monday with my wife who generously consented to my extended wanderings.

It has been a long adventure from Last October 28th when I set sail from Annapolis to now. I would not trade the experience for most anything – interesting, challenging, quiet, fun, sometimes exciting, illuminating, sad, and an assortment of other emotions/reactions that may only become apparent with time to reflect.

This is the last of the posts specific to this adventure. The travel feels appropriately complete. It felt that way when I arrived in Hampton – home Chesapeake Bay waters after clearing Mile ‘O’ of the AICW. I’ll spend some time now thinking about the trip and perhaps commenting on aspects from a  cruising and personal perspective.

In unexpected ways, it has been circular – apart from the round trip nature. I docked here at the Chesapeake Biological Lab, a sister lab of CEES to AEL where I served on the faculty 30 years ago. Doesn’t feel that long! Roger, my occasional sailing partner, is the naval architect who designed the Rachael Carson – CBL’s Research vessel I’m docked next to (…adjacent to which I’m docked ? I was an English major once – more than 30 years ago).

IMG_20140409_195540184It has been fun, occasionally sharing on this blog, hearing from friends and strangers (friends I haven’t met yet) who have followed these travels. I made new friends along the way, and look forward to future adventures of some sort on the water. The sailing community is a fascinating group of folks almost impossible to characterize simply – they each  find some sort of fulfillment in sharing time on the water with others of common interests – or alone.

Thanks to all for being there, sharing your experiences, and I hope to encounter you again in other travels.

Fair winds!


Fishing the Gulf

What a great day!  A good friend, Joe K, flew down from New York for a few days and chartered a fishing boat. Hooked Up, captained by Jim Bailey, is a 34ft Hatteras and one of the most successful charterers out of Key West.  Joe generously invited me along for my first ever experience with salt water fishing.

We left the Key West Marina just after sun up and headed out on the Gulf side of the Keys. Once across the shallows, crew rigged and set the lines. We had two outriggers and four other baited lines set at varying distances and depths.


Our general track ran several miles north of and parallel to the keys extending out to the Smith Shoal light not far from the Marquesas.  We had clear skies, plenty of sun, light wind and mostly flat water for a beautiful, comfortable day on the water.

I call it a success … we landed 10 fish – Spanish and King Mackerel – and lost only one. That one put on a spectacular aerial show, but threw the hook in the process.  Here’s what we brought home …. some of which found its way to the dinner plate that evening deliciously prepared by Terri!


More pix from the day…

IMG_20140205_080437922 IMG_20140205_082457620


Solo time

Tonight I found myself in a solitary anchorage after a long, pleasant run of 48 miles. The day began with the promise of warming, sunny weather – a promise kept. It is also a reminder of the contrasts. Solo sailing has its joy, and offers time for contemplation as well as the meeting of challenges when conditions are less than ideal. Perhaps more important, it misses the opportunity to share the very special times and places one encounters unexpectedly. Tonight was one of those.

As the sun set, the sky glowed with vivid salmon colors against the blue. I’d post a picture, but it wouldn’t begin to convey the spectacular changing view. This evening will be one of those solo times etched forever in the memories of this adventure.

As the sky keeps changing, and the birds continue their evening songs, I’m reminder of all I’d hoped for in making this trip,and look forward to the remembering and other opportunities to share.

… maybe I’ll post a pic or two later……….

My father…

I thought about my father this evening. I think of him every now and again, but somehow this was not the same. He was a gentle man, and honorable man. He served his life as a clergyman, setting an example that most of us would be hard pressed to emulate. He died young, in his mid-fifties – too young.  Too young to see and know his grandchildren. He would have been proud of each of them. Too young to watch his son grow into an adult. Too young to follow the successes and failures that we all experience. He believed with a strength of conviction that I could not follow, despite all the opportunities he provided to me to accept his view of life. If he was right and I am wrong, I imagine he’s smiling as I write this.

I think we all reach a time and place where we feel a need to remember and honor our parents. We find our own paths, and come to our own conclusions about the nature of life.  My father knew before he passed away that he and I had found different answers. He accepted that, and never sought to call mine wrong. I believe he trusted that we all come to know truth in some way in our own time. I choose to believe that this is our one and only life to live, and that we have one chance to live it in a way that we can be proud at the end that we did our best to live true to our principles. He believed in something more, and trusted in a plan greater than what we can know in this life.

At this point in my adventure traveling south, I’ve paused for a moment to honor my parents. My mother had her own strengths and shared his beliefs, but it is my father that I mostly recall this evening in a quiet spot on a boat alone.  I didn’t know it at the time I packed the boat for this trip, but must have unconsciously thought this time would come. He was a pipe smoker – perhaps his only ‘vice’. I packed his favorite – one of the few things I have of his. I filled it and lit it on the deck tonight and remembered the many time as a child I could smell the fragrance. I choose to think, right or wrong, that he noticed. If he did, then I’m mistaken, or perhaps we are both right, and this mystery of life is greater than we can imagine.

Among many other things, he gave me his heart – in many ways other than the physical that killed him.  While it has been a challenge, it has also been a strength that has so far given me a quarter of a century more than he had. I’ve had time to watch my children grow and the beautiful grandchildren they have produced. It has been a remarkable gift. He missed that.

I offer these thoughts to my family, but mostly to remind other sons to take the time to honor their own parents, and especially fathers for lessons learned – however long it might take to learn them.

I also share this as a gift back to my dad.



Doldrums – (from Wikipedia) .. noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks. Colloquially, the “doldrums” are a state of inactivity, mild depression, listlessness or stagnation.[1]


Sunrise at Shaw Bay

— a common, well-understood term in the sailing community, and one that comes frequently to mind this time of year.  As summer heat builds, it seems only two weather conditions prevail; hot, humid and still or hot, humid and thunderstorms.  Neither condition is conducive to good sailing. So what to do with this time that includes much of July and August?

Some options include:  make sailing plans for when more favorable conditions return, make those postponed repairs/improvements,  catch up on ‘home chores’ and/or seek air-conditioning. These options will clearly fill the time, and are productive ways to do so.

For myself, I’ve been working through a long list of home projects/repairs, finishing a set of companionway doors for the boat, and developing plans for extended sails come September/October and beyond. In addition, it provides a quiet time to reflect on a variety of personal and philosophical issues.

‘Forced’ quiet time can remind us to slow down, think about priorities and the important things in life – maybe even turn off the cell phone and computer?  Among more personal and arguably more important matters, emerge thoughts about why we sail, and why sailing can easily become a way of life.

Lyrics in Kenny Chesney songs, “vessels of freedom, harbors of healing”, resonate with the feelings that often come when on the water, powered quietly by the wind with “nowhere to go, and nowhere to be”.  Whether real or imagined, sailing offers a sense of total freedom to go wherever you choose and the wind can take you.  And maybe to capture just that feeling is the fundamental reason we sail.

Point in time…..

2011 DMV trip - Ingram Bay

Sometimes we feel it coming. Other times we notice it looking back. Rarely are we aware at that particular point in time when our thinking about life – ours in particular – shifts.  But, if we’re paying attention at all, we eventually do notice. And, it does happen whether we notice or not – sometimes more than once.

Much of what is written about the cycle of life and dying has become trite and repetitive. Characters change, circumstances change but the message is constant. No one gets out alive. What interests me are the answers to the “so what?” question and how those answers change. What do we do with the time allotted to us?  I was prompted again to think about it, and capture those thoughts, by an internet friend’s posting …

“The worst that could happen to us is that we have to die, and since that is already our unalterable fate, we are free; those who have lost everything no longer have anything to fear.” Don Juan Matus

A good reminder. Don Juan’s creator, author Carlos Casteneda, is a favorite of mine. Much of what he teaches resonates with my own views of life and living. The above quote sums it up succinctly. And for those who have faced dying up close, it carries even more relevance.

Others have observed that things come to us when we need them. Or at least we notice and give them currency at important junctures in time. I discovered Casteneda and Don Juan’s teachings at one of those junctions. In retrospect, it was arguably my ‘point in time’ when I began looking at life differently. The consequences of such a shift are not trivial, nor are they instantaneous. It takes time to internalize such a change and make it real in our daily lives. It is a cascading process, one change leads to another and then we notice we are not the same person we were – sometimes a pleasant acknowledgment, other times a rude awakening, occasionally frightening. I see this process as my mission in life. “Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t” – Richard Bach.

The best we can do is to live our lives consciously, thoughtfully, and aware that the time we have is uncertain.  Don Miguel Ruiz (‘The Four Agreements’) offers good counsel, “Always do your best.Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.”

27 days and counting….

The sun may be shinning, but there’s still a bite to the cold wind – a reminder that winter isn’t done with us just yet.  On the other hand, crocuses and daffodils are poking green leaves up through the leaf litter.  Official Spring is now just 27 days away, and long range weather forecasts have fewer below freezing temps!  While a late season storm crosses the country, as an optimist, I choose to believe the worst is behind us and sailing season is almost here………. Those who were fortunate enough to have sailed south for the winter may begin thinking about the return trip.

Winter seminars are giving way to boat-centric events, planning meetings and crew parties. The calendar is filling up with all such gatherings. Firm dates are set for boat preparation:  re-fitting sails, servicing the engine, general cleaning and organizing.  Slipping dock lines and raising sails isn’t far off now – and the cycle repeats……..


Watching the weather to take advantage of those first warm days!