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Old 08-11-2013
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Re: Vanishing Seamanship

I think it all comes down to people. Some can learn from the mistakes of others or are capable of listening to sound advice without taking offense while others think it can't happen to them or don't want to be lectured to. My first boat was a 32' Endeavour. My only sailing experience was 20 years prior while daysailing with a friend on a Catalina 27 in San Diego, once in San Francisco, and once in Manilla Bay. Many on here may say that 32' was too much boat for a beginner. I would disagree. I disagree because from the start I respected the boat. She weighed 11,600 lbs and I had a good idea of how much damage that could do. I took her out in light winds. On my first trip I threw out an empty 2 liter bottle and made approaches to it both under power and under sail on a day there were very few other boats about. I spent over 4 hours approaching that bottle as if it was a concrete dock and I would sink if I hit it. I sunk my boat several times that day but all the sinkings were early on. I had much more confidence when I put her back in the slip.

I moved her shortly after that trip to a much larger lake. During the time of my move I realized I had made a very stupid mistake. I had learned 20 years ago that port tack/overtaking/windward boats must give way and powerboats give way to sail. When I got my copy of the navigation rules I realized their was so much more to know so I studied that book before I ever took her out again. I studied basic navigation. I got a current copy of the chart book for my area. My next trip was a weekend excursion on the lake. My only electronics was the depth meter and a handheld GPS unit. I followed my progress on the charts. Sure, I used the GPS but I knew exactly where I was on the chart at all times. With a 4'5" draft I mentally set a safe depth of 10'. Sand bars move so I kept a safe distance from the charted bars. When I actually anchored I had already selected a charted area with enough depth to allow me a 7:1 rode length with a clear 360 degree swing. I had my approach visualized and I had an escape plan if I needed it. It was a rather smallish cove. I had a great weekend of sailing even though the winds were only light to moderate. On the way back they were so light that I had to motor to get back before dark. The engine overheated. I cleaned the water strainer and restarted. Still overheating. Rather than tinker with it in the middle of a channel with barge traffic, I raised the sails and learned another lesson. Become better aquainted with a diesel engine. The long trip back at exactly 1 mph on my GPS and my 1st docking under sail taught me the folly of not knowing everything I could about my boat. Respect is not enough. I learned from my mistakes and have since made an effort to make sure those mistakes are not repeated.

If you've managed to stay with me this far then let me tell you how I could have done it. I could have jumped on that boat, backed her out of the slip without telling the people in the next slip it was my first boat and asking if they could lend a hand if needed, gunned the throttle and shoot out into the lake. I could have cruised around without knowing what was under my keel. Screw the practice, I can handle it. There are bumpers (yes, I know they are called fenders but I'm in character) on the boat so what the hell, let's have fun. On my weekend trip I would do the same thing. I don't need to read a book and I damn sure don't want to spend $15 on a chartbook. I have my GPS! Just keep it between the buoys! WOOHOOO!!!! What fun! Ok, drop the anchor. How much line to pay out? I'll tug on it. If I cant pull it up, then it should be fine. Damn engine overheated! Well, I'm in the middle of the channel. If anybody comes along they can see I'm not moving so they will avoid me while I spend the next hour or so reading the manual and figuring out what's wrong. Lucky thing I came back on deck. Why is that barge honking his horn? What the hell, he almost hit me! Who does he think he is? He don't own this lake. Guess I'll have to call the marina on the VHF for a tow. (On radio) "Hello, marina... Can you hear me?... This is Dean, can you come tow me in?"

My point in all this is that I think no matter what type of gadgets you have, or even if you have nothing, it boils down to people. It's whether or not you are willing to learn and have some respect for what you are doing and what you are doing it on. Society seems to have become so fast paced and trained us to rush to the goal and forget the milestones. Technology has enabled that mindset. It allows us to do without learning to do. You will NEVER hear me say "that can never happen to me" because that is when Karma will bite me in the butt. I owned my boat for a year before I had to sell her. In that year plus the day sails in San Diego I've experienced a lost rudder at the mouth of San Diego Bay, engine failure on the lake, and a broken prop shaft. I've had to dock single handed twice under sail. Once at night in calm conditions and once in daylight in very stressful conditions. I posted about that in the thread "Big Freakin Sails". So yes, it can happen to me, or anyone else no matter what your experience level. If you think it can't then I feel for you.
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