Because we are all naturally prone to making mistakes, many people try to place their trust wholly in technology. They spend a lot of time speculating about the "perfect" piece of gear. Perfection is a pipe dream at best, so reasonable effectiveness is a far better rulea conservative failsafe standard that anticipates problems by keeping gear and operations simple and straightforward.
All this cannot happen without effective leadership. A properly led crew can get Captain Murphy off the helm. Good leadersskippers, first mates, watch captains, and navigatorslead by command and by example. By attending to every detail, they show the crew what's expected of them. They inspect everything, they take their turn doing dirty work like washing dishes, they eat properely and get their rest, and they put on sun lotion, PFDs, and safety harnesses early. The crew will get the point.
A forehanded state of mind leads to other anti-Murphy resolutions:
No boat is exactly where the navigator wants her to be. An overly optimistic navigator is like a hormone-drunk 15-year-old prowling the shopping mall for a date, prepared to fall in love with the first blonde who comes along. The wrong blonde may cause only disillusionment, but a mistaken position or aid to navigation may cause a wreck. Think of a fix as not where you are precisely, but where you are probably. Not even the charts are as accurate as the GPS display promises. And if you're looking for an aid to navigation, be prepared to be wrong.
Fit the knot to the task. A double half-hitch may be reliable when tying the dinghy painter to a float, but it's a terrible knot for securing it to the boat when underway. It's sure to untie itself under the constant jerking as the dinghy sluices around in the wake. Likewise, the bowline is a great loop knot if the loop has to be untied frequently, but when tying a reefing line to the boom or a halyard to a shackle, use the buntline hitch, which locks itself tight.
|"Good leaders know the boat and they also know people. "|
Good leaders know the boat and they also know people. Murphy is as likely to undermine a crew's morale as he is to untie a bowline or unscrew the anchor shackle. Good leaders spot trouble brooding in a crew and step in to bring order. While they are fountains of optimism, leaders know the dangers of boisterous rushes of adrenaline. An excellent example of an accident about to pounce is a fast spinnaker run with wild surfs. The crew is shouting, "11 knots! 12 knots! 12.1! 12.2!!" The excited steerer remains on the helm a bit too long and tries to sail too deep, while spinnaker trimmers square the pole back a bit too far and keep the chute on edge, instead of over-trimming and stabilizing it. The bursts of speed, with the accompanying whooping and hollering, distract everybody from the rising wind and building seas. One small steering error, one irregular wavewhack! The boat broaches.
The crew's resolve will be enhanced by the conviction that something better is awaiting them at the other side of the storm. Thoughts of family and friends ashore often provide sufficient motivation to keep people sailing the boat actively in testing conditions rather than giving in. Consider how one distressed boat got through one of the worst storms of the late twentieth century, the 1994 Queen's Birthday Storm in the South Pacific. This remarkable story is told by Tony Farrington in his book Rescue in the Pacific.
As strange as this story may seem, it illustrates the value of strong purposefulness in conditions when passivity would mean catastrophe. Murphy doesn't want us to know it, but good seamanship is far more than equipment, and far more than technique.
The Art and Science of Standing Watch by John Rousaniere
The Make of a Good Onboard Leader by John Rousmaniere
At Odds with the Weather Gods by John Kretschmer
Buying Guide: Life Rafts
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