Originally Posted by smackdaddy
Omatako told me about the "black box theory" in the Heavy Weather Sailing thread - and that pretty much summed it up in my mind.
The black box theory is where maintenance and superstition meet and decide to tighten every hose clamp a quarter-turn. It's why I sniff the bilges and why I haul on the stays to check tension.
It's one thing to be a survivor, but quite another to be a survivor who was put into the survival situation because of lack of foresight, lack of maintenance or lack of knowledge. While it's stupid and neurotic to think you can anticipate every problem, or avoid every bad situation, the simple fact that one does a reasonable job of checking pilots, forecasts and the state of repair of the boat means that when the crises come, you aren't thinking "did I forget to tighten Bolt 12754? Did I dog down Hatch G?" Instead, you're focusing on dealing with the events or processes that you can't control, like unforecasted weather or some random event.
Example of a random event:
Yesterday, I brought my old 33-foot sloop back to my club in order to get it ready for winter and, regretfully, to sell it in the spring (long, other story). After shutting it down, I decided I merited a pint of Guinness. The bar phone rang and some words were exchanged. I asked what was up, and was told that it was our club's race committee boat who had failed to raise the dockmaster (the young man who takes lines and drives the water taxi, actually). The committee boat, a 38-foot trawler design, was adrift and heading for the States. The last Wednesday night club race had to be abandoned.
I got involved when the dockmaster (whose VHF channel, 68, the committee boat perhaps had not been hailing) said that he was not qualified to run either the club's crash boat or our 1940s-era work boat. So my plans to get home in time for dinner were put on hold, as I have driven both boats. We hopped into the crash boat and zoomed through a horde of sailboats, some still obviously racing. We got to our committee boat to find that a 37-foot Peterson had her under tow already, but we hung around to "shepherd" the pair back in case the sailboat's engine got overworked, as the committee boat isn't light and sailboats make poor tugboats. I hung around nearby in the crash boat in case the committee boat needed nudging under the crane.
Once safely back, I learned that the committee boat had anchored at the start line as per usual, and had started the race. They then hauled anchor and were preparing to move to establish a finish line when their prop was fouled...badly. It turns out that they had snagged an entire, mussel-encrusted spinnaker trailing shackles and line with the anchor, and that the current had sent this surprise package streaming back into the prop, gumming it up properly. Result: dead in the water and drifting rapidly south-east.
Personally, while I've heard of fouled props and fouled anchors, I have never heard of this: dragging up an entire spinnaker straight into the blades. That's the sort of stuff the sea (or in this case, a Great Lake) can throw at a sailor (or in this case, a race committee). That's the reason you do maintenance, keep logs and listen to forecasts: one less thing to worry about!