Fear vs Danger, How to Avoid Huge Ships, and Other Pitfalls of Modern Life
In case you missed it, I chimed in on James Fallows’ ongoing series of posts about histrionic reporting of airliner maneuvers with an adventure from my 2010 passage from St. Croix to Montauk:
We use an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponder for identification of nearby traffic and collision avoidance. Here’s my “scraping distance” story.
In May of 2010 after 13 days at sea, during which time we rarely saw more than one vessel a day, on AIS or visually, we found ourselves just south of the Nantucket traffic separation zone (shipping lane) running east and west out of New York Harbor. Now, rather than one or no targets of interest, we had a dozen vessels, some very large and moving very fast, to keep on eye on.
It was dusk and the light was fading when we ID’d a west-bound freighter on a course that would make a close pass with us as we headed north towards Montauk.
This is what we did:
Using the AIS we ascertained the vessel’s name, course, and speed.
Using our VHF radio we made contact with the bridge of the other vessel and inquired whether or not they could see us. The replied they had us on radar, AIS, and visually.
I communicated our concern that our courses might bring us closer than comfortable. Being a sailing vessel, we were the stand-on vessel, but the Law of Gross Tonnage ultimately rules. We asked the freighter if he would like us to adjust our course to ensure we took his stern.
The freighter replied that we should stand-on and he would increase his speed to pass in front of us well before we were anywhere near each other.
We thanked him, stood by on #16 and then watch the freighter pick up its pace and pass in front of us about three miles ahead.
The entire encounter was, for us, tense. We wanted to be sure there were no misunderstandings, or if there were, that we would be ready to respond sufficiently to get out the way of the much larger vessel.
The next day I was in the front passenger seat of our family minivan taking crew to various airports and train stations so they could find their way home and I was TERRIFIED!!!
Just 12 hours earlier I had been in a tense situation where my boat was going about 5kts, the other vessel was going about 20kts, and the distance between us was measured in 1000s of yards.
Now I was barreling down the highway, at closings speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, sometimes with mere inches to spare. In other words, we were driving down a two land country highway at 55mph with on coming traffic. I resolved my terror by closing my eyes and going to sleep.
n case my point is not clear, we are more comfortable with familiar sensations and risks than unfamiliar ones. Two weeks on a nearly empty ocean made the shipping lanes seem like rush hour traffic, and the “rush-hour” traffic of the shipping lanes made a drive down a country highway pure terror (I really did close my eyes and go to sleep because I couldn’t just sit there flinching in horror every time we closed with another car). No doubt the author of “I almost died” felt as scared during the plane’s descent as I did as we barreled down Route 27 at 10am. The fear is real. The danger not so much
Two other things happened yesterday that seem related in ways I’m not quite sure I can put words to.
The first was that I had a twitter conversation with my Matt Thomas and James Poulos about self-promotion. The gist of my side of the conversation is that at the present I’m far more interested in encouraging talented people to promote themselves loudly enough and often enough than I am in cautioning against the dangers of too much or too crass self-promotion.
The other things is that after four years of wearing no-name boat shoes I bought a pair of Sperry Topsiders. For the first 35 years of my sailing life I had aways sailed barefoot. But during first four weeks of sailing with paying guests my feet took a terrible beating, which I attribute to the shift of attentiveness from my own well-being to the well-being of my guests. I have then, for the last four years been wearing no-name boat shoes; the last pair purchase at a Walmart in Southport NC during last winter’s cruise.
I had nearly bought a pair of Topsiders last summer (the no-name shoes don’t last, the topsider soles are genuinely more sticky on deck than the no-name shoes, and if you are a good shopper the Topsiders only cost about $30 more) but I found the giant Sperry logo on the shoe’s tongue repulsive, and the no-name shoes were good enough. But after this winter’s cruise and my various experiences with how people reacted to me and Mon Tiki I decided that it was time for me to be less opaque with my signaling.
After some deliberation I settled on the shoes depicted above. We’ve made a point on Mon Tiki, both aesthetically and functionally, to have modern flourishes here and there, including this year the use of some carbon fiber tubing in a self-steering system I designed. Along with the Garhauer blocks and Dyneema rigging, I think these shoes will fit right in.
My revulsion to label on the outside clothing is at least in-part a fully internalized coping mechanism from my junior high school days when the virtual uniform for boys included a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. There is a thread connecting this to the very simple credit sequences I always used in my films, but that’s a subject for another post.