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.
I have the same thing about signalling. Hate saying
“look how much money I have, I can afford a MK purse!”Report
I don’t even know what an MK purse is, an element of ignorance that has now made my day! (As a young boy I was signaling-averse without even knowing what that was: I carefully removed the little alligators from the shirts that were supposed to be part of my uniform.) With age I have come to realize that the trick is in focusing on functional utility rather than how things will be perceived by others. I don’t wear logo stuff, but do have boat shoes that others might recognize. And my car looks like crap but is a blast to drive.Report
As you point out, signaling is sometimes a means of survival. You signal another ship at sea to avoid a collision. You signal goods for services available to induce others to transfer that money to you, and thus feed yourself and your family. But brand name labels on things you own do not serve this function. They are signals of superiority; they signal a desire for strokes to the ego, not for food in the belly. I suspect that part of the basis of your disquiet at the more-expensive deck shoes comes from the fear that you are misusing your ability to signal, as well as the deviation from your habit of preferring functionality to Veblenism. This is not the case, for sometimes goods of a particular quality are only available concurrently with the prestige signal.Report
This is some of it, but not all of it. A brief and incomplete response:
Prestige brands are no longer a reliable indicator of quality. We have a Bosch fridge (wife found floor model at a huge discount) with a dead ice maker. My Honda motors are reliable enough, but not trouble free. I have no confidence that my just purchased Sperry Topsiders will hold up any better than the Payless Shoes version I wore last year.
To a certain degree I prefer functionality to Veblenism (I had to look it up) but also I put no small amount of effort into signaling that signaling isn’t important to me. On the balance this has worked well for me and my family. Our income has always been quite modest, but we are asset and life-style rich.
But this winter two things have emerged in my consciences. One has to do with the self-promotion thing; just because a lot of people who self-promote are assholes doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole when you self-promote. Similarly, just because a lot of people end up doing status signaling in a way that is ultimately contrary to their/their family’s long term financial interest doesn’t mean you have to do this sort of signaling in a way that is self-harming. I think I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns concerning myself with how concordant this brand or that brand is with my sense of self.
Also, where Tony Comstock’s movies were concerned there was a deliberate effort to scrub the movies of any sort of “tell” that would help guide the audience to the conclusion I wanted them to reach. That, with the benefit of hindsight, was a mistake, and not one I want to repeat.
More later. For now it’s back to the (very frustrating) removal and replacement of a magnetic starter switch on Mon Tiki’s port side engine. I should have been nicer to Matthew Crawford.Report
Prestige brands are still an indicator of quality. However, many formerly prestigious brands are now being stripmined (Progresso), so one should always question assumptions.
Bodum, Behmor, Mountain hardware — all good brands.Report
Signaling affects conduct as well. Does a gentleman stand when a lady enters the room as a gesture of respect (for tradition or the lady), or to show that he is a gentleman? Does one not stand upon the entrance of a lady in order to signal defiance of rules he may perceive as oppressive? The dilemma presented by the example of the boat shoes applies to much of life. In David’s case, at least, there is an independent reason to use his choice of boat shoes to “signal” to his customers that he is capable and competent and that their safety is assured. I don’t pick up clients in my crappy car for their sense of well being, not for mine (although indirectly they may be one and the same in that instance).Report
Yes, sort of. I take peoples trust and safety seriously, and I’ve never had much trouble with the various ways — clothing, manner, etc. — that one communicates professionalism. There’s a certain bearing one can and should affect that completely overwhelms any sort of brand choice about footwear. If you can’t muster that, expensive shoes aren’t going to raise anyone’s confidence level.
Cruising Mon Tiki solo this winter is another matter. A discerning eye might make the Honda throttle controls at the con, or the Dyneema rigging, but otherwise what you would see is an well-made, but not fussy, entirely hand-made craft utterly devoid of any sort of branding at all, with a wild-haired middle aged man wearing a thrift store sweater (cashmere!) and a K-mart brand PFD.
As it happened, I found a Columbia wind-breaker and sweater combo at TJ Max just before I left last Fall, and it was remarkable how much easier that made things for people I ran into along the way.Report
It is remarkable how blasé we can get about daily risks. If some new thing had anything like the death toll of automobile transportation, we would freak right out – if the thing came from abroad, we’d go to war, if it was local we’d declare a “war on [thing]”, both of which would probably do more harm than the thing itself, but at least the harm would be of a more familiar sort.Report
But contrary wise, what was the accident an injury rate when one rode a horse or in a horse drawn carriage? In particular in 1900, as I suspect today both are safer. Horse are know to bolt in situations where they get scared and if riding one might get the ride of ones life. Were even early autos more dangerous than horse powered transport?Report
It might just be that with the sailboat you were the captain, able to make decisions that influenced the outcome. In the van’s passenger seat there was nothing you could do. This has been shown to have a strong effect on stress response. And when you’re an airliner passenger, not only are you not in control of anything but you can’t even see where you’re going.
Moreover, there are the possible consequences of an incident. A car wreck that results in 100% destruction of both vehicles is survivable; in fact, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll suffer only minor injuries that don’t require hospitalization. On the other hand, there’s a 25% chance of dying in any airplane accident that results in structural damage, and a near certainty of severe injury (the Asiana folks got lucky because they were low and slow, which was the whole reason for the accident, but most of them went to the hospital and some are still there.)
Air travel incidents stand out because the consequences are more severe. And that, too, is a valid method of risk analysis–in fact, more valid than just looking at the basic probability of an incident. Death has a higher weight than minor injury. (That said, this is how we get those calculations that show you have a higher probability of dying from an asteroid impact than of getting cancer or whatever.)Report
No, just after my passage I found driving just as awful as being a passenger. Way to fast, and you can’t let your attention lapse, not even for 30 seconds.Report