SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
You ghost into the anchorage as the sun is setting. You have no intention of going to shore. You don't have a dog to walk, no need to go to the bar, you're not even going to launch the dinghy. All you want is a quiet evening alone, so you anchor far behind the crowd, away from the generators and motorized dinghies. Then, just when you settle down for a quiet dinner, you hear the windlass of a neighbor. A close neighbor. You peak outside to see that, despite acres of room elsewhere, someone has decided to park in your backyard. Safety in numbers? Not usually.
The mentality is often called herding. It may be instincts that makes us believe that we will be safer the closer we stay (or anchor) to other boaters. In reality, unless a lion is chasing you, I believe this instinct is outdated. Leaving adequate space between your boat and those around you is more than just common curtesy, though. Yes, it makes your generator a tad bit less annoying, but it can also be a safety measure. The last time we were dragged down on (last month by a man who anchored directly upwind of us), we had only a few minutes to prepare for impact and to try to get the owner's attention. Had he been anchored further away, we would have had more time and could possibly have avoided the collision.
Anchoring is not the only time that sticking together can be dangerous. We've seen it happen more than once: a single-hander attaches himself to another boat (or an entire flotilla of them) in the belief that they're not truly alone then. Someone will be there to help them if they need it. The truth is they're MORE likely to get into trouble BECAUSE they are traveling in a herd than if they were alone. Let's look at some specific scenarios.
A single-hander on a faster boat has to reef to slow down on a passage across the Gulf Stream (despite being chased by a cold front) in order to stay within VHF range of a buddy boat. Now, the passage is longer and less pleasant than it would have been for him otherwise. The second boat doesn't care because there are two of them. But the single-hander is more likely to make poor decisions from lack of sleep: a situation he could have ameliorated had he sailed at his and his boat's capabilities, NOT at that of his buddy boat. A fast passage is a safe passage.
Two boats traveling together decide on their next anchorage. As he nears the anchorage, one captain is uncomfortable with the situation. The wind is blowing up a chop, making it difficult to read water depth, and even worse, the sun is in his eyes. If he were traveling alone, he would study the chart and devise plan B. But his buddy is already anchor down, a cold one in his hand. He feels compelled to join him. Another decision made based on the actions of ANOTHER boat, not on the decisions of a competent captain. Though we all know WE should captain our own vessels, when you've hitched your wagon to another boat, it's harder to make those independent decisions.
This next scenario I just witnessed for the first time last week. I've read about it and understand the dangers of it, but in my mind I've always dismissed it with a shake of the head and a "NO ONE would ever REALLY do that." Sitting on our neighbor's boat the night before they planned to cross to the Bahamas I heard him ask another member of their flotilla, "So, what time are we upping anchor tomorrow?" Really? You are asking someone else what time YOU should raise your anchor? Have you checked the weather? Have you checked the tides at the inlet? Have you calculated your set and drift? Have you considered sunrise and sunset and your boat speed into the equation? Or are you just relying on someone else's decision? ALWAYS captain your own boat. Period.
A member of this same flotilla had no way of verifying weather forecasts once he was out of NOAA range. He was relying on his buddy boating captain to make the go/no go decisions based on the weather emails he received from Chris Parker. Again, this same evening, I heard the captain read Chris's email as confirmation that he had made the correct "go" decision. He read a sentence or two aloud, then started to mumble, which degenerated into, "Yadda, yadda." When we got home I immediately checked our email to see what the captain was hiding with his "yadda, yadda." Sure enough, the speed of the cold front was in some question and as always, the forecast was not as easy to predict as he wanted his buddy boaters to believe. I asked Dave, "Would we go on this window?" "Hell, no." I wonder if our friend would have if he were getting his own weather instead of relying on the other captain. Buddy boating gives you confidence you haven't earned. Unless you have the skills and confidence to make go/no go decisions, read between the lines on weather forecasts, make emergency repairs to your vessel and CAPTAIN your OWN boat, you are putting yourself in MORE danger by buddy boating. Realistically, what is a buddy boat going to do for you anyway? If the conditions are bad enough to sink your boat, they're not going to be in any better shape than you. If you can hail them on the VHF to come help you, you can hail the USCG (or some other emergency organization), too. And really, THEY are more likely to be there for you than your buddy boaters. [On the passage described above, the single hander was ditched by the boat with crew, so he put himself at risk for the safety promised by traveling with someone who wasn't there for him anyway.]
We've met a lot of friends over the past 15 years of cruising: people whose company we enjoy immensely, people whom we'd like to hang out with more often. But every time we depart, our salutation is, "See you when we see you." And we do see them. Over and over. But when we do, we still anchor at the far back of the pack, rather than creating danger in numbers.
Despite what the backs of sailing magazines would have us believe, cruising is more about what we DON'T buy, than what we do. MONDAY we'll share the common items that we simply don't buy any more and our alternatives.
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