Too scared to sail


A sailor of great experience told me recently that his 20ft boat was probably the smallest that still crosses the North Sea anymore. He then pointed out that it wasn’t the case before navigation became so easy.

Assuming that’s the case – and I’d say it’s fair to assume it is – what’s the reason? Have boats just got bigger? Have we got less time? Have budget airlines reduced the need to make such voyages? Is the challenge no longer there because it’s so easy? Or, on the contrary, are we simply more scared now than we were in the days of dear old MG?

Certainly, media of all kinds have made us more aware of disaster at sea and elsewhere. It’s part of the reason many of us have DSC VHFs, EPIRBS, AIS and all the rest of the electronic paraphernalia. Why then, with all that safety netting to catch us should we fall, are we not making the voyages we used to? Have we been scared out of offshore sailing by tales of collision, capsize and carnage?

Back-of-the-bus conspiracists will say that YM is peddling terror, hand-in-hand with the firms that sell this stuff, needy of the advertising. They do say it, they always will and it’s pointless trying to persuade them otherwise. That would be a ‘cover-up’. It’s kept JFK alive for 45 years, whatever the ‘truth’ maybe. It’s Freud’s straitjacket – the deliciously perverse principle of denial. Get out of that one!

The simple reason YM – indeed all media – run stories about disasters and tragedies is because a) it’s news, b) there are lessons to be learned, and c) it sells. It’s true. If there’s a crash on one side of a motorway, there will always be a queue on the other side as all of us see where, but for the grace of God, we go. It’s not the most attractive human trait but it’s undeniably human, all the same.

Anyway, back to the point. Why don’t we make these voyages when we’re better equipped than ever to make them? Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was 29 and armed with nothing more complex than a log and an HF when he set out on the Golden Globe to do what had never been done before. He won the ‘voyage for madmen’ in 1969. Today he’d be sectioned before he got to the start line.

The fact is he did get to the start line again, in the Velux 5 Oceans Race, and his nav station bristled with technology. Yet, during the first leg he was moved to remark in his Daily Telegraph blog (we’ll ignore the irony of his being able to communicate his frustrations): ‘More bloody useless expensive electronics. It was all easier 38 years ago when none of these gadgets had been invented, so one did not have them to miss.’

Despite all our electronic safeguards, are we too scared to sail offshore? Or do electronics diminish the challenge to the point where it’s hardly worth the bother. Answers on a postcard, please. Actually, make it an email. It’s easier. Or is it??