Blogger Jonty Pearce reckons that the more he learns the less he knows


Although I do not necessarily feel any pressing need for refreshment, Continual Professional Development (CPD) requires me to attend an annual GP Refresher Course. At least the one at which I write this is set in a glorious institution in deepest darkest Welsh Wales, but my concentration insists on drifting during some of the less useful lectures. A badly presented session describing a fantasy of an impossible ‘administration culling’ in the NHS failed to rivet my attention, and I found my mind shifting to parallel thoughts of whether training and accreditation in a form similar to CPD might benefit leisure yachtsmen. My natural instinct was ‘not on your life’, but my bored brain continued to evaluate the reasons why.

Having progressed from Day Skipper through what used to be called Coastal Skipper (now Yachtmaster Coastal) to Yachtmaster Offshore, I feel adequately trained by the RYA. OK, commercial endorsement, Yachtmaster Ocean, or training qualifications might beckon, but I have got to the age where my profession has left me a bit ‘certificated out’. So when considering what sailing training was really necessary and ought to be mandatory, my education fatigued brain naturally offered an answer towards the minimum end of the spectrum. I have sailed with totally unqualified mariners in whose experienced hands I felt totally secure, yet have been scared witless by a Yachtmaster described by our club founder as ‘knowing the whole book, but being always on the wrong page’. Whilst training is undeniably beneficial in becoming a safe skipper, being a born sailor with a natural instinct of the sea may contribute a greater component to competent skipperhood. It is beyond doubt that qualifications do give a measurable standard that course attendees can achieve, but I subscribe to the school that ‘Zero to Hero’ comprehensive programs lack one essential component – experience. Naturally, if such courses were followed up by sufficient ocean miles in varied waters and conditions, then an excellent skipper may result, potentiated to greatness if they were fortunate enough to be a natural sailor from the start. Those lacking such a boon can still become superb sailors, though they may have to work harder at it.

I regard my work in General Practice as just that – practice. Like sailing, I do not believe we can ever know it all, and the more we practice the better we get. Discussing this notion with a club member who I considered a far more competent yachtsman, I expressed initial surprise when he admitted to apprehension every time he set off to sea. I understood this emotion might affect less experienced sailors, but had assumed that such old sea salts would have become immune to such nerves. Later, as my own experience grew, I came to understand ‘the more I learn, the less I know’. I am now in complete alignment with my well travelled friend, and undergo the same frisson of anxiety every time I step aboard any boat.

Don’t misunderstand me – I still relish and enjoy my sailing, but hold the opinion that such worries about imaginary mishaps prepare me for a proper and anticipated compensatory action should such an incident actually arise. An illustration might be the scenario of wrapping the genoa sheet tail round the prop during a traverse of a shipping lane, mentally planning what response would best correct the problem safely without unduly inconveniencing others. This is not a facet of any genetic General Anxiety Disorder, but rather a self improvement program of maritime competence.

Could we know it all? Never. Any sailor who overconfidently expounds his skill, experience, and qualifications is one to avoid. Watch instead the quiet weatherbeaten figure clad in well worn oilies who sits secure in a comfortable corner of the club bar, far-seeing eyes observing the posturing of our assertive friend with a slightly amused look. Such a seaman does not need slips of paper to prove their competence afloat as their self sufficient ability has been osmosed over a lifetime of nautical experience. That is the type of yachtsman I’d like to aspire to – I doubt I’ll ever succeed, but am sure that any increase in my sailing competence will be better served by experience rather than ongoing training and certification.


Jonty Pearce