An unacceptable lack of seamanship?

To the editor: I am writing in response to the recent article on crossing the Atlantic alone (“A radar-assisted passage” Issue No. 166, November/December 2007). The author makes a number of troubling statements regarding personal safety, most notably, “There are alarm features I could have used, but these require the radar to be on. So I threw my fate into Neptune’s hands and was fortunate enough to get through the fog unscathed.” This statement in an article which followed one on using radar’s full capabilities for, among other things, timed safety sweeps (“Why you should have radar”), could lead someone to the assumption that this is an acceptable form of seamanship.

It strikes me as irresponsible and reckless that this publication tacitly condones unsafe passagemaking by publishing practices which are dangerous and illegal, namely not having a proper watch while underway (COLREGS Part B, Rule 5, Look-out). This abrogation of your role as a source and exemplar of sound seamanship and journalistic ethics is unconscionable. I encourage the editorial staff to ensure that future articles adhere to the legalities of seamanship, at a minimum.

— Craig Gruber has sailed on an Ocean Star Navigation Cruise, five Marion-Bermuda Races, the Marblehead-to-Halifax Ocean Race, and a trans-Atlantic passage giving him 20,000 offshore miles.

Editor’s note: Craig Gruber’s letter raises a good point, but one that cannot be resolved if voyagers are determined to sail single-handed. The very nature of voyaging alone means that there will be times when the single-hander is asleep and no one is keeping watch. And while we strongly support the practice of good seamanship, we also find generally laudable the efforts of those who would single-handedly cross oceans. While they might not have adhered to the COLREGS, we’re hard-pressed to find the passages of Joshua Slocum as anything less than admirable. It is also true, as Mr. Gruber points out, that using the alarm zone capabilities of one’s radar is at least one way for a single-hander to keep watch while sleeping. Unfortunately, the necessity of conserving battery power on board a small voyaging boat tends to send that practice by the boards. As with other aspects of life, a balance must be struck between safety and adventure.

By Ocean Navigator