Lin and Larry Pardey submitted this piece for the anarchists. Enjoy.
During our recent stay in Apia, a bevy of young and enthusiastic international folks maneuvered a 45 foot sloop carefully into the slip just down from us. As we listened to them talking, it became obvious this was a delivery job. We learned the skipper was on his first long trans-oceanic delivery but had raced extensively along the west coast of California, and been paid to delivery three previous boats from Hawaii to the U.S West coast. Now he was en route from Hawaii to Australia. During the four days he and his crew were in Apia, a small drama took place that showed the down side of easy radio or sat phone contact with shore.
When we began delivering boats communication options were far more limited. Once a delivery contract had been signed, the deposit paid over, the owner had no further input. It was up to us to determine the best route, the best departure times and best tactics to insure foremost that the boat arrived in good condition, secondly that it arrived in a timely fashion and finally, far down the list but still part of the planning, that our crew got a chance to enjoy a few days in special places along the way. It was accepted practice to telephone the owner just before setting off, then to update him by telephone from major ports.
A day after his arrival, Alex came over and introduced himself then asked what route we would take if we were going from Apia to Brisbane. We got out the pilot charts and together plotted what we all agreed was the potentially least dangerous route because it would eliminate the need to go through reef laden waters at night. This route would take advantage of currents and wind patterns, and provided a good stopping place for the two day lay over and provisioning top up the skipper felt their schedule could allow. “That’s not what the owner wants. He wants me to stick to a route he saw in a popular book he just bought” said Alex. “I don’t feel good about it even though he claims the weather router he is paying said it was good. Now what do I do?” We learned that the owner of this particular boat not only wanted to have a twice daily update of the boats position but insisted on conferring with a weather router himself then telling the skipper the route he should take, the waypoints he should steer to and ports he should stop in. It was a case of nautical micro-management.
There in lies a dilemma. With constant outside contact available, an owner can get involved in decisions that are rightfully those of a paid skipper. Yet this person on shore can not take into account the actual conditions on board, the local weather, the state of the sea, the true experience levels of the crew. Our answer to this skipper was, turn off the radio and claim it failed. Then do what you, as the skipper, feels is most seamanlike.
We were once faced with a similar situation when we had the owner on board during a delivery. After much discussion, it was agreed that the owner would write out and sign a letter stating we had advised against the route he insisted we take, a route through a narrow pass between two underwater reefs which we had to negotiate at night depending only on radar. The alternate route would have taken approximately four extra hours. The boat did negotiate the narrow pass, a pass that is to us one of the riskiest situations we have faced in our whole sailing career. We were well aware that, since Larry was the paid skipper, if anything had gone wrong it would have been our reputation at risk and maybe our lives also. In our case, the owner was not terribly happy about our reaction but he had paid us up front. The skipper in Apia was worried the owner would refuse to pay the final fees – a substantial amount, if he didn’t do exactly what was demanded. Interestingly, the skipper told the owner our story. The owner then agreed to the alternate route. But the skipper said in the future he would limit radio contact and add a clause in his contract that all seamanship decisions were his alone.
This conflict caused by having contact with sources off the boat that could influence your choice of routes, departure times or any other seamanship decisions is not confined to deliveries. We also saw a large proportion of folks along the “milk run” scheduling every departure based on the advice of a weather router who had little idea of their skills level, their boats ability or condition. These same people sometimes neglected local weather reports that differed with what that far off adviser told them. Interestingly, we did a rough comparison with sailors who looked at a variety of on-line and local sources for weather information, then said, “looks like a good patch, I’ll just go for it,” in other words sailors who made their own decisions. The majority seemed to feel they had, on average, better weather for their crossings. It might just have been they had less exacting expectations, or that they had the confidence to handle the weather they encountered. Comments?