good times?

Brian Hancock gives a slightly different take on the two ‘tards who can’t seem to sail their way straight

There is a story all over the news about two America sailors who have called rescue services for help nine times in the last seven months. It’s an interesting story and one that at first glance seems to call for some derision toward the two men. But not me. I have a very different opinion, as you might expect.

First let’s look at the business of rescuing sailors. That’s what the rescue services are there for; to rescue sailors in need of help. I remember quite clearly the uproar that went on after the Australian rescue services were called out to haul French solo sailor Isabelle Autissier off her upturned boat deep in the Southern Ocean. The Australian public was up in arms at the expense but were quickly silenced when Isabelle noted politely; “you telling me my life is not worth a million dollars?” How do you put a price on anyone’s life?

I watched an interview with the two men on Good Morning America. Again just the way they looked could lead you to think that they were two hapless men in a leaky boat looking for trouble, but it’s too easy to dismiss them that way. Dig deeper and it’s a much more interesting story. The boat is owned by Steve Shapiro, a retired screenwriter from California. He is sailing with his college friend Bob Weise, an ex-US Army helicopter pilot. The recently found each other through Facebook and decided to embark on this adventure. Without social media it’s likely that their journey and mishaps along the way would have gone unnoticed, but that’s no longer the world we live in.

The pair started their trip in Norway where they encountered their first problem. They then went on to Denmark where they had to call for help to jump-start a dead battery. Same again in Scotland where they had propellor problems and in Ireland where they ran aground. A few days ago they had to call for help again after their boat caught on fire. Yes that’s the story that made the papers but again let’s take a closer look. The two men miscalculated the huge tidal range in England especially with a full moon, and when the tide went out the boat started to list as the docklines tightened up. A candle left burning below then tipped onto some clothing causing a small fire. Nothing really serious when you dig into it.

So let’s take all of this in context. Most of the people snickering at the two men have probably not undertaken such a trip in their lifetime. If they had they would know that things happen especially on an old wooden boat. I have been sailing for 40 years and have managed to hit a reef, run aground and get a jump start from a passing Chinese freighter in the middle of the Atlantic. Do enough miles and sooner or later you will need help. These are two men in their early 70’s that decided to do something fun with their lives. Most of their contemporaries are spending their afternoons watching Judge Judy reruns. As Shapiro pointed out. “I bought a sailboat in Norway and the best way to get it to the US is to sail it and that’s all we are doing.” He’s right and I think we need more people like him and Weise and Isabelle Autissier. We need more people to push the boundaries and less people to park off on the couch each afternoon.

A civilized society sets up safety nets in the event people fail. Take a look around you. There are safety nets everywhere from drug rehab clinics to suicide hotlines. Humans are human; we all fail sometimes so be careful when you snicker into your hand about the two geezers needing help. These two geezers are at least living full lives and as  pointed out on GMA, “if the rescue services are not out looking for us they would be out practicing and we gave them some good practice.”

Here is a link to the GMA interview and here is a link to a grumpy Robin Knox-Johnston talking about the two men.