Risky Business?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Posted haphazardly by Matt on Friday, July 14, 2017

When I talk to people about our plans to circumnavigate, cross oceans and explore the world by sail I get a range of reactions. Most are excited but some can't fathom why anyone would want to take such a risk when we could live out our lives in relative comfort on land.

To be sure, the sea isn't for the faint of heart: there are rogue waves, collisions with whales, shipping containers and other boats, shipwrecks, much stormy weather, pirates and a whole host of calamities that could befall anyone that puts themselves in the cockpit of a boat far from land.

In his book Confessions of a Long-Distance Sailor, Paul Lutus reflects on his rationalization of the risks of sailing after sailing around-the-world solo in 3.5 years in a 31-foot boat, writing "My boat was a walnut shell in the hand of the sea, and I was even less... On the sea I kept my boat in order and wore my safety harness - so if I was swept away, it was the sea, the sea did it. As a result, as the days went by and I faced the risks of sailing, I cared less about death. I only had to avoid outright stupidity - if the sea took me in spite of that, I was hers."

Indeed, those of us who go to sea for any length of time will eventually be confronted with the massive power that the wind and waves can exert upon a vessel and regardless of the size there will always exist conditions that your vessel cannot withstand. All of the scary possibilities that lurk, especially when we think of being alone and far from aid, are easily conjured by our imaginations. Like anything else, being prepared, resourceful and respectful of the sea can help to mitigate the risks: wear a proper flotation device, pay attention to the weather, stay away from areas that pirates frequent, wear a safety tether when alone on watch, don't drink unless you're safely at anchor, avoid swimming if you've been drinking, keep your boat ship-shape (ha!) and always keep a good watch whenever possible. This is of course an incomplete list but you probably get the idea.

Humans are generally terrible at gauging risk. We worry about terrorism but the chances that you'll be subjected to a terrorist attack can, for all practical purposes, be calculated as zero. We concern ourselves with violent crimes and by the 2010 numbers although 50 out of 310 million Americans will be murdered in a given day we usually pay less heed to the fact that a greater number (85) will commit suicide and far more (120) will die in traffic accidents in the same time period. We probably worry more about murder and violent crimes when we really need to be more concerned with driving to work or heart disease.

Unreasonable fear keeps us from pursuing many things: we become timid versions of our real selves and we pass this on to our children by removing their right to roam without thinking of how this will affect their world view and their self-actualization. In a nutshell, we hamper ourselves and our children out of fear of what hasn't happened and probably never will. Ironically but perhaps also somewhat telling, casinos in Vegas and elsewhere continue to do excellent business.

So we'll be skipping the craps table and keeping our eyes sharp when we eventually head off to find adventure, explore the world and meet more of our fellow passengers on the good ship Earth. Hopefully we'll end up understanding ourselves a just a little bit better. We will go knowing that we are frail and mortal but made stronger by our willingness to stretch ourselves and the obstacles we'll overcome.

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