Tortoises, Hares and Ostriches

This post was inspired by reader follow-up questions from our most recent "snapshot" post (Snapshot: 3 years of cruising).

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Was the primary motivation of your cruising boat purchase one of fear or love? Were you choosing a boat that would make you safe from all of the dangers present on the open sea (the Tortoise boat)? Or were you choosing a boat that would increase your already high fun factor under sail (the Hare boat)?

In our limited experience, the fear emphasis is a gross (and probably unfair) generalization of N American cruising culture and the love emphasis is a gross (and probably unfair) generalization about French cruising culture. Of course it is true that many N American's love sailing, many buy Hare boats, and Tortoise boat owners are not necessarily fearful people. It is also true that the French are safety conscious and can be sometimes found in stout boats (although sleek aluminum vessels are more likely than traditional cruisers). However, the emphasis on one versus another I think is, on average, fair.

We were listening to a French single sideband net and one boat talked about having entered one of the Tuamotus (atolls with passes) at night. He was a single hander and he said that he could see the hole in the atoll with his binoculars so he went for it. My reason for telling this anecdote is not because we think that this is a good idea but because on the French net his statement didn't cause a single reaction. Not that the French listeners thought it was a better idea than I did, but it didn't evoke an emotional reaction. Carol and I had a lively discussion imagining if this same person had made this statement on a mainly N American net. Mon dieu!

The personal emphasis on fear vs. love interacts with a whole host of cruising boat and cruising plan decisions: What level of risk can you accept, do you want to accept? Will you accept a certain level of risk if it increases your level of fun? How much? Do you believe in preparing your boat for all possible ocean conditions (e.g., pitch poling, perfect storms, etc)? Or do you believe in choosing to sail within the limits of the imperfect vessel that you have (e.g., sailing in season, avoiding certain passages or certain oceans)?

I recently read this post from one of my favorite bloggers which was also printed in 48 North.

I was fascinated by Totem's description of someone getting judgmental about the choice of an open transom for a cruising vessel (i.e., dangerous for their children). Although Totem didn't comment on whether the person was being mild or intense, I've seen the same judgments or criticisms passed and often with a lot of emotion attached. The Hare decides that even if they assume that their keel will get ripped off if they hit a submerged container at full speed they are OK with that because their 9 foot bulb keel adds to their fun factor. The Tortoise disagrees. No problem, people have different levels of risk assessment. What is impressive is sometimes the Tortoise disagrees in an emotional and verbally aggressive way. Why do some Tortoises freak out about the Hare's acceptance of risk?

I believe that some people who make fear based cruising decisions find love based cruising decisions very threatening. It is as if the lack of fear of the Hare rips the lid off these particular scared-y Tortoises' barely contained fears about the ocean. Further, one person's choice not to buy into a certain design feature or piece of safety gear calls into question the other person's choice to include it. If I choose not to buy a parachute anchor, the person who bought a parachute anchor feels as if I am questioning their choice. If they can convince me somehow that I am wrong, they rationalize their own expenditure and decision.

Certainly, there is the opposite problem of people who have set off cruising in lightly built boats, with little safety gear, not because they've consciously chosen the trade-offs and compromises but because they are actively ignoring and minimizing any possible dangers. We'll call these people the Ostriches. The Ostriches can get very angry and defensive when the Tortoises (and the Hares) point out the failings of their vessels. The Ostriches also, by failing to acknowledge the weaknesses of their vessels, fail to sail within the limits of their vessels and are the bane of emergency rescue services worldwide.

Like most people, we think we're in the middle. We wish we were even sleeker and sexier when we are playing but are very happy that we're stout when we're afraid. Well done, Wauquiez, well done.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post, but there's a fourth stereotype. I read a short story from the 50's called "The Perfect Sailor." It was about the guy who's upgrades never cease. He's going to go around the world when the boats ready, but there's always something else that he needs to build or buy. Years later the boat's still not perfect, and he refuses to acknowledge that his fears are never going to allow the boat to be ready. I know a couple Perfect Sailors... I'm not sure of an animal that best describes them however. Perhaps a Horse, as it's a prey animal that never wants to leave the herd.

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