Beware the ‘expert’ when it comes to boats

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Out of the blue, a friend recently asked me: “Do you consider yourself an expert?” I looked at him quizzically to see if I understood the question. “Do you consider yourself a boating expert?” he repeated.

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I have long been a little leery of people who comfortably don the mantle of “expert” — be it in boats, business or tiddlywinks. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that there’s nothing to be gained by leaving the dock overloaded with hubris.

Overconfidence breeds complacency, and complacency has no place on the water. When it comes to boats, nothing will get you into trouble faster than a little too much swagger. I think we all have a pretty good idea just how quickly you can veer out of a narrow channel and into the mud if you take your eyes off the primary business of running the boat for even a few moments. We’ve all been there.

Hubris? Remember Capt. Schettino of the Costa Concordia? Or Capt. Walbridge of the HMS Bounty?

A better attitude is one constructed of self-reliance, awareness, respect for the sea and humility. Knowing what you don’t know is a good way to stay humble and continue to learn or appreciate something new or a little different on every outing.

The “expert” question made me think of something an old salt named Mike Saylor used to preach in his talks and in his columns in Soundings. A lifelong sailor, Mike used to warn against mistaking one year of the same inshore experience repeated over and over for decades as being the same thing as, say, experience on the open sea.

Mike lost a friend during a delivery for just that reason and he warned about the dangers of complacency.

Expanding your cruising horizons is a great thing. Going farther afield for longer periods of time in a variety of conditions is something to work up to. Learn your boat and its systems, and sharpen your skills when the sun is out, the wind is light and the seas calm. Then stretch yourself and your crew in increments until you become comfortable in increasingly challenging conditions.

Remember, one of the truisms of boating is that eventually you will be caught out in more boisterous wind and waves than you anticipated. Prepare for it. Don’t listen to Capt. Hubris, who will tell you not to worry, you have plenty of fuel, those dark clouds will pass, what’s a little fog, why don’t you have another beer and relax. After all, you’re an expert.

* * *

I want to introduce you to a new magazine that the editors and writers in the Active Interest Media Marine Group (which includes Soundings) have produced. It’s called Anglers Journal, and if you like to fish I think you’re going to find it a nice addition to your nightstand or saloon. Yours truly was the editor of this first issue.

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What we’ve tried to do is round up some of the best writers, storytellers, photographers, artists and anglers covering the sport today. You’ll read a poignant piece by New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers, who writes about fishing with family between his job covering conflict and the arms trade in some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots. Lifelong angler and former magazine editor Barry Gibson discusses the six stages of an angler’s life. And from the vault, we’ve pulled a provocative story on fishing through burnout by Jim Harrison, the noted poet, screenwriter and novelist who has never been accused of putting readers to sleep with his prose.

We’ll take you back to the early sportfishing boats of the 1920s and ’30s and track their development up through the seminal Rybovich fishboats of the postwar era. And if you haven’t been aboard a modern convertible, Anglers Journal will show you how far the state of the industry has come in terms of contemporary fishing machines.

For me, this was a labor of love. As a boy, I was taken with wonder by the quick flash of small fish in a tidal creek, and the feeling has never left me.

To get a copy, please contact group circulation director Claire E. Brayfield, (860) 767-3200, Ext. 238. cbrayfield@aimmedia.com

"That huge sea had proved itself a 'fair weather wave,' as the seamen say, for it marked the height of the storm, and forecasted the coming of less boistrous weather."

- Alain Gerbault


February 2014 issue