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Take It Easy

Doing things the hard way is not always the best way.

I was ambling down a dock recently—not an unusual thing for a guy in my line of work—when I came close to tripping over something and going transom-over-tea-kettle into the drink. The darn thing was a mooring cleat so overwhelmed with turns and hitches that it approximated the size of a small dog! Stepping back, I eyeballed it with twisted fascination.

Hmmm. There had to be at least six, maybe seven, figure-of-eights piled atop the cleat, and then a couple of half-hitches piled atop the figure-of-eights. Quite a piece of work, you had to admit.

Of course, there’s no point in going into the right way to tie off on a cleat here—the subject is covered in masterly detail elsewhere. But it may be useful to at least briefly consider the level of difficulty and complexity such an ungainly mass of three-strand nylon represented. In a way, it seemed to be a sort of testimony, maybe even a monument, to a principle that has long infested the seafaring psyche—the tendency to do everything the hard way.

Here are a few more examples of the phenomenon, starting with what I’ll call North-Up Nuttiness. Why, why, why do some navigators persist in using north-up displays on their MFDs? Go with course-up and you see where you’re headed intuitively, at a glance. Go with north-up and you have to constantly deal with boat-versus-boat-icon misalignment. Why do it to yourself?

Another example I’ll call Just a Little Farther. Essentially, it entails deciding, late on any given afternoon, to stave off an intermediate stop for the night during a lengthy cruise in favor of a stop that’s just a little farther on. Keep on chuggin’, the thinking goes, the grass is gonna be so much greener. A conviction that invariably leads to navigating unfamiliar waters in the dark and finally arriving exhausted at the most inconvenient time possible, like around midnight? Oh yeah.

The final example I’ll call the Backdown Decree. Where is it written, I ask you, that always, without fail, no matter what, you have to back your boat into that slip, even if the darn thing’s got a ragged, concrete bulkhead on one side, a set of nail-bristling pilings on the other, and a raging cross-current at its mouth? Is there some kind of U.S. Coast Guard regulation?

There are many possible explanations for why doing things the hard way is so attractive. And while machismo, peer pressure, and plain ol’ stubborn deference to tradition are all likely candidates, I contend there’s something even more basic going on.

Let’s face it. Life afloat has its tribulations and these tribulations are often hard to deal with. Certainly, nobody in his right mind is going to tell you that running an unfamiliar river at night, or safely enduring a spate of bad weather offshore, or maneuvering dockside amid the sporty vicissitudes of wind and current are easy things to do. They’re not—they’re hard and often entail a little drama.

And it’s the drama, I think, that muddies the waters. The darn stuff bullies and obscures the fact that it’s sometimes safer and more efficient to just take it easy. You know, like when it’s way better to slap a mere round turn and a half hitch on a cleat than a mound of figure-of-eights. Or when it’s way better to switch to course-up mode so both your boat and your boat’s electronic icon boogie in the same intuitive direction.

Nobody’s immune from the drama thing, though. All the while I’ve been pushing my little take-it-easy concept here, I’ve been feeling increasingly hypocritical, mostly because I continue to tussle with the Backdown Decree myself. I mean, shoot! No matter how hard I try these days, I still can’t seem to beat the darn thing and go bow-in when appropriate. Cray-cray, eh?

Read more of the Exploits and Misadventures of Capt. Bill Pike here. ▶

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.