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Glorious Imperfection


Owning up to your seafaring mistakes

It was refreshing, really. My wife and I were spending a winter Saturday at Port St. Joe Marina on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast with a merry band of people who were either cruising The Great Loop or planning to do so soon. The Great Loop, of course, is a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States via waterways along the Atlantic coast and through the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico, as well as various inland rivers and canals. Loopers—as these cruisers describe themselves—get together around the country periodically for a little socializing, a few seminars, and dinner.

To say that most of the folks we met at this event were experienced and knowledgeable would be an understatement. Based on several hours of seminar presentations and a bunch of private, break-time conversations, I came to conclude that the average Looper also seems practical, pioneer-spirited, and, no matter how grand his or her pedigree, humble.

Consider the subject of grounding, for example, a dicey phenomenon most seafarers have experienced but few seem willing to acknowledge, especially from the majesty of a podium. Not only were groundings mentioned by the seasoned presenters and attendees at the gathering, but the mentionings themselves were accepted with great matter-of-factness and nary a hint of condemnation from anyone.

Not that I’m a fan of grounding. As a rule, it is usually dangerous, expensive, and outrageously inconvenient. Moreover, grounding typically involves an embarrassing oversight, an unexplainable lapse in judgment, or just a lot of plain ol’ stupidity. Over the years, though, it’s the gloriously imperfect souls who freely (and sometimes instructively) acknowledge their seafaring snafus who’ve become my trusted friends, not the gurus who never seem to screw up.

Let me give you a case in point: While draining a cup of Community Dark Roast from the coffee urn during a seminar break, I bumped into a guy who, for one reason or another, casually referenced a grounding he and his wife had endured during their recent travels. The guy’s admissions were so candid and informative (from the here’s-what-not-to-do standpoint) that I was prompted to recount a fairly recent happening of my own.

It took place in an uncharted, unbuoyed local inlet that opens into a gorgeous, remote lagoon. While I’d done a nice job of sighting the water and keeping my trawler Betty Jane unscathed going in, I’d nevertheless bumped bottom coming out, despite the fact that I’d been careful to activate the track feature on my GPS plotter, thereby creating a dotted course line I needed only to follow backwards through the inlet to ensure a safe exit.

“Why didn’t you follow the track?” the guy asked.

“Stupidity,” I replied.

“That,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “is a character trait I’m somewhat familiar with.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.