September 27, 2009

Teenage circumnavigators

A READER CALLED BOB, who sails a Sabre 28 on the Great Lakes, asks what I think of young teenagers sailing around the world alone.

Well, to tell the truth Bob, I haven’t given the matter a great deal of thought. Almost no thought, actually. Frankly, I don't know what to think about teenage circumnavigators. I don't doubt they can do it physically -- several have already done it, of course -- but as they get ever younger I begin to wonder if they’re up to it mentally. I wonder if they aren't doing it more for the vicarious glorification of a parent than for their own pleasure or education.

I can't see them doing much harm to others, unless hundreds of them suddenly take up the challenge, which seems unlikely. So maybe if a few disappear along the way, the variant genes will be removed from the human gene pool and the problem will solve itself.

I must say that if I were the father of a 13-year-old girl I would put my foot down with a firm hand if she came home after school and said: “Daddy, I want to borrow your boat and sail it around the world.” It is surely the duty of any dedicated parent to talk their offspring out of a crazy scheme like that. Somebody else’s boat, okay, but my boat, hell no.

Seriously, young teenagers are still children in many ways and need to be protected from themselves until they’re adults. I know children went to sea in the old days, even on naval vessels. Patrick O’Brian tells us about that. But they weren’t in sole command. They didn’t have to take life-and-death decisions or shoulder the heavy burden that a skipper bears for the safety of his ship and crew.

It’s easier to sail a yacht around the world these days, admittedly, with the aid of GPS, Epirbs, AIS, radar, satellite phones, and autopilots. But it’s still a lot more dangerous than catching the bus to school, which is what a 13-year-old should be doing.

I can just imagine a father receiving a satellite call from mid-Pacific:

“Yeah, is that you, Chubbycheeks?”
“Daddy, can you come and get me? This isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.”
“Aw, geez honey, we talked about this, remember?”
“Yeah, but Daddy, I ran out of chocolate yesterday,”
“Well, dang ...”
“And my braces are going rusty. Daddy, I need a big hug.”
“You can hug your teddy.”
“Can’t. He fell overboard last night. I’m lonely. Send a helicopter for me, okay?”

Now, none of this would happen if parents acted responsibly. If your teenager wants to sail a boat alone around the world, take a deep breath and remember what parents are for. Just say no. Hell no.

Today’s Thought
Oh, how very thankful I always should be,
That I have kind parents to watch over me,
Who teach me from wickedness ever to flee!
— Ann and Jane Taylor, Poor Children

“What did you get your girl friend for her birthday?”
“I gave her a bikini.”
“Why a bikini?”
“I’m hoping to see her beam with delight.”

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