EVERY NOW AND THEN we hear of a bad storm at sea that affects a fleet of small yachts. Sometimes, they’re racing, sometimes they’re cruising, but all too often some are lost, while others survive. There are always a slew of reasons why this happens, of course, but I always fall back on my Black Box Theory for an explanation.
I’m not going to repeat the theory in toto here because I hate boring people, and many of you know it well enough already anyway, but for the benefit of the new sailors who keep coming along, here is a summary to excite your interest:
I always imagine that every boat has a secret black box that collects the Brownie points you earn for every seamanlike action you take. Every time you check the oil level on the engine, no matter how awkward it is to reach the dipstick, you get a point. Every time you buy a real paper chart of an area you want to explore, you get a point. Every time you get up in the middle of the night and go on deck in the rain to check your anchor bearing, you get a point. For that matter, you also get a point for even having an anchor bearing to begin with. You get points (quite a few actually) simply for imagining what would happen on deck and down below if your boat were turned turtle by a large wave, and doing something about it. And so forth, ad infinitum.
As I’ve said before, good sailors don’t live in the moment. They anticipate what’s ahead.
Now, it can happen to any boat, no matter how well found and well handled, that a time will come when human skill and effort can do no more to rescue it from a perilous position. But if you have points in the black box you can spend them to ensure that your boat will survive. Actually, you don’t have to withdraw the points. They expend themselves automatically as necessary.
Other boats battling the same circumstances as you, but lacking points in their black boxes, are less likely to survive.
Those who don’t understand the mysteries of small boats sailing on big waters will say you were just lucky. And, depending on how you define luck, or good fortune, they may be right. What they don’t know is that you earned your luck.
When Virgil said fortune favors the bold, he wasn’t thinking about the sea. On the contrary, good fortune on small sailboats favors the cautious, the organized, and those with enough imagination to wonder what the hell can go wrong next. Because it will.
Shallow men believe in luck . . . Strong men believe in cause and effect.
— Emerson, Conduct of Life: Worship
A playboy is a man who summers in Maine, winters in Florida, and springs at blondes.