My old boss, Vickie Camgros, was fond of the saying, “you may as well begin as you mean to continue on.” I don’t think she meant it as a piece of profound wisdom to echo down the ages to me; the first time she said it, we were on our way to a new client interview, and she was talking about being honest about whether or not we could begin their job immediately. She meant it as a statement of absolute integrity, and it’s a phrase that, when faced with tough decisions about what to say or how to say it, I’ve fallen back on many, many times.
Vickie’s been on my mind a lot this trip. She passed away while we were en route, and since then, has occupied more than one watch with me; I was not aware her husband Ed was reading my blogs to her for her ease at the end. It makes me want to be more careful about what I post, and it makes me want to change not a thing, alternatively. But since I mean to continue on as I began, nothing much will change here, except that she’s reading over my shoulder more than she used to.
All of which brings me to my thoughts this dawn watch. We’re in the Galveston approach channel, just outside of VTS control. Considering we’ve been sailing through the Big Nada for three months now, this end of the Gulf of Mexico is super busy and crowded. There are airplanes in the sky again, oil rigs, fishing boats, oil platforms, dive boats, tankers, freighters, and a whole lot of really amusing chatter on VHF 16 & 13.
The first person we talked to about this trip, when Jason first got the job with West Marine (thanks Mary!), had just done a boat delivery from Mexico to Galveston, and was fresh about this area. He was, no other word for it, freaked out. He told us horror stories about how nervewracking this area was, how many wrecks and submerged platforms and navigational hazards of every stripe. He didn’t come out and say it, but “here be dragons” was writ large across his tale, and his experience. “Don’t do it at night, post a guide at the bow, be super vigilant” he said. I took him seriously. We have AIS. We have two different GPS chartplotters. We have every single chart of this area I could buy. I know where every charted bump and grind is, along this whole route.
Someone else we talked to, who has sailed here some, but not a lot, told us horror stories of himself, and people he knew, getting run down by the big ships in this channel. So I was prepared to keep out a serious watch, and figure out which side of the channel to hug, in case I needed to bail out hastily.
Well, my friends, if I’ve learned nothing else this trip, I have learned to ignore the hell out of people.
It’s been awesome so far. Everything’s marked. Everything’s lit. Everyone’s communicating, maybe even too much. The big ships in the channel have detoured widely around us, with great courtesy. It’s less chaotic and dense than Panama was, more professional and orderly than the San Francisco Bay was. I’m impressed. There might be something to this whole notion of Southern Hospitality, even offshore.
I started out this trip listening to everyone, hoping to pick up all the relevant gleanings of wisdom that I might possibly need, so as to not make any boneheaded missteps. And here at the end, I’m wondering what ocean those people sailed through, because it’s sure not the one we’re sailing on. The actual, relevant, applicable advice I’ve gotten on this journey has come from very few sources, and it tends to be understated and calm, such that you wouldn’t even know it was advice, if you weren’t listening really carefully (thanks Rick and Jamie). I’ve also gotten some earthshatteringly solid support (thanks Cidnie, Cindy, and Behan), of the sort that talked me down off the walls when I was listening too much to advice-that-wasn’t-advice.
I started out this trip with a great deal of trepidation. It was a big trip, and I’d never done it before. I figured there was a lot I needed to know, and that I had a very short amount of time to learn it all in. Now, I’m thinking there ought to be a “Just Relax!” Guide to Mariners. There’s really not all that much you need to know to make this work.
You need to know how to sail your boat. The #1 thing that has served us best on this entire journey was our habit, over the last five years, of doing pumpouts every week. Two dockings, two undockings, in every kind of weather and conditions, every single week, has meant that we can put this boat exactly where we want, with grace and style, in any kind of condition. Fuel docks, fuel barges, high docks, low docks, tug boats, mooring balls; no biggie. We have gotten accolades ranging from low whistles to standing ovations and applause for our docking abilities on this trip.
You need to know how to read the weather, and how to ask locals for their weather information. And then you need to actually listen to and respect the information you get. If I had a dime for the number of people I talked to who had big sea stories, and when I asked them if they’d paid attention to the forecasts, said “well, yeah, but we wanted to get to…” I’d be rich. It’s like people think the weather is somehow negotiable. It isn’t. Get a solid forecast, talk it over with someone who knows what they’re doing, and then have the strength to do the right thing.
You need to know how to be gracious, and grateful. The world will take care of you, if you let it, and all it asks in exchange is that you put more good back into the world. We’re taught to be inherently suspicious, and to protect ourselves from the unscrupulous. It’s been my experience that the kind, decent, and caring outnumbers the vile and unethical about a gazillion to one.
It’s time for this crew to leave fear behind. It’s a big, beautiful boat in a big, beautiful ocean, in a big beautiful world, and that’s how we mean to continue on.