If you aren’t following Mario Vittone’s excellent posts on gCaptain about the Bounty hearings, you are missing out on a treasure trove of food for thought. I have found myself musing on one point or another since the first post, and I am guessing I will continue to be gleaning tidbits of wisdom for weeks to come.
A sinking is never, ever easy to contemplate. And as much as it’s the stuff of romantic legend, for most mariners I know, the very idea of the captain going down with the ship is a noble nightmare. I didn’t really know anything about the Bounty; while I love tall ships, they’re not really my purview, and since moving to Texas, I’ve been far too busy studying hurricanes and heavy weather to really pay attention to anything not related directly to my boat, and that. But as it turns out, the sinking of the Bounty has more in common with my life, and my boat, than I would have thought.
The captain of the Bounty, for some reason, decided that the ship was safer sailing through Hurricane Sandy than it was heading upriver to take its chances at the dock. I’ve had this suggested to me before; that a boat is safer away from land, and other badly-tied boats, than it is at the dock taking its chances on the preparations of all the people around it.
We all know what happened next. But really? We won’t ever know why. And I think it’s both disrespectful and impertinent to assume that we would have done better. Too many variables. And too many questions, most of which we won’t ever know the answers to.
Vittone’s Day 1 and Day 2 posts are pretty standard fare; regulatory lapses, common sense lapses, that kind of thing. But day 3 is where my interest was piqued; That’s where “Art and Science” come in.
After Eareckson, the Coast Guard called Mr. Joe Jakomovicz – the yard manager at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard facility for over 30 years prior to Todd Kosakowski. Now retired, Jakomovicz had been involved with Bounty repairs over a 20 year period and knew the vessel well. But it was his answer about his qualifications that impressed me the most.
Carroll: ”Can you give us a few details on professional background; your certifications?”
Jakomovicz: ”I don’t have any certifications.”
Carroll: “Did you attend any schools?”
Jakomovicz: “No – well I have a degree from forty years ago, but it’s got nothing to do with boats.”
Jakomovicz was clearly an expert on wood hull construction and repair, but he learned it the way most shipwrights did: “the old guys taught the young guys and you just learned that way.” He knew what he knew because he had been doing it for forty years and he was truly an expert. He wasn’t a man with short answers, and every explanation came with an example in the form of a sea story and then another answer to something Carroll didn’t ask, but nobody cared. His descriptions of the art and nuance of wood hull repairs and the effects of climate on hulls and why wood rots were insightful and enthralling. The tall ship sailors in the room were taking notes.
This right here is one of the things I love best about the boating world. Mr. Jakomovicz has no classes, no diplomas, no formal training; he’s got experience, in the School of the World, which is how it used to be done. There are so many variations in the ancient art of shipbuilding, and you can’t learn it by attending a school; you’ve got to learn it by doing it, seeing it, seeing all the weird variations that the sea can throw at shipbuilding. It’s another point where I kind of sigh, and think, “yeah, unschooling. Because a love of boats and school of boats are so not the same thing.” I also loved this comment:
But, Jakomovicz’s expertise was actually another indication of the complexity in the search for evidence. There aren’t “certifications” for the artwork that wooden hull construction is, and as Bounty is not a commercial vessel, the rare standards for wood-hull construction and repair that the Coast Guard (and ABS) have did not apply.
The artwork that it is. Indeed. In this over-diploma’d reality we live in, where every last thing requires some form of expert saying that you are competent, wooden hull construction has somehow eluded the false appeal to authority. This makes me very, very happy.
Day 4, Mr. Vittone manages to report on the lack of experience the crew has, without overtly armchair quarterbacking, nor being rude or condescending in any way. His writing skills, combined with his diplomatic ability, should net the man a book contract if there’s any justice in the world. The contrast between how he writes about the testimony of the shipwrights in day 3′s post, and how he writes about the testimony of the crew in day 4, says everything.
And it gives me the chills.
I’ve mentioned before that we are big fans of John Vigor’s Black Box theory, and that I am a huge believer in compulsive maintenance routines. I’ve got text reminders sent to my phone for every maintenance task on this boat that I’m responsible for, and I’m gradually taking over Jason’s as well, everything from cleaning filters to inspecting lines to tightening hose clamps to inspecting for chafe… I think that looking, really looking, at your boat, is desperately important. And when you are thinking about taking your boat into hurricane conditions, whether at the dock or at sea, you cannot afford to find a weak link then. You need to find the things that need fixing during your local chandlery’s business hours.
But the thing is, you can only observe what you know about. Jason sees things in our rigging that I don’t, because I simply don’t know enough to do it. And while I am reading and educating myself and pouncing on anyone who will teach me practically anything about boat everything, who knows if the one thing I needed to know, when it all comes down to it, is something I missed because I didn’t know it was something I didn’t know?
I think that, adjunct to the Black Box, is that to some degree the sea favors a certain humility, and that you can only sail into conditions equal to the knowledge base you possess. So you can cruise the placid Sea of Cortez with a minimum of nautical skill, but if you’re going to be out in hurricanes, you had better be thorough and complete in your information and its application to your boat. And if there are thousands of years of tradition and history around making your vessel seaworthy in a given situation, maybe it behooves you to avail yourself of that knowledge, from as great a breadth of sources as you can manage to access (and, a side note there; in my experience, nautical people are the most generous with their knowledge of any group of people I’ve interacted with. Generally, if you ask a sailor to teach you how to do what they’re doing, they will drop everything to teach you. It’s been spectacularly cool so far.)
The final largish point, around which the other points I’m thinking of swirl around, is how interconnected this all is; how you can have too much faith but not enough skill, you can have plenty of skill but not enough control, you can have all the control but not enough oversight, you can have too much oversight but not enough participation, you can have plenty of participation from those with not enough skill… Everyone with the best of intentions, all together in the massive human endeavor that is the sailing of a tall ship, with the direst of consequences despite it all.
Looking forward to the next three days…