Why We Go Yachting – Risk, Perception and Constraints.

Risk is everywhere. Perception is more powerful than reality. Constraints are imposed on us by authorities to protect their biggest asset, tax payers. People wonder why we go yachting.

It’s just before dawn. I’m in my study, all choked up, tears running down my cheeks. I shed a tear or two yesterday when changing a water pump on number three main engine. Strong emotions washing over me like a rogue wave.

This is not normal for me. I’m not that emotional.

I sit here gearing up to achieve my goals. Thinking what to write for my next blog post. I am aware of my messy disrupted and confused thought process with so much rattling around in the old grey matter that I risk doing nothing.

The plan to follow on from my last post expanding the bit about the joy of rowing and what makes a good row boat, keeps getting swamped by the emotion of Bethany Smith’s tragic loss.

You may have heard how Bethany fell from the mast of the superyacht she worked on.

I wonder if these waves of emotion are happening to me at the same time as those close to her. I’ve never felt anything like this before.

The Smith family seem to be living a parallel life in so many ways to my own family.

They purchased the same design yacht. Departed to go cruising within months of when we departed from the opposite side of the world. Their children are of similar age to our own.

When my son phoned me from the superyacht he’s crewing, with the sad news, it hit me hard.

The questions started revolving through my mind. I struggle to comprehend the events.

Then came the waves of sadness.

Next the need to help, but wary of the risk, making things worse unintentionally.

Do no harm.

Because of the choices we have made throughout our life, our families have acquired life skills, seen and experienced people, places and nature in ways most don’t.

We do our best to minimise risk, then take ourselves out of our comfort zones and reap the benefits of an adventurous life, less ordinary.

I remember the first time I hoisted our son Hamish up the mast in a bosun’s chair. He had seen me go up and wanted to try.

The excitement at deck level and fear as he got higher was closely monitored as he reached the first set of spreaders. With a rest stop the fear subsided and the request to go higher soon followed.

Sibling rivalry is a powerful motivator. Kate wanted to have a go. She got to the first spreader the first time she went up. Again, I monitored the level of fear.

I knew from my job with the navy adventure training centre, sail training craft, that going a bit outside your comfort zone is healthy, going too far has a negative effect. Managing this is so important.

You know you’ve got this right when they want to do it again.

They both got some kudos amongst their friends from having achieved this scary activity. I ended up hoisting several of their mates up the mast as time went by.

Yes, there was risk. Yes, it was managed. Yes, their life was richer from having done this. Yes, our mutual respect became stronger.

What was interesting to me was how over time the act of going up the mast became less scary and more fun.

From my perspective having another crew member willing and able to go up the mast to help pilot “Blue Heron” through a coral passage was invaluable. Hamish didn’t hesitate when asked. He was competent and comfortable with the task.

For me however, I knew that as his confidence grew the level of risk increased. An uneasiness lay just below the surface as I watched for signs of misadventure.  

A healthy level of fear is a great protector.

When the level of risk is perceived to be less due to a familiar activity, our chance of having an accident increases.

Many of you reading, already know this and may have experienced it firsthand if you have been driving a motor vehicle for a while.

The chance of having a serious accident in a car while you are learning is, I suspect, quite low.

Accidents happen when our confidence increases and we allow bad habits or distractions to creep into our task of driving the car. Every day on the news there is evidence of this.

Thousands of us travel at death defying speed in our little machines and are comfortable with that. Incredible if you stop and think about it.

Over confidence and perceived low risk are not always the reason for accidents. Sometimes gear failure or plain old bad luck are the cause.

I learnt the hard way and tried to teach others during my time as Sailing Master that when everything feels right, start to worry.

In other words;

When it was scary and difficult at first but now feels easy or normal, get concerned remember the fear.

Easier said than done.

This is likely one of the main reasons that modern society is growing this giant called health and safety.

Through rules and regulations, we are forced to follow constraints and systems that protect us from our human failings.

Big corporations, especially in the construction and the oil and gas industries know the true costs associated with accidents in the workplace. They have the resources and critical mass to do whatever it takes to eliminate or at least minimize risk.

For some, working in that environment, is mind numbing. Emotions begin to flatline, creativity is lost.

Those of us who have an adventurous spirit would rather explore new possibilities, trading constraints and systems for adventure, added risk and the unknown.

With the added risk of adventure, comes an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes our adventurous activities go a bit wrong, knocking the wind out of our sails. Other times everything is perfect as we sail through life, sharing and learning, surrounded by other adventurous people.

Very occasionally while living an adventurous life, we get severe blows. Blows so severe, the waves of emotion travel around the globe, touching thousands of others.

For many it feels like an invisible hand keeps reaching into their chest, squeezing their hearts causing emotional pain.

Despite this we know from experience there will be fair winds ahead. Healing winds. The good memories in our life will rise to the surface and the pain slowly sink to the depths.

Give me the choice of;

  • emotional flatlining within the constraints of a sterile health and safety giant or
  • riding life’s roller coaster, with all the twists and turns, uncertainty and challenges.

The second option would be my choice.

I base this on what I saw and felt during the two and a half years I worked helping with the Gladstone LNG plant construction.

Most of us are trapped by our commitments.

We don’t live life to the full because of these constraints. Things like;

  • the stuff we own, the cars, our house [complete with mortgage], other creature comforts,
  • our jobs that keep our financial heads above water,
  • belief systems we’ve developed over time.

It is possible to break free.

Sarah, David and their children managed to overcome these constraints. They have been living a life with large doses of pure adventure.

If you want to hear or read what it takes to free yourself from your commitments, listen to Sarah tell her story in the podcast we created.

You can find it here.

My heart aches for their loss. It could have easily been one of my children.

I understand the choices they have made that led them to this point in their lives. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and that sucks.

Something good will come and some kind of balance will be restored.

Life is a balancing act.

For me, flatlining your emotions is far worse than riding life’s roller coaster with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, pain and happiness.

Feel free to comment below. What do you think?

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Brett Bishop says March 21, 2017

The government mandates risk which is acceptable to them….they prefer no risk. A child tries something and does not get injured, they learn that they have the ability to do this which builds confidence. From there they extend further and push the boundaries based on what they think may be possible. A success further builds their confidence, a failure creates reflection as to whether it is impossible or possible with adjustment. This may be construed as character building or building skills so long as it is not traumatic. In teaching there is the theory of “zone of proximal development” where a person learns, based on their existing knowledge and gains further knowledge through the guidance of experienced people in that task. The task must not be too far from their comfort zone but enough for them to learn or gain new knowledge based on what they already have learnt.

    Lindsay says March 21, 2017

    Thanks Brett. What you say makes sense. This really fits the situational leadership model we were taught in the Navy. Task focused.
    By the way your podcast is up next. Sunday morning Australian time.

Daria Blackwell says March 21, 2017

I’m with you 100%. My heart breaks for the loss of Bethany and soars with the knowledge that she was doing what she loved. When she was helping the people of Dominica she was in her element. And yes, the more times I cross oceans, the more worried I become about being complacent. A healthy dose of fear is useful. Then again, crossing the street in NJ can be far more dangerous than crossing the Atlantic. We never know when our time will be up, so making the most of every minute makes living worthwhile. Thanks for these thoughts.

    Lindsay says March 21, 2017

    Thanks Daria.
    Well said. I had a sneaky peak at your website. I’ll email you when I get a chance.

B.J. Porter says March 22, 2017

Nicely said. We too were gut punched to hear about Bethany; our kids and the kids from Cape spent a fair amount of time together in Trinidad. Bethany was such a delightful young woman, it is hard to picture her gone even though we haven’t seen her in a couple of years. We always sort of figure with cruisers we’ll cross their path again some day.

Our extended families, who don’t cruise, overestimate the risks of what we do. We of course tend to downplay them so they don’t lie awake at night worrying about us too much. But in every case, even in the most cautious, there may be something you could do to be safer, less risky. We’ve sent our kids up the mast, we’ve taken them offshore, and they leave our sight more and more as they get older. As a parent you don’t ever stop worrying, I think, but you do worry less as the risks become more familiar.

To a point.

At some point risk aversion means you never get off the couch. Cruisers aren’t those people. We’re careful, even cautious, but we’re not timid and fearful. And sometimes, in spite of the precautions that we take, it all goes pear shaped.

Bethany is gone way to young, way too soon. We would all have loved to meet her again some day to see the adult she would have grown into. But she’s someone that also lived every minute of her 19 years.

Thank you for your thoughts on this, it’s something we’ve all be trying to make sense of and I’ve not been terribly good at articulating them myself. Between the loss of my kid’s friend, to how this affects me and makes me think as a parent, its evoke a lot of strong emotions.

    Lindsay says March 22, 2017

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Very well said.
    I checked out your site, well the journey so far Sorry we missed you when in Brisbane. Would love to have had a chat.

      B.J. Porter says March 22, 2017

      We’re headed back North in a few weeks to eventually get to the Whitsundays. We’ll not likely come all the way up the river again since we spent two months there, but we’ll be in the area for a bit.

      You’re blog I think has logged my e-mail, if you want to contact me. Perhaps we can meet up.

Alexandra Palcic says March 22, 2017

Well written on SO many levels. As full time cruisers and adventurers (aka: risk takers) I felt your words. As friends of Bethany’s and her family on Cape, we too are shocked and grieving loss. As someone who has gone up, and hoisted my husband up, the mast a few times, I sit back and wonder if/when I’ll go back up that mast again. There are no words to try and make sense of the things that happen. I particularly like your phrase “when everything feels right, start to worry.” If there’s one thing to remember about life (whether at sea or in land) is that you’re always on watch. There is always a contingency plan in place for us, a “what if” that we adhere to, “just in case”. That helps, but doesn’t always reduce, the risks out there. I believe that our whole life is a risk, and our own, sometimes self imposed, constraints might end up our cage if we let them. I’m (personally) more afraid of living my life sitting on a couch with remote control in hand watching tv than being “out here”. I am glad I risked to have had the chance to have known Bethany, I am glad I risked to have the chance to BE out here experiencing the wonders of the world currently surrounding me. And as sad as I am today with the knowledge that this beautiful young lady won’t experience so much more that life has to offer her, I know that she enjoyed and lived and gave of herself to others, every precious second of her time. And that’s the risk we should all take, don’t you think?

    Lindsay says March 22, 2017

    Thanks Alexandra
    When I use the phrase “When everything feels right, start to worry” it is a reminder to myself to check that I am not forgetting the basics. The things that kept me safe when I was learning a new task. check that bad habits or short cuts are not creeping into what I am doing.

    Thanks for the compliment. All compliments will be used as fuel for further writing.

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