Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Situational Awareness

Here’s the issue with technology - it’s distracting - even deadly. This video of a guy getting bowled over by a rogue wave is a great example of how your cell phone can kill you. Take a second to watch the video.Now, from simple deduction we know quite a lot about the lad in the video. For instance, we know he is a millennial for the following reasons:
  1. He’s standing outside in a hurricane demonstrating a youthful sense of invulnerability. 
  2. He’s videoing the seething ocean with his smartphone’s camera. 
  3. Because he’s completely absorbed by the images on his screen he’s paying absolutely no attention to his surroundings or the danger that he’s in.
  4. He’s obsessed with capturing the moment digitally, not with actually being in the moment and creating a memorable experience; as a result his life is lived at a digital arms length.  
Our hero is no different from hundreds of other millennials crossing the street and insouciantly walking out in front of cars. The idea that because pedestrians have right of way cars must see them and stop for them is, at best, optimistic. Often drivers have no idea there’s a pedestrian in the area - after all, who walks any more? And like the giant wave that nobbles our hero, distracted pedestrians are at the mercy of much more powerful forces. 

Dealing with technology on a sailboat is not really any different. Electronic charts are a wonderful thing - except that there has yet to be a system that equals the simplicity and readability of a good old paper chart. Nautical charts have over 400 years of development behind them and have pretty much figured out how to present large amounts of complex information quickly. Meanwhile electronic charts are relative newcomers and human interface design still in its (relative) infancy. 

A big part of the problem is users get distracted by all the bells and whistles afforded by modern software. Because we all look at information differently and interpret it differently my view of a paper chart simply may not be yours, but with paper the information itself is at least static. With an electronic chart plotter the information is dynamic and can be tuned the whims of the viewer. With such customization enough variance in can be introduced that two people will first have to agree on what they’re looking at and then what is missing. 

So while we’re all digging around in the software trying to get our virtual bearings, the real world is moving on and before we know it - poof! - our situation has changed and our awareness of our surroundings compromised. It’s then we may find ourselves suddenly at the mercy of one of Mother Nature’s rogue waves and ourselves get toppled. Perhaps I’m a Luddite, but I like paper charts. I might compromise with a digital display of a paper chart, as long as I have a hardcopy close to hand. After all, batteries, like old sailors, often simply fade away. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Plans are useless

"I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight Eisenhower

As we drove up and down the east coast we pondered our options. Ever since Plan B became Plan A we’ve taken something of a tactical rather than a strategic approach. In other words, having established a vision many years ago and considered the possibility of simply running away to sea, making that successful has been, perhaps, less well thought out. At first blush here’s a rough summary of where our plans are at:

July, 2017
Decide to quit our jobs and go sailing
Carol & Mike
July, 2017
Research boats
Complete (Mike’s research was already complete in 2002)
July, / August 2017
Find a boat
Carol & Mike
August, 2017
Buy a boat
Carol & Mike
Dependencies: selling everything we own, liquidating our savings and a successful marine survey
November 2017
Sail away
Carol & Mike
Dependencies: see above 
December 2017
Drink rum
Carol & Mike
This may get pulled up to September (completed for September.

Simple as that really. Given that our checklists are mostly in our heads right now, we’ve been scatalogically riffing down a list of questions that ranges from, ‘what if we’re caught in a hurricane and will we need a sea anchor’ (yes, probably), to ‘how about starting a podcast for sailors to monetize things’ (given the dearth of good podcasts out there I’m not selling my Røde mic yet).

Having spent a career in strategic planning our approach may seem a little disjointed, but on reflection it’s not as chaotic as it might appear. About 10 years ago I started getting more serious about sailing and began getting some training. The most recent was this year’s trip outside Vancouver Island to secure the American Sailing Association’s (ASA) 105 (coastal navigation) and ASA 106 (coastal cruising) certifications. A few years ago I got my Wilderness First Responder certification, and recently became a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Will that last one help crossing vast expanses of ocean? Only inasmuch as it’s going to take a whole bunch of creativity to do that successfully.

What about Carol? Well, Carol’s a kinesthetic learner and it seems the best thing is to shove her head into a book or two for a few minutes and then put her on watch for as long as she can stand it. Meanwhile, whatever vessel we end up with, there will be dozens of systems to learn how to repair. As long as the biggest items are in good working order, then the mysteries of chart plotters, radar and sine wave inverters will reveal themselves in due course.

Note to self: it’s probably time to start developing some lists...