Why must we per­se­cute blue­wa­ter cruis­ers who get into trou­ble?

SAIL - - March 2018 Vol 49, Issue 3 -

We all make mis­takes

It has be­come stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure. As soon as the on­line sail­ing com­mu­nity catches word of a cruis­ing sail­boat that has been aban­doned off­shore, the crew of said boat is im­me­di­ately sub­jected to a cy­ber in­qui­si­tion. Even if facts are lack­ing, and even if the crew is ex­pe­ri­enced, hy­po­thet­i­cal facts are in­stantly as­sumed and de­ci­sions made by the crew are roundly con­demned as ir­re­spon­si­ble. And if any poor sailor who stum­bles into harm’s way should hap­pen to be marginally in­ept or in­ex­pe­ri­enced, out come the pitch­forks and burn­ing torches.

Wit­ness the sad story of Jennifer Ap­pel and Tasha Fuiava, who with the as­sis­tance of the U.S. Navy aban­doned their boat, Sea Nymph, a Starratt & Jenks 45, some 900 miles south­east of Ja­pan late this past Oc­to­ber. They had set out from Hawaii five months ear­lier, bound for Tahiti, but soon lost their en­gine and were be­set by rig­ging prob­lems that ham­pered their abil­ity to sail. They failed in their at­tempts to make al­ter­na­tive land­falls, but did suc­ceed in re­pair­ing a busted wa­ter­maker and had plenty of food, so strug­gled on­ward. They still hoped to re­pair their boat when they made con­tact with the USS Ash­land, a Navy land­ing ship, and Ash­land’s crew de­clared Sea Nymph un­sea­wor­thy and evac­u­ated the women and their two dogs.

Granted, Ap­pel had only coastal sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Fuiava had none and the pair no doubt made many mis­takes. Ap­pel, an ex­tremely ef­fu­sive woman, also has a ten­dency to ex­ag­ger­ate wildly and wan­ders way off point when try­ing to tell a tale or ex­plain some­thing. And it cer­tainly didn’t help that the if-it-bleeds-it-leads main­stream me­dia, ig­no­rant of any nu­ance, im­me­di­ately mis­rep­re­sented and sen­sa­tion­al­ized Sea Nymph’s voy­age as a five-month-long sur­vival drift.

Still, the on­line sail­ing com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tion to the mis­for­tune of these women was shock­ingly heart­less and mer­ci­less. In pop­u­lar sail­ing fo­rums and on cer­tain blogs, Ap­pel and Fuiava were de­nounced as les­bian lovers (they aren’t) and were im­me­di­ately ac­cused of per­pe­trat­ing a hoax, a ridicu­lous ca­nard that only gained mo­men­tum after it came out the pair had a work­ing EPIRB they never turned on. A stream of in­sults and calumny fol­lowed, which soon bled over into the main­stream me­dia, where so-called “sail­ing ex­perts” stood ready to pub­licly ac­cuse and de­fame them. The sit­u­a­tion fully metas­ta­sized when the UK’s ever sala­cious Daily Mail ob­tained and pub­lished nude pho­tos of Ap­pel. From there much of the com­men­tary de­volved into sim­ple ob­scen­ity.

In the wake of such a re­ac­tion, I feel I do have to ask: are we not better than this? I know it is com­mon for on­line com­men­tary on most any sub­ject to be dis­mis­sive and deroga­tory, but I do not see why sailors, par­tic­u­larly blue­wa­ter sailors, need fall into this trap. Jennifer Ap­pel and Tasha Fuiava may have been woe­fully un­pre­pared, even com­i­cally so, but they did dis­play some real courage. They kept try­ing to fix their boat and never set off their EPIRB sim­ply be­cause they were scared, which is a lot more than some other rookie voy­agers can say.

If there is one thing blue­wa­ter sail­ing has never lacked it is en­thu­si­as­tic novices who have no idea what they are get­ting into. I have even met many of them face-to-face over the years. I re­mem­ber, for ex­am­ple, one young French cou­ple I en­coun­tered in the Gam­bia who some­how man­aged to sail all the way from France to West Africa with­out ever fig­ur­ing out how to reef their sails. They were seek­ing all sorts of ad­vice from the more ex­pe­ri­enced sailors in the an­chor­age we shared, mak­ing crazy as­ser­tions and ask­ing “stupid” ques­tions. How­ever, we never thought to re­vile or de­mean them. In­stead, we did ev­ery­thing we could to help and en­cour­age them.

Peo­ple like this are the lifeblood of blue­wa­ter cruis­ing. To­day’s clue­less id­iot is to­mor­row’s sea­soned vet­eran, gen­er­ous with his or her hard­earned knowl­edge and end­lessly pa­tient with those who are just start­ing out. This is, after all, how most of us started out, and the fact that we en­counter these peo­ple on­line, rather than in per­son, should not pre­vent us from treat­ing them like mem­bers of the fam­ily. s

Fuiava (far left) and Ap­pel aboard the USS Ash­land; a Navy ten­der nears Sea Nymph (inset)

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