Tuesday, August 29, 2006

So, you think you're a good Sailor?

This guy is an uber-mench.
Robin Knox-Johnston gained a place in history with the first, solo, non-stop circumnavigation. At 67, after the death of his adored wife, he's setting sail again.
In 1969, he made nautical history by sailing his storm-battered wooden ketch, Suhaili, into Falmouth after 312 days at sea - the only man out of nine taking part to finish the round the world race.
Knox-Johnston has sailed three and a half times round the world, covered 500,000 nautical miles, piloted a little boat by the sun and the stars and survived the kind of solitude that drove other men crazy.
"Once you're over retirement age," he grumbles, "they tell you your brain has turned to porridge, that you'll have a heart attack climbing the stairs and you've forgotten everything you ever knew. That just isn't true. Experience is undervalued because we've got this youth fetish. The terrible waste of experience appals me. You can only gain experience by doing things and the sea is a very hands-on affair."
And you don't get it from a simulator, BTW.
When he was not battling waves of up to 80ft in the Southern Ocean, fighting off sharks or repairing his sails, his time alone in Suhaili gave him pause to "think things over", not least his failed marriage. He read more than 50 novels, manuals and diaries, including Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle and Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. He kept a diary that later became an inspiring book, A World of my Own.

When the weather was calm, he would put a rope round his waist and jump overboard for a swim - something most sailors are terrified to do. In warm weather, he would sail naked - "It's nice to get the sun on those bits that don't normally get it" - a habit he regretted when he inadvertently sat on his pressure cooker while making lunch.

Once, he sewed his moustache to the spinnaker while repairing it. The only way of tearing himself free was to jerk his head backwards. "It hurt like hell... but at least the symmetry of my moustache was not badly upset. I gave it a trim with my surgical scissors."
"One of the advantages I have is experience. Fear is usually of the unknown and the more you have been at sea, the less unknown there is. Most experienced seamen would say that makes them more cautious, not less. We know we're not invincible. People talk about beating the sea. Forget it. You can never beat the sea. You survive it."
And yet, as I read the August issue of Proceedings, there is CAPT Landerman's article (not available online) titled "Where Have All the Shiphandlers Gone?" that starts,
Few U.S. Navy officers today are capable mariners. The continued neglect of shiphandling skills means that the future Navy ships such as the USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), seen here leaving Naval Station Norfolk, may have to be driven by qualified civilians.
When this article comes online I will post it. The meat of it is that the Officers of the U.S. Navy actually have so little time at sea, on the bridge, that we don't even meet the standards of the skipper of a Panamanian bulk carrier. To make up for it, we are trying simulators, but we aren't using realistic ones.
Whereas the aviator goes through rigorous training, demonstarates that he can fly, earns his wings, and then accumulates many hours of flight time before he is considered a capable pilot, the surface warfare officer does minimal preparation, converts prompting into orders without understanding why, earns his SWO badge, and then may not drive again.
..but he has JPME Phase I complete well before the command screen board...
..at Newport, SWOS has terminated the contracted simulator services, opting instead to use home-made arcade-type games that do not meet standards established by the International Maritime Organization. The most powerful navy in the world uses third-rate shiphandling simulators at its surface-warfare school and has notified the Pacific and Atlantic Fleet shiphandling training facilities that their contracts will be terminated.
But at least we spend millions on our own twisted little Ethnologists.

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