Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Situational Awareness

Good Morning, Tim,  
It was great to meet you at the Miami boat show.  I loved hearing about your morning routine: a good cup of coffee and an internet search for new sailing blog posts and up to date boat information.  I can picture you sitting at your desk as we did the same for years.  I loved your enthusiasm for sailing and for our boat.  

This entry might be a bit dry but there is so much to tell about what life is like on a sailboat.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the cliche of how we are changed because of it and wonder where and how that happens.  It started happening for me even before we bought our boat and I wonder if you feel the same way as you sit in your office.  

Let me know, and thank you.  Say hi to your dad.  

See you soon,

Situational Awareness
I remember our first afternoon on Alberta Crewed in Buenos Aires' River Plate, shortly after the boat was launched.  It was a typical Argentine Sunday with hundreds of sail and power boats of all shapes and sizes meandering or zooming along the coastline.  I was anxious and nervous to the point of inner hysteria that we were going to hit or be hit by another boat.  I couldn't calm myself down and wondered how we were going to sail the entire Brazilian coast with my overwhelming sense of dread.  The problem was I didn't have a good perception of space on the water in a moving vessel as large as our boat.  I thought the other boats were much closer than they were and I couldn't judge angles, speeds, and distances as we moved all around one another.  Throw in wind, waves, and currents and we were sunk as far as I was concerned.  If I were to draw a circle around the boat showing my proximity-to-others comfort space it would be 5 miles in diameter.  No one inside the circle, please.  No one in sight preferred.

Occasionally my inner hysteria returns but my comfort circle is much smaller.  It has to be.  Craig's is minute compared with mine and it is not that he is careless.  He is better at gathering and interpreting all of the sensory data he can (sight, sound, skin) along with electronic information, and making an ongoing judgement as to where we are relative to anything out there, human (sailboats, cruise ships, freighters, kayaks, sail boards) and non-human (logs, crab pots, squalls, dolphins, mountains).  There are visual strategies to help determine whether we are on a collision course with another boat.  For example, if they are ahead and to the right (starboard) of us and sailing towards us, we watch their position along our lifelines, the fence-like cables running around our deck.  If the boat stays at the same position I've marked them at along the lifelines, it means we are on a collision course because neither of us are changing position.  If they move forward along the life line, they will pass in front of us if all other factors (speed and course) stay the same.  Moving aft (to the back) along the line means they will likely pass behind us.  There are all kinds of rules as to who has the right of way but stubbornness that "I was in the right" in a collision doesn't go very far, both in terms of legality and safety.  We are all obliged to avoid collision at all times.  Back to that first sail, I remember Memo explaining this quick and easy strategy.  He was a patient teacher, however, we were about to sail away on a brand new boat in unfamiliar seas and I didn't even know this basic tip.

Knowing where other things are in relation to our boat is part of a bigger understanding called Situational Awareness.  It means not only gathering as much information as possible using as many means available, but interpreting or making sense of all of that data and acting on it.  I think there is also an intuitive aspect to it, part of which is the ability to synthesize knowledge and experience.  I can gather all of the information I want from GPS, weather routers, the anemometer (wind speed measurement device), and cloud formations but my experience is going to determine how I interpret that information.  Craig and I can experience an event with different interpretations.  Our proximity to other boats is a good example.

Before my brother pokes me that this is just a blog and not another philosophy dissertation, I'll stick in my last theory about inherited situational awareness.  It's all just about survival, and our ancestors needed different kinds of situational awareness to survive than we do, or at least that's what I thought until I started sailing.  I now imagine the Ancient Phoenicians would run circles around my electronics with a nautical finesse that would leave us in their wake.  They had the earth-sense that I'm working hard to develop, and that some sailors whose ancestors are from the sea still seem to have.  My SA at the beginning of my sailing adventure would have been rated as dismal and I still have a very long way to go.

Nice to Be Home
We just returned from Phoenix where we spent a few days with Craig's family enjoying cooler weather and Craig's mom and sister-in-law's great cooking.

Alberta Crewed is up on stilts again, this time in West Palm Beach Florida, continuing with some warranty work and tweaking.  We've changed out all of our interior halogen lights to LED (we had just missed the LED upgrade), and our energy consumption with lights dropped by 90%.  We live most of the time on solar power so every bit helps.

It's sometimes nice to get away from the boat and not worry about weather and ongoing maintenance work but I also enjoy coming home.  Returning to the boat is a home-coming, even if we are in a dusty boat yard again.  Last night I was awakened several times by roaring jet engines even though we are miles away from the airport.  It turns out we are just a few blocks from the Lockeed factory and for some reason engine tests are deemed best done at night.  It doesn't bother me a bit because I know we are not long from being back on the water and only a few miles away from peace and quiet.

1 comment:

  1. What a great surprise when I logged on this morning. Dad hasn't stopped talking about the Antares since the show. please keep the new blogs coming as it is my only fix until Kathy and I can start our own cruising life.
    Tim Goddard