Safety first culture or initiative and enterprise?

If you watch the first part of the youtube, taken before her voyage, there is, to me, a significant answer she gives to the question of where she plans to go:

“Ah, I guess I’m gonna head out of here for a little bit and then head down south to Cape Horn.”

To the question of how long it would take to get to the equator, she answered, staring at her screen display:

“Ah, I’m not exactly sure …”

When her blog kicked off, it was lacking in any real info and she didn’t seem to blog all that much. Maybe it was such a contrast to Jessica Watson or Mike Perham who were proactive – Abby seems such a nice kid, a good sailor too but so laid back she makes JJ Cale look like a nervous Nellie.

I’d hate for American readers of this blog to see me as anti-American – I’d hope you’ve seen, over the months and years, that I’m decidedly pro-American but guys, there does seem this danger in Americans relying just a little too much on technology and “know-how” to get them round. You’ll point to Dennis Conner, Ted Turner, Steve Fossett and others as evidence of “seat-of-the-pants” sailors and that’s so – they were fabulous sailors and adventurers.

They were also [cough] not 16 year old, dreamy-eyed teenagers.

You do see where I’m going here. This voyage was flawed from inception. The moment that first self-steerer breakdown occurred, the red flags were raised. What it needed straight away was a Frank Cammas on board, a man among men and an “invent solutions as you go along” sailor who amid the damage to his craft, was over, under, rigging up jury fixes, just using his long experience.

It comes down to temperament and I do believe Jessica had the right stuff.  I believe Laura Dekker does too.  Ellen MacArthur, for all her determination and success, did not and anyone who laughed at her weeping reports in the south seas is a cruel ignoramus – that was hell on earth for Ellen at the time, no matter how much remote distance support she was receiving.  It’s not a gender thing in the least – it’s a purely individual thing and Abby, sweet lady, did not have it.  It’s not what happens when things go well but what happens when things go wrong which counts.

I’m the first to admit that in my round the bay attempt at 22, when hit by a gale and high seas, I went all conservative and retired the team, to be safe.  Frank Cammas would have found a solution and pressed on.  That’s why he’s a champion.

It’s why I can feel what Abby must have been feeling down there alone – a mixture of terror, loss of face, loss of personal affirmation, pressure of expectations she might have felt by her team and so on, lack of sleep, pounding after pounding, knock-down after knock-down.  You have to have experienced those to really know how alone you are [G-d aside, of course].

Hell, she gave it a good tilt, she has nothing to reproach herself for.  Jessica Watson will surely get on the blower to her and there’ll be a three wayhook-up with Mike Perham and possibly Jesse as well one day.


If it’s capitalized it’s because I feel so strongly about it.  To knock those parents seems to me idiocy.  What parent do you know would knowingly risk his kid’s life?   Come on – seriously!

Those parents had gone over the whole risk analysis, they certainly had the gear, the plan and the team [after all, Abby is actually safe] and as Sunderland himself said – do we mollycoddle our kids in a “safety-first’ life or do we let them explore and find their own equilibrium?

My own parents surprise me, now I look back – for such strict people, they let me do a hell of a lot by myself, which is possibly why the maverick and cavalier vie with the cautious.

Je deteste the safety first mentality, keeping our kids tied to our coattails for fear of running into a paedophile in the park.  All of which puts a higher premium on sound risk analysis – no father needs to be told that, vis a vis his daughter whom he loves to smithereens.

Sometimes though, Dad can be blinded to his daughter’s true capabilities, he can “over-believe” and possibly she would like to tell him it’s misplaced but can’t, for fear of disappointing Dad.  It’s a really line-ball thing and yes, I have personal reasons for dwelling on this point. If I write here of daughters and not of sons, it’s because I was a son and know the story of boys already.  I know what I could and couldn’t do as a kid.

It’s so hard to resist the need to keep them safe, to protect them form everything we can dream up – it’s the nanny state in one. It’s deeply debilitating and often it’s a very “mother” thing, not to allow the kid to grow.  On the other hand, where does one draw the line?

3 comments for “Safety first culture or initiative and enterprise?

  1. dearieme
    June 12, 2010 at 11:34

    Normally I ignore exhibitionism such as this girl’s, but I did look at the article in this morning’s Telegraph, where various worthies opined that it was daft of her to try to sail across the southern Indian Ocean in winter.

  2. June 12, 2010 at 11:56

    It was daft of the team. They’re the ones who need scrutinizing and I’m afraid it smacks of some Americans’ level of knowledge of anything outside the U.S.A. It was such basic information – where is it safe to sail at what time of year and where not?

  3. ivan
    June 12, 2010 at 17:06

    There are many that will use this to say teens shouldn’t do anything on their own unsupervised – this attitude is totally wrong! Teens need to get out and do something, something where they can say afterward, ‘I did that’ with some pride.

    My ‘I did that’ was to cycle most of the way round England on my own. I was 13 at the time and didn’t quite make it all the way round – missed out the south coast because of a week of continual rain so I got a train home from Newquay to Norwich.

    The fact that we live in a society that has given up on personal responsibility and personal initiative, where everything is risk assessed and made impossible for the average person, does not bode well for future progress. This appears to be what is the problem with most Americans – and British, Big Brother will do it for you.

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